Ahead of tonight’s final season premiere of Pose on FX, The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann attended a virtual press conference with a legendary lineup of the show’s key cast including Mj Rodriguez, Billy Porter, Dominique Jackson, Indya Moore, Hailie Sahar, Angel Bismark Curiel, Dyllón Burnside, Sandra Bernhard, Jason A. Rodriguez, plus series co-creator, executive producer, writer, and director Steven Canals and executive producer, writer, and director Janet Mock. Here are some of the highlights from that discussion.
James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: Congratulations on such a wonderful season everyone. I’d just like to ask about continuing to have groundbreaking screen representation, showing us things that we’ve never seen on screen before, even simple things like having a lunch together in a fancy Manhattan restaurant—and, of course, Sex and the City is mentioned—the spa day, and preparing for the wedding, these sort of joyous things that are almost unremarkable when we see them, and then we remember just quite how special they are to see on television when catered on trans women of color. If you could just talk a little bit about creating those moments this season.
Janet Mock: “Very early on we said we weren’t interested in origin stories about how they got to who they know themselves to be, and we also weren’t interested in only telling a story about trauma, right? We wanted to ensure that we show the everyday, mundane moments, as well as the great, grand celebrations. The ballroom is a representation of what it means to congregate and share testimony and to love on each other. Our show is a celebration of the everyday intimacies. So, for us, when we were plotting these big, grand moments that everyone in the mainstream or everyone who is not as marginalized as these trans and queer Black and brown characters [gets to experience], we wanted to bring in traditions, wedding, matrimony, all this stuff that our characters get to engage in. With all those celebrations we wanted to be a part of the tradition of that and all the moments that a family shares together. We wanted to make sure that all of those things were celebrated in this. Steven directed a lot of those great, grand moments in his episode.”
Steven Canals: “To Janet’s credit, when she first joined our room at the inception of this series, she really was such a large part of the reason why we leaned all the way into the joy. Having Janet come into the room as an icon in the LBGTQ+ community, it really pushed us in terms of the narrative choices that we were making. So I want Janet to get her flowers right now because I think so much of the narrative that you see in this final season came out of conversations and Janet specifically forcing really Ryan, Brad, and I, as three cisgendered men, to consider the ways in which we were centering all of our beautiful Black and brown trans women on our series.”
When asked about the legality surrounding trans folks getting married during the 1990s when the third season of Pose is set, Mock commented, “What’s interesting about it is that there are no legal ramifications around it. I think, for trans people—it depends on their sexual orientation—trans people are also just as affected by marriage equality as anyone else because marriage equality is based on gender, not so much sexuality. It’s about the idea of people of the same sex on paper being able to marry each other. In our storyline, the two people were both assigned male at birth. So, they both have ID documents that reflect that maleness. So in that time period, in 1994, they’re not able to legally get married. The only way they can get through is through the idea of gender passing. So it was really important for us to put that within that storyline to ensure that we told that. But we have to also be very clear that we shouldn’t conflate the idea of that, because trans people are who they say they are. What we’re fighting for is a world where trans people are accepted and seen and their idea of themselves in who they know themselves to be is legitimate, period, just based on what they say. In our story we wanted to show a color of that, of how so many women before us, before there were any legalities around any of this, before there was any legislation for any LBGTQ people, that there were waves of folks who were outsiders and renegades and trailblazers, and they made a way out of no way. And really Pose has always been the celebration of the ways in which our people just make do with nothing.”
Asked about her favorite moment playing a house mother on the series Dominique Jackson, who stars as Elektra on Pose, said, “Elektra is a character that has been extremely tough to play because she’s very much in contrast to the woman that I have groomed myself to be. But one of my favorite moments is when I get to come back to reality and stop with the superficial for the stuff that psychologically explains the trauma that Elektra has been through. I get to come back to Blanca and say, ‘I love you. I care for you. I’m proud of you.’ Those are my favorite moments because I believe that we are a people that don’t understand that supporting each other is paramount. We sit in judgment, and we have these sayings and we never stop to think of how the other person is. And for me, it’s amazing when this now iconic character, this strong Black woman, who has been able to survive jail, who has been able to survive murder, who has been able to survive abuse, and murder of her esthetic, murder of her person, and she’s able to turn around and say to someone like Blanca, and say to her, ‘I love you. I care for you. I support you’, those are my favorite moments because we empower and it gives us the motivation to move forward, to want, to process, to grow.”
Jackson also described what being part of the Pose ensemble meant to her personally, as well as the writers’ attention to authenticity saying of herself, “Immigrant, Black, woman, trans, never been on set, right? Other sets, but not sets that celebrated me or validated me or acknowledged me. And to walk on to that set of Pose and to hear Mr. Murphy say, ‘Is that how it’s done?’ That was validation in itself. It was so amazing to sit back—because as I am ballroom—and as I get to sit back and watch as everything happens around me; I see the passion, the compassion, the care, the want to know that it’s being done right. When you have directors like Steven and Janet, and even though Janet is one of us and is us, the beauty of her saying, the validation of her saying, ‘Listen, is this right?’ When Steven says, ‘I don’t know about this’, the consultants that were brought in—Twiggy Pucci Garçon, Leiomy Maldonado, all of them—and being a part of ballroom, being ballroom, I didn’t have to say anything. Only when we had that last scene going into the 42nd Street, and Elektra coming back into Show World, that was the only time I had to walk on set and really say, ‘No, we were not sleazy. We were not degenerate. We were fetishes that were loved, and we brought the best even in the worst of times.'”
