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Could this be the first trans actress to snatch an Oscar?

Watch as Kiki Kitana Rodriguez explodes on screen in the wickedly funny iPhone-shot movie Tangerine

Taken from Dazed’s Autumn 2015 issue:

Kiki Kitana Rodriguez is still buzzing from her photoshoot with Dazed. “It was so hot!” says the 27-year-old actress, who makes her livewire screen debut in Tangerine, released Friday. “They gave me a pair of Louis, my first ever. They hurt my feet because they were one size too small, but I wore them anyway because Mariah Carey said be perfect even if it hurts.”

Tangerine is the wickedly funny, sneakily affecting story of Sin-Dee Rella (Rodriguez), a transgender sex worker just out of prison who sees red when her best friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor) lets slip that her pimp boyfriend Chester (The Wire’s James Ransone) has been cheating on her with a ‘fish’ (cis-woman). Shot on an iPhone in authentically sleazy parts of West Hollywood, Baker’s film is not so much a ‘transgender’ movie as it is a story about the special, albeit slightly fucked-up, bond of sisterhood that comes with life lived on the hustle. Conspicuously avoiding the Hollywood route of trowelling on the ‘issues’ for easy mainstream consumption, the film owes much of its gritty hood flavour to performances of rare comic timing and vulnerability from first-timers Rodriguez and Taylor, who were cast after the film’s makers visited a local LGBTQ centre as part of their research for the story. With both actresses now backed by a glitzy campaign for 2016 Oscar glory, could Kiki Kitana Rodriguez be the first trans woman to be nominated for an Oscar?

This is your first part as an actress, where are you from originally?

Kiki Kitana Rodriguez: I grew up in San Bernardino, California. San Bernardino is like living in the country, which is why so many of my friends have country accents. It’s located on high desert, which is colder. In the cold, it’s very cold, and the heat is very hot. We have coyotes, mountain lions and butterflies – I’m terrified of butterflies. When I was in fourth grade, we did the typical caterpillar-to-cocoon experiment, and when we released them they all flew at me – I’ve been terrified ever since. Otherwise, I’m not scared of anything. I’m a skater girl, I surf, I mountain climb, all in Cali.

Did anything weird happen while you were on set working on the film? 

Kiki Kitana Rodriguez: Everything! I never knew that anyone named James (Ransone, co-star) could be so hood. Another thing is that Hollywood is far more ghetto than people think. People were getting robbed on set because they were leaving stuff on location. By the time we’d be done shooting, some people’s stuff would be missing. And the scenes at Donut Time – that’s a real place! A real business. So our producer who played the girl at the counter would sometimes actually have to sell donuts at Donut Time because we were shooting on site! We also had people come and ask us where they could buy drugs, not realising we were shooting! It’s not that we were affiliated with any shady business, but that was the consequence of shooting on site. We simply were in an area where people are looking to buy drugs.

How were you cast in the film? 

Kiki Kitana Rodriguez: Mya (Taylor, co-star) had met (director) Sean (Baker) before I did. She remembered that I’d went to college minoring in musical theatre, so she took me along to meet them. I didn’t know I was gonna be cast! I thought Mya and I were just talking about our lives, and Sean and Chris (Bergoch, the film’s co-writer) just went ahead and said, ‘Why not just play those roles?’

What can you tell us about your character, Sin-Dee? 

Kiki Kitana Rodriguez: She actually is not like me! I do relationships, and I’m very loyal, but I don’t like drama. Everyone asks, ‘Were you acting?’ In reality, I’m actually the most forgiving person. I’m not violent. 

What makes her unique? 

Kiki Kitana Rodriguez: She doesn’t care what anyone else thinks... and she has a hot boyfriend!

In what ways are you similar? 

Kiki Kitana Rodriguez: We’re similar as friends. We’re good friends. We both are willing to stand up for ourselves and will speak our minds; we’re blunt.

“I was very proud of the last scene, when I took off my hair […] As a trans girl, taking your hair off is like being naked. A trans girl’s hair is everything to her” – Kiki Kitana Rodriguez

Apparently there was a lot of improvisation on set, is there a moment you’re particularly proud of on that front? 

Kiki Kitana Rodriguez: The area that the film was shot in was truly genuine to my lifestyle, which really made it easy to improvise. I was very proud of the last scene, when I took off my hair. I would never do that, I’m morally against it. I wouldn’t want anyone to see me naked, and that’s what it felt like. As a trans girl, taking your hair off is like being naked. I’m not a cis woman, I’m trans. A trans girl’s hair is everything to her. 

What kinds of role would you like to play in the future? 

Kiki Kitana Rodriguez: I would love to play in something very dramatic. I would even play a man, as well. As an actress, that would be challenging. My dream was to play a trans girl as a trans girl myself, because it’s important to bring that to the screen, in a genuine light... But playing any role would show that I have no limitations. That would make me a great actress. 

Do you feel that transgender roles should go to transgender people? 

Kiki Kitana Rodriguez: I think that it should go to whoever does the best job. People write roles because they want whoever will play it best. That’s why they say you have to know how to do everything.

“I wanted to be  ‘unbeweavable’, being connected with everyone in the world through my weave. Like, if someone needed help, I would know because my weave is with them” – Kiki Kitana Rodriguez

What do you think Tangerine is about at heart?

Kiki Kitana Rodriguez: I think it’s about forgiveness and sisterhood. It’s not about being transgendered. Sure, it shows what trans girls go through, but that’s not what it’s about. 

What was the most intense scene to film?

Kiki Kitana Rodriguez: Removing my hair and kissing James. I was nervous. He’s a straight, heterosexual male and I didn’t want to make it awkward. I respect him and his boundaries. I wanted to say, ‘Just go for it!’ But I found myself making sure that I did it in a way that respected his space.  

I heard you had an idea for your own film, called Unbeweavable. What’s that about?  

Kiki Kitana Rodriguez: Omygosh. I want to do a movie where everyone is in the ghetto, smoking this new weed from a different planet. They get so high that they start talking about what powers they wish they had. And I wanted to be  ‘unbeweavable’, being connected with everyone in the world through my weave. Like, if someone needed help, I would know because my weave is with them. I got the idea from an article about a woman who was shot in the back of the head, but her weave actually caught the bullet and she lived. It got caught in her hair. So I want this super-weave. She would be able to swing through streets with her hair, she could plug her hair into, like, an AT&T connection and communicate with everyone.

Tangerine is out in cinemas Friday