Michaela Jaé Rodriguez Talks Trans Representation in Beauty and the Product She Can’t Keep Off Her Lips


Michaela Jaé Rodriguez pops up on the screen for our Zoom call looking fabulous as ever, and she is the embodiment of pink. Her metallic blazer, her shiny eyeshadow (Charlotte Tilbury Luxury Palette in Pillow Talk), and her glossy lip combo—all pink. Even the velvety throw pillows surrounding Rodriguez as well as the flowers and makeup that line the shelves behind her are varying shades of that gorgeous rosy hue.

It’s fitting, considering it’s the actress’s second year as the face of Charlotte Tilbury’s Pillow Talk franchise, which showcases the brand’s signature nude pink. She’s not only the brand’s first transgender muse, but also the first American one—and she’s killing it, as usual. Her newest campaign, which launches today, features the latest member to join the Pillow Talk crew: Plumpgasm.

How to Get Michaela Jaé Rodriguez’s Glossy Lip Combo

Lip Cheat in Foxy Brown

Charlotte Tilbury Lip Cheat in Foxy Brown

Matte Revolution in Pillow Talk Medium

Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution in Pillow Talk Medium

Pillow Talk Big Lip Plumpgasm in Medium to Deep

Charlotte Tilbury Pillow Talk Big Lip Plumpgasm in Medium to Deep

Part gloss, part plumper, the lip product comes in two shades: Pillow Talk Fair-Medium and Pillow Talk Medium-Deep. “It has all the things that you want,” Rodriguez gushes as she flashes her million-watt smile. “It gives you a plump and makes your lips look cute. And it’s glossy. It looks like candy on your lips. Candy that you can’t touch, but candy for your lips. And I think this is one of the best products that any girl could use. I use it every single day—it’s in my purse right now.”

The campaign itself conceives of Pillow Talk as a glamorous 80s dance studio, complete with leotards and Rodriguez at the center of it all. The 80s reference feels apropos too—after all, many of us first fell in love with the star on Pose, which depicts the ballroom scene of 1980s New York City. In case you missed it, she went on to become the first transgender actress to win a Golden Globe for that role as Blanca Rodriguez-Evangelista.

The multi-hyphenate has been up to a lot since then; she’s been releasing original songs, starring in Apple TV’s comedy series Loot, and is part of the main cast of the 12th season of American Horror Story: Delicate—the new seasons of both shows premiered just yesterday. “It’s kind of an action-packed [week],” she chuckles.

Plumpgasm is now available on CharlotteTilbury.com. Below, Rodriguez discusses her relationship with Charlotte Tilbury herself, what it’s like to work alongside Maya Rudolph, and Rodriguez’s secret anime obsession.

How did you first get connected to Charlotte Tilbury?

I remember it was around 2021. It was for an Oscar event. I remember having a whole conversation with her after the event and just falling into this kismet kind of amazing relationship. And I saw that she saw me. After that, I remember saying I love the work that she does—I’ve always been aligned with Charlotte Tilbury’s various products ever since I was—I can’t even remember. But I want to align myself with her because I think we might have the same kind of approach on how we want to influence people around the world. She’s been doing it for so long. And I was like, I want to join this. I want to join this party. And not to mention she’s fantastic. Long story short, I was blessed enough [by] the team and her to be tagged along as a muse and to be one of her faces. When that happened, it was kind of profound for me, because not only did I know that I had made history by being the first trans woman on a campaign like that, but also I knew that I wasn’t going to be the last.

michaela jaé rodriguez and charlotte tilbury

Dave Benett//Getty Images

Michaela Jaé Rodriguez and Charlotte Tilbury at the Elton John AIDS Foundation’s 31st Annual Academy Awards Viewing Party.

The trans and queer community has had such an influence on beauty trends, and yet makeup is generally still gendered and excluding. What are some ways in which you think the beauty industry could support and represent the queer community?

You know, I think more than anything, and this is in alignment, excuse me for bringing it back to Charlotte, but I think they might have to take a book a page out of her book and look at how diverse and how inclusive she is with the many groups of people that she has a part of her campaign. That’s how you show representation.

Totally. And what excites you most about this new campaign?

The product, honey!

What are some other Charlotte Tilbury products that are essentials in your makeup bag?

I do her Foxy Brown liner all the time before I put any of her glosses on. It’s my favorite because it’s not too chocolate, and it’s not too light. It’s just the right kind of chocolate, and it goes with any kind of lip.

Pose takes place in the 80s, and the new campaign takes place in an 80s dance studio. What’s your favorite 80s dance song?

Is Paula Abdul 80s? She’s definitely 80s. And if “straight up now, tell me do you really want to love me forever” [is] in the 80s, I will definitely put that up there.

michaela jaé rodriguez charlotte tilbury plumpgasm

Courtesy of Charlotte Tilbury

What’s your earliest beauty memory?

My earliest beauty memory was when I went to school and I wore brown mascara. I was in an art school, so all of us were creative and artistic. But there was this one girl named Chanel who noticed and kind of like, and I love you, Chanel, but we were younger. And we’re still cool to this day. But I remember her looking and going, “Do you have mascara on?” And I said, “I do.” And she was like, “It looks good.” And [that was] the best introduction to that because, even though it was kind of backhanded, she still solidified [that] I can continue on with beauty. It’s not just a standard for just one specific person. This is inclusion for everyone. Anyone can look their best in makeup.

And how old were you? Do you remember?

I was like, oh my God, like, 14.

What kind of makeup look do you feel most confident in?

Charlotte Tilbury Hollywood Flawless Filter

Hollywood Flawless Filter

Charlotte Tilbury Hollywood Flawless Filter

A glam look. Of course. Look, it’s crucial. It’s a complete finish. And I like to use her Flawless Filter collection. It looks right out of a photoshoot. It literally looks like you’re Photoshopped, but you’re not Photoshopped at all.

