Set in the world of trans sex-workers in Hollywood, Tangerine follows Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez as their characters, Sin-Dee and Alexandra, track down a cheating boyfriend. Using an iPhone 5, Sean Baker captures a night filled with humor, love, friendship and drama.
I spoke with Mya Taylor to talk about her inspiration, how her knowledge and experience led to a starring role in the film, and about working with Sean Baker.
Awards Daily: Let’s talk about what attracted you to this when Sean said this is the film I want to do and I want you involved.
Mya Taylor : Sean Baker and Christopher Bergoch were at the LGBT center on Santa Monica and we were all in the courtyard. Sean said that Mya had this good quality, there’s something about her, and I just have to talk to her. Those were Sean’s words. He came up to me and wanted to know about the area, or stories. He just wanted to know. So, it all started out as research and I was able to tell him everything that I knew, and everything that I had experienced. In the whole process of telling him this, he fell in love with my personality and my humor and everything. We started having more meetings and I eventually introduced him to my roommate at the time, Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and he fell in love with her too because we were such opposites and that’s how we got started.
AD: It was interesting because it was a story and not really an issue film.
MT: I wanted it to be very real. If you’re going to talk about this area, then you need to make it as real as possible.
AD: When Sean said he was going to shoot on an iPhone 5, what was your reaction to that?
MT: I said, “This is going to be ghetto.” That was my reaction to that.
AD: What was it like working with a director shooting on an iPhone 5. It’s new, it’s innovative.
MT: I shot another film called Happy Birthday Marsha, it’s a short film. It’s no different at all that shooting with a regular camera. It’s obvious, don’t look at the camera. Whether it’s a studio camera or an iPhone, you’re not going to be looking at it. It shouldn’t make a difference to your acting.
AD: You touched on the humor. The film is gritty, but at the same time you bring humor to the screen, was that important?
MT: Yes, it was. I didn’t want it full of sad people. I’m a very uplifting person, I love for people to be happy, I don’t like to see people sad. I understand the storyline is sad enough. When ever I struggled with life, whenever I was down like as far as I could go down, I didn’t get sad about it. I made humor out of it. When you don’t have anything else, all you can do is laugh to try to bring yourself up. So, that’s what I did for Tangerine.
AD: Let’s talk about you. When did you wake up and decide you wanted to be an actress and follow your dream?
MT: Well you know, I always wanted to be a full-on entertainer because I sing, primarily. Singing is my biggest thing. I can’t wait to get music out next year, and I can’t wait to show the world what my voice is really made of.
I had this idol when I was growing up, it’s sad that she’s gone now. She died at the age of 22. Aaliyah. She was everything to me. She is gorgeous, she’s so talented, she sings, she acts, she models. Her movie was Romeo Must Die. People say they can’t tell it’s her first movie because she’s so natural with it. I said, I wanted to be like that. When I did Tangerine, I put everything into it. You could say, I’m following in Aaliyah’s footsteps.
AD: What can you tell me about the music.
MT: I have a writer, Kenyth Mogan, he is a musician and songwriter. He said he wanted to work with me, and he loves my voice. He and I got on the phone, and I sang for him. He wrote me a song, my new inspiration are the Braxtons, Toni and Tamar Braxton sisters. I told him, I wanted a song just like Toni’s song Clockwork. It was an unreleased song and didn’t make her album. Clockwork was taken off the album and I told him I wanted a song like that.
He came up with a song that was so sexy and so seductive, and it’s called, “Tease me. Please me.”
AD: When can we expect that?
MT: I don’t know because I’m doing one project at a time. Probably March or April when I’ll record it.
AD: What do you think the attraction is of Tangerine?
MT: I think it’s the strong bond between the two friends, and the love they have for each other. I believe it’s the humor. When people watch Tangerine they’re going to want to know why these girls are out of the street. They’re two beautiful girls, they’re loving women, why are they doing sex work?
I think people are going to start researching that to see why transgender do sex work. I’m not saying every trans woman does sex work, because every transgender woman does not do sex work.
AD:The trans community has seen growth in the public eye, through films like Tangerine, and The Danish Girl.
MT: I went to the premiere of The Danish Girl. I love love love the movie. I love the production and think it’s a beautiful movie. I talked with Tom Hooper, the director. Tom Hooper is the nicest gentlemen and charming. He is a sweetheart.
I remember years ago, when I was depressed because I had something down there that I didn’t want. I was so depressed that I contemplated cutting it off myself, when really that’s not how the surgery is done. It was such an extreme point of life for me at that point, so that’s why the movie touched me. It showed that this is very important for transgender women to have their parts that they want.