I wouldn't be in Hollywood without this woman

Busy Without This Woman is a series of essays honoring the women who challenge and change us. This month, Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, who plays a taciturn boss on Apple TV+'s "Loot," spoke about an actor who saw her light shine.

Freddie Walker-Brown was the original Joanne in Rent . She saw me in a community production of Rent and she knew at that moment that I had the talent, grit and perseverance to really sustain and continue to thrive in this industry.

Meeting her was energizing because she had a strong, beautiful, outgoing personality, and looking back, we were a good match in that. I remember the first time I spoke to her. She said, "Kid, you have a lot of talent, but when you're done, go home ." I was like, "But I want to hang out." She said, "No. Go home, relax, rest, because you still have One day’s work must continue.” I keep this in mind and practice it every day, because the body is your temple. What should I do if my body fails?

She helped me get my first Off-Broadway opportunity in 2011 in Rent . When I called back for the last time, I was very nervous. I was terrified of standing in front of a jury, so I asked her if I should audition. She took over my case. She said, "What? Are you crazy? I've got an audition for you, girl. It's time for you to go!" That hit me hard because no one had ever done anything like this for me. So far, no one has reached out to me.

Director Michael Grave with "Rent" cast members Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Byron Utley, Shelley Dickinson, Jesse L. Martin, Freddie Walker-Brown and Along with Anthony Rapp. Janet Pellegrini/WireImage/Getty Images

Rent tells the story of an outcast misfit. I had no idea the impact of me being trans [playing that role] until I got on stage and played Angel. It makes me strong. I am grateful. To be honest, I just want to do the kind of otherworldly work—work that helps people understand, work that helps people change their trajectory. That's what Freddie did. She helped me change my trajectory.

Love is so important in an area that maybe doesn't have a lot of love - and that's what I got from Freddie - I'm talking about this industry. You have to challenge yourself to push love as far as possible. I like to be a light and I think that’s what Freddie guided me. She had strong, very prominent opinions about how I should act. This was the guidance I needed. It also reminds me of my mother.

Even though I haven't spoken to her in a while, her impression is still on me. Without that woman, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. I'm still Michaela Jaé, but I don't think that's where I am now. Without this woman, I wouldn’t have been able to fully understand what it’s like to be an LGBTQAI woman of color walking around the world and making a difference.

As Leila Barghouti says. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.