'Pose' Star Hailie Sahar Talks About Her Role As Lulu & Why Self-Praise Is So Important (Exclusive Q&A)

When FX’s Pose isn’t retrofitting the 1980s narrative about ballroom culture to modern-day audiences, the show revitalizes LGBTQ+ stories to fit the current Trump-era. Aside from being a part of the critical (and long overdue) change needed in the entertainment industry, Pose has also graced us with an exceptional cast of LGBTQ+ stars, including actress Hailie Sahar, who portrays Lulu Abundance.

Prior to Pose, Sahar had a recurring role in USA Network's Mr. Robot, and she has a lengthy musical career outside her extensive acting experience. Her Campus spoke with Sahar about starring in FX’s hit show, which features the biggest LGBTQ+ cast and the largest cast of transgender actors in scripted television history—which is a noteworthy accolade on its own.

Her Campus: Have you learned anything about yourself from being on the set of Pose?

Hailie Sahar: Yes, more so with my acting. I’m always trying to take a possible aspect to be as authentic as possible, and it’s about taking a little bit of yourself and putting it into that character because that adds another element of realism to it. But I also want it to be real to who Lulu is. Every time I do a line, every time I perform, I’m there as Lulu. For me, I want it to be more and more authentic for that time and that era and that character.  

HC: Definitely, it’s about that authenticity so that viewers can really tune into Lulu’s character as well as the whole theme of the show.

HS: Exactly. And still keeping it as myself but recognizing that Lulu is her own person.

HC: If there's one thing that you hope viewers gain from your role as Lulu on Pose, what would it be?

HS: I think, I'm praying, that people tend to see their shared experiences in Lulu and that’s something that’s so distinct. I think that the characters that have been portrayed for so many years before we started working on Pose have all been made-up storylines or things that they wanted the public to see—or principles that they wanted them to have. With this show, I pray and hope that people see Lulu’s character as human, and as someone that they can connect to, someone that they have shared experiences with, someone that they share qualities with. That way it will bring acceptance into peoples’ hearts and show that we’re all the same. That’s the one thing that I hope and pray for.

HC: I think that’s a huge and very realistic goal. I know that transgender women, and trans men as well, have been excluded from the entertainment industry, and it’s great to see transgender women rising in the industry.

HS: Yeah, and the thing is that there’s so much differing that really just connects all of us. If we go back to even Madonna and the "Vogue" era, that was just a different world. So we’ve always been connected and we all kind of live in the same arena together, even though we’ve been excluded from the world in a sense. The fact that this is coming out now, and we’re actually getting a chance to tell our stories, audiences can see that a lot of stuff in Hollywood today—and a lot of stuff in past—came from transgender people and the ballroom culture. So, we’ve always been connected, and I think people can kind of see that as the story of Pose unfolds—that these are things that really did happen. That we’ve always been here—we’ve been here this whole time. So it’s a beautiful thing.

HC: The entertainment industry still doesn't cast as many transgender women as they probably should. What advice would you give to younger transgender women who might want to break into the industry but are currently faced with rejection in the field?

HS: I would say, first of all, everything is changing. Things might not be completely different, but they are changing and that should give you hope. Because when I was starting out, there was nothing. So, at least that part should give you hope. Secondly, I would say is to be honest—whether you’re transgender or not. You’re an artist. Be authentic to your work, to your craft. Do the work, and the work will come. Study hard and really dive into your art. Just be an authentic artist, and your art will come to you and keep striving for it—never give up. Believe in yourself because, if you don’t believe in yourself, then no one else can. And I would give that advice to any artist. As far as being transgender, I would say that things are changing so there is a possibility.

HC: What advice would you give to your younger self?

HS: I would say that, well, I’m actually proud of myself. I would say, instead of giving advice—because I’m proud of myself and my younger self because it was very difficult growing up—I would look at that little kid and I would say, ‘I’m proud of you for believing and for praying and for letting God guide you. So I’m proud that you stayed focused and that you believed in yourself.’ Because the advice I was given was to keep praying, to love myself—even if it was difficult, to keep believing in myself. So I would tell myself that I’m proud.

HC: That’s amazing. I think praise is sometimes more important than advice.

