COVID-19 BE DAMNED!
Fans unite and rejoice, as of this writing, season three of Pose is in production, with intense safety precautions for cast and crew, of course. The unhappy news is that this season will be the last. But let’s just stay right here in the present and celebrate the May 2nd launch. This historic trendsetting series and soon-to-be classic is from the cutting-edge genius creator, Ryan Murphy, and ever-clever writer, Steven Canals.
Released in June 2018, the heartrending and eye-opening show became an instant hit. The locale is New York City in the late eighties, covering the ballroom culture, which includes gay life, trans life, African-Americans, Latinx, AIDS, sex workers——a fusion of issues and cultures never before addressed in one series. Another groundbreaking first, most of the protagonists are trans actors. It took ten years to bring to the screen. Thank you, Mr. Murphy (and co-creators Steven Canals and Brad Falchuk). The Pose cast affectionately calls Ryan, “Daddy Ryan,” and the cast has become a family.
One of those cast members is Hailie Sahar, who plays, with diamond-cutting precison, the core character, Lulu, co-founder of the House of Ferocity.
The actress describes Lulu as “a lioness” that’s always on the verge of pouncing at any minute, nearly constantly on edge. There’s an underlying current of anger, which adds to a complex layer of unresolved hurt. Hailie Sahar plays her boldly, with an understated power and a hint of mystery. The part was created for her. When Hailie discovered this, she was overwhelmed with tears.
As the actress was nearly en route to New York to do a play, from her hometown of Los Angeles, her agent notified her about Ryan Murphy’s casting a new series. She was instantly energized, since she grew up watching American Horror Story, and was wild about the show.
At the time, the characters “Blanca” and “Elektra” were only being cast, and Hailie didn’t feel right for these parts, but put together a self-tape anyway and then submitted it.
Well, the Pose team was fascinated by her audition vid and flew her to New York. After her in-person audition, Ryan called Hailie over for a private chat, asking her to tell him about herself. “I was just…me!” she simply declares. Within a few days, Hailie received a call from her agent, “Ryan liked you so much that he wants to create a character and make you a series regular.” Hailie emotionally relates, “Ryan changed the narrative of my life….”
What’s captivating is that Pose vaguely parallels Hailie’s life.
From Inglewood and South Central Los Angeles, Hailie grew up in a strict religious household. Her grandfather was the pastor of their church (eventually her father became a pastor), where she sang in the choir. When Hailie was one year old her parents divorced. She lived a sheltered and shy childhood, her only outlet being dancing in the living room. Taking lessons in ballet, jazz, and modern brought out her creative side, which exposed her gift. This led Hailie to being cast as a Los Angeles Sparks dancer in the WNBA games.
Depressed and lonely as a teen, Hailie ran away from home, settling in with her best friend, who was slightly older. Before filming episode four of Pose, he died of AIDS-related causes. SPOILER ALERT: A few episodes later, when they shot scenes where Lulu’s close House buddy Candy dies (portrayed by castmate Angelica Ross), it was enormously challenging for Hailie. But the actor forged ahead using the raw emotion she suffered when her real-life friend died a few weeks before.
While as a teen living with her best friend, Hailie was introduced to the Los Angeles Ball scene. She won several “Walks,” such as “Realness” and “Triple Threat Sex Siren and Face.” At eighteen she became the youngest “mother” of the House of Rodeo. Hailie recalls, “It was a learning experience which boosted my confidence. I learned to be fierce!”
The timely rendezvous provided her another “family” (though eventually she did return home after lodging with her best friend) and it groomed her to be a poised and buoyant woman. Hailie always knew she was a female but it took “the rest of the world to catch up.” Most of her adolescence, the multiracial woman——Black, Latin, Indian, German, and Jewish——felt like she didn’t fit in. She endured predators, hardships, and despair. She recently revealed that a Los Angeles police officer molested her when she was a teen, and she also fell prey to the “casting couch.” Nearly the only positive thing to come out of her childhood was her über-supportive mother, who is Hailie’s role model. She describes her mom as, “dignified, classy, and educated, demonstrating love, which I learned from her. She was a constant pillar of hope for me.”
Before Pose, Hailie’s resumé included stage, film, and television. She appeared in episodes of Transparent, Mr. Robot, Good Trouble, and Eastsiders——and in another arena she was crowned Miss L.A. Pride.
