The Working Actor
Ever since I was seven years old, I knew two things: that I wanted to pursue the arts and that I identified as female. The question from that moment was, How am I going to make both of those parts coexist? Ultimately, the combination of hard work, dedication, passion, perseverance and, most importantly, support, made me the actor I am today.
Jumping hurdles being trans.Before I could hone the technique and tools I needed as an actor, I first had to get past the hurdles of being a transgender woman in the audition room. Yes, positive change for and within the LGBTQ community is coming fast, but there is still an incredible amount of work to do. I had to wait years before getting cast as the woman I am today and I still face obstacles in this industry. It’s very difficult being trans or non-binary in the world of acting because many in power are not open to casting us. While actors are often advised to just be their best individual selves when auditioning, there have been times when I was told I was “too specific,” something I feared would be a recurring criticism and hold me back from ever getting cast. As trans women, we have to fight almost every waking moment to declare that we are capable and worthy of playing all sorts of characters and not solely trans-specific roles.
Meeting the demands of the job.Acting is obviously one of the hardest professions to break into. The audition process can be grueling if you’re not in the right headspace. You have to be prepared for the full spectrum of challenges and demands, from waking up at the crack of dawn, preparing sides or music, sending off self-recorded videos, waiting to receive a “yes” or a “no.” But auditioning for anything and everything that you feel is right for you is vital; it thickens your skin through potential rejection.
Implementing hard work, dedication, and passion.With an acting career’s inherent challenges, you must have the passion and dedication to work and fully commit to your craft. In order to pursue it, your love for acting has to be so deep that even the most extreme rejection does not stop or deter from your ultimate goals. You will very likely hear “no” more than “yes,” but having the passion to move forward will push you to the next level. When you’re a trans actor, it’s even more difficult because there are a limited amount of roles out there for us. But when you have an intense love for something, you have to fight to be present, to do the work, and to make space for others. With this comes a responsibility to developing your craft with training and remaining focused. In addition, I’ve found that simply being courteous and kind, along with maintaining a positive outlook and healthy self-esteem, goes a long way.
Leaning on your support system.Having a support system is one of the most crucial things anyone needs in order to succeed as a rising actor, especially as an African American trans woman. It’s always good to have friends or family to confide in when you feel like you are down and out. My mother, for example, has been my biggest inspiration. She has been on my side since the day I decided to take the leap into this field and has been there with me every step of the way. If you are lucky enough to have someone who is fully dedicated and willing to embark on this journey with you, it will make you that much stronger.
Being yourself.Last but not least, be exactly who you are! Never betray yourself to be someone you’re not or who others may expect or want you to be. Making my identity as a trans woman coexist with my acting career became fairly easy once I stepped out of my own way and let the world receive me as who I truly was. It was scary but also extremely liberating because I shed the ideas of what others thought of me, gathered the tools I needed to succeed, and made a plan to persevere so I could live to tell the story.
Mj Rodriguez makes her feature film debut with “Saturday Church” from writer-director Damon Cardasis. She can next be seen Ryan Murphy’s anticipated FX series, “Pose.”