Nomi Ruiz, a Brooklyn-born woman of trans experience, is making her feature film acting debut in “Haymaker,” a gritty and enjoyable riff on the “Bodyguard” formula.
The film opens in a nightclub where Nomi (Ruiz) is performing. When she is rescued from a sexual assault by Nick (writer/director Nick Sasso), a retired Muay Thai fighter who she hires to protect her. Nomi tells Nick where to be and when, and even how to dress. Her controlling nature is actually quite flirtatious, and Nick is captivated by her allure. During one stop on her tour, they become affectionate — and it quickly impacts their professional relationship.
Ruiz, who has made a name for herself as a singer and songwriter, makes a strong impression as Nomi — a woman who is both a diva and down to earth — and she spoke with Gay City News about her experience making “Haymaker.”
KRAMER: How did you identify with the character?
RUIZ: Part of being a performer is creating an identity for yourself, someone who is not necessarily who you are all the time. I have created my own persona with who people think I am as a performer and a singer. I felt this was the first time that side of me was coming to life — giving that icon an actual life, and voice, and storyline. It hit close to home, too. It reminded me of myself ten years ago, how I would act and react to certain situations. I drew from those experiences, when I wasn’t so evolved or triggered by things, to bring the character Nomi to life.
KRAMER: What observations do you have about the relationship between Nomi and Nick? She is controlling and mercurial, but also flirtatious.
RUIZ: It is very sweet the way it all unfolds. The character, Nomi, is being very defensive even when she’s being flirtatious or aggressive or controlling. It’s all part of her not accepting the fact that she’s allowed to love or be loved. So much of the trans experience is that you are always on the defense because you are told so many times you are not worthy of love or being taken seriously as a woman. There’s an aspect to her that feels something there, but she’s constantly pushing Nick away out of fear. Nick is always playing with the boundaries.
KRAMER: I like that the film makes only a brief reference to Nomi being trans. Can you talk about the visibility that a film like “Haymaker” gives to the community?
RUIZ: When Nick and I first met, I spoke about wanting to be progressive, and he felt the same. I wanted a film that was a little more visceral. In reality, trans is not always at the forefront of my existence and experience, but it’s always there in actions, and reactions, and choices I make. I wanted to have there be a leading lady who happens to be trans. That was really important, and Nick and I met eye to eye on that. We did not want there to be shame or darkness. We wanted a charming love story.
KRAMER: I love that Nomi inspires Nick…
RUIZ: They both learn about themselves through each other and their experiences together. She sees she needs to be a little more humble, and he should be allowed to shine, and be a star too.
KRAMER: Can you talk about being a role model in real life with your essays and other activism?
RUIZ: It’s become more and more important to me. My music and songwriting come from personal experience. Sharing my music was healing, so I wanted to do more of that. I started my essays as a personal letter to myself. I saw it as another element of me that I can share to heal others, too. It’s important to use my gifts to connect with other people. I know other girls feel so alone. The moment you tell your story, we all realize we go through same shit. We need to talk about it more.
KRAMER: What back story did you give Nomi? You get to be a bit of a diva as Nomi in the film. What can you say about living the dream and the harsh reality of life?
RUIZ: I think she’s been through a lot, the way a lot of people have. As a successful trans woman in the music industry, it’s not something easy or taken for granted. She gets triggered when people from her past show up at her show. It’s not been easy for her to follow her dreams. Others are more privileged. She had to give up a lot to get where she is. She seems to be a glamorous, successful person, but behind everything she has, there was a lot to get there.
Some successes are bittersweet. It takes a lot to get where you want to go. We all have to fight for what we love. This movie shows that too. Even when it seems like you have the perfect life, you always have to fight to live your truth no matter what.
KRAMER: You get to perform a few original songs in the film. Can you talk about performing your music in the film?
RUIZ: I told Nick her story is also on the stage. When I’m singing, it’s about something I’ve been through. I wanted to add that to the film. The main song, “Like a Ghost,” is out now, and it speaks about your past haunting you and not being able to let go of certain things even though you are making a full effort to evolve and move on. I thought it was really fitting. That’s a moment where she’s singing what she’s feeling in the moment. She wants to be loved and it’s hard for her to accept it because her past is still haunting her.
HAYMAKER | Directed by Nick Sasso | Distributed by Gravitas Ventures | Opening Jan. 29 in theaters, on demand, and digital
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