Angelica Ross is busy.
She's filming a movie in the fall with Whoopi Goldberg. She's the CEO of TransTech Social Enterprises, a firm she founded in 2014 that helps employ trans people. She's curating a shorts program at Outfest. And she also plays Candy Abundance on FX's new drama Pose, a series that American Horror Story's Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk co-created, along with writer-producer Steven Canals. Pose is making history as it features the largest number of transgender actors as series regulars than any other American show and, specifically, five transgender women of color cast as series regulars.
Set in New York in the late '80s at the height of the ballroom scene, the show tackles issues of LGBTQ homelessness, the AIDS epidemic and sex work, but its importance also lies in giving trans people of color more visibility and giving credit where credit is due by focusing on the origins and creators of the ball subculture. It's about truth, but it's also a celebration of the black and brown trans and gay community.
Windy City Times: You've called your character Candy the "wildest character you've ever portrayed" and "shady boots." Tell us about her and the House of Abundance.
Angelica Ross: Candy is trying to find her place and is struggling to find her category in this ballroom scene. She feels like she's a beautiful woman and that she's serving face, but she also feels like she's more than a face. She wants to experience love, she wants to be loved. Having the House of Abundance as her family is one thingCandy and Lulu ( Abundance ) are thick as thievesbut Elektra's not the warmest house mother. Candy has a lot of insecurities, so she covers that up by being defensive and shady. She feels like before they attack her, she'll get them. You'll get a lot more of a taste of her in episode four.
WCT: I was reading that one of the upcoming episodes is based off your own real-life experience?
AR: Well, it's not based off my own real-life experience because it's just a fact that what I've experienced is what so many other trans women of color have also experienced. It's definitely going to be a conversation-starter.
I didn't even really know where Candy the character was going. Ryan Murphy just kind of created her once he met me. They went through the audition process and I actually passed on it a couple times. I kind of gave it to other girls to audition for because I didn't really see myself as Elektra and I didn't see myself playing Blanca, either. I didn't realize they were also using that as an opportunity to find the rest of their cast.
WCT: What was it like working with the rest of the cast and creators, like Ryan Murphy?
AR: It's incredible because everybody has an opinionand a strong onewhich is wonderful when you're dealing with people who get it. The collaboration elevates to a higher level. It's more challenging, but you're working with people who have done great things [who] are also showing us respect, honoring what it is that we bring to the table as trans actors, as trans directors, producers, and writers.
WCT: Did you have any fears going into the show concerning portrayals of trans women of color?
AR: None. I had zero fears once I knew Janet Mock was on it. Zero. I knew immediately it would be done right. We've worked too hard and come too far. And she's done so much to invest in her brand, she would not allow anything to get to a point that we were used as a publicity stunt. For so long, people have been trying to project their allegiance to the trans community instead of actually proving it through their actions. It's a lot of lip service, a lot of things that don't end up as what you think they're supposed to be. The trans community was on edge and so exhausted with it because we deserve something real, we deserve something authentic. We deserve something that we want to tune in to week after week and I think Pose is definitely going to be that show.
WCT: I know you've created a lot of your own content in the past to address the fact that you weren't being given what you deserve. Do you feel like there's a sense of responsibility that comes with being a representation of the trans community?
AR: Yes and no. I think that I've gone through enough advocacy spaces to understand how to deal with this kind of respectability politics. What happens is, when telling stories of women of color, you've got one scene with Candy calling one girl a "cross-dresser," you've got girls saying things to each other that are going to end up being reads and deep cuts. It is internal talk, but this is why the community's going to continue to love it so much because it's going to be so real. The responsibility we have is to be real.
WCT: Authenticity is key.
AR: You get to see how Ryan Murphy can create a show that can be advocacy within itself. As he goes on to create more content on Netflix, as we become more empowered as writers, producers and directors, we'll be creating more content. Hopefully, with more of that, we'll be able to loosen up in our shoulders and release the frustration and anxiety that has come from having to brace ourselves for every single thing. To be able to enjoy, to be able to let go. To cry tears of joy and cathartic tears because of the experiences that these characters go through. I see people on Twitter exclaiming that the experiences on Pose are their experiences, too.
WCT: What else do you hope that Pose accomplishes?
AR: I hope that Pose shines a light on what happens when we whitewash history. They'll see and realize that a lot of the things we're talking about in 1987 are still going on today. Who were we then, who are we now and how far have we come? When we talk about pride, what are we proud of? What progress can we be proud of?
WCT: The episode with Blanca getting kicked out of a gay, but predominantly white, space was like holding up a mirror to our community.
AR: Absolutely. I can't wait to see how the white gays are taking it.
WCT: [Laughs] Right.
AR: We also have so many moments to celebrate and I think we should all learn how to celebrate the wins each time. But we should not get to a point that we think the battle's over. We have to stay vigilant. I hope Pose shows what trans people of color have done: Janet Mock, Geena Roceroa lot of the girls, a lot of the trans guys, non-binary people. … What we end up doing is making something beautiful out of a story that is filled with a lot of not-so-pretty moments. Pose is high-glamour and glitz balanced with this pain and this reality that's our lives. Our spirits are fortified through this sort of fire, like when you're creating a sword, in the sense that if we don't crumble and give up, if we allow our experiences to make us more courageous and bold, then we get to be able to be at a place where everyone can freely express themselves.
WCT: What has been the most mind-blowing thing about this ride for you?
AR: Being on a show with this many trans people, like, everywhere, is just mind-blowing. My makeup artist is trans, a lot of the background people, writers, directors… When we say, "cut," and we're working with the people who are day players, there are these wonderful connections [being made].
You hear people ad-libbing. I'm like, "Okay, wait. Hold on, say it at this time so they catch it on the camera. And say it this way so it doesn't get cut." Because I want to see everybody shine, I want to see everybody win. Some of the day players would be talking about how the scenes we're doing would remind them of 20 years ago. To hear that what we're talking about is reflecting real-life stories. … I knew we were on track and it felt so authentic, so real and so good.
To learn more about FX's Pose, which debuted June 3, visit www.fxnetworks.com/shows/pose. To learn more about Angelica, visit missross.com/ .