Her newest project is HBO’s four-part docuseries, Equal, portraying the historical gay liberation figure, Sylvia Rivera, who was a trans woman who fought at the 1969 Stonewall riots. She’s been termed the Rosa Parks of gay rights. For her homework Hailie watched numerous YouTube videos and documentaries on Sylvia, read articles on her and studied Rivera’s conversations. “I truly channeled her energy to the best of my ability. I don’t know how true this is but I really felt her energy around me while filming.” Hailie was honored to play Sylvia, which provided the opportunity for the actress to sink her acting chops into a heroic character, a type she’s never portrayed before.
The talented thespian is an accomplished singer, as well. Hailie’s singles were due to be released earlier this year, but COVID halted that. Now, her team is working on precisely how to release them during this crazy pandemic. Through the years Hailie has been inspired by the likes of Michael and Janet Jackson [A&U, December 2010], Stevie Wonder, Luther Vandross, Erykah Badu, and Missy Elliott.
In 2015 Hailie accepted an invitation to speak on the HIV epidemic at The Ronald Reagan International Trade Center for the 57th Presidential Advisory Council (PACHA). Hailie also continues her passionate work for East Los Angeles Women’s Center Against Violence.
On a lighter note, Hailie’s fantasy dinner guests would be Michael and Janet Jackson, and Prince. Hailie admires their genius, integrity, and artistry. A couple of Hailie’s beloved films are The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and oh, Titanic, too. Hailie’s motto? “If you are going to do something, do it all the way, do it well, or don’t do it at all”——Octavia Saint Laurent.
….Maud Adams, Diana Rigg, Ursula Andress, Honor Blackman, Barbara Bach, Grace Jones, Famke Janssen, Shirley Eaton and Naomie Harris and next …Hailie Sahar.
Yes indeed, all of the above are Bond girls and Hailie would like to be on that esteemed list. She absolutely adores the James Bond films because of their classy charm, the eerie danger, and the omnipresent sex appeal. Sean Connery’s recent death affected her profoundly, stating he was the iconic Bond. Let me put a call into (the producer) Barbara Broccoli, Hailie! As to the new Bond casting, she would like to “see a different spin, possibly an African-American James Bond.”
Dann Dulin: So… a Bond girl, huh? [I look at a publicity photograph of her where she purses those trademark sultry lips and is painted in bright ruby red lipstick, as if dipped in a goblet of Pinot noir.]
Hailie Sahar: Oh…it’s really been a dream of mine for a long time.
There’s no doubt that you will achieve that wish! I do look forward to seeing you up there on the Bond screen. What have you been doing during lockdown?
During the lockdown I began my perfume collection. I’ve developed a great love for niche fragrances. I also began writing my memoir. I’m excited about giving back to the world through my experiences and through my eyes. [I glance at her photo again and am taken with those alluring, dancing ebony eyes of hers.]
That will be an engaging read. What immediately comes to mind when I say HIV?
[Watching many YouTube vids of Hailie, I can envision her answer in a resigned voice, almost forlorn.] When my childhood best friend contracted HIV. I remember exactly where I was at the moment he found out.
Wow, intense. Where were you when you first heard the words HIV or AIDS?
I was in sex education class in school. I learned more about the disease as I matured in life.
I’d like to know what made you want to do this interview?
It’s very important that I use my voice for the trans and LGBTQ + community every time I’m given an opportunity. I will always extend my voice to help marginalized people of any background, because the division in our system is simply heartbreaking and unfair.
Life is about love and helping others along the way. I think people live in fear a lot of the time and I’m a vessel that wants to break that fear. Stop hurting each other! Ultimately it’s hurting yourself, too.
Wow, your remark just lingers in the air. You’ve said a mouthful——and the truth.
In my opinion, the human race can be a barbaric species and we must do better working together for the survival of our species. Common threads connect all of us. As with the [HIV] epidemic, there’s a great stigma surrounding it. As a nation we need to get thoroughly educated. I’m still learning about it and I so encourage others do the same.
You divinely use your platform to speak out. Please comment.
Well, I don’t believe we should wait on celebrities’ voices. We each have our own. We all need to be activists. We all have power and I think there’s some level of responsibility we each possess to use our voice. Every voice has impact. [Reading Hailie’s words, I can nearly hear Lulu’s voice revving with forthright candor, SPOILER ALERT: like in season two of Pose when she speaks her mind to Candy’s ghost outside the funeral home.] I want to give back as much as possible. I am nurture by nature.
Well stated. What’s one thing about you that your fans would be surprised to know?
