Guest of Honor

‘Tangerine’ Star Mya Taylor Talks Hollywood Realness

The award-winning actor explains how her life informed her acclaimed film debut and what's missing from mainstream conversations on transgender issues.

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Actor Mya Taylor debuted this year in “Tangerine” – a buddy film about two transgender women of the night who spend Christmas Eve trekking across Hollywood. She won a Gotham award for the role, and the film’s producers, the Duplass brothers, launched an Oscar campaign on her behalf — the first time that’s ever been done on behalf of an openly transgender actor.

Alas, no nomination. A situation we hope we’re partially rectifying by awarding her our first NOTscar.

“Tangerine” was shot entirely on an iPhone, but the real innovation is the fun and furious look it takes at an overlooked subculture. In this clip, Mya’s character, Alexandra, meets her pal Sin-Dee at a donut shop. Sin-Dee’s just emerged from a month in prison:

In real life, Mya was once herself a sex worker in Hollywood. When Brendan spoke with her, he asked if the real world and the fictional world collided during filming.

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Mya Taylor: Oh my God yes! Like it would really, really just piss me off. Like, some people’d walk up to me: “Girl, what you doing?” [And I would say] “Bitch, don’t you see the camera rolling and the sound equipment here? Like, move around! Don’t come over here bothering me, I don’t mess with you anyway!”

Brendan Francis Newnam: You told the story, when this movie came out, about how this movie came to pass. Basically, you met with the director Sean Baker at a Jack In The Box in Hollywood, and talked a couple times a week. And you shared stories from your life that he drew from to make this movie. Is there one scene in particular in the movie that kind of came directly from your experience?

Mya Taylor: Yeah, yeah. Like, I was walking down the street one day, and I saw one of the girls on the streets working. And somebody came by and threw a bottle of piss out from their car at her. And it landed all over her. And that was very sad, actually.

Brendan Francis Newnam: At the end of the movie — spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen it — a scene like that happens. And then there’s this incredibly moving moment, where you’re cleaning the wig of your friend, in the film. And, and you take off your wig… and it’s just this quiet intimate moment. And I’m wondering when you were filming that, do you remember what it felt like?

Mya Taylor: It felt like I was taking off my wig and giving it to somebody else! [laughs] No, because like… I had to have my hair braided. Because I have a lot of hair — real hair. And so I was fine with it, because I was like, “Oh that’s OK. I got hair up under here, so I don’t care.”

But it was very sweet. I mean, it’s not something that I wanted to do, but then I said, “You know what, you never know what could come of this movie. So I’m going to do what I’m told, and do this scene.” Because it was obviously gonna be a big touching scene.

Now in real life, I don’t think that I would be taking off my wig to give it to anybody. Because that’s my wig, that belongs on my head [laughs].

Brendan Francis Newnam: All right. Well, I’m not gonna ask you for your wig [Mya laughs].

This movie was one of my favorites of last year. For a lot of reasons. But, it also, I think, attracted attention because it arrived at this specific cultural moment. Where, you know, society seems to be talking about the transgender community. In general, there’s an uptick in fiction and non-fiction stories about the transgender community. And I’m wondering what you make of this attention.

Mya Taylor: Well, it’s nice to see the diversity on TV now. Trans talent is being hired. And also, people are discovering, you know, that transgender people exist. But there’s still a lot of work to do. You know?

Brendan Francis Newnam: I wanted to ask you about that. There’s been a lot of conversation around this topic, but is there something that you feel isn’t brought up enough?

Mya Taylor: Well, most of the questions that I’m asked are normally [regarding] Hollywood trans people. OK: I look at myself and I think I’m very blessed. I look at Caitlyn [Jenner], Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, T.S. Madison. But think about all the other transgender people who suffer day by day. You know, doing sex work and everything because they can’t get a job. Or constantly being harassed by different people just because they’re transgender and stuff like that. Or don’t have a place to live. Sometimes I feel like, in my interviews, we are focused on… not the wrong thing, but I think there’s a bigger picture of what we need to be focused on. You know what I mean?

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah. When researching for this interview — despite this attention in Hollywood to the transgender community — last year I read there was an up-tick in transgender violence, of something like 13 percent.

Mya Taylor: Unfortunately, you can’t change the way everybody thinks. You know, there’s always gonna be some people who just hate somebody just because they’re different.

I feel like God put me here… for one thing, to mind my business. To live life the best way I can, and be the best person that I can be, and love and respect everybody else, and honor and worship Him. So I wish that other people would just mind their business and respect everybody else for the decisions that they decide to make.

Brendan Francis Newnam: All right, we have two standard questions we ask all of our guests. And the first question is: what question are you tired of being asked in interviews?

Mya Taylor: Yes, I’m tired of being asked, “So how did you and Sean meet?” Or “How did this process start for the movie?” You know, when people ask me that, I be thinking like, “Didn’t you just fucking read it inside of a magazine?!”

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah! And our second question is: tell us something we don’t know.

Mya Taylor: Something people don’t know about me, is, I guess… I live in North Dakota, which you could say that’s the home of the buffalo. It’s the buffalo state —

Brendan Francis Newnam: Have you seen any buffalo?

Mya Taylor: Yeah, they’re so cute, but they’re so big!

And the reason why I live in North Dakota is, for one I’m in love. With the most amazing guy in the whole entire world, I love him so much. And actually that’s where my first date was at — on the buffalo farm. He took me to go see the buffalo. Because I love animals. 

And I love living here because it’s quiet, it’s away from our Hollywood life, you know. Going to an airport and getting recognized is nice and everything. But it’s like… I just like to live simple.

Brendan Francis Newnam: I feel like a lot of people assume that being transgender is probably easier on the coasts. In a city like L.A., or New York, or San Francisco. Have you found that to be the case?

Mya Taylor: No. I mean, where I live, in North Dakota… “Tangerine” didn’t make it to North Dakota — like the theaters here — thank God! It is on Netflix. And I have been spotted at the airports here. But it’s like… people don’t know that I’m transgender by looking at me. So I like that. You know? I can just live a normal life as a woman.

Brendan Francis Newman: So in North Dakota, you can live a normal life as a woman, and you can also live a normal life as a non-actor — you’re kind of just a civilian. So, two layers of anonymity.

Mya Taylor: I always said when I got into this industry, I’d never let it change me. I’d never get big-headed about how much money I’m making, or what I’m doing, or this or that. I was always going to remain the same person, who lived in a normal home, who ate the same food, who still talked to the same people and acted the same way. The same sweet humble person. I will always remain the same. I will never change.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Except for the pet buffalo that you have now.

Mya Taylor: I wish that I had a pet buffalo. I don’t know where I’d keep it!

  • pjbthree

    Pet buffalo? Wow she must be a fan of the Christian cartoon Veggie Tales and their “Wish I Had a Water Buffalo Song!” Good for her!

  • WFox

    To adopt pet buffalo, get in touch with the Buffalo Field Campaign who continue to stand with some of the last indigenous bison in the US.

    http://www.buffalofieldcampaign.org/aboutus/whatwedo.html