The film that changed everything

Mya Taylor discusses her career and the legacy of Tangerine

by Jennie Kermode

Mya Taylor in Tangerine
Mya Taylor in Tangerine

Originally released in 2025 and now enjoying another moment in the sun thanks to the release of an excellent Blu-ray package, Sean Baker’s Tangerine broke new cinematic ground in multiple ways. It was the first feature film ever to be short on an iPhone, changing the way that people thought about the process of filmmaking and inspiring a new generation of storytellers. It took viewers into the dark side of Hollywood, revealing a community of people living hand to mouth, trading sex or drugs, and doing it in an authentic and respectful way. And it told a story centred on trans women who were actually played by trans women, which had nothing to do with the process of transition but recognised their more complex lives. I spoke with one of its stars, Mya Taylor, about her memories of the production and why it meant so much.

“It's the most important film of my career, because of everything that followed with it,” she says.

Mya Taylor with Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in Tangerine
Mya Taylor with Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in Tangerine

“So initially, Sean and Chris [Bergoch, the writer] were walking around doing research about the area, because the area was very hot at night, you know? You could drive by and tell that things went on, but not everybody knew exactly what was going on in the area. So when Sean had approached me, I was open to be like, ‘Oh honey, let me give you an earful on what's going on around here.’ She laughs. “I was a part of what was going on around there. Well, you know, I was telling him about the street work and the struggle and the hustle and everything. But during that he loved my personality and how I was telling the story.

“I was able to make them laugh, even though some of the experiences were dark. And he asked me, he said, ‘I want to do this project. Can you act?’ And I was like, ‘Well, yeah, I mean, I did theatre and everything.’ Plus, a little bit before that, before I started my transition, I did a film role, which is something I've never mentioned in an interview before. I did a film role in Hollywood Wasteland. It was a web series, and I played a celebrity that got turned into a zombie because I drank a potion or something like that. It was something crazy. I did it when I was 17 or 18 years old, but it was before my transition, which is why I had never mentioned it in other interviews. So I had some experience behind in front of the camera and everything.

“So he loved my personality, and he asked me about other people and stuff - like if I had anybody who'd be interested in coming on board and collaborating with him on the project. However, I did not know that this project would turn out to be what it was. I thought it was going to be something where it's like, okay, if we do this, we make a little bit of money and we have fun doing it. And you know what? I'm happy that I went into it like that, you know, without thinking, ‘Oh, maybe this could turn out to be big.’ I’m glad that I thought that it was just going to be something we were going to be having fun doing.”

It was a 26 day shoot, and long hours, which must have been hard work, especially for someone with limited experience.

“Yeah, it was a lot, especially being the main character, you know? I'm there every single day. But it was fun. It really was. Let me tell you, I just did another film – there's not a press release for it yet, so I can't mention what that name is – but I did it, and I loved it so much. I was there for like ten days doing the shoot and amazing things and damn it, I wish I could tell you more about the film. But my day job is I am a travel nurse. So right now I'm on a contract in this small little remote town in North Dakota, and I'm working at a nursing home because they need a lot of help in this town. So I'm working there you know, taking care of the elderly people, which I love, taking care of them, but is it my passion? Is it something that I wake up every day loving to do? No, it's not, but I can tell you, when I go there, I love those people to death. I will do anything to protect them and to make them happy, to see a smile on their face and you know, make sure that they're living a good quality of life.

“However, when I'm doing film, every day I wake up it's like, ‘Oh my God, I want to make sure this is the best that it can be!’ I'm excited to wake up, I'm excited to you have my driver downstairs, I'm not crabby about anything, I'm, I'm excited to get to set, to get started and everything, and I'm obsessing over making sure that my character turns out to be what I want her to be. I can't say the same thing for waking up every day wanting to go to a nursing home or hospital. The work, sometimes, is a drag, you know? But entertainment, I never get tired of it. I can sing, I can dance, and I can act all day.”

Mya Taylor prepares to sing in Tangerine
Mya Taylor prepares to sing in Tangerine

She has said previously that singing is her great love, so I ask her about that.

“I love singing, and I'm great at it,” she says. “The problem is, in my career, do I feel like I am where I want to be? No. Because if I was where I want to be, then I would have been putting out music that really reflects my vocal range, that really reflects my tone and really speaks to people, the way that I want it to be. But I have not been able to do that. Because my career goes so damn slow. It really does. And, you know, it's not a problem with my management or nothing like that. It's just, the world is just slow when it comes to hiring trans people and giving us work.

“It's hard when you're trying to create projects as a trans woman. Well, for me – I have to speak for myself, because I haven't been in this industry for too long. Also, I just feel like I don't know a great deal of people, you know? So it's hard creating projects and everything, trying to do it on your own. Because I feel like that's the only way we can really, truly get work. Yes, I've gotten work, but I have not gotten the work that somebody with my accomplishment would have done by now, so it has been a struggle.

