Billy Porter on Why Mj Rodriguez Is the Heart of ‘Pose’ and Should be Winning Everything

     June 5, 2020

We already shared a little something from our Collider Connected conversation with Billy Porter on one of his upcoming projects, voicing Audrey II in the new Little Shop of Horror movies, but a big reason why Porter is out and about right now is to promote a show vying for Emmy consideration, the FX series Pose.

First off, if you’ve yet to catch the show, what are you waiting for? Season 1 is currently streaming on Netflix, Season 2 will be made available on the platform on June 11th, and it’s a show that is absolutely brimming with energy and warmth while encouraging understanding and acceptance. The Pose ensemble is absolutely packed with standout, heartfelt performances – Porter’s included – but during the interview, Porter insisted on highlighting someone else who he describes as the heart of the series, Mj Rodriguez. Here’s what Porter said when asked to name a cast member who took what was originally on the page and made more of it than he ever could have expected:

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Image via FX

“I would have to say Mj, you know because Mj is the heart. She’s the matriarch. And the whole point is, these are chosen families.They shouldn’t have to carry the weight and the burden of an entire culture. That’s what I think is just so brilliant about Blanca, and one of the things that I don’t think the industry quite understands. You know, because we live in a world that is myopic. Very often we live in a space where the playing field is not level. But, we’re all judged as if it is. What people don’t get about Pose in general, and this is for everybody, is that every one of those young kids on that show are on television – and myself included – are being on television carrying a show as regulars for the first time. There’s not training schools. They’re not coming from Juilliard. They’re not coming from Yale. They’re not coming from New York University grad school or Carnegie Mellon like myself. They’re coming from their communities. They’re walking off the streets and delivering the performances that they are delivering. Sorry, but none of ya’ll can touch that. None of ya’ll can touch the fact that Mj Rodriguez is carrying this show on her back like Jesus on the road to Damascus with that cross!”

Porter is right. One of the most impressive feats of Pose is the size of the ensemble and how the writers manage to give so many of those character such full and meaningful arcs in a mere two seasons. But it’s Rodriguez’s Blanca that serves as the beating heart and also the backbone of the show. From the very beginning, Blanca’s mission is to create a loving family and to support her children, and that’s a quality of the character that only gets stronger as the story progresses. Yes, the strength of the writing here must be a great asset, but that’ll only take you so far without a performer who can breathe life into the material to the fullest, and Rodriguez does just that with peak passion, purity and heart.

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Image via FX

While Rodriguez has received recognition from organizations like the BFCA, GALECA and the Online Film & Television Association, she still doesn’t have an Emmy nomination to her name, which seems like an egregious oversight. Porter took a moment to address what voters are “not really getting” about her achievements: 

“She didn’t have no training like that. She didn’t come from none of that. She had a dream and she showed up and she’s delivering a performance like that. It’s like they’re not really getting that part of it. They’re not getting that part of it. It’s like, no, she’s delivering on it. Like, I watch her and I just – it blows my mind what she’s doing on this show. She’s carrying this show, just like all them other white ladies carry all those other dramas. She’s carrying it just like that. Without the luxury of having any experience doing it … You know, and I’m the glossy one. You know, I’m the glossy one, I’m older, more people know who I am, I’m the obvious one. Yes, I get it. And I’ve worked hard and I deserve it, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I couldn’t do it without her. And this show would not exist without her. She’s the grounding energy. The two of us are the ground energy together, but in terms of ‘the mother of the house of …,’ she’s the one that grounds it.”

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Image via FX

Why exactly is such a contribution being overlooked during awards season? Porter highlighted this disconnect:

“And it’s interesting because it challenges people to see another type of human being on the planet. That’s a real human being that none of ya’ll have ever met before. So you actually don’t know how to adjudicate it. They don’t know how to adjudicate the performance. They don’t know! Because they don’t know where it comes from, they don’t know what the history is, they don’t know anything about it, [that got] this woman to be in the position that she’s in. None of ya’ll understand that journey. None of ya’ll. You know, and we’re trying to show it on screen but that’s the performance she’s delivering, for me, she should be winning everything.”

It’s true. I’ll never be able to fully understand the journey that landed Rodriguez on Pose, but I’m in awe of the show for the headway its making to change that. Right from the start, Pose kicks the doors wide open and sends out a warm welcome to come inside and experience someone else’s truth. Much of that is accomplished through Blanca, and Rodriguez should be honored for the achievement.

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