Angelica Ross

Angelica Ross: ‘The History Books Are Being Written Right Now, What Are You Doing?’

today18 June 2022

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A year since Pose left our screens for good, the show’s presence is still being felt thanks to the conversations it sparked, the joy it brought to those who loved it and the success its cast members are continuing to enjoy.

Among its stars is Angelica Ross, best known to fans of the Emmy-winning show for her portrayal as ballroom staple and lip sync queen Candy Ferocity.

Since her character exited the show in 2019, Angelica has remained booked and busy. She played three markedly different characters in two seasons of American Horror Story, contributed to the must-see documentaries Disclosure and Framing Agnes and, more recently, has been releasing music.

However, it’s for her performance as Candy that Angelica is still best known, even though she admits now that she almost missed out on Pose completely.

“This is what they mean when they say, ‘what is for you will not pass you by’,” Angelica tells HuffPost UK. “I initially said no to the audition. I looked at the [script] and the pages were for Blanca and Elektra. Blanca – I felt like, the name alone, I was like, ‘well Blanca is a Latinx girl’. And Elektra – the only person who could have played Elektra is Dominique Jackson.

“But what I didn’t realise was the Pose team was using those roles to figure out who else would be in the house. So even though I passed up on it, my agent was like, ‘no no, you need to audition for this’.

“And so I did a self-tape, and I got a call back and they flew me to New York to audition in front of Ryan Murphy and 16 other network executives, it was very nerve-racking.”

Angelica in character as Candy in Pose
Angelica in character as Candy in Pose

Having aced her audition, Angelia reveals her “spiritual practise” had led her to believe she was going to land a part, explaining: “There were a couple of things that just happened serendipitously that told me that I was going to be on the show.

“But I did not get the role of Blanca, which was the role that I was reading for. And I was devastated. I remember crying and really letting it all out, because everything in my being told me I was going to be on the show. And when it didn’t happen I was like, ‘are my spiritual senses off?’.

“And then a month or two later, I get word from Pose that they want to give me an offer to play Candy, a role they’d written for me. And that blew my mind.”

In the future, Angelica says she wants to see “myself and other trans actors be involved in romantic comedies”, and personally wants to branch out into the action and musical genres.

“I’d love to be in a James Bond film,” she reveals. “I think I’d be a wonderful James Bond girl. I would bring the sex appeal and the fierceness.

“There are some things I have my eye on in the superhero world, that I’m working on manifesting, but I’m honestly just open to all the different types of roles. And I’m really looking forward to doing comedy work. Even though I do drama, comedy is my backbone. And maybe some stuff that involves music. Some musicals.”

For Pride, we spoke to Angelica about her unsung heroes in the LGBTQ+ community, enjoying Pose like a fan and her “radical” advice for the next generation of queer people…

Who was the first queer person you can remember looking up to?

When I was really young, maybe 18 years old, I remember living in Rochester, New York and I went to this club, Marcella. That was back in the day when I met Pandora Boxx and Darienne Lake, all these Drag Race girls all worked at this club.

There was this queen who worked there called Armani, who was a trans woman. I think it was the first time I’d ever seen a trans woman up close and in person. And I think I sort of immediately rejected the notion, I was like, “I’m not like that”, you know? At first. But getting to know her and watching her perform, I realised that I didn’t have to be afraid. I looked at her and [at first] I was almost afraid that I would see myself, you know? I didn’t really understand how to sort of put the pieces together.

It wasn’t until I got out of the military and met my drag mother, Traci Ross – where I got my last name from, we come from a long line of Rosses – that I did.

These are people that aren’t famous, that aren’t necessarily celebrated in the history books, but they were some of the first people who reflected to me Black trans women who were creating their own life on their own terms.

Angelica Ross
Angelica Ross

What was the first LGBTQ+ TV show or film that you remember resonating with you?

Noah’s Arc resonated with me so much. I watched shows like Queer As Folk, because those were the only shows that we had. Or movies like Trick or Mambo Italiano or Billy’s First Hollywood Screen Kiss, but they did not have Black representation. Noah’s Arc had an all Black, gay cast, and it was the first time that I felt that I saw myself, and saw my community, and just laughed and loved.

The cast of Noah's Arc
The cast of Noah’s Arc

What’s a song you associate with your own coming out?

There’s a song called Unspeakable Joy by Kim English, and that song has such a special place in my heart.

I remember hearing it for the first time like it was yesterday. It was my first Pride in Rochester, New York, I was wearing these white bell-bottom-y pants, a white A-shirt and some white butterfly wings, and I just remember the song blaring and her singing “joy, unspeakable joy”. And it still slaps!

