Trans actress Nomi Ruiz admits to being a novice in Hollywood but had parts come her way as a flourishing singer/songwriter. When she stumbled upon a script from another novice in writer and director Nick Sasso on Haymaker, it intrigued her. "I felt it was a progressive film," Ruiz said. "I been offered other roles, but I felt it's been exploitative and regurgitated trans-narrative. I've been wanting to be part of something that pushes the needle forward when it comes to trans-narrative in film and television. There was also music involved, which I have a love for. It was all exciting."
Before filming began, Ruiz had extra prep since this was the most involved in film or television. "We worked with an acting coach on our own before starting to film," she said. "We went in and sat with her. It was interesting how we got to know each other during that process, and we developed a friendship. It sort of helped us break the ice before we got in front of a camera. It was very adventurous. We were both taking on as the first time of its nature. We supported each other and pushed it through. It was a passion project for both of us. We wanted to maintain the integrity of the film, and the message was clear."
Ruiz also plays a performer she described who's similar to herself around 10 years ago when she was more egotistical. "I sort of led with that and dive into those emotions again," she said. "It was therapeutic. It helped to bring up my insecurities again and to lead with it on camera. A lot of the character is a part of my life at a different time." Ruiz admits how much the character as written spoke to her. "A lot of credit goes to Nick for getting a lot of the character is right," she continued. "I had some input stemming from personal experience. He handed me the script, and I was pleasantly surprised."
Prior to Haymaker, Ruiz's only experience was on television with appearances on Dispatches from Elsewhere and the FX series Mayans M.C. When it comes to the industry as a whole on why she doesn't think much of Hollywood gets it on trans-narrative, she attributes it to predominantly patronizing attitudes. "I think those who aren't trans who write trans narrative, they don't give the audience enough credit," she said. "I feel like they have to spell it out to them in a way that's not really visceral, organic, or realistic. Some of the dialogue I'm given sometimes I'm like, 'Trans-people don't speak that way' or like 'This sounds like something from the 90s.' That's why Haymaker is special. There's so much to the trans-narrative than the before and after story. What I love about the film is for the first time, we get through that stuff. The trans-narrative is in the choices I make; it's in the songs I write and in the way I love. Sometimes I don't feel worthy of love. I feel Haymaker is taking that step forward."
Ruiz said she plans to work on her own story in the vein of Eminem's 8 Mile (2002). Haymaker, from Kamikaze Dogfight and Gravitas Ventures, also stars John Ventimiglia, Veronica Falcón, Udo Kier, Zoë Bell, and D.B. Sweeney. The film is currently in theatres, on-digital, and on-demand.
Haymaker centers on a retired Muay Thai fighter Nicky 'Mitts' Malloy (Sasso) working as a bouncer, who rescues an alluring transgender performer (Ruiz) from a nefarious thug, eventually becoming her bodyguard, protector, and confidant. The relationship leads Mitts to make an unexpected return to fighting, risking not only his relationship, but his life. It's a story about human dignity and love.