The word that can be used to describe Angelica Ross is all encompassing adjective; “luminous”. From emerging as the one of the anchor characters on Pose (portraying the heartbreakingly raw and realistic Candy Ferocity) to emerging as the ultimate survivor on last season of American Horror Story, Ross is rewriting narratives and demanding representation. 2021 looks to be the year that Ross tackles another passion; music. She joins two other dance legends on the throbbing single ‘Fierce” and is preparing to drop some of her own music. I sat down to talk with Ross about her small screen accomplishments, why representation behind the camera is as important as what appears on screen, and how she is using her advocacy to “pay it forward”.
Michael Cook: From being the founder & CEO of TransTech to being one of the leading trans activists in the country to inhabiting the role of Candy Ferocity on Pose to heading up American Horror Story; life has certainly changed for you. What has the ride been like for you?
Angelica Ross: This has been the most exhilarating ride of my life. It’s exhilarating; I am not someone that is a big fan of roller coasters, but if I had to describe it, it has been that. It has been a roller coater ride. I have had these amazing highs and these dramatic drops. To be able to condition myself to that has been part of the process. I think that has been a sort of baked in, growing pains situation and that’s life; such is life. You will have these amazing highs and these dramatic drops, but it really comes down to how you do with the whole ride. If you can really be someone that can enjoy the whole ride and be able to not completely be devastated by the low’s and completely delusional by the highs.
MC: I think it would go without saying that your new track ‘Fierce’ with Ultra Naté and Mila Jam would definitely be considered a “high”.
AR: ‘Fierce’ is a really big high for me. People that know me know that I have been dabbling in music for a really long time. It is really my first love, but it is one of those things that had to turn into my personal therapy for a long time because I just had to survive as a trans woman. Music was a luxury. Now that I am back and able to create space for creativity, when I am not acting and on break from American Horror Story and Pose, I started recording music again. Now with ‘Fierce’, I have started recording six other songs and I am going to be releasing a full album this year.
MC: What has it been like working with people like Ultra Naté and Mila Jam who have been threads in the fabric of the LGBTQ community, people who know that they have the same mission that you do, even though the path to get there might have been different?
AR: It has been amazing to collaborate with Anthony Preston from A2 Music, Ultra Naté and Mila Jam because we are all part of the community in some ways. Even though Ultra identifies as a cis woman, especially being a dance diva, she has been around for a while doing that! I thought it was amazing to do it and also just timely for us all to come together from our different intersections, backgrounds and activism to finally put out this message that we can all be fierce and we can all party together.
MC: Could you ever see a world where we can all hit the dance floor to an actual Angelica Ross remix? You know that once nightclubs open back up, we are all going to be hitting that dance floor!
AR: Listen…(laughs) this is just the beginning! What was so amazing is that this ‘Fierce’ song actually opened me up. I had planned to come in and sing a verse or something and Anthony saw fit for me to sing the hook of the song. I thought it was very aggressive and I wasn’t ready for that. Chris Willis and Anthony Preston, these producers that I was working with, they pushed me to sing the hook. As I’m wailing and using this raspiness in my voice, it really showed me that there was more there, more than I thought I had. I always knew that I could sing and do certain things, but sometimes its all about the right support and the producers. Once I found that with Anthony and Chris, Anthony said “we need to do a full project” and that was music to me ears because I was ready; I’m ready.
MC: Speaking of high highs and low lows, leaving Pose was probably extremely difficult, but leaving the way that you did, with Candy’s epic final episode, made truly remarkable and now historic television.
AR: You know, I am so glad. Even though it would have been nice to have been recognized by any of the award shows for the performance that I put forward, but to be completely ignored by all of that for me, it just is a symptom of a bigger problem. I know from the audiences all over the world-in several languages- how much Candy and that performance affected folks. For me, it did what needed to be done, but it also came with a cost to me. In the sense that I as an actor, I don’t think people understand what it means…I vicariously went through a death and a huge loss. I went thought an experience that nobody will ever have. I was laying in a casket while hearing words said about you that you would never hear when you were alive. While I was in the casket filming those scenes, the body in the casket is crying. I’m praying that the camera is not on me in those moments and obviously they cut out those moments, but I am in the casket crying. I was literally going through an experience, and even after I finished filming Pose I was in grieving for at least six months to a year. It took me a long time to fully get over the grief of losing Candy Ferocity.
MC: Your performance was exquisite, in part due to the fact that you were truly portraying a woman who had so much of who you are as a person interwoven within her. When you find out you did not receive any award accolades from your peers, is the lack of acknowledgement expected or do you truly want the accolades?
AR: It is one of those things where it is both/and. When I hear that I am not nominated, I am not surprised. To be honest though, having Billy Porter bring so much attention to our show, especially in the first season, with all of his nominations and awards and saying on the red carpet “we’ll get our chance the second time around” and then to have such a big performance that everyone is talking about, it is just such a disconnect between what the industry is saying and what the audience is saying. Also, part of that audience is the industry,
I am hearing from various people in the industry like “wow”! Some have said “you have to wait your turn, you’re new in this”. Then we have people that I love like Jeremy Pope, his first time out in Hollywood getting a nomination. Does that truly stand? Looking at both of our performances, it really isn’t about pitting people against each other but stop making excuses for a flawed system. When I think about Beyoncé at the Grammys or Angela Bassett not getting recognized for What’s Love Got To Do With It; if it can happen to them, it can happen to me. That just means that the system is broken and we need to stop being so invested in those systems. We need to divest from those systems and create more inclusive ones. I am not waiting for nothing; I am getting mine today when I’m living.