“It's literally step by step. You know, I've had three managers now. And I love my manager that I have now – he literally is the best, plus I had a relationship with him before so I know how he works. He knows how I work, you know, we’re vibing, the same vibe. But all three managers said, ‘You know what? You came out as an actress, so we need to make sure that your career is established there before we tried to roll into doing music.”

The success of Tangerine was a huge boost for trans people all around the world.

“Yeah, you know, honestly, with all the success that I have – and what I'm about to say is actually very, very heartbreaking – but with all the success that I've had from my first film, I still feel like a nobody.

“I would like to be in romance. I would like to be in scary movies. I'd like to be in the show How To Get Away With Murder. I would love to star in something like that. The role of Annalise Keating, which is played by Viola Davis, is amazing. She is a big power lawyer and she doesn't let anything get in her way. She always gets around to get to the point that she's trying to make.

“I also love the show made by Tyler Perry, The Haves And The Have Nots. If you haven't seen it then you should. My favourite character is played by Angela Robinson. And her name is Veronica Harrington in the show and she is an attorney. I don't know what it is with me and these attorneys, but she is nothing to play with. You cannot get her caught up in anything because she is always ten steps ahead of you So I just love that it's, I guess, like women empowerment. I love when women are strong, you know, and they don't let anybody gives them down. They're on top of their game. I just love to see that.”

I tel;l her that I like her character in Tangerine because she’s not the loud one, the one grabbing everybody’s attention with her behaviour, but she still really makes her presence felt.

“Yeah. She's pretty awesome.

Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor in Tangerine
Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor in Tangerine

“You know, in real life, I guess you could say I'm a bit humorous, so I add a bit of humour to the character. But I don't know, I feel like I carry myself so differently. It's hard to really talk about myself, but people people have told me ‘You know, when you leave a room, you leave your presence there. You're classy, you're sophisticated, very well spoken.’ And somebody said that I was like a diva. You know, because I'd come in with my fur coat on and my boots, driving my expensive car, and you know, stuff like that. And I'm like, ‘Okay, I didn't know. I thought it was just being myself.’ So when I did take a look at myself, like what people would say about me, they're not looking at my character. I can see the difference in between us. I would say what we do have in common is our humour.”

From what I’ve heard about the shoot, I tell her, it sounds as if she would have needed humour to get through it, as the low budget threw up a lot of challenges.

“Yeah. We had to do a lot of takes, because there was also continuity and things, and some people would walk through, in front of the camera, at very inconvenient times. And it could be the time where we nailed our scene. And it's like, oh, this person walked through when they weren't supposed to. They ignored the fact that we were filming. So we have to do the same again. It was frustrating and everything, but you know, what can you do?

“Remember, I thought that we were just doing a project, making a film, and I didn't think it would turn out to be this large, so the whole iPhone thing kind of matched up with what I thought we were doing. And I guess people credit the iPhone a lot. The iPhone is great, all of them, but you have to look at the work that Sean Baker did in the editing. Sean edited that film for a whole year. Like, nobody could get in contact with him because he was up most nights editing the film. It turned out looking great because of his editing.

“He kind of kept me updated on what was going on, but you know what? At the time I was very insecure. I just started my transition two months before we started filming. I started taking hormones. So I was uncomfortable with who I was. I didn't even know who I was. You know, here I am transitioning into a woman and not knowing anything about myself, to dive headfirst into this. And then shortly after I blow up on television and the world is there, all the eyes are on me. I love my experience and Tangerine, doing the press and everything. But it was also very hard on me, because I still didn't know who I was and I was trying to grow into myself. It's hard when you have a whole world looking at you and judging you, because not everybody is kind."

Tangerine poster
Tangerine poster

Today, she says, day to day life is much easier. People don’t particularly notice that she’s trans and she can go about her business day to day without a problem, feeling at ease, but back then it was very different. She’s keen to credit the rest of the team involved with Tangerine both for their creative work on the film and for how they helped her.

“We have to look at the work that the people have put into it. Like the people who created this whole thing, people who made the film other than me and [Kitana] Kiki [Rodriguez], the people who helped to make my career, the people who pushed me in my career. My publicist at the time was Adam Kersh. and now he is my manager. He played a huge role in why I became so big, because making a film is one thing, promoting it is another thing, and Adam was really on top of his game for that. There was the vice president of Magnolia, she stuck by my side and coached me through so much time that I was nervous and everything, she was there to keep me calm and to keep me going.

“Sean has always been like a father in this career. He could just give me the rundown, ‘Okay, this is what it's going to be, this is how you're going to feel,’ because he had already been through it doing some of the films that he's done before. Whenever I need advice or anything, I can always go to Sean and Sammy [Quan], who is his wife, who is also my acting coach. And she is amazing. She has pulled so much out of me that I didn't even know that was in there. So yeah, I adore her. I do like working with her. And my projects have been much stronger than they have been years ago. Yeah, and Chris is amazing. If I have any problems, I can always call Chris.”

It’s an impressive legacy for a seven-year-old film. If Tangerine has a special place in your heart, the limited edition Blu-ray is available now from Second Sight Films.

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