Mya Taylor and James Ransone are tired. The day before we speak, the “Tangerine” stars had been among the revelers at New York City’s Pride March held the last weekend of June. They were on the float for their new film, a Sundance monster hit that’s a truly rare beast: a film about trans characters, played by trans performers.
“It’s great if you don’t have to pee,” says Ransone, who plays a pimp cheating on a prostitute named Sin-Dee (played by Kitana Kiki Rodriguez).
“Considering the fact that I’m taking so many hormones, it’s hard on the body,” says Taylor, who plays Alexandra, Sin-Dee’s best friend and trans prostitute in arms. “My feet were tired.”
They’re in New York, which in a sense isn’t too different from Los Angeles, where they and director Sean Baker shot “Tangerine.” Both are cities that once thrived with edgy life and fascinating subcultures. Los Angeles still has more of that than New York but, Ransone, claims it’s lagging just a few years behind in terms of losing it all.
“There’s a lot of Eastern European and Chinese money coming in, buying up properties, especially in the area ‘Tangerine’ was shot in, in West Hollywood,” Ransone tells us. “They’re tearing up most of those single family homes and putting up huge apartment buildings.”
“Donut Time is the last thing that’s there,” Taylor says, referring to the tiny, mom-and-pop outfit that serves as one of the film’s key locations. “All the old landmarks in that area are gone. There was a Del Taco across the street, there was a little bookstore.” The Del Taco is now a Wallgreen’s — Taylor says, “for all the people in their new apartments to get their medicines.”
As such, “Tangerine,” shot over four weeks last year, is a kind of time capsule, both in the Los Angeles it shows and in the way it recalls scrappy, low budget indies made with affordable equipment from the early 1990s. Indeed, just as big a hook as being a film with trans stars is that it was filmed with an iPhone, giving it a mobile, loose feel.
“This part of the story often gets eclipsed, because it doesn’t fall into the sound bit territory. But it still cost a lot to color-correct it,” Ransone explains. “We still put the same amount in post as we would have had we shot in on a Red camera on a 35mm camera.”
Taylor doesn’t feel that being filmed by someone wielding a palm-sized gadget made it feel easier. “I just filmed another movie with a really big camera, and I just didn’t see any difference,” she tells us. “I guess I’m just gifted like that.” Taylor is a seasoned club performer but was not prepared for filming on the cheap for long days. “One day I was there for 14 hours, and I had to be up super early the next day. I didn’t get home till like 4.”
Ransone is one of the cast’s few professional actors, perhaps best known for playing out-of-control Ziggy on the second season of “The Wire,” as well as a key role in the forthcoming “Sinister 2.” Still, it’s small work that interests him.
“I’m not deluded about movies as a business,” he says. “But when you look at any kind of big box office fare, it just reminds you it’s the same as our restaurant choices. It’s Applebee’s and T.G.I. Friday’s and P.F. Chang’s. I eat that and say, ‘I guess that was Chinese food.’ But it still leaves a salty, s—y taste in my mouth. I was really happy that ‘Mad Max’ did really well. I liked that I heard George Miller’s voice. I heard one person telling a story, as opposed to this cacophony of studio executives trying to appeal to everyone.”