The Untold Truth Of Mj Rodriguez

In 2018, television auteur Ryan Murphy expanded his slate of series with a new FX drama titled "Pose." Murphy, known for pushing the envelope in series ranging from "Glee" to "American Horror Story," brought viewers an inside look into the New York City ball culture of the late 1980s, about as niche a scene as it gets. "Pose" would go on to earn critical acclaim and 20 Emmy nominations, along with four wins, an impressive haul for a revolutionary show — as the Independent noted, its cast boasted more transgender actors than any series in television history.

Among these actors was Mj Rodriguez, who portrayed Blanca Evangelista, HIV-positive founder of the House of Evangelista. While "Pose" brought Rodriguez her greatest acclaim to date, it was far from her television debut. Previous TV credits included such series as "Nurse Jackie," "Sex and the City" prequel series "The Carrie Diaries," and Netflix's Marvel superhero series "Luke Cage." With "Pose" having ended its three-season run, Rodriguez will next be seen co-starring with "Saturday Night Live" alum Maya Rudolph in a new yet-to-be-titled comedy series for Apple TV+.

There's no denying this talented actor has been making a splash in recent years, but there's a lot that even her hardcore fans may not know. To learn more, read on to discover the untold truth of Mj Rodriguez.

She got her start onstage

Mj Rodriguez began acting at age 7, according to Playbill. However, her interest in musical theater really sparked when she watched the 2005 film version of the hit musical "Rent" and became entranced by the film. "I turned to my father and said, 'I want to play Angel.' And he said, 'In due time,'" she recalled to That time came in 2011 when she landed her first professional acting job, as she'd presciently declared, playing Angel in a 2011 off-Broadway production of "Rent." 

Other stage roles followed, including a New York production of "Runaways," "Burn All Night" in Boston, and the starring role as Audrey in a 2019 production of "Little Shop of Horrors" at the Pasadena Playhouse. 

As Rodriguez explained in an interview with Dr. Drama, it was actually while playing Angel in "Rent" that she came face to face with her destiny. "At that time physically, I couldn't be who I wanted to be but in my head I was a girl with a short haircut, a girl who wears baggy clothes but one day is going to grow out of her tomboy stage," she said. She realized she was ready to take the next step by abandoning her "tomboy" persona and embracing the glam. "The time came and I said, 'Girl, it's time for you to put on some lipstick and be the woman you always knew you were and have always been.'"

Mj Rodriguez's name was inspired by Spider-Man

When she embarked on her acting career, she put aside her birth name and began using the stage name Mj Rodriguez. In a 2011 interview with, she revealed the somewhat nerdy origin of her monicker: Mary Jane "MJ" Watson, teenage girlfriend of Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spider-Man. "The first time they called her MJ, I thought, 'That's a cool name!'" Rodriguez recalled, noting that her new moniker "worked perfectly."

A decade later, she elaborated during a 2021 appearance on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert", recalling watching the 2002 movie "Spider-Man" and being struck by the "MJ" nickname given to Mary Jane, played by Kirsten Dunst. "I thought, 'Oh my god, I want to be like her,'" she said.

In that interview, Rodriguez also revealed which Marvel Comics character she'd most like to portray on screen. "Elektra. She's a dope, strong, fierce warrior, and I would love to play her one day. And I think I would do the part justice," she declared of the character, which had previously been played onscreen by Jennifer Garner. "I feel like I look like her. I feel like I embody her. I feel like I have the same kind of personality as her, too — just a little bit, because she is kind of a badass, if I can say."

Mj Rodriguez has been singing since infancy

While Mj Rodriguez's acting ambitions extend back to her childhood, she boasts another talent that emerged when she was even younger. "It all started when I was 11 months old, singing a song by Jodeci in the back seat of the car," she recalled in an interview with "My mother turned around and said, 'Who is that?' When she saw it was me, she said, 'I think we have a singer on our hands.'" 

