'Tangerine' Stars Mya Taylor and Kitana "Kiki" Rodriguez on the Perks of Fame, Caitlyn Jenner and Donuts
Caitlyn Jenner isn't the only trans star this summer. The ladies of acclaimed indie 'Tangerine' have also been enjoying — or enduring? — the spotlight.
It's been a long day for Mya Taylor and Kitana "Kiki" Rodriguez.
The trans stars of Sean Baker's touching indie Tangerine — an offbeat Magnolia Pictures serio-comedy about the friendship (and misadventures) of two transgender prostitutes on Christmas Day in a gritty L.A. — are facing their final interview during the press junket for their very first film. Once we're done talking inside a darkly lit suite inside Hollywood's Redbury Hotel, they'll have a little more than an hour to pick fresh ensembles and head downtown for the film's L.A. premiere. And they need a break, as evidenced by a pair of sighs and Taylor's claim of "It's a lot" when asked how the day has gone.
Much has been written about the film since it premiered to near-universal acclaim (it currently has a glowing 93 percent Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and THR's David Rooney called it "vibrant and uplifting" and free of judgment or condescension): Baker shot the entire project on an iPhone 5S; it's an acting debut for Taylor and Rodriguez; much of it takes place inside Donut Time, located on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Highland Avenue; and it was executive produced by the Duplass brothers.
That said, it's difficult to peg Taylor or Rodriguez as newcomers. During a nearly 30-minute interview, the two come across, at times, as jaded Hollywood veterans. Rodriguez spends a lot of time staring at the floor, Taylor alternates between checking her cellphone and brushing her hair, and both deflect questions about their private lives. But when it comes to issues affecting the trans community, both actresses perk up and the natural chemistry they project onscreen comes back into focus.
Congratulations on the film. How does it feel to have a movie out in the world?
Rodriguez: Exciting, ecstatic, unprepared. (Laughs.) I'm just kidding.
Let's go back to the beginning. What did you think when Sean Baker approached you to star in a movie and added that it would all be shot on an iPhone? What went through your mind?
Taylor: Nothing went through my mind. I just thought it was a wonderful project to do. Never in a million years did I think it would turn out like this. It turned out to be so big.
Rodriguez: That sounds crazy and unrealistic. But when it's done and you see it, it's unbelievable. I'm happy to be a part of it.
How did you prepare?
Taylor: I just knew what I was doing, naturally.
Rodriguez: I did whatever I could to prepare. You can never be overprepared. This is a new horizon, new beginning and a new opportunity. Being in the limelight, I could only hope this is not the only platform for the trans community.
What was it like to work with Sean as a filmmaker?
Taylor: He's always open to ideas and new things. He's not close-minded. He's a complete sweetheart.
How did he prepare you?
Taylor: We did some practice because he wanted to see if we could really act and right then he was like, "OK, these are my two lead roles." We just knew what we were doing.
What was the most challenging part?
Taylor: Considering that for the most part our location wasn't blocked off so customers would come in and out, sometimes if we were doing a series of different shots from different angles, there would be a customer that was not there and we'd have to wait for them to leave. And sometimes they'd sit down and just eat and read a fucking book. It was stuff like that.
Rodriguez: Sometimes it would mess things up, sometimes it would add flavor to a scene, other times it would be a nuisance. But at the end of the day, it was realistic.
You filmed so much in Donut Time. How do you feel about donuts now?
Taylor: It didn't ruin me for doughnuts because I really don't eat them, like, a lot.
Rodriguez: I love doughnuts. I liked glazed — oh my god. I just had to say it like that. I like glazed doughnuts — oh my god.
Do you have a favorite scene?
Rodriguez: My favorite scene is when all the characters meet up at the end. It's a riot and full of diversity. It's full of life and full of what people do when they're in a group of people who they are not used to being around. It's a real-life scenario, like being at the airport, but so politically incorrect. That's life.
How old are you?
Taylor: I'm 24.
Rodriguez: I'm 16, 17, 18. Let's just say that I'm between my mid-20s and my preteens. But I'm probably closer to hitting 30.
And you both live in or around Los Angeles?
Taylor: No, I have moved out of the state. But it's part of my personal life and I don't talk about that in my interviews.
Rodriguez: I'm in Hollywood right now.
What's the biggest perk of your newfound fame?
Taylor: Getting everything I want. Whatever I say goes and whatever I want, I get.
Rodriguez: I don't see life that way for me. I don't want to think too far ahead. I want to stay in my frame of mind and take things one step at a time. When I think too much, everything ends up in shambles. I don't want to be in shambles right now. I want to be very stable. I need to be present.
What's the craziest thing you've wanted that you've gotten?
Taylor: I don't ask for much. I really don't. Like let's just say that I'm hungry right now, somebody is going to jump on it. I'm not going to get my own food, which I would still do. I'm a normal person, but there are always people there to do these things for us now.
Who are your acting inspirations? What actors do you admire or respect?
Taylor: I've always loved Aaliyah. Even though she's gone now, I've always loved her. But as far as celebrities, I really look up to Laverne Cox. Janet Mock is super gorgeous too. I love her. But my favorite trans celebrity is Ts Madison aka Big Dick Bitch, and all that good shit. I love Ts Madison — she's so real.
Rodriguez: Audrey Hepburn. I love Mya Taylor. She is so funny and I was so surprised, and when I saw the movie and how she portrayed her character and the way she acted, I was so in awe. She's an actress and she should go far!
Did you have any issues with the script and offer suggestions to tailor it more to how a trans person would speak?
Taylor: Yes, but it was minor changes, like adding, "Bitch, what's your T?" Or "Let's go out here to the grid and clock our grid." You know, things like that. When the script was written, there wasn't anything disrespectful.
The trans community has gotten a lot of attention as of late, specifically focused on increased acceptance and notable names like Laverne Cox or shows like Transparent. What would you say the status of the trans movement is today?
Taylor: It's a work in progress. There is still a lot that needs to be done. I feel like people will step up like Laverne and Janet and Ts Madison and Caitlyn Jenner and us. There's a lot going on.
Rodriguez: We have to remember to stay together as one, as supporters, as lovers, as sisterhood and brotherhood. It's going and nobody can stop reality. This is what is making waves in the industry. For me, it's tidal waves.
One of the biggest compliments is what a realistic portrayal Tangerine is of the neighborhoods, of the community.
Taylor: When Sean told me he was making this movie, I told him that I wanted it to be real and funny. I wanted people to see L.A. for what it really is. It's not all glamour, beautiful Beverly Hills and Westwood. [Some people] live that life, but there are people who are less fortunate. I wanted him to show that. We've gotten many compliments on the fact that we show how it is.
On the flip side, people might say that it's promoting stereotypes of trans women as prostitutes. What would you say to that?
Taylor: I would say fuck them.
Rodriguez: I would say it's realistic, and if you don't like it, then when you see it you're going to want to change it (snaps fingers).
You mentioned Caitlyn Jenner. If she were here right now, what would you say to her?
Taylor: I love you. I do. She's so gorgeous and so positive. And she's helping out in a big way.
Rodriguez: I would say thank you for proving that at any age you can go and be who you want to be.
I know you want to remain private, but I see that you're wearing a diamond ring on your finger. Are you engaged?
Taylor: Yes, there is a special guy in my life and his name is James. He's a very special guy and yes, we do plan on marriage.