Janet Mock stunned the audience at the premiere event for Season 3 of “Pose” last month with a speech calling out Hollywood’s slow progress toward inclusivity, but Angelica Ross, who returned to the FX drama for one final bow on Sunday, said it was a speech that the room needed to hear.
“[‘Pose’] means so much to so many people, but I honestly believe — and who knows where the conversation will go — but I’m a believer in examining our allies and examining situations in a way that is honest. And then let’s talk about that,” Ross said in an interview with TheWrap. “It’s not about villainizing people; it’s talking about what the real challenges are.”
“I’m always grateful for any time any of my Black trans sisters stand up and speak their truth,” she said.
Ross starred on the first two seasons of the series as hot-tempered Candy Johnson-Ferocity before moving on to co-creator Ryan Murphy’s other hit FX project, “American Horror Story.” She returned for this week’s episode, which featured a series of flashbacks showing the genesis of the House of Abundance and their rise within the ballroom scene.
“It was funny because it was like there was a scripted reunion, or a scripted sort of like a flashback, and then there was this unscripted reunion that was happening with all of us,” she said. “At one point, we were rerunning some of the lines from Season 1 because we were back in the House. It was just so great to get to see each character at very young points and being, not complete novices, but very young and seeing that they all were so fierce.”
“Candy’s always been a fighter,” she said. “But in the younger years, you could see that she was a little bit more hopeful that the world would give her what she was looking for.”
Read TheWrap’s full interview with Ross below.
TheWrap: When did you first get the call about coming back for Season 3 and what was your initial reaction?
Ross: You know, I was trying to get my schedule down for “American Horror Story” and my agents were like, “So guess what? You’re going back to ‘Pose.'” And I’m like, wait, what? And when I looked at the script, it was such a great invitation. It wasn’t just for like a quick hello, it ran for a lot of the episode and got into the genesis of the House of Abundance. I was so excited because I just wasn’t– I still am not ready to say goodbye to Candy or to “Pose.”
What was it like being back on set with everyone, playing these really fun scenes of the family all coming together?
It was funny because it was like there was a scripted reunion, or a scripted sort of like a flashback, and then there was this unscripted reunion that was happening with all of us. And at one point, we were like rerunning some of the lines from Season 1 because we were back in the House. It was just so great to get to see each character at very young points and being, not complete novices, but very young seeing that they all were so fierce. Elektra really curated a group of folks who could play at the ball. And now we got to see where that came from. It was amazing.
Going into those scenes, how is that younger version of Candy different from the version of the character you’ve played in past seasons?
For me, the notes that I really tried to play with Candy were just that very youthful optimism, and that’s what you’ll see the most. Because it changes over time for Candy and you start to understand where the chip on the shoulder comes from or where the attitude shift comes from. I know my parents and many people sort of comment on the fact of how optimistic I am. Even though I’ve been through the things that I’ve been through, I haven’t become bitter or don’t have a chip on my shoulder, but not all of us have that ability. I think Candy’s always been a fighter, but in the younger years, you could see that she was a little bit more hopeful that the world would give her what she was looking for.
We get to see a lot of the family together, but what is Candy’s relationship to Elektra one-on-one?
That relationship, it’s very similar to a conventional mother-daughter relationship, where sometimes there’s a little conflict when you’re more alike than you’re willing to admit. And the mothers and daughters don’t want to admit how much they see themselves in each other. Candy looks up to and has always looked up to Elektra and seen the best in Elektra, but she also has felt stifled by her. You know, when she calls her stupid or, you know, knocks down her ideas and her business savvy or whatnot. And it may be that Candy being younger, maybe some of the ideas aren’t so great in the beginning — like kidnapping a rich kid. But, you know, Candy didn’t receive that kind of encouragement from her parents, and I think still looking for that from Elektra, whether she got it or not. I also think she saw herself as a rival to Elektra, as you saw in the Mother’s Day episode when Elektra was getting her surgery and Candy and Lulu decided to step out on their own. Because under Electra’s rules, she felt like she could never fully shine.
It does feel fitting that this episode aired on Mother’s Day.
Yes. Especially because the ballroom community recently suffered a major loss. We just had another Black trans woman who was killed — Jahaira [DeAlto, of the House of Balenciaga]. And she had posted a video talking about Mother’s Day, talking about all those mothers who have taken children in whose parents don’t see their value and don’t see them as gifts and all that kind of stuff. We knew her to be community, we know her to be family, and we know her to be a mother. So with this episode and with the show, hopefully we continue to honor trans women who are mothers out there, as well as all mothers.
Candy obviously had a big episode last season, but how do you feel about having that ballroom flashback with the House of Abundance as the final picture of Candy?
To be honest, I don’t see it as the final image or word on it, just because of the nature of streaming television. I think that our fans are going to go back again and again and again to Season 1 and 2. They already tell me they’ve seen those episodes multiple times — and I know it’s true because of the residual checks. [Laughs.] I hope Season 3 gets there as well, but I know they’ll love that moment because they know they can dip back into the beginning and then go back and enjoy some of her other moments. I see it more as a missing piece of the puzzle that gives a more fuller picture of who she is, one that they can watch again and again.
So when you think of Candy, what are the moments that you think of first?