It didn't hurt that Rodriguez was surrounded by music while growing up. "My mother raised me on music ever since I was zero," she told the New York Post, revealing her mom's love of soul music. "So you're talking about Earth, Wind & Fire... You're talking about Chaka Khan, Luther Vandross. We're talking about The Whispers, The Spinners. My dad had me listen to The Spinners all the time, Teddy Pendergrass, a lot of great influences in my life."

She took singing seriously, enough so that she studied at Boston's prestigious Berklee College of Music. "I knew this was the place I wanted to be," she said of Berklee, where she spent two semesters before leaving in order to pursue her theatrical dreams when she landed the off-Broadway role in "Rent" that launched her career. 

She showcased her musical side by releasing a single

In August 2021, Mj Rodriguez fulfilled one of her longest-held dreams when she released her first single as a musical artist. Titled "Something to Say," the disco-inspired song featured a message of self-positivity and an accompanying music video. According to Entertainment Weekly, Rodriguez co-wrote the track with PWP, the trio comprised of producer Neal Pogue and Earth, Wind & Fire alums Verdine White and John Paris. In an earlier interview with EW, Rodriguez shared her goal of crossing over from theater and television into the music industry. "Music has been my passion for years, and I want that to happen," she declared.

Speaking with MTV News, Rodriguez revealed that "the inspiration for 'Something to Say' was to not only uplift, but to get humans around the world — to get them to understand that we have more in common than we realize and that the only way we can actually push the needle forward is if we work together." She also explained that she felt the title of the song was "key" because "everybody has something to say, and it's a poignant kind of title."

While Rodriguez professed that she was "loving what I'm doing with my sound right now," she admitted that her sound was very likely to evolve. Her music, she explained, is "subject to change, because we all change. But right now it's about light, love, and happiness, and what's happening in my life." 

Mj Rodriguez was well-versed in ball culture long before 'Pose'

Despite being born several years after the year in which the first season of "Pose" is set, Mj Rodriguez was more than familiar with ball culture before landing a role on the show.

In fact, as a teenager struggling with issues surrounding sexual identity, Rodriguez actually joined a ballroom house when she was 14. "I was always the kid who was very well aware of who I was," she told The New York Times, praising her friends at the house for giving her the freedom to find herself and discover her identity without anyone "policing me on how I acted or how I existed in the world."

While she admitted that ball culture really didn't have much to do with her decision to pursue acting, it was not without influence. "But the ballroom community did contribute to my dancing and to me being more comfortable in my body, moving and not being afraid to be judged," she explained. "It helped me with my confidence as far as living in a world where — well, at that time — a lot of people weren't as understanding or as accepting of people in the ballroom community, which was mainly made up of African-American gay men, Latino gay men and Latina and black trans women. And obviously African-American and Latina lesbians. If I hadn't had that scene, I would never have been the person I am today."

Why Mj Rodriguez believes trans actors should play cisgender roles

There's been much debate in recent years about whether it's appropriate for cisgender actors to portray transgender characters, given the relative scarcity of trans roles available. While there are valid points to be made on both sides of the argument, Mj Rodriguez is a firm believer that not only should trans roles go to trans actors, but that trans actors should also be cast in cis roles (something she proved when she played Audrey in "The Little Shop of Horrors").  

In a 2016 interview with Playbill, Rodriguez opened up about having recently auditioned for the role of Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds in "Hamilton," insisting the audition went "really well" (although she ultimately wasn't cast). "I've been getting calls for female and trans roles, hence 'Hamilton.' That's a cis female role, and a trans woman was called in for that, and I think that's actually very, very important," she said. "I feel like trans women need to be seen for more female roles, and trans men need to be seen for more cis male roles because it creates that comfort... because, at some point, it can sometimes seem like a spectacle, and it can put us in a place of 'We're trending.' I don't want that."

The inspiring way she prepares for public speaking engagements

In addition to her acting and singing, Mj Rodriguez is also an activist with a flair for public speaking. In fact, she was chosen to be the keynote speaker at George Washington University's fifth annual Diversity Summit in 2019. 

