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Pose star Hailie Sahar talks pageants, ballrooms and beyond

Hailie Sahar
Photograph: Courtesy Justin Bettman

In celebration of Pride in NYC and FX's fabulously transgressive new series Pose, we're speaking to the five women at the center of the show—Angelica RossHailie SaharMJ RodriguezIndya Moore and Dominique Jacksonalong with producer Janet Mock—about their experiences. Here's our chat with Hailie Sahar—pageant queen, dancer and killer screen presence—about her character Lulu. 

How did your experiences working with other women in pageants winner play into the sisterhood of Pose
When you’re talking about a minority that is born into poverty and hardships, it is easier to transcend to a more loving environment because we all come from a place of struggle of some sort. None of us has been born into privilege; all of us have strived to be who we are, and are still striving to do what we are doing now. We see ourselves within each other.

How are you and Lulu similar? 
The things i see in myself that I see in Lulu is a girl who has had a very, very difficult life. She covers herself with makeup and being amazing, and to the naked eye you would never be able to tell that this girl has come from nothing. She’s keeping it all together so that she can get ahead, so that she can be a role model, and I see a lot of that within myself. There are a couple of scenes that are challenging, because every day that I’m on set, I'm reminded of the struggles, the hardships, the deaths, the murders that all of my brothers and sisters have endured and still are enduring. The more that I embody my character Lulu, the more that I live in that space, and I'm happy to, even though it’s hard for me, because it’s helping me to be one of the voices, to make a difference in the world. Not just for transgender people but for all kinds. If I can embody this strong figure so that a little girl like myself can see someone like me on the big screen and feel like they have a chance, then I can do it. I think the show is landed in reality. Nothing is over done, but you get the sadness, you get the laughter, and you get a human. You see your brothers, you see your sisters, you see your mothers, your fathers within these characters. You see yourself, you see a human with real personalities.

You have a playlist for Lulu. What do you listen to? 
I grew up listening to a lot of Prince—my mother is in love with Prince—so I have "Purple Rain," I have Vanity 6, Nasty Girl, and a lot of Janet Jackson, Cameo, Morris Day, Chaka Khan. Lulu likes risk takers, sexually-embracing and powerful.

What is it like to work on such a high-budget production? 
It is a dream come true. It is exciting, it is liberating and sometimes I have to pinch myself to know that I’m actually living in reality. I was that girl in the mirror with a remote control to my face saying my speech as if I had won an oscar, so to be in this position now and to have worked so hard coming from the beauty pageant circuit, and as someone who was training to be an Ailey dancer, I’ve come through so many different obstacles and this is a dream come true. It feels like a Cinderella story. I’ve brought my sisterhood from the pageant world—being there for each other, supporting each other and fighting hard. 

Photographer: Justin Bettman
Styling: Israel Mejia
Location: Hudson Yards Loft
Special thanks: Aurelia, Onarin, Levi’s, James Chan, IRO, Rachel Antonoff, Dolce & Gabbana, Joanna Lara Constantine, Christian Louboutin 
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