I’m a nerd. I’m a person who focuses on simplicity in life. Within the simplest things I am able to understand the importance of life. So often self-serving things can disproportionately distract us, when, in reality, life is like a shooting star that comes and goes quickly. Therefore, the only things that truly matter here are the love we extend and the love we receive in this lifetime.
I read that you said, “God is Love.” What do you say to those who don’t believe in “God?”
To me if you believe in love and kindness you believe in God. I believe that God shows up in many forms. We are all gifts from God.
And what do you think happens after we pass from this earth?
It’s my belief that we never die. Our physical bodies may perish from this Earth, but we are merely made up of energy and energy never dies. It transfers from one place to the next. I believe that our energy goes to another dimension, something better than here, something pure, beautiful and happy.
What a longing thought, Hailie. Name three differences between Lulu and Hailie.
I think in many ways Lulu and Hailie are a lot alike. However, Hailie is much more compassionate and thoughtful whereas Lulu is more stern and has a harder exterior. Other than that I believe deep down inside they both want the same things——love and excitement from life.
Sounds like most of us! When you are on the dating scene and encounter a potential date how do you broach the HIV topic?
I believe that conversation needs to come up when the time is right. Everybody is different. It’s hard, but we need to be honest with ourselves——and others.
As you know, unfortunately, HIV is gravely hitting the younger generation. Any ideas of how we can better reach these kids? I elect you to do a PSA! People would listen to you, Hailie…
We have the education and science surrounding advancements in HIV prevention. The FDA recently approved Descovy, another form of PrEP that prevents HIV transmissions. The issue is social. To get the attention of the younger generation, we can’t expect them to come to us. We have to go to them and provide them with up to date prevention information.
I can actually see you teaching a college course on prevention! As you probably already know, according to the CDC, transgender women and particularly women of color, are at high risk for HIV infection, and are among the groups most affected by HIV in the U.S. Why do you think that is and how can we prevent this?
There’s a lack of protection within our government for the trans community and discrimination still exists. In terms of employment, many people of trans experience are not able to secure jobs, therefore forcing them into sex work. I also believe there’s a lack of guidance within the trans community. We must do better as a nation to end discrimination.
On top of that, the research that’s being done is not inclusive of the trans experience. Many companies that are conducting research around HIV oftentimes clump data of women of trans experience with gay men. These are two completely separate subjects who have two different lifestyles and different disparities, so a lot of the research that has been done is off and incorrect.
Excellent observation. True, true. What’s the best thing about being a woman?
The best thing about being a woman is simply …being myself. Meaning, to live life without the limitations of what others think. Love and integrity are my guides. I’ve recently learned to laugh through life and not take anything too seriously. I choose to enjoy life and live within the moment. Life on Earth is not promised…nor forever.
Follow Hailie Sahar on Instragram: @hailiesahar.
Clothing and accessories credits for editorial (in order of appearance):
Marquee, cover, first image:
Gloves: Oscar de la Renta; bracelet 1, 2 and 3: Erickson Beamon collection ; chandelier earrings: Erickson Beamon collection; gown: “Meet Me on the Moon” evening gown: Marco Hall for MH302 private collection
Cheetah catsuit: Marco Hall; purple chiffon duster: Marco Hall collection for MH302 (not pictured)
Earrings: blue, and canary diamond gold earrings: Erickson Beamon collection; dress: “The Gold in You” dress: designed by Marco Hall for the Dr. Sabrina collection NYC
Makeup by Marisol Solis/Mariposa Makeup Inc.; Instagram: @mariposamakeup
Hair by Yancey Edwards; Instgram: @yanceyedwards
Dann Dulin is a Senior Editor for A&U. He interviewed actor Spencer Curnutt in this issue.
Name your teenage celebrity crush.
I didn’t have one.
Have you ever had psychotherapy, and if so, was it helpful?
No, I have not.
Name your favorite color.
I don’t have a favorite. I do however love sheer black. I also love rich reds. Overall, though, I love every color equally and appreciate them all at different times.
Do you currently live in Los Angeles or New York City?
I’m actually bicoastal.
Name some of your favorite sitcoms growing up.
Family Matters; The Fresh Prince of Bel Air; Full House; Sister Sister, and A Different World. A Different World was such an educational and uplifting show!
What do you look forward to?
I look forward to being a mother and a wife. It breaks my heart that I cannot give birth.
What makes you want to get out of bed in the morning?
Creativity. I absolutely love to create, be innovative, and put on a great performance. It’s truly in my nature to entertain!