As Rodriguez shared with Elle, she has a ritual she employs whenever she's preparing for any public speaking. "Whenever I do an event, especially when it's speaking to a group of people, I always take at least 20 to 30 minutes for myself," she explained. "I look in the mirror, and I talk to myself. I tell myself what I'm worthy of; I also take a moment to let myself know that I'm beautiful and that I'm worthy, no matter what anyone says."

Bolstering her confidence, Rodriguez added, was something that happened naturally once she began playing Blanca on "Pose." "The best part about paying Blanca is that she's a strong fearless woman. She is confident in herself and, not to mention, she's someone who's holding the show together," she said. "She's the matriarch of the show. I think she's even given me confidence [to be] a matriarch in my life one day and take on the world completely. It all starts here. It all starts with making sure that people see you and understand you."

She considers it her mission to advocate for empathy for the trans community

As a trans woman of color, Mj Rodriguez has a unique perspective. "Being an Afro-Latina trans woman in America is hard," Rodriguez admitted in an interview with Shape, noting that she makes it a point to remind herself of how fortunate she is. "I take 15 minutes alone to appreciate the life that has been given to me and to figure out how I can move the needle forward every day," she added.  

In her self-imposed role as a trans advocate, the key message she's trying to impart to the world at large is one of empathy and understanding, and there's one message above all others that she wants to make sure comes through: empathy. "There's a lot of prejudice, discord, and separation around the world when it comes to trans women, let alone the LGBTQIA community," Rodriguez pointed out. "With my artistry, I want people to see that what we need to focus on is the human experience and that we are all one. We have more in common than we realize."

As she explained, she's more than serious about using her platform as a celebrity to win over hearts and minds. "My goal is that my artistry, whether it's acting or music, changes the minds of people who hate or choose not to understand. ... I'm going to keep striving for that. And I'm never going to stop until it's accomplished."

Mj Rodriguez would love for her life story to be made into a movie

Celebrating her 30th birthday in January 2021, there's no denying that Mj Rodriguez accomplished an awful lot during her 20s. Interviewed for ContentMode, she was asked whether she'd like to see her life story told onscreen. "I would love for my story to be in a book or a movie!" she proclaimed, but she explained she felt the process should begin by writing her memoir "because I feel books are a bit more detailed and you get to dive down the rabbit hole as much as you can."

While she has "considered" sharing her story on the page, she doesn't feel that much urgency. "It hasn't started yet, but I'm sure down the line it will happen," she said of a prospective autobiography. "I think I'm very young right now, and I feel like there's much more life to live first and many more stories to tell for myself. When that time comes, then the book will happen. Then maybe after the book, a movie will happen."

In the meantime, the success of "Pose" has brought an onslaught of opportunities, and she's eager to seize them. "I'm very, very happy that the doors are flung wide open," she told Deadline. "I'm just going to run right through them, baby, and I'm going to give all the love that I can while I'm running right through them."

Her Emmy nomination was a history-making moment

Mj Rodriguez's portrayal of Blanca in "Pose" led her to break a huge barrier in 2021 when she earned her first-ever Emmy nomination for the role. Not only did the nomination — for outstanding lead actress in a drama series — signify that Rodriguez had arrived as a force to be reckoned with, but she also made history as the first trans actor ever to nab an Emmy nomination in a major acting category.

As Rodriguez told GLAAD, nobody was more shocked to learn of her nomination than she was. "I was totally surprised when I saw myself up there in that category... it was written in the stars and now actually it is true. Now young women like myself, now the trans women who are ancestors of mine, they are smiling from above and they are rooting me on," she said.

Her Emmy nomination, she told Deadline, was about more than the culmination of years spent "pounding the pavement" in Hollywood. "I felt represented and I felt seen. And ... more accepted than I have felt in a long time," Rodriguez told The Associated Press. This acceptance, she added, expanded far beyond her but to the entire trans community. She expressed her gratitude "that we are finally being seen the way we need to be seen, and that our stories can now be seen as human stories. ... There are limitless amounts of stories that can now be told, simply because of this happening."

