GLAAD interviewed Nomi Ruiz, the Puerto Rican trans woman artist behind the band Jessica 6, on her film debut in the Muay Tai action thriller Haymaker out January 29. The multi-hyphenate artist shares how creating art has led her to find purpose, the next projects she’s looking forward to producing, and how storytelling can heal a hurting society.
GLAAD: Hi Nomi, thanks so much for taking time to speak with GLAAD. Upcoming is the film you star in Haymaker which is described as a Muay Thai action thriller. Can you tell us a bit about the film, how you got involved?
Nomi Ruiz: I first got involved with Haymaker when Nick Sasso, who wrote and directed it, and also stars in it, reached out to me through a mutual musician friend to see if I was interested in being involved in the first place. We met and he pitched me the film. He was just so passionate, and I really loved what he wanted to do with the project and how we both wanted to be progressive with it. When I read the script, I was even more excited because I’ve read lots of other scripts, and been offered roles to play trans narratives, and sometimes it just doesn’t fit right. It was really exciting to read and feel that our ideas were aligned. I mean, obviously I loved that I resonated with the character, and in our careers and our passion for our art. It was interesting how this character honestly really reflected me when I was first getting my first successes in my career, and traveling the world, and really sort of lost in that world. The glamor of it all, and the fast-paced-ness of it all, and using that as a way to mask my fears and my insecurities in other aspects of my life. So I really got to draw from that and see myself reflected back to me in a way that I haven’t in a while. And that was interesting.
GLAAD: And I think it really comes through, too. Your character is so confident and seemingly knowing of herself in the film. And then the thematics are about doing the internal work of getting comfortable with what we’re afraid of, or uncomfortable, or not yet willing to approach, while also pursuing our dreams. So anyone who knows you can see, I think, the similarities, knowing you’re an actress and a musician and an artist, a multihyphenate talent. For those who don’t know you, can you talk a bit about who you are, and what has inspired your art to this point?
NR: Well, I started in music when I was very young and I started writing songs at a young age. So right away I was writing from a really personal place, and creating songs and content about my personal experiences. For me, my journey through art has been a very healing process, and it’s been a process where I also learned how sharing my story has helped others a lot, too. And that’s really fueled me to keep creating and to expand on the tools that I use to create, too. Now acting is just a whole other realm for me to use to tell my story and to connect with my audience and my fans. So it’s been a very healing journey, which I think the more art I put out, and hear people respond and relate to it, it’s like a full circle. It keeps inspiring me to keep telling my story and reaching out to others.
GLAAD: I love that. And it’s so much about connection, which is a central part of the film, too, and seeing this romantic narrative develop. Can you speak a bit about why you think it’s needed for audiences to see this kind of character in this kind of story?
NR: I think it’s important to see this kind of character in Haymaker, or in any film, because…for me, it was an important part of me. Like I said earlier, to be progressive with this film. And I loved that about it, that we knew the way to be progressive is to not ask Tim Blake to spell things out for the audience, not to just make everything about her “before and after” story. It allows people to then sink into the deeper aspects of the trans experience, because my experience has not just been about before and after story. It’s still with me, my experience will never leave and it’s in the choices that I make and the music that I create, it’s in the way that I love others and the way I love myself. I’m not sure if I’m worthy of love, those conflicts. I think I really was excited to get to that stuff in a film, and bring up the trans experience and other aspects of it that it’s not just about transitioning.
GLAAD: There’s such a hunger for that, to see that too, the deeper levels, again, of connection with yourself and with other people. And it gets to the heart of one of the issues that I think a lot of people who are trans face, which is not feeling that we can be loved or seeing that that love actually exists in stories. So as we begin to see more complex, nuanced, and more deeply explored trans characters, particularly in media, where do you hope more films go? And you’ve used the word progressive a few times. I would love for you to talk us through what progressive storytelling means to you.
NR: It’s also about the other people and characters in our lives. We get to see Nick’s character, a cisgender man who’s dealing with being involved in this toxic masculine world. People have their ideals about what masculinity should be and who men should love and how they should act. I think that was also an element of this film that we wanted to push, that we wanted definitely to have a progressive trans narrative, but also have men see themselves honestly reflected to them, too. I think that’s the next phase of this trend – acceptance. I think it’s time to speak about the nuances of it all. There are so many stories to be told. There are so many perspectives. So many other people want to and need to feel seen.
GLAAD: It’s about breaking out of the rigid expectations of the roles that society prescribes us and really looking inward and being like, “Who actually am I?” and that applies across the board to so many people and characters that you may not have gotten to know below the surface in the past. So thank you for that. I think that’s really important. What are you personally looking forward to in the future of your creating an artistry?
NR: I’m looking forward to getting into film more and bringing my music into it as well. I really love the way those two things sort of coincide and how I can expand on a narrative through a song, writing a song. Sometimes I’m working on developing a series based on my life story that incorporates music. And it’s sort of like Eminem’s Eight Mile, but it’s my version of that, making it from the hood in Brooklyn and making it to all these prestigious stages around the world and doing it as a trans woman, as a Puerto Rican trans woman.
GLAAD: Before letting you go, is there anything else you’d like to share, any calls to action for the future. I know you’ve talked a lot about the crisis that we’re experiencing with many people’s identities and deconstructing toxic masculinity is so much of it. Are there any words of inspiration or support you want to share with people who will be reading and learning about you?
NR: Yeah, definitely. I think what I want people to take away from the film, too, is I really want people to say, “I can be myself and be loved.” Not just that, but I need to be my true self and live my truth in order to have the capacity to really love genuinely and authentically and accepting of love too as well. I think the more we strive to be authentic to ourselves and live in our truth, I think the more we will just be healed as a society too.
GLAAD: Absolutely. It’s really been a pleasure talking to you, Nomi. We’re excited to see what you do next. Thank you again for speaking with GLAAD today.
NR: Thank you so much for the support. It means a lot to me, thank you.
Haymaker will be available digitally, on demand, and in theaters starting Friday, January 29. Follow Nomi Ruiz on social media to keep up to date with her latest news, music, and projects as well as reading this interview with NewNowNext.
This interview has been condensed for clarity.