It never fails to get me in such a great mood when I hear that song, because that is prayer for LGBTQ+ people around the world – unspeakable joy. Part of my purpose is honestly to be able to create joy for my community and for my people.

What was the most recent LGBTQ+ show or film that made an impact on you?

I would have to say Pose. Of course, I’m on the show so there’s a little bias there. But in reality, a lot of my experience with Pose was as a fan. I watched the show like the fans did, really sitting my younger self, my inner child, with my eyes wide open, just in awe of what I was watching on television. Watching a love story that ends in a fairytale ending for a trans woman, or when I watch someone like Elektra become rich or Blanca finding love – it felt to me that there was nothing like it.

This is one of those shows that really centered Black and brown folks and everyone else were peripheral characters. The white people were, you know… they were there in season one and I don’t think we saw them in season two! Not to say that they weren’t great additions to the show, obviously. Evan Peters and Kate Mara, they were all amazing. But I think that it was very clear that we weren’t sure if society was ready for a show led by a Black and brown queer cast, so we brought all the bells and whistles to the table in that first season, but then really honed in and focussed in on the characters as of seasons two and three. And the fans every day tell us they miss us. And I miss them too.

Pose stars MJ Rodriguez, Hailie Sahar, Dominique Jackson, Janet Mock (writer and director), Angelica Ross, and Charlayne Woodard
Pose stars MJ Rodriguez, Hailie Sahar, Dominique Jackson, Janet Mock (writer and director), Angelica Ross, and Charlayne Woodard

Andrew Toth via Getty Images

Who is your ultimate queer icon?

That’s so hard because I think there are so many icons out there who are iconic in so many different ways. Everyone from Miss Major, who has been iconic as a grass-roots leader in the movement for trans equality and trans rights to people like Raquel Willis, who, even though she might be young, she has been just legendary and iconic in the ways that she represents our community.

Then you’ve got folks like Janelle Monáe and Lil Nas X and Sam Smith and Shea Diamond and Diana King – even RuPaul! RuPaul is a queer icon, obviously. Sis has created a legendary legacy.

I’m just especially inspired by queer elders, and by every day queer people who have been iconic in the way they live their lives.

Janelle Monáe
Janelle Monáe

Josh Brasted via Getty Images

Who is a queer person in the public eye right now that makes you excited about the future?

Raquel Willis is… I feel like she’s my daughter. She deserves the world. When I did my speech for the State Of The Union address for Logo, I wanted to make sure that Raquel was on the team. She’s a young person who’s on the cutting edge of advocacy – and I’m constantly learning from other people, so those are the people I want on my team, who are going to keep me in the know and keep me fresh.

Journalist and trans activist Raquel Willis
Journalist and trans activist Raquel Willis

JP Yim via Getty Images

Why do you think Pride is still so important today?

Pride is so important because it’s a moment when we all get to come together and realise that there’s a community out there so much bigger than ourselves. There are more people going through similar things that we’ve gone through.

But also, it’s an opportunity to ask the question: “Are you proud?”. Are you proud of yourself, are you proud of our community? Because there are times where I’m not necessarily proud of where our community is.

For me, Pride is a conversation around both celebrating, but also checking in and making sure that you have done the work to be proud of yourself. The history books are being written right now. There is an attack on the autonomy of women’s bodies, there is an attack on the autonomy of trans people’s bodies, there is an attempt to roll back even things that gay folks have been taking for granted. So, it really is a question of, while all this was happening, while wars were being raged, while people were being oppressed, while people were being brutalised and killed by police, while all that was going on… what were you doing?

That’s what I want folks to focus on. What are you contributing? How are you helping to create the world that we all want and need? The peaceful world that we want is not just going to happen. We have to make it happen. So what are you going to do to make it happen?

Angelica Ross at the opening night of Blues For An Alabama Sky
Angelica Ross at the opening night of Blues For An Alabama Sky

Paul Archuleta via Getty Images

What’s your message for the next generation of LGBTQ+ people?

My message for the next generation of queer people is to understand that there are laws and then there are universal laws. And sometimes, the law of the land is not moral and it’s not just. Sometimes, the law of the land approves slavery. Fights wars. All these different things. So, you don’t always have to subscribe to the laws of the land.

And I know that this is going to sound so radical. But as our elders would say, as my friend Candice Benbow would say, “govern yourselves accordingly”. All these laws were not made for you, sweetie. They weren’t made for you to succeed, they were barely made for you to breathe and live. So once you understand that, you will govern yourself accordingly.

If you strive to be a good person, and to be great at something so you can contribute to the world that we are all building together, that is all you need to focus on. You don’t need to focus on what anybody else is saying.

Watch the music video for Angelica’s song Only You below:

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