Mj Rodriguez keeps details of her love live mostly private

Mj Rodriguez has opened up about herself in countless interviews but has typically kept her romantic relationships under wraps. That changed, however, on Valentine's Day of 2021, when Rodriguez took to Instagram to share a photo of herself and her boyfriend Stephen. In the caption, she revealed the selfie of the couple was taken on "the first day we met, and boy was it everything I planned it to be." She continued by praising her beau for setting "the highest standard for how any human should treat another human being. That is why I have Fallen so deeply in love with you."

In another Instagram post (which she subsequently deleted, but was documented by Gay Times), she gushed about him even further. "I feel like I can be my truest self when I am around you," she wrote. "You have shown me what love truly looks like when it's balanced and easy. I'm so proud to call you my Valentine but most importantly my boyfriend."

In addition to the rare mention on social media, Rodriguez has also occasionally brought up her boyfriend in interviews. Speaking with Entertainment Weekly, for example, she detailed how Stephen helped her overcome uncertainty about returning to the set of "Pose" in the midst of the pandemic. "He was there with me through all of the process of Corona," she explained. "It was a lot of preparation before I had even gone back on set."

Mj Rodriguez made a big announcement about her name

Fans of Mj Rodriguez likely noticed that when she dropped her first single, "Something to Say," she released it under a slightly different name than the one she's known for. Speaking with Refinery29 in September 2021, Rodriguez made her monicker change official. "I can finally officially say that I am moving from Mj Rodriguez to Michaela Jaé," she declared.

As she explained, a lot of thought went into dropping her "Mj" nickname to instead be recognized by her full name. "I wanted people to see that I was more than just this character that I played on a television screen," she said in explaining the rationale behind the name change. "It was only right and even more personal to let people know who the woman inside of Mj is: Michaela Antonia Jaé Rodriguez."

In fact, she revealed it was actually the release of the single that really provided the impetus. "The only way I was going to do that was if I really made a mark through my music and separated myself from the person who Mj was, which is the actress that shows up and that keeps it together," she added.

She has strong opinions on another famous trans woman's right-wing political views

Since coming out as transgender, Caitlyn Jenner has been one of the loudest, most-newsworthy trans voices in the media. However, Jenner's right-leaning politics have long proven confounding to fellow members of the trans community. This was particularly true in early 2021 when Jenner — who launched a failed bid to become California's governor — spoke out against "biological boys who are trans" competing in girls' sports at the school level.

During a video interview with Variety, Mj Rodriguez was asked what she thought about Jenner's "anti-trans" opinions, and she shared a few opinions of her own. "You know, it's unfortunate that she's one of our sisters, saying these things," Rodriguez said of Jenner but insisted she didn't "want to spew any hate on her" because she loves her "from a distance." 

That being said, Rodriguez did suggest there was a certain degree of ignorance underlying Jenner's views. "I do think there probably needs to be a learning curve ... but I think that's something she probably has to deal with," said Rodriguez. "I think she'll figure it out on her own when there's a depletion of the community that just doesn't want to deal with her."

The strategy that has helped Mj Rodriguez become financially secure

Playing Blanca in "Pose" was Mj Rodriguez's breakout role, and the Emmy nomination she earned will almost certainly lead to bigger roles in subsequent projects. However, as of 2021 there hadn't been a whole lot reported about how much she earns, or how much she's worth (although at least one estimate pegs her net worth at $800,000). 

That number will no doubt be growing, thanks to her acting work, her new sideline as a recording artist, and another as a motivational speaker. In fact, according to AAE Speakers, the agency that reps her, Rodriguez is paid a fee that ranges between $30,000 and $50,000 for making a virtual speaking appearance — not a bad chunk of change for not even having to leave the house!

Speaking with CNBC, Rodriguez shared the monetary philosophy that's provided her a level of financial security within a very insecure business. "Anyone who is starting out and just finally got their first gig, don't spend all your money in one go," she advised. "I did 'Rent' in 2011, and I didn't spend all of my money, but I did spend most of it on frivolous things that I could've probably saved on." Having learned a lesson from that experience, she added, "It's important that you save your money because you can invest it in the things that you want versus just spending it all on one thing."