Spirit Awards: 'Tangerine' Director on Transgender Actress Mya Taylor's Historic Win: "This Is All I Care About"

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The writer-director talks to THR about how he feels watching one of his actors win big at Saturday's Spirit Awards.

Mya Taylor applied for 186 jobs and went on 26 interviews and she says that after throwing all those darts, not one of them stuck and landed her a full-time job.

The reason? "My gender and my name did not match how I looked, because I looked like a woman but still had my other name," the transgender star of Tangerine revealed backstage after making history by picking up the prize for best supporting actress at Saturday's Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica, marking the first time a transgender talent has won an award at the event.

Then she met Sean Baker.

The writer-director offered her a starring role in his high-octane dramedy about two transgender prostitutes. "I have had a long journey through my 2015 because I had come from almost nothing and then got this role and this movie, and my life just did a total 360," she said on stage.

The entire audience had their eyes glued to Taylor while she delivered her speech. And moments after she finished, Baker told THR that he "wasn't exactly sure" that Saturday's results would be in Tangerine's favor. "It's so incredible," he said. "It's a groundbreaking moment and Mya was so incredible up there [giving her acceptance speech]. This is all I care about. I don't care about me winning or best picture. I care about these two parlaying this into their future. That's all that matters to me."

The two he's referring to are Taylor and her co-star, best female lead nominee Kiki Kitana Rodriguez. Oscar favorite Brie Larson picked up the prize in that category for her performance in Room and Rodriguez didn't make it to Saturday's ceremony. "She's not in a place right now where she wants to pursue this and maybe that will change," Baker said with genuine optimism.

Over his shoulder, Tangerine executive producer Jay Duplass said he is ecstatic over Taylor's win. "I'm blown away. I'm so proud of her and so proud of Sean," he said to THR.

The significance of the moment wasn't lost on producer and Film Independent board member Alan Poul, who told THR that the "trailblazing" moment is richly-deserved. "This is an example of the Spirit Awards at its best. It takes a kind of more egalitarian, more inclusive forum like the Spirit Awards to be able to allow someone like Mya to break through," he said.

Following the recognition of her role in Tangerine, Taylor signed with ICM Partners for representation and she's currently at work developing a TV show about trans youth. But she admitted backstage that she currently lives far from Hollywood. “I currently live in South Dakota," she said, adding that she moved to be with her fiance. "It is hard to meet a good guy in LA. … I met a great guy that is better than every L.A. guy in here.”

No matter where she lives, Poul said Taylor is now part of a "deep wellspring of talent that will really help move the ball forward" in Hollywood. "In the future, people will look first to trans actors to play trans roles," he said. "This helps to validate something that is already in motion in shows like Transparent."

As for how he thinks Taylor's win will impact the future casting of trans talent, Baker is again optimistic. "I think definitely," he said. "How can it not?"

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