When Leyna Bloom was just 17, she boarded a Greyhound bus from Chicago to New York City, ready to chase her dreams. But after arriving at New York’s Port Authority, she only made it a few blocks before coming to a halt at the corner of Seventh Avenue and 42nd street. There, she started hyperventilating.
“I really said I’m going to do something,” she recalls thinking in an interview over the phone with Refinery29. “I’m here. Now what the hell am I gonna do next?”
A decade later, Bloom has come full circle. After forging a successful career as a model, she’s back at the Port Authority — this time metaphorically. As the lead of Danielle Lessovitz’s film of the same name, Bloom made history in 2019 as the first trans woman of color to lead a film at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. Now, Port Authority, released on demand May 28 and in theatres June 1, marks Bloom’s first stop in a particularly vibrant and busy post-pandemic summer. Later this month, she’ll star alongside Vanessa Hudgens and Kiersey Clemons in Asking For It at the Tribeca Film Festival. In July, Bloom will become the first openly trans Black and Asian woman to grace the pages of the annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
But right now, she’s taking a moment for herself to talk about a character she loves. In Port Authority, Bloom plays Wye, an up-and-coming star of the New York City ballroom scene who meets and falls for newcomer Paul (Dunkirk’s Fionn Whitehead), who recently arrived from Pennsylvania. But as the secrets start to pile on, she realizes that Paul has been living a double life.
In a twist of fate, Bloom, who is herself a house mother and starred in the final season of FX’s Pose, actually ran into the film’s casting director at a ball in Philadelphia, and decided to audition. It took her nearly a year to land the role.
“Thousands of trans women around the world auditioned,” she said. “It was giving a lot of trans women the chance to be seen and to go to a casting director’s office, sit down, memorize lines. It was beautiful that I got to experience that, and the fact that they didn’t just give it to me — they really wanted to make sure they found the right girl for it. It was such an honour not only to get the opportunity to play her but [to play a role in all] our careers, and to know that the world of entertainment is changing.”
The film, executive-produced by Martin Scorsese, is a vibey coming-of-age romance, and a window into a world that Bloom wants to burst open. “I am lucky that I’m born in a time where I can change the narrative for us,” she said. “There are so many powerful things we need to see, and I just want to bring them all together.“
Refinery29: What aspects of Wye’s character were you most interested in exploring?
Leyna Bloom: “When I first spoke to Danielle Lessovitz, the writer and director, the way that she described her identity — is she trans femme, is she masculine, is she a tomboy? — were all components that I just love to dabble within my own personal identity. She gave me freedom to do what I want to do and add some things to the script to give Wye little subtleties and nuance. When i was trying to bring her together I was thinking about Matilda from Leon the Professional, Matilda from the movie Matilda, Lelu from The Fifth Element, and f X-Men characters like Storm. I was trying to bring this very athletic woman that’s a bit of a tomboy.”
You mentioned X-Men — would you want to pursue more action-driven roles in the future?
“Absolutely! Trans women are being brutalized and murdered. There’s a level of freedom I get to be able to have armour to protect me. People love to fantasize about superheroes and superpowers. But trans people and trans bodies are biblical; before colonization, so many tribes celebrated our existence and our godliness, and our power to bring people together through our harmony and our love. I don’t understand why people have this love for X-Men but when they see someone that’s different, it’s such black-and-white complexity. I want to be in movies that are about kicking ass and having superpowers. Let’s really explore the ideas that trans people have so much feminine and masculine energy in us, and we can really tell stories. Why limit myself? I want to do it all.”
Did you have any favorite movies growing up that inspired you?
“Flashdance, Center Stage, Fame — it was always about women going after what they want and using their visibility to navigate themselves and being resilient and powerful. I love that representation, and it’s unfortunate that I didn’t see any of that in the trans arena of entertainment. It was always Maury or Jerry Springer, ways to exploit our lifestyles. Even today as a new actress, I get so many auditions to play this victim mentality. You only see me as a sex worker, you only see me as someone who’s dating a drug dealer, someone that’s in and out of jail. I want to go past that and explore my ideas as being a third gender and loving that. I want to be Cleopatra! I want to be a Bond girl! There are so many ways to really manifest our visibility everywhere — not just in entertainment but also all different walks of life. This way, the next generation can wake up and go into every kind of public space. I’m really banking on this: The world will be better.”
Wye doesn’t actually talk about being trans until nearly halfway through the movie. Did that feel significant to you?
“In the real world when I walk outside, when I’m in environments where there are group activities, people just see me. When you really want to get to someone on a more intimate level, that’s when you start sharing personal things about who you are and what makes you who you are. And then people see, Oh that’s where you get your energy from. That’s beautiful. That’s unique. That’s the story and the language in your expressions. I don’t think people allow me to get to that point to even show you myself. If I do, how special are you to see that? It’s something so intimate and so pure. It’s all about how we connect.”
You stressed the importance of visibility. On the other hand, almost every mention of you that I’ve read is about you being “the first” — the first trans woman to lead a movie at Cannes, the first trans woman to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Does that ever feel too reductive?
“Honestly, there are not enough people that are like me that have made history. These moments give us the pillars to really climb and be visible. It adds new characters to this system and it makes people around the world be seen more and have the conversation. Before, we couldn’t even get invited. We didn’t even know the address. It allows us to be front and centre, and that’s glorious. Any person that is winning — it’s a win for all.”
Was this your first time filming a sex scene? What was that experience like?
“It was my first time really having a moment to show people the vulnerability of my sexuality, and being sensual and feminine in a different way. That was my baby, my passion, and my love. Who I am in my sensuality is very precious to me, and I wanted to make sure that it was very tasteful and was aligned with the most beautiful sex scenes in the world. I want it to go down in history as a beautiful moment that is special.”
What do you hope people take away from Port Authority when they see it?
“Opposites attract in this film. Here’s a white man, here’s a Black woman. Here’s a trans woman, and a straight man. Here’s New York City — anything can go. Anything can live, anything can breathe. It’s a very real story and one that I’ve lived over and over again, and many trans women have lived, dealing with toxic masculinity every fucking second of our fucking lives, and trying to navigate it and being empathetic and giving people a chance. You want to be part of my life? You need to come correct and get it together. I want to be loved, and this movie is about love, a unique different kind of love that is not really explored or seen in society. It’s a relationship that’s in the dark and is brought to the light.”
You’re also going to be in a movie at the Tribeca Film Festival called Asking For It. What can you tell me about the film and your role in it?
“My character’s name is Jett. The director and I had like 20 names and narrowed it down. I just love Joan Jett and everything she’s about. She’s just a badass woman. We adopted her name and added a little bit of who she is to the character. Jett is part of this group called the Cherry Bombs and we are just not giving a fuck about what anyone thinks about us. We’re checking motherfuckers at the door.”
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.