Pose star Angelica Ross on Candy's surprise final season return: 'It was such a reunion'
Ross speaks about the legacy of the show, filming Pose and American Horror Story simultaneously, and more.
Warning: Spoilers from Pose season 3, episode 3 are discussed in this article.
Pose brought back the entire family for its final season, and that includes Ms. Candy.
FX revealed Angelica Ross' surprise return to the Emmy-winning drama series days before the premiere of season 3's third episode, which flashes back to the younger years of Elektra and the formation of the House of Abundance.
Since leaving Pose in season 2, which saw Candy's death scene in a motel room, Ross has been booked and busy. The actress is currently starring on the forthcoming 10th season of American Horror Story, dubbed Double Feature, which she filmed simultaneously with her Pose role.
Ross speaks with EW about traveling back and forth between Los Angeles and New York filming both shows, reuniting with her family to bring back Candy, the legacy of Pose, and the semi-autobiographical TV series she's now developing.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I hear you're very busy these days.
ANGELICA ROSS: I'm extremely busy. I'm in Los Angeles right now filming American Horror Story season 10. Just juggling a lot of things, developing unscripted television shows, working on a music video for the single we put out for "Fierce." Yeah, there's a lot of things going on.
I saw some of your tweets and you were saying that you had to film American Horror Story and your Pose return simultaneously. I imagine that must've been tricky with the COVID of it all.
It was extremely tricky. The production offices between the two shows had to negotiate with each other about who could have me when. It was obviously really difficult with all the COVID planning. I had to quarantine in a hotel for so long before I could even travel again, due to New York regulations.
You mentioned you spent your birthday and Thanksgiving quarantined in a hotel.
Yeah. It was unfortunate because I kept getting text messages every day from New York state reminding me, "Make sure that you're quarantined if we call you." It just felt very [like] surveillance, but I felt like it was a sacrifice that I had the privilege to make. I'm sure that a lot of other folks are going through a lot more challenges than my champagne problems. So, I knew that if I could keep it a secret that the fans would really be surprised once they found out.
Had you been expecting that call to return to Pose? You had such a beautiful sendoff in season 2.
I was not expecting the call, but once I heard that it was going to be the final season, I was like, "I don't think they're going to let this season go without there being an appearance from Candy." Either way, I'm such a fan of the show, even now that I'm not on the show. When I got a chance to sneak peek the first six episodes, it just reminded me of the rollercoaster ride that is Pose.
What was your reaction just getting back together with everybody for this final moment?
It was such a reunion. There's even probably BTS video of us dancing. We're all in there together and then Indya [Moore] puts on "Never Knew Love Like This Before," and then we're all dancing together. It was such a beautiful space to be in and we recognize that it's unique and that we'll probably never have all of us, at least together, have this family experience on set. All of those girls are my sisters.
This episode shows the origins of the House of Abundance. I was wondering if this was all material that you already knew about and were formulating for the backgrounds for your characters in season 1.
Not really, but it's one of those things where when you look at the flashback and you look at Elektra's backstory, or when you look at Blanca's backstory in season 1, or any of the characters where we go into their past, for all of us, it all feels familiar. We either went through something similar like that ourselves, or we have friends — many, many friends and house family members — who have gone through those things. We know it very intimately. When we do go back, all of us have done our own character work and it all makes sense when it goes back that we each want to help resolve issues that we know that LGBTQ people and LGBTQ families are struggling with still today.
How did you approach forming the background for Candy?
Pose is a show about real authenticity. It doesn't shy away from the very problematic struggles of all of the intersections. With Candy being a dark-skin Black trans woman, I know not to gloss over that experience. I know that, even in my own LGBTQ community, we're still dealing with colorism, we're still dealing with racism, and all kinds of things. Survival sometimes looks like adopting the tools of your oppressors. Crystal LaBeija created the ballroom scene because the white queens weren't giving the Black queens their shine, but Crystal LaBeija was a Latinx trans woman and light-skinned, as well. So, when you go into the ballroom community, you realize that dark-skin girls weren't actually allowed to walk face back then. It was just a thing. You weren't considered beautiful. You were overshadowed by the light-pink girls — and not even in ballroom, but your walk through life is a little bit harder. I had to dig into what the real chip on the shoulder of the Candys out there is all about. It's about not being seen, it's about not being heard.
Did you approach the flashback episode differently?
I just wanted to make sure I created a youthful energy because we were going back in time. It's so funny to me because I just turned 40. I just wanted to look inexperienced as far as Candy is concerned, but also I wanted to drop hints, which obviously they did in the script, to Candy's business savvy. When she's talking about the fact that we should go over to Tokyo and open up a bunch of pizza and burger joints 'cause they would make a killing, I know because I lived in Japan when I was in the Navy that the burgers and fries joints do well over there. It was just really making sure that I leaned into those moments that help people see the beginning essence of Candy.
I also caught the hammer line.