MC: Speaking of living, you were the last one standing on American Horror Story last season! I know you can’t say too much, but anything you can say about the new season that is allegedly filming in the LGBTQ destination of Provincetown?
AR: Yes! Usually in a horror story, the black person is the first one to go but I think Ryan Murphy has been invested. I am with him at American Horror Story helping create new narratives in horror. And yes it’s coming; Miss Ross is coming to Provincetown!
MC: As a part of American Horror Story, you are standing next to acclaimed performers like Sarah Paulson and Emma Roberts truly making the change that you have wanted to make for so long.
AR: I am very well aware of the power that I hold, so there is that. When I walk into Season 1 of Pose, it is because I was so adamant that Deja Smith became my makeup artist, who is a black trans woman. There were not black people or trans people in our hair and makeup trailer when I started. I was the one who pretty much, almost to the point of getting on peoples nerves, who was saying that “I need a black trans woman on my face”. I also wanted someone black on my hair, because I am the one with the kinkiest hair of this group and I needed someone with some institutional knowledge on how to work this hair, not someone that thinks they can do it. That was not an easy process or conversation to start with, but I know that is how I changed culture and how I changed things behind the scenes. Because I did that, Deja Smith was nominated for an Emmy for makeup.
That is how you change the industry. Now that I am on American Horror Story, I have Yolonda Frederick who is an amazing celebrity makeup artist for Ciara and many others, but she is my key makeup artist on American Horror Story. Now a black woman is brought into that system where there were no black women.
MC: While representation in front of the camera is crucial, ensuring that representation is happening behind the camera is just as important, wouldn’t you say?
AR: It’s one of those things where as black entertainers especially, it’s just absurd that people expect us to come represent something, yet you are not giving us the best chance to do so by giving us people to collaborate with who also can help us bring the most authentic representation. For example, if we are talking about the 80’s and we are doing 80’s hair, nobody knows like a black hairstylist about that “crumple crumple” sound when we were wearing those shower caps to bed with the jheri curl juice to keep things going. Salt -N’-Pepa was wearing shaved sides, and that could’ve been because we had burned half of it off with relaxer. There are reasons why we did our hair certain ways and sometimes white pople think that they are just styles, but there are reasons behind that. Either hiding rice in our braids to feed communities or using your styles as protective styles to protect our hair from the elements. We need hair and makeup artists, people who have this institutional knowledge to tell these stories from a beauty lens.
MC: There were pictures of you recently with Vice President Kamala Harris and your investment in the community goes without saying. When you are with someone like VP Harris, how do you not fan out and truly try to deliver your very important message?
AR: You know, its funny I honestly don’t fan out for politicians. I have fanned out for so many different celebrities like Sheryl Lee Ralph and Kelly Rowland, there are so many times that there are these black women in entertainment who now follow me; like India Arie, who is someone that I now consider a friend. With politicians, I see the responsibility of their jobs and I don’t speak to them any different than I speak to the janitor or to anybody else. First of all, it is going to be with respect because I respect everybody. Also, I understand that I am not always going to get to be in the space with V.P. Kamala Harris or President Joe Biden, so I waste no time at all speaking to the issues.
Photos you see of me talking to Kamala Harris are some behind the scenes photos, and I am talking to her about her record that has had consequences for black trans women being incarcerated. Because of some of her choices and her choices to prevent trans women in prison from accessing healthcare and things like that. I don’t go soft on folks- there is not softball situation. What is great about that though is that people can hear the compassion in my voice when I am talking. I am not having this conversation to be destructive, but I am having this conversation to push us forward.
MC: What is 2021 going to hold for Angelica Ross?
AR: This year I am actually releasing a lot of things. As an executive producer, I have a couple unscripted shows that are being sold to networks right now so hopefully we see those very soon. I have a music project being dropped as well. Also, because I am so busy and because so many people do try to get time with me or want to speak with me, I am talking about people who are inspired by how I have overcome the challenges in my life. There are a lot of people who are also not necessarily ready for “me”; there are levels to this. There are things that people can learn without needing my undivided attention. I am creating space for people, I am creating cohorts, just like I teach with TransTech. That is a space that I recognize I want siphon resources to marginalized communities.
I am also creating a space for folks to have a more exclusive access to me, mentorship from me and training from me. I am releasing some webinars that are going to help people, in my opinion, that will help people no matter who you are, to get you to look beyond all of the external things and look inside yourself for the power, strength and wisdom to do whatever it is that you put your mind to. I am making myself less available to folks that are going to waste my time. I am creating the space; if you are about that life and you really want to put in the work, join me here on this. If you are being distracting or want to play devil’s advocate, you can google me and interact there.
MC: How have you stayed inspired and creatively fueled during such a difficult year?
AR: I am someone who people think is an extrovert. In reality, I am an introverted extrovert. Basically, I am someone that needs to spend an obscene amount of time alone. This pandemic has been great for me in terms of getting to spend time with my own thoughts, getting a lot of work done; I am getting pulled in a million different directions. I am getting to connect with people a lot, and I am able to feel people’s energy over camera, that is just how tapped in I am. I can look into someone’s eyes and see that they’re listening, I can see when the moment some of my words hit their heart. I am able to get inspiration and motivation from people who in the same synergy field that I am in. I am able to do all this from the remote comfort of my own home and be able to have the space that I need to shut out whatever everything else so that I can hear my spirit speaking.
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