HS: In this walk of life, it really is. It is. It was very difficult, very difficult, the things that I had to navigate to get to this point. It’s not just a career. It’s not just a personal life. It’s not just a performance. All of these things—I come from a very religious background, and it was very difficult, but that gave me hope. 

HC: Your music video, and the lyrics themselves, for "California Dreams" is an upbeat anthem for just being yourself despite what other people might think. Are there any other messages you hope listeners gain from your music? 

HS: Yes. In my music, like any artist, I think that it’s based on any kind of life, so I might still learn and grow with it. But I want to evoke people to party and just enjoy life. Other times, [my music] might be more sensual because that’s how I feel. That’s how “California Dreams” was written in the hopes that—I was in the mind frame of change and wanting to uplift people, and that was in my very first single. I wanted to give people something that was uplifting that would give you hope in the lyrics. That’s all through the song: you see the flag, and including Los Angeles, and just following your dreams. That’s my whole storyline. I just really wanted to uplift people, and I wanted to include that in my first single. Now as far as people, once again like in my acting, I hope that people love themselves and that people love who they are. Whatever that song may be, we all have differences and we’re all at different places at different times. So I would say whatever message people get from it, just have a good time with it.

HC: I think that’s amazing, and I really do hope that people get that message from [your music]. I feel like [“California Dreams”] is such an important song because it allows people to rise above the hate and love themselves.

HS: I believe that sets my song apart. I’m actually a very deep, thought out artist, so I do things very deeply and intimately for a reason. So, I just hope that people really get the message that I’m referring: to just be bold, to get out of the costume that you might be in so you can just be proud of yourself –all of that.

HC: Can you tell us anything about your new music that’s coming out, or is it going to be kind of a surprise?

HS: Actually, I can tell you what I was inspired by. I was really inspired by Pose and the '80s. I think when you do any project, you really dive into that time era, and you dive into that character. For me, I was listening to a lot of '80s music while I was finding Lulu. And Lulu has her own playlist on my phone. I literally play her playlist every day, especially when I’m on set, because I want to be in the zone of what Lulu would listen to—I really take it that far. So there’s a lot of instruments from the '80s, and I was really moved by it. Then, I really got into the space of it—how can I make pop music, how big can my hair get, how big can my flared pants get, what makeup can I blend together—you know, it’s very creative. And, I’ve learned to appreciate it, so there's a lot from the '80s. But, I’ve also implemented things from today and music from today. It has an '80s feel to it, and it’s very profound with the message in it. There are messages in all of my music. I’m hoping that I’m one of those artists that, when you listen to one of my songs, there’s a message in it—and it's always a powerful, uplifting, and beautiful thing. Sometimes, it’s a very personal thing, but there’s a message in there. So, there are messages in my music, and it’s something to look forward to. I think people are really going to love it.

HC: Definitely. And, I feel like—with those heavy messages and with those diverse and flexible messages—people can gather their own inspiration from it. Which, I think, will create a cycle of creativity.

HS: And that’s honestly what I want—to create energy for people to find their creative energy. I am a creative being and I’m a human being. I want anyone to have the opportunity that I’ve had to express that creativity. I want everyone to have their best lives, honestly. You’re given this life and you’re not going to be here for that long. You have a certain talent and purpose that you were given on this Earth, and you should just have fun with your life, enjoy your life.

HC: Absolutely. I think that’s a beautiful message to live by in general, for anyone. In addition to your music and your roles on Pose and Mr. Robot, you do a lot of activism in the LA area and beyond. Do you have any advice for young people who might want to volunteer or use their activism to make the world a better place but might not know where to start? 

HS: I would say start with Google. I think [Google] can help connect you to your interests in your community. I think that’s the best place to go, as far as activism and getting involved in the community because it can give you inspiration on a lot of local projects and issues that you might have never even thought about. It’s about opening that first door. That’s the thing about doors—every door leads to other rooms. Know the message you want to convey and who you want to be—and whatever your message is, whatever activism you want to get involved in, just know exactly what it is and just follow your heart to get that message across. There’s a lot of information out there that will allow you to be an activist, and I’d say just follow your heart.