It's so funny. When we go back on set, sometimes I'm just doing what's on the page and then other times there's a gap and they're like, "We put this gap here for you to be Candy. So, fill in the gap and feel free to ad lib." A lot of times, during those funny things, I'm just ad-libbing. When I first did the whole thing with Candy and the hammer, I had mixed feelings about it in the beginning [of the show]. Really where the mixed feelings came from is the fact that I wasn't sure everyone would understand why she has a hammer in her purse and that it would just be a gag that people found funny. It's great to have that, but the reality is I know those girls who carried the switchblade and the hammer. If it weren't for a pair of scissors, [LGBTQ activist] CeCe McDonald would not be alive today. With Pose, we're able to take something very serious and be able to find a moment to laugh or to find the silver lining. I think it does it so beautifully.
I wanted to ask about the fairytale ball. It looked like so much fun. What do you remember from filming that?
What I love about that Pose ball is it's the absolute excellence that Elektra demanded from her children. The costume designers, like everybody, they just did such a great job at creating these fairytales with each one of us. I found myself just in awe of it, especially of Indya Moore. She is such a beauty and such a talent ,and to watch her play pre-transition Angel and then come out in the ball as Little Red Riding Hood, she just slays. It was a reunion for me and the girls. I just was so happy for them, proud of everybody.
Did your Sleeping Beauty look evolved through fittings?
It was fully evolved from day 1. I met with [costume designer] Analucia [McGorty] and she was showing me drawings of where the pillow is gonna sit on my head. The fittings were in the hotel because of COVID. I didn't go to the studio. It was such an interesting process, but when I saw it all come together, I just gasped because... Sleeping Beauty. I don't know if they did this on purpose, but it wasn't lost on me that Candy would be Sleeping Beauty.
Steven Canals mentioned that at first he had no idea with COVID how they were going to be able to pull off scenes like balls ever again. Once he actually sat down to formulate a plan, it came together. What was that experience like for you? Did it feel any different?
It did feel different because there weren't as many extras, but it also felt different in the sense that everybody understood the importance of the work. We really did not have time to play. We just didn't. Things were tough already as far as the COVID restrictions. Everybody was focused. And everybody was really happy to see me. Pose is a real family environment for me because I'm someone who produces my own content. I consider myself a crew member. So, I know the crew by name, they know me. It's all love. It does make it seem like, with all of that said, you want to see the essence of this community continue to be highlighted in Hollywood. Do another story about a white man and nobody blinks an eye, but do another story about a Black trans woman and they're going to say it's one too many. I know that Pose hopefully opens the door for us to see even more shows like this.
Jumping off of that, it was really bold of Janet Mock to say what she had to say at the season 3 premiere in a room of her peers. [The show's writer-director-executive producer gave a nearly 15-minute-long speech in NYC in which she exclaimed "f---Hollywood" and "You all have stomped on us".] What was it like to be in the room listening to that?
Well, you know, we were gagging. We were absolutely gagging. But... no one knows but a Black trans woman what it truly takes to speak truth to power because nobody but Black and queer trans and non-binary men and women, Black and Brown, are going to hold the line. When it comes to our cis het[erosexual] counterparts in the Black and Brown community, we know that there are weak links. We know that there are places where they don't hold the line for us. So, when one of us gets up and tries to speak truth to power, it's very, very difficult.
To be honest with you, yesterday I was telling my glam squad, I was like, "I need a break." I just know that people expect me to say some amazing things. I have some great interviews out there where I say some eloquent things. Most times I'm able to speak with a very intersectional perspective, a very measured and intuitive and considerate and compassionate perspective. But I'm a Black trans woman who experiences both racism and transphobia together. It gets to be too much at certain points. I started to feel me losing control over the veneer, over the polish. "Well, if you just said it in the right way, or just put it in the right package or form..." Sometimes you can't put the truth in a package, and it's hard. It's hard.
And so, all I sat there thinking about the whole time was, all I can do is be here and bear witness to my sister's truth and be here as a support to not let her fall. She's a sister. Janet Mock is my sister. When she's right and when she's wrong, I'm standing by her. And when she's wrong, her and I will have conversations, just like sisters do. But people wanting me to comment in the public about certain things that she shared and some of her own personal business, that is not my place to do, especially with her being a Black trans woman there. No. But where my place is is to stand by her, support her, and to ask, "How can I help you going forward?" Like she said, she's healing right now, and I just hope that she's afforded the space to heal and that we all find ways to support her and support Black trans women, both [who are] in the spotlight, as well as those who are in the margins.
You're not the first person to describe Pose as a family. Mj Rodriguez said she doesn't necessarily believe there will be anything like Pose ever again. Do you feel the same way?
I don't feel the same way, and the only reason I don't feel the same way is because I've written a series that I am developing. It's a love story to my community and to the girls and to the guys, but especially to my girls. When there were so many girls that watched Pose and related to those stories and felt like their stories were being told, their stories were not being told. What I mean by that is I came up in the showgirl day. RuPaul's Drag Race, which I'm a huge fan of, erases the contribution of trans performers. I performed with these girls. I competed with these girls. I've worked with these girls in the club. I've gone through the struggle. Some of them doing shows and others looking down on the girls because they're doing sex work. It's such a struggle. So, the story that I'm writing is based off my life and my journey from leaving the military and starting my transition all the way up until now and being post-op. As we look back over the years and see me grow into the woman that I am now, you also get to see the real-life stories of the other women who inspire me. The Mimi Markses, the Tommie Rosses. Within every episode, I plan to give these legends their light.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.