When “Tangerine” — the story of two transgender prostitutes over the course one chaotic day in Los Angeles — premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, Mya Taylor was hardly a star. But anyone who saw “Tangerine” would agree that she was about to become one. In the movie, Taylor performs opposite longtime friend Kiki Rodriguez as the pair deal with maniacal clients, an aggressive pimp and police problems, while director Sean Baker (“Starlet,” “Prince of Broadway”) turns their odyssey into a disarming comedy (shot entirely on an iPhone). Taylor’s boisterous personality isn’t just the anchor of the movie; it spills off the screen. In the months after “Tangerine” first screened, Taylor has joined the ranks of “Orange is the New Black” breakout Laverne Cox in a steadily growing list of transgender actors to watch. Having recently shot a new project and fielding other offers, Taylor spoke to Indiewire about her experiences with her first movie and what she hopes to do next. “Tangerine” opens July 10.
I always wanted to be an actor, but “Tangerine” just came my way. Why pass up something so good? Sean was just very sincere about getting me to play this part. I loved his personality. I couldn’t say no to this opportunity.
I thought I was just doing a regular project. Something where I could just say, oh, I love this movie and I gave it my all. Never in a million years did I think it would go into theaters and make me some sort of star.
The Sundance reception felt like an orgasm. It was everything. I loved it. I was feeling so much energy from everybody. That made me confident.
I am different than my character in terms of her situation. But the personality, the jokes, all that stuff, that’s me in every day life. I love to see people happy and Alexandra does. I was able to alter most of the script, actually, most of it. To be able to put my own personality into it. That’s why I was hired for the part.
Sean seemed to think since we were first time actors that the iPhone kept us from being nervous. But I just did another film, “Happy Birthday Marsha,” and we had a really big camera on that one. It felt like the same thing to me.
The new movie follows the life of Marsha P. Johnson, who helped start the Stonewall riots. So she’s a very iconic person and I’m very proud of the role. I did a lot of studying of the real Johnson for that role. I met a few of her friends. They came to set. I studied her voice to sound exactly like her. Her friends say it’s eerie because it’s spot-on.
The filmmakers hunted me down for this role. And now there’s somebody else I’m talking to about another role. I need to call them back. I’m also working on my first album with Kenyth Mogan, my fabulous writer. He’s the inspiration for everything I do. “Tangerine” has really catapulted me to the top. But it’s too early to think about that too much.
There’s a movement that’s going on and I’m glad to be a part of it. I do see other opportunities now. People are more comfortable with transgender performers. I think this movie is taking that in the right direction. But there’s still a lot of work to do.
In terms of my influences? I love TS Madison, [also known as] Madison Hinton. She’s my trans idol. I really want to meet her. She’s so real and so raw. She’s being herself completely. And I love, love, love Laverne Cox.
But I also love Stephen King. He’s everything. My favorite movie is “Rose Red.” It’s about this huge house that’s haunted. I want to be in a movie and die. I want to run and scream and fall like all the other dumb bitches.