The Cast of Tangerine is Done with Your iPhone Questions
There have been a lot of smash hits that came out of Sundance this year, but none quite like the brutally honest and hilarious film Tangerine. The film, shot entirely on an iPhone, follows a trans woman scorned by her lover on a hot L.A. Christmas Eve. The film, which employs real trans women to play the trans characters, gives viewers a look into a world rarely touched by movies these days.
Milk Made’s Jordan Mack got to sit down with two of the film’s actors, James Ransone and Mya Taylor, to discuss what it was like working on director Sean Baker’s vision. Upon walking into the room, it was clear to see how close the cast members had become just from the few days they worked together. Mya would affectionately refer to James as PJ, teasing as if they were brother and sister. Mya was bold and unwavering, laughing hard at jokes and unabashedly expressing her distaste for avocado telling the film publicist, ‘Please make sure none of that nasty guac stuff is on my lunch.’
You don’t like avocado?
MYA: No, that shit is nasty.
JAMES: Wait, really?
MYA: Yeah, it’s nasty as fuck.
JAMES: You’re fucking nuts. That shit is so good.
MYA: Well, I do have nuts.
JAMES: You’re fucking nutty.
Well this interview immediately took a turn.
MYA: Oh don’t mind us. We love each other, don’t we PJ?
JAMES: [laughs] We do, we do.
What was it like on set? Was it different working with a phone as your camera, as opposed to a full camera?
MYA: Not really. To cut it short, everybody has an iPhone. I have a Blackberry in my purse, but I have an iPhone too. We’re all using our phones all the time. It really makes no difference. It’s so easy. As far as filming on the streets goes, people don’t even know we’re filming, so we don’t get as many interruptions. All of the backgrounds in the movie were very natural.
Yeah, Donut Time was even beautiful. I almost want to go there.
JAMES: No you don’t.
MYA: I was going to say the same thing. Well, at least not at night.
JAMES: The tables were really sticky.
What was it like filming a ‘Christmas movie’ in L.A.?
JAMES: What, are you kidding me? It’s like any other day in L.A.. Beautiful and sad.
MYA: I mean, L.A. can be hot and cold from one day to the next, but the nights are always very cold.
JAMES: You know, one of the characters in the movie said, ‘L.A. is just one big beautifully wrapped lie.’ That’s what Christmas in L.A. is, a gorgeous lie.
So I read an interview with Sean, the director, that a lot of Mya and Kiki’s parts were unscripted.
MYA: A lot of it was. In the beginning, I told Sean, ‘Okay, I know what the story line is, but I can only do this if the movie is also funny.’ It had to be us, and our personalities. She and I are the funniest people in the world. Well to me we are. What you see on screen is how we are in real life. When you meet us together, that’s it. A lot of the lines were our own lines. When she’s yelling ‘that goddamned boy on the skateboard, everyone thinks they’re Lil Wayne,’ that’s her completely.
When you were approached, Mya, you gave this interesting dichotomy of really brutal honesty, but also humor. Was it hard to find that balance?
MYA: No, it comes naturally. Everything was a really even flow. We didn’t try to be funny. If we had tried, we would have filmed for a lot longer.
JAMES: Yeah. Mya wanted to represent the trans community in a realistic portrayal. If you lose the humor, you lose that realistic portrayal. In any situation and any facet of life, people will always be saying funny shit to entertain one another. Soldiers in combat behave the same way. It’s that gallows humor.
MYA: When you’re that low in your life, doing drugs and sex work, all you can do is try to keep yourself lifted up.
JAMES: It’s true. If you don’t have a ton of money, what else do you have aside from your friends to laugh with? What the point otherwise? If you can’t make anything – no actually, everything funny, you’re fucked. Your life is going to be terrible. I think about that all the time. If I can’t find a way to be funny, I might as well blow my head off with all the shit that’s out there in the world.
Do you feel like you’ve learned a lot from each other?
MYA: I learned a lot from PJ [laughs]. I learned to take direction and stay focused. When he is on set, there are no games, just focus and work. I love it though! [laughs]. He knows what he wants and gets to the point. Everyone should be like that.
JAMES: Oh stop. I learned to really appreciate the people around me in the moment. Just know people and don’t get so hung up on details.
How did you guys feel about the hype you guys have gotten since Sundance?
JAMES: Well, film festivals are usually just big hype machines, you know? Everyone is just pumping up their own films so much. We won’t be able to tell until it comes out. All these indies movies can really blend together until they hit box office.
I feel like this movie was really different. A lot of indie films have a melancholia to them-
JAMES: Yeah, exactly! I guess we did try to go in the opposite direction, like Mya was saying. Make it funny. I just love funny, absurd shit.
What are some of your favorite movies?
MYA: I really love Stephen King’s Rose Red. It’s about this huge house, which I believe is actually Winchester Mansion, that keeps growing because it’s eating people. It’s a really beautiful movie.
JAMES: I love Eyes Wide Shut.
MYA: I recently watched Prom Night. That was really good. [laughs]
JAMES: Oh god, you’re wicked. That’s a movie that I was in. She called me that night and asked me if I was in it.
MYA: Yeah, I saw his name pop up on the screen. I watched the movie long before I even met him. It never clicked for me, ‘This is the guy from Prom Night. I’m working with him. That’s crazy.’ He dies though. [laughs]
Are there any questions you’re totally done being asked?
MYA: Questions like, ‘How did you and Sean meet?’ or ‘How did it all come about?’
JAMES: The phone thing gets really really old.
MYA: Yes! ‘Let’s talk about this iPhone thing.’ I don’t care!
JAMES: It’s weird because we stop talking about how great Sean is, and focus on the ‘novelty’ of the movie. It was all Sean working with limited resources. Imagine if we gave him more what he could actually do.
MYA: Also, just because you have an iPhone doesn’t mean you can just go out and make a film. That’s not how it works. It really discredits the director.
What’s your life motto right now?
MYA: My life motto is, ‘If you ain’t rocking 22 inches or better, bitch you’re practically bald!’ [laughs]
JAMES: ‘Fuck it.’
Are there any new projects you guys are excited about?
MYA: I just finished Happy Birthday Marsha! which is really really exciting and an honor. I play Marsha P. Johnson, who was very active in trans rights activism.
JAMES: I have three other movies coming out this year-
MYA: Oh my god PJ, we get it. [laughs]
JAMES: Don’t hate!
If you had to describe your ideal world, what would it look like?
MYA: Everything would be cotton candy, and pink. PJ would have on pink. Everyone would be singing Whitney Houston, every song. We would all have Aston Martins!
JAMES: Really? I don’t think mine are that material. Lots of South Park reruns, and I guess I’m wearing pink.
MYA: You look pretty!
Photos courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
See Tangerine in theaters now!