Jun 11, 2021
‘I’m finally breathing!’ Leyna Bloom is having a moment
The 'Port Authority' and 'Pose' star is also the first transgender woman of color to grace the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue
In 2019, Leyna Bloom turned heads on The Croisette at the Cannes Film Festival. The lead actress of “Port Authority” had become the first transgender actor of color to premiere a movie at the famous festival.
In it, Bloom plays Wye McQueen, a star of New York’s ballroom scene (her performance is rooted in her own ballroom experience). The story follows Paul (Fionn Whitehead), a fish-out-of-water who needs a new start after being kicked out of his house in central Pennsylvania. When he steps off the bus in Times Square he meets Wye and her friends hanging out by Port Authority. Paul’s life quickly becomes entangled with Wye’s, but his source of income comes from a homophobic friend Lee (McCaul Lombardi). The tension between life and work becomes too much for Paul and he has to choose which is more important: Wye or Lee.
The movie was supposed to debut last year, but theater closures from the pandemic delayed it until May 28. is now available to rent or buy online at Amazon Prime, Apple, and YouTube. Bloom told us it feels like “destiny” that the movie is being released after the pandemic’s worst days.
Destiny seems to be on her side: Bloom, who is in the final season of “Pose,” also has another movie, “Asking for It” debuting at the Tribeca Festival this week. Next month she will be the first transgendered woman of color on the cover the the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Brooklyn Magazine spoke with Bloom about being all of that, plus her perfect Friday night in Bed-Stuy.
How do you end up being the first to so many things? First transgender actress to star in a movie at Cannes, first transgender women of color in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, etc.
I didn’t see trans anywhere [growing up]. I didn’t see it in anatomy books, I didn’t see it in storytelling, I didn’t see it in “Romeo and Juliet.” So when I found books or movies about different experiences and how unique humanity was, I was like, “I need to do things, I need to tell stories, I need to dance in ways that can express harmony and emotions differently. So people can see things differently and maybe they can learn about people like me.”
Is that how you choose your projects?
I attach myself to projects and names and art forms that I can tell will go into the most prestigious theaters in the world. Go to festivals in the world that the most brilliant people in the world go to; to be part of history and culture. To come on this earth to do something and leave it behind is very powerful.
It’s been two years since “Port Authority” debuted at the Cannes Film Festival. How does it feel to finally have this story out in the world?
It’s coming out right after a pandemic so I feel like it’s just destiny, honestly. I can only imagine energies in the world and what they’re trying to say, and what they’re trying to say to the world. What I represent, being Asian and being queer, and being trans and Black, I think being a representation of all those communities is a responsibility. I have to be conscious of how much power I have. So many people died for me to be here so I have to make my life valuable.
Talk about working with Fionn Whitehead. Does he have “white boy realness” in real life?
Yes! It’s such a perfect character for him. I had a little bit of a crush on Fionn but I was in a relationship at the time. But he’s my brother, he’s such a sweetheart. There were times when I was on set and I needed some help and he gave me really good advice.He takes his job seriously, I can say that. And when it comes to his craft, it’s his baby. He taught me about a different level of seriousness. I love working with him.
Until “Pose” and now “Port Authority,” so many trans stories were primarily tragedies. How does it feel to tell a different trans story?
Our stories are very sensitive, and they express many different emotions that may be different to a lot of different people who aren’t exposed to trans people and our experiences. It’s very sensitive material, it’s very gentle. We suppress our emotions in a lot of ways because we are taught not to express ourselves freely. This film allows a different form of expression to let us look at trans stories differently.
Tell me about your new movie “Asking for It”debuting at the Tribeca Festival.
I actually shot it right before the pandemic started. We shot it in Oklahoma, and it was an amazing cast. I play this character Jet. She’s this amazing gunslinger and part of this girl gang called The Cherry Bombs. Our core group goes on this rampage of fighting the system.
How does it feel to see trans TV shows and movies in the mainstream more and more?
To be honest with you, when I look at my TV, all of my streaming subscriptions have the same material. Every genre, you have the same type of storyline, the same type of actors. There’s actors who’ve done this role like 20 different times. But in the last five years I’m finally seeing things that are different. I think we need to explore this and enjoy the ride.
Do you worry trans actors of color are being pigeonholed in movies and shows about ballroom culture?
I don’t think we can get pigeonholed. I think we just need to own this and say, “This is what’s happening in the world; these are the people we’re talking about. Let’s surrender to this and just allow us to breathe for once.” I feel like I’m finally breathing! And I’m being seen for the first time in my life. The idea that people might get tired of me already, I feel like, dang, I haven’t even shown you all my magic yet.
Tell me about acting in “Pose’s” final season.
What this did for us and what it did for culture is something that’s going to always be relevant in society, because this is something that has been here for years. I’m excited to see what we can use from “Pose” to create more.
Will you talk about Brooklyn being your home base for acting and modeling?
I moved to New York City when I was 17. I originally moved to the Bronx but I ended up gravitating towards the Brooklyn area. Honestly, there is so much culture in Brooklyn. I stay in Bed-Stuy right now, the roots of a lot of hip hop and a lot of the culture of Black and brown bodies. A lot of my favorite directors like Spike Lee did his early movies around here. There’s something in the water over here that I like. It’s swirling through my veins.
So it’s Friday night in Brooklyn, where are your favorite places to go?
My rooftop. I can see the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center from it. I get the best breezes of Bed Stuy and I love it. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Okay, so you’ve been on the roof all night. It’s early Saturday morning and you need breakfast before you go to bed. Where do you go?
A nice little biscuit with bacon, egg, and cheese from the corner deli. I like the sound of that.
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