Whether she is fighting on the front lines for LGBTQ rights as an activist or on our big and small screens as an actress (like in her duel role in the brand new rom-com I Hate New Year’s) Candis Cayne is continuing to keep the conversation going & showing that there is no template to what makes a successful actress. Looking back on her career, Cayne is both humbled and astonished at the change that has occurred, and now owns her role as one of the queens of New York City in the nineties to groundbreaking Hollywood actress. I sat down recently and chatted with Candis, and we dived into the era of New York City that we both remember so vividly, but also spoke at length on the drive and hard work that Cayne has had to display to stake her claim in Hollywood.
Michael Cook: You are co-starring in I Hate New Year’s, which is an adorable rom-com and I would think, a welcome departure for you.
Candis Cayne: it is just so much fun to be part of a cute rom-com! Not too much high drama, it doesn’t touch on all the issues of sexuality and gender, it’s really just about two girls falling in love.
MC: As someone who is such a strong advocate for the LGBTQ community, it must be a refreshing change to be able to simply just “act” once in a while.
Candis Cayne: That is why the playing The Fairy Queen in The Magicians was so amazing for me. It was about the Fairy Queen, not her gender or sexuality or anything. It was just her being evil (laughs)!
MC: What was it like doing a dual role in I Hate New Year’s and doing a kind of role you have not gotten to dive into before?
CC: I feel like a film tells a lot about it when you walk onto the set and everyone is happy, and there is no tension, and actors are good, and the director lets you breathe and gives you advice when you need it. It was a really positive experience as far as that was concerned. It made everyone’s performance more genuine and easy. The character was fun for me because I got to slip in and out and do my little part and steer the way that the girls would find each other; it was just a cute part.
MC: In terms of acting, so much has changed in the past year in how you audition and how things are filmed. What has the change in the industry like been for you?
CC: You are right, it has totally changed everything .The jobs were cut in half and as an out trans actress, that says a lot. There wasn’t a lot coming in before and there isn’t now. I am working on a couple of my own projects and working with some amazing people to start up my own things, which is amazing and lots of fun. I do have some taped auditions also. Pitching is weird because when you are in a room with someone you can really steer the conversation and use your energy and vibrancy to get things done. It’s harder over Zoom to pitch.
MC: We have seen a change with how trans performers are appreciated and revered and it is something that as someone who has led the way, it must be both surreal and rewarding. You played the first out trans recurring character on network television on Dirty Sexy Money, which in my eyes, was ahead of its time! What it is like to see what you helped pave the way finally come to frutition?
CC: It’s an incredible feeling. When you are doing it and you are in it, you don’t realize, especially at the time, what you are doing and how it will change how the industry might change. Hindsight is 2020 though; you can look back and see that the decision I made paved the way for a plethora of actors that are working and have a chance to thrive in this industry. We have a long way to go, but we have gotten really far; it is a good feeling. I own it now; before I didn’t, but now I am just going to own it.
MC: As someone who has seen you since your days performing in New York City, I’ve watched you emerge in Hollywood as a leading trans actress and advocate. It must be liberating to finally embrace the talent and change that you have brought to the industry.
CC: Right, that is so true. There is also the unwritten story of the countless talks, the interviews, and the auditions that I went to and I educated and taught people how to act and talk about my community. That never gets talked about, but they were vast. It is truly many years and many conversations.
MC: During a certain era, it was almost as if you dolls were the nucleus of NYC nightlife. From yourself to Lina, to Sherry Vine, you defined that era of New York. Does it feel like yesterday that you dolls were teetering around New York City in your stilettos and creating a nightlife legacy?
CC: I talk to Lina about this; it feels like both yesterday and then it feels like a million miles away, it has that duality. I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember there was a group of five to ten off us that “ran the city” for a decade. We were at every club every single night, we just couldn’t help it. We were from all over the world and we were all driven. It was before social media, so you had to go out and socialize, and you had to go out and make a name for yourself that way. There was no other way.
MC: Looking at pictures of you, Jackie Beat, Mona Foot, and Sherry Vine it truly is like seeing a portion of our community’s nightlife history….
CC: The nineties were good and bad, but mostly good. Not many of these kids today will understand what fighting for our basic rights are.
MC: For you in terms of having trans performers to look up to, you probably had someone like Tula to look up towards, correct?
CC: A little bit, although she was not still “out”. She was out, but she never talked about it. We had all heard about “Tula the Bond Girl”, but we did not have anything to go from from there (Tula appeared in the 1981 James Bond film For Your Eyes Only). She has gotten more and more open about her life and she is on social media now, and we speak to one another
MC: Many facets of how we both create and consume media have drastically changed, from streaming to full web series being available. If you had to craft a vision board of the kind of material you would want for yourself, what would you want it to be?
CC: Right now, I have been trying to pitch a half hour comedy series forever and that is like a dream project for me that I would love to do. We did a short that went around on the circuit and it did really well, but it didn’t get picked up called Candis For President; it was a lot of fun. I am working on some projects now with people that I cannot say just yet, but we are about ready to pitch and I am really excited about it; it could be a dream job. When you are in it in the industry, you are five minutes away from your dream job or you are five thousand miles away. It can happen like that. The most important thing is to keep working, keep dreaming, keep yourself up, and keep on trying. Keep on working towards things and projects that you want. Eventually, I have found that they happen.
Being a trans actress now, like it was twenty years ago for being a gay actor, it takes five breaks to make you a household name. What I want is to work and work good and do good work. I want to be successful in every way in my life, not just career-wise, but have successful friendships and relationships and be healthy and be in a good place, which I thank God I am right now. That is the most important thing for me.
MC: What is the way that you have stayed creatively fueled during this past year
CC: I live in Altadena CA and have a lot of trees and a lot of nature. I lost my two dogs about a year and a half ago and got a new puppy right as the pandemic hit; her name is Charlie. I have had a companion and I have an obsession with gardening and aloes. I have been gardening and doing things with Charlie. I have been trying to work, but if it doesn’t happen I am not stressing about it right now. I am looking at it as a break that I needed and I am luckily in a financial situation right now were I can weather the storm.
MC: What do you think that you celebrate the most about yourself?
CC: My best quality is my drive. When you are told no your entire life you can either say “okay I am not going to do it” or you can say “screw you I am going to do it.” My whole life I was told no; from being a swishy queen, to trying to dance and not getting any roles because I was too fem, then realizing I was trans and knowing that I had a really uphill battle, but my dream was to be on television. My drive definitely…
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