Michaela Jaé Rodriguez on Starring in Calvin Klein’s Newest Campaign and Her Quest for an EGOT
When it comes to fashion campaigns, few are more iconic than Calvin Klein. For decades, being handpicked to rock jeans and underwear has stood for much more than simply showing a little skin: it’s a sign of transcending a moment and becoming a bonafide cultural icon. For its fall campaign, the brand whittled its tried-and-true assortment of essentials down to their essence. The new Modern Cotton basics are updated with softer fabrics and relaxed silhouettes, and the denim is getting bigger and better, as we continue our long goodbye to the skinny jean and opt to embrace more utilitarian, relaxed silhouettes. The campaign pulled together some of the biggest names of today (and probably forever), with an all-star cast including Blackpink’s Jennie, models Precious Lee and Rianne Van Rompaey, and Susan Sarandon. In the accompanying photos, each model is honored as a confident, relaxed, and inspiring creative. Nothing is held back—it’s just them and the clothes.
A standout of the cast is Michaela Jaé Rodriguez (you may have previously known her as MJ), who is a force in her own right. After starting her career in theater, the actress took the world by storm in FX’s hit drama Pose, joining the largest cast of transgender actors in scripted television history. She not only garnered an Emmy nomination for her sizzling, nuanced performance as the HIV-positive trans woman Blanca Evangelista, but she also notably became the first transgender woman to ever win a Golden Globe. Rodriguez currently stars in the hilarious, almost-too-real show Loot on Apple TV+ as Sophia, a dedicated, no-nonsense social worker. In honor of officially becoming a CK girl, Rodriguez spoke exclusively with ELLE.com about confidence, her dream collaborators, and what’s on her fall shopping list.
This campaign is all about confidence. What does confidence mean to you?
Confidence to me means having a definite self-assured trust within yourself—when it’s at its highest, it’s hard to shift the weight of its presence.
Your Instagram feed is rife with self-love messaging, which we love to see. What would you say is your favorite trait about yourself, if you had to pick just one?
I love making people feel happy, and I feel like my favorite trait about myself is being silly. I have a funny side of me that a lot of people don’t get to see—I get bashful when others do.
What’s the most iconic Calvin Klein campaign you can remember?
I think the most iconic Calvin Klein campaign I can remember is Jari Jones’ [campaign]. I’ve known Jari since college, so it was such a fulfilling moment to see her up there on the iconic NYC billboard as one of the first trans-queer models to be represented!
What do you think is the next step forward in representing trans women of color in mainstream media?
I hate to sound preachy, but I think awareness is an important revolving door for us. I think speaking up for us in mainstream media is one thing and definitely makes waves, but taking action on behalf of trans women of color is what makes such tremendous and profound impacts. It catapults change.
What can we expect to see from your character on Loot?
I think we will constantly see extensive growth in the character of Sophia. Her arc in the show is quite amazing due to her work in under-housed communities. We’ll get to see her loosen up just a bit more, and see her relax and enjoy the hard work that she puts in for Molly Novak.
Being the first transgender woman in history to win a Golden Globe is quite a feat. What’s next on your bucket list?
Oh my goodness, thank you! I think my next goal is to keep garnering artistic experiences [and] learning from them, so that one day, not too far down the line, EGOT becomes foreseeable.
Whose career in Hollywood do you admire the most?
I would say Beyoncé’s and Rihanna’s careers are ones I would admire most, because they’re so seamless. They work so hard, and the transitions throughout their lives were so smooth. Not to mention I’ve seen both of these women in spaces, and they remind me of myself when it comes to being chill, laid-back, and down to earth, which I pride myself on. They are both overall well-rounded artists, and I love seeing their constant growth; it reminds me I’m on the right track.
Speaking of music, what’s on your summer playlist?
There are these two new girl groups called Flo and Boys World that I constantly have on blast in my car. Flo has a song out called “Summertime” that just makes me feel like I’m on the beach with my girls wreaking some fun havoc. I can’t get them out of my head!
Who is your dream musical collab, and what sort of song would you record with them?
My dream collab would be either Doja Cat or Beyoncé, because they’re such great performers, and I think we would match each other’s energy really well when it comes time to do the job. As far as songs go, I would definitely do an upbeat pop R&B dance song to showcase what we can both do vocally and performance-wise together.
Lastly, a couple quick style questions. What’s the best fashion hack you’ve picked up from your glam squad?
Makeup oil pads are probably the best style hack I could ever have taken away from my glam squad. When you get a little oily, those pads come in handy, okay!
What do you typically look for when you shop?
The main thing I typically look for when I go shopping is a simple cropped white shirt. I feel like you can never go wrong with a crop top or a pair of Calvins. They go with everything!
The Calvin Klein fall collection is now available online at calvinklein.us and in Calvin Klein stores worldwide. Shop our selects below:
Kevin LeBlanc is the Fashion Associate at ELLE Magazine. He covers fashion news, trends, and anything to do with Robyn Rihanna Fenty.