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MJ Rodriguez: 5 Things To Know About The ‘Pose’ Star Who Made Emmy History

‘Pose’ star MJ Rodriguez earned a historic nomination in a lead acting category for the 2021 Emmy Awards. Here are five things to know about her.

The 2021 Emmy Award nominations were announced on Tuesday, July 13, and the results were historic for MJ Rodriguez. The 30-year-old actress earned a nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her role as Blanca Rodriguez-Evangelista in FX’s drama series Pose. That honor made MJ the first openly transgender woman to be recognized in a lead acting category at the Emmys. She was understandably moved by the historic nomination, telling IndieWire: “It’s astounding, and not just for me. I’m winning for so many people out there, so many babies out there, the generation that comes after me — that’s who it’s for, not me.”

So, who is MJ Rodriguez? Here are 5 key things to know about the actress, from her Broadway roots to the details surrounding her courageous decision to transition.

MJ Rodriguez at the ‘Annette’ premiere at the 74th Cannes Film Festival on July 6, 2021 (Photo: Shutterstock)

1. MJ grew up in New Jersey.

MJ was born January 7, 1991 in New Jersey. She was assigned male at birth, and was named Michael Anthony Rodriguez Jr. Her parents, an African-American mother and an Afro-Puerto Rican father, raised her in Newark, where she attended the Queen of Angels Catholic Church. MJ wanted to become an actress at a young age, so her mother enrolled her in the New Jersey Performing Arts Center at age 11. She graduated high school from Newarks Art High School and left the Garden State to pursue performing arts at Berklee College of Music.

2. She modeled her stage name after a Marvel Comics character.

Just as stars like Lady Gaga, The Weeknd and Miley Cyrus have done, MJ decided to take on a stage name while pursuing acting and singing. While still known as Michael Anthony Rodriguez Jr. prior to her transition, she took on the name MJ. The moniker was an obvious merge of initials in her real name, but MJ  — an avid comic book fan — also took inspiration for the name from Mary Jane “MJ” Watson, the love interest of Peter Parker/Spider-Man in the Marvel Comics. “The first time they called her MJ, I thought, ‘That’s a cool name!’ I put ‘Michael’ and ‘Junior’ together, and It worked out perfectly!” she told Broadway.com in 2011.

MJ Rodriguez
MJ Rodriguez at the finale party for ‘Pose’ in New York City on April 29, 2021 (Photo: Shutterstock)

3. She appeared in ‘Rent’ off-Broadway in college.

While in college, MJ was cast in a theater production of Rent as Angel Dumott Schunard. Her performance impressed actress Fredi Walker-Browne, who offered MJ the same role in the off-Broadway production of Rent. “Those are some big shoes to fill, and people expect to see the same thing they’ve seen before,” she told Broadway.com in 2011 of playing Angel. MJ’s performance in the production earned her the 2011 Clive Barnes Award. She was only 20 at the time.

4. MJ began transitioning in 2012…

From a young age, MJ felt that she was truly a female. She came out to her parents as bisexual/gay in 2014, but was still in denial about her truth. “I got into a stage of trying to be content with the person that I was betraying,” she told Playbill in 2016. After the Rent off-Broadway production closed in 2012, MJ took a hiatus from her rising career to begin her transitioning process.

Four years later, after beginning hormone replacement therapy in early 2016, MJ reemerged and officially identified as a female using she/her pronouns. “I’ve always felt I was the same person,” she told Playbill. “There was never really any change, there was just evolving that had to take place. I couldn’t put that in the public eye yet, because I wasn’t ready for the public eye to see it, so I had to take some time to myself to figure a lot of things out.”

MJ Rodriguez
MJ Rodriguez in an episode of ‘Pose’ (Photo: The Everett Collection)

5. … And her career has been booming ever since.

After MJ reemerged as her true self, her career skyrocketed. She snagged minor roles in TV shows like Nurse Jackie, The Carrie Diaries, and Luke Cage, and was even invited to audition in Hamilton on Broadway, though she sadly did not get the gig. But MJ’s big break came when she was cast as the lead female role in Pose. The series, which was created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Steven Canals, has received worldwide attention and praise for its massive transgender presence in the cast, as well as its exploration of Black queer people living in New York City in the 1980s.

Pose recently wrapped its third and final season, which means MJ’s journey as Blanca has ended. But if her performance in the show is any indication, she’ll go on to have a mighty impressive career in Hollywood. All the while being an inspiration to the transgender community.

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