I always see her in that moment in the diner with Pray Tell and she’s asking him to include the new category. You know, she’s really trying to come at it in a professional way, but then the Candy nature takes over and she’s throwing food and she’s like, “motherf—er!” [Laughs.] What was great is that essence, you see her full color — even in the moments of “Never Knew Love Like This Before.” That’s when I feel like I see her at her best and, unfortunately, we’re seeing her in her best light was after she was gone. That is the way that it works for many trans women of color in America and around the world. So I, like many of the other trans women, want to remember them at their best, at the top of their game. I think we owe it to ourselves and to the legacy to share our triumphs as well as our struggles.
How do you see the legacy that “Pose” will leave behind?
I honestly believe that the show is going to leave a legacy of collaboration. When we show first started, we had members of the ball community, folks from all corners that were skeptical about what this show was, if it was going to truly hit the mark of authenticity. All of those different things. But what you realize with “Pose,” you have Ryan Murphy, who is a white gay male. You have Steven Canals, who is a Latinx creator. And then you have Janet Mock, a Black trans woman. You have Our Lady J, who is a white trans woman who has lived through and with HIV. And then you have all of these trans actors, some from ballroom community, some not. And what you have to realize is that it’s a collaboration. This story could not have been told in any other way but with all of us telling it. There will be other stories with other ingredients, with other combinations and collaborations. So for me, I offered everything I could offer to this collaboration because I believed in the project and I believed in the story. And I love my community and I love this story, but with the the series that I’m writing and other projects that I’m working on, I see that as an opportunity to be even more inclusive, to build on the legacy of “Pose.”
Janet made a strong statement at the premiere on that point about progress and the work that still needs to be done. What was it like for you to be in that room and hear her speak?
You know, I come from a background of social justice, and I’ve been trained in the movement. And what I’ve learned from so many different moments when a Black trans woman dared to stand up and speak truth to power, to powerful people in a room, the best thing I could ever do is to bear witness. To let them know, whether through my words or through a look, that I’m here with you. I don’t know where you’re going. I have no idea what you’re going to say. All I know is that Janet Mock is a brilliant Black woman, and it’s not easy for brilliant Black women. It is not easy. It is not easy. Our opportunities aren’t easy. They’re oftentimes mixed with all kinds of challenges. And so, for me, the only thought in my head is how can I be here for her? Even after the premiere, I just wanted to call and make sure I left messages, made sure she knew that I was here any time that she needed me or wanted to talk. But I knew that, as she said, she was healing. She’s going through some things and healing and needed to take a moment. Because the show means so much to so many people, but I honestly believe — and who knows where the conversation will go — but I’m a believer in examining our allies and examining situations in a way that is honest. And then let’s talk about that. It’s not about villainizing people; it’s talking about what the real challenges are. You know, I was hurting with her on that stage. There were conversations that we had leading up to that about how everything wasn’t exactly the way we wanted it. But I’m a Buddhist and I show up to everything a certain way. I’m always showing up to not only bring my best to the moment, but to also really make sure I’m listening with a fine-tuned ears so that I know what is needed, what needs to be said, what needs to be done. That evening, I just know that there was a lot of truth that was spoken about a lot of things that hopefully will change in the industry because of the path that Janet has trailed for me. I’m always grateful for any time any of my Black trans sisters stand up and speak their truth.
You talked a little bit earlier about inclusivity and that spirit of collaboration, but what are the kinds of things you’ll be taking from “Pose” onto your future projects?
What I know is that this business and Hollywood, if you’re not grounded it will take you for a ride. And for me, my goal is not only to always remain grounded, but to create a safe space everywhere I go. You know, on “Pose” Season 1, in the beginning, we were still working with a lot of men. And the masculine energy on Season 1, it was not cute, you know? We had brought on women directors and things like that, but there were times I witnessed the men just having their own conversations and not really listening to the directors, kind of maneuvering around her. And we all spoke up in those situations, we just didn’t let things fly. The fact that the makeup and hair trailer was all white when I entered it. But I used my position of power on that call sheet to say we need Deja Smith, a Black trans woman, in the makeup trailer. We need Tim Harvey, a black cis gay male, on hair. We need diversity in the trailer, especially if it’s centered and focused on being a Black and brown show. These aren’t easy conversations, but this is how you make change. This is how you change the industry from the inside out. Not being afraid to speak up and challenge folks to do better. And that’s what oftentimes does not happen. We haven’t had people in positions to challenge those who are in control of the narrative. And, as we’ve seen through this whole process, it hasn’t been easy. But there’s so much that all of us can learn from — the actors, the cast, the crew, as well as our fans. I think that this is such a unique moment in television, where we’re all being educated on how to love and live with each other and respect each other.
Beyond “Pose,” have you seen change happen in the industry?
I am seeing progress happening, yes. It’s not happening fast enough, and there’s definitely not enough of it happening, but I can only focus on my race and what I’m doing and what I have access to. So every table that I’m invited to, every conversation that I have with corporate brands, even with Ryan Murphy on “American Horror Story.” This season is like my favorite look of all my characters, and he asked me to wear my natural hair. So I said, “OK, as long as I can request to have a glam team who can handle that.” So I was able to bring on Jacki Brown, who’s a barber and who’s been doing my hair. And I’ve been able to bring on Yolonda Frederick, who is a legendary makeup artist but hasn’t had many opportunities in television because it’s not that diversified. So now I’m bringing her in and she’s about to join the union. So now we’re talking about diversifying the union. This is how you change the industry both inside and out.
“Pose” airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on FX.