Indya Moore, who plays Angel on the series, also spoke about feeling seen on set, saying, “Having Steven and Janet Mock particularly, as a Black trans woman in the writers’ room, it was perfect. I think that there were so many different parts of this story we’re all telling and using our own lives to make a reality, details from our own experiences. I think that Janet did that brilliantly and beautifully, and Steven did that brilliantly and beautifully. We were all able to relate and see ourselves in the lives of these characters because of the way that the writers’ room was organized so intentionally and the people who sat in it, who had the focus, centering on our characters. Their lives and the parts of their experiences that they used came so closely and is just a true reflection of what the experience is to be trans or queer. I can’t remember a time where I ever felt like I needed to say, ‘Hey, this doesn’t feel right.’ Janet and Steven frequently came to us and checked in with us about the content and made sure that things felt right and felt natural for us. I think that that dynamic of the writers’ room, and the producers checking in with the actors to make sure that the story is being told right, that wasn’t even a thing that needed to happen on this set. I think that that is something that’s really important when you have trans and queer characters on a show and you want to tell the story truthfully and you have writers who aren’t reflections of those experiences it can be really difficult to nail right. So I would hope that in those circumstances, in the case where we don’t have people who reflect us in a writers’ room and who are the creators of our show, that they would check in with us to make sure that they’re telling the stories right and that they don’t believe they can get it all right in their own minds, because they don’t have the experience to come up with the imagination to tell that story. I think that the way that Steven and Janet put the story together was brilliant.”
Dyllón Burnside, who portrays Ricky on Pose, added: “To Indya’s point, I distinctly remember on my first day of filming not having an idea about who Ricky was, where he came from, and what was the idea around who he would become on the show. I asked Steven those questions, like, ‘Who do you think he is? Is there any insight you can give me as to how to play him?’ Steven looked at me point-blank and said, ‘Who do you think he is? Where do you think he comes from? Where do you think he should go?’ That kind of collaboration and open line of communication was there from day one and has existed throughout filming all three seasons. I think that that instance speaks directly to what Indya’s talking about. It’s like we were a reflection of each other, and we allowed each other to speak to each other in a way that breathed life into these characters authentically.”
Hailie Sahar, who plays Lulu on the series, also spoke about the opportunity she was given to speak directly to the writers about her character: “On the first season Steven and I had a conversation. I would meet him during lunch break and say, ‘Hey, Steven. Can I talk to you? You know, Lulu has obtained all this information, she’s second in command to Elektra, ambitious and intellectual, and I don’t think she would just want to be in this house forever.’ That’s when that conversation happened, and I guess they went into the writers’ room and something came out of that, because then Ferocity was also born. I remember speaking to Steven and him allowing me to have that space to tell him how I felt about Lulu. Then, Janet, the brilliant, iconic Janet being of trans experience and a woman of color just effortlessly creating these characters and really, truly being authentic was just the icing on the cake. That was my experience.”
Leading lady Mj Rodriguez, who stars Blanca Evangelista, also spoke about her experience as an actress on three seasons of Pose, commenting: “I had been a part of the industry at a very young age, and what came with that was me feeling like I had to be limited in what I had to say and how I had to speak, or if I had even opportunity to speak up. So I was always this closed-off person, but with being involved in the industry, there was, I guess, this grooming that came with me and I was naturally just afraid to ask questions. I was the girl to just show up and just do the job. I guess that most actors and actresses, I’m sure I can say for all of my friends here, that we usually do that. But I never had an opportunity like this on a television and film, a television show where I got to actually have the range that I never thought I could have in the other productions or the other things that I was involved in. I think that’s what the best thing for me was, is that I was able to have the liberty to speak even when I was afraid to speak. I had the liberty to delve into the character like how I wanted to and not be questioned, but still have small notes here and there. ‘Well, how about you speak it here, MJ?’ Or, ‘How about you do this?’ Or, ‘No, this is how it needs to be done.’ And sometimes that’s what you need in order for you to fulfill the journey of the character that you’re creating, or the process that you want to put into the character. I never had the outspokenness, I was never able to speak up like how I was able to speak up in this show. It’s taught me a lot from the first season until the third season. I feel like not only did Blanca have an evolution, but I, Michaela, Mj Rodriguez had an evolution too. She’s learned a lot. I mean, she’s always been able to learn, but with these two [Janet Mock and Steven Canals] and also with Ryan Murphy, there was a great space to just quickly learn and really appreciate it while being able to be free in what you do naturally, which is the craft. So I thank them tremendously for opening that space for me because now, moving forward, I feel like I’ll be able to do that in any other project I go into. So I thank for them that, and I think that’s what has opened me up in feeling like this is the place I feel comfortable in. This is what I want more of and I hope to go into more. So thank you Steven, Janet, and Ryan.”
By James Kleinmann
Pose season 3 premieres Sunday May 2nd at 10pm ET/PT on FX with its first two episodes. Subsequent episodes air Sunday nights on FX until the series finale during Pride month, on June 6th 2021. Episodes will stream the following day on FX on Hulu.