What’s your favorite memory from being on the set of American Horror Story?

I want to tell you everything, but I don’t want to give it away. I will say, out one of my favorite memories is when all of us gather together and we do some very sinister things as the characters, and it takes a lot to be able to play off of people in an acting space, to improv together, but we did so well. It was like we had already done it for years. So that was one of my favorite moments.

And what’s it like to work with Maya on Loot?

It was a dream. I mean, Maya is the guru of comedy, she is mother, and she is a great inspiration to look at. I like to think about all of the women that encompass my life, and she is one of those women along with Charlotte, I say, along with Viola Davis—there’s a group of women that I really consider strong pillars, and Maya and Charlotte are [some] of those women. And Maya just had a strong sense of self when she was on the set. She knows about comedy, she’s lived in comedy for so long, and she made me feel so safe.

And speaking of women, you went from being an actress to pursuing a singing career. Is there anyone who followed this path who inspires you now?

Whitney Houston, for sure. So she was born and raised in the same area I am. I feel like our trajectories in life have been kind of similar. Ryan Murphy, he kind of scooped me up like how Clive Davis scooped her up and put me on a trajectory that I never thought would happen. So I think she has been kind of my inspiration. And I always look up to her. I mean, we have the Beyoncés, and we have the Chloe and Halles. I look up to them all the time. But Whitney is just so close to [my] heart because we were born and raised in the same area.

On your Instagram, you recently spoke about experiencing social anxiety at the Academy Museum Gala last year. Do you have any words of wisdom to share with those of us who deal with the same thing?

The most important thing is to know that you are worthy, to know that you are enough, even in those moments. Even when you feel the most alone, there is always someone out there that sees you and is going to come over to you and make sure you’re alright. You know, I feel like with every single group of people that I’ve been surrounded with, especially when it’s with Charlotte, I felt safe when someone checked in on me or I felt safe when someone saw me. And in all of these instances, someone saw me, and that’s what helped me through.

You met Lenny Kravitz that night. Can you tell us all about it?

I did. I do want to talk about it. He actually came up to me and I was like, “You’re coming up to me? Oh, my God, you’re Lenny Kravitz.” He’s a gem. And we all know this. He’s an icon. But he gave me words of wisdom, too. And then he told me that Zoë watches me, and I didn’t even know that. Wow. But yeah, meeting Lenny was like icing on top of the cake for sure.

What are you looking forward to most in 2024?

Listen, I’m looking for elevation. But in general, I feel like legacy is an important thing. I’ve learned this from all the women that I’ve been around. A good group of men that I’ve been around as well. And I say to myself that I don’t want to be my own legacy. I want the new generation to be my legacy. I want them to carry on the words so that my words aren’t forgotten. I don’t want it just to be me creating my own legacy for myself—a lot of people do that. And I’m not doing that. When I’m gone, I want the words that were said from my mouth to trickle and to be told to everyone.

What’s your wind down routine after a long day on set?

Michaela Jaé Rodriguez’s Nighttime Skincare Routine

Magic Night Cream

Charlotte Tilbury Magic Night Cream

Charlotte’s Magic Serum Crystal Elixir

Charlotte Tilbury Charlotte’s Magic Serum Crystal Elixir

Collagen Superfusion Facial Oil

Charlotte Tilbury Collagen Superfusion Facial Oil

Charlotte’s Magic Cream

Charlotte Tilbury Charlotte’s Magic Cream

I definitely have a wind down skincare routine. I have to clean myself because makeup is on all day. And I don’t usually like to leave makeup on and from on set. I always like a clean finish so that when I wake up in the morning, I can also have just another layer of cleanness. So I use a whole bunch of products. This is one of the night creams—after a day’s work on Loot, or if it’s on American Horror Story, I go home and I make sure I wash my face and I put this on. But it doesn’t stop there. I’ll put my oils on just so that it can saturate and correlate that with the serum. These are essential. Then, after that, I’ll go over with the Magic Cream—just solidifies so that when I go to sleep, I know my skin is hydrated at night because sometimes your skin is not hydrated at night. It’s dry. And that’s when problems happen.

Are there any other shows right now that are on your dream wish list to be on?

Avatar The Last Airbender.

Are you a big Avatar fan?

Huge Avatar fan. I watched all three seasons of the anime. And I watched all of the first season of this one.

Are you a big anime person in general?

I’m a huge anime person.

What are your favorites?

That was a little secret, you know? But Little Witch Academia for sure. I mean, I love girl power. It’s clear. Girl power to the max. So yeah, I love watching anime that always [has] a female protagonist, always a female hero, heroine, no matter if she’s evil, or she’s good. I just want to watch her because it’s always a great arc in every story.

Do you have any words of wisdom or encouragement for young trans kids who are looking up to you?

I would tell them to be boisterous, be loud, be outspoken, and just don’t stop having tenacity. Be seen. Even when you feel the most fear. As you asked me, when I was in a space where I felt alone, I still challenged myself, and I challenge every trans youth, every queer youth—shoot, every hetero youth, because there are some young kids who are struggling too who are hetero. All youth. Never let anyone tell you who you are. You know who you are the moment you come into this world, so be you. Be you no matter who you are, trans, if you’re gay, if you’re lesbian, if you’re hetero, if you encompass LGBTQIA, all, anyone, if you’re queer, anything, be yourself. And one thing we can say that is a testament to that is looking at where I and many other trans women have got. I’ve never thought in a million years I would be one of the first trans women on a campaign like this with Charlotte. But look at what we’ve accomplished.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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