On the crowded, raucous set of Ryan Murphy’s latest hit series Pose, Cubby Abundance stands with his face beat for the gods and dressed to slay. As the babyfaced youngest member of the House Abundance, Cubby’s kinetic energy is impossible to miss in every scene he sashays, but that comes as no shock to those who’ve come to know Jeremy McClain, the actor behind the sickening, Voguing character at the heart of House Abundance.
Long before he met the mastermind behind American Horror Story and Glee and stepped into the shoes of Cubby, McClain was serving extravagance on the streets of New York. After moving from Norfolk, Virginia to the big city to study fashion marketing, McClain did what any young, painfully cool millennial does in the city that never sleeps: he began to dabble in a mix of modeling and DJing.
It wasn’t until a friend DMed him the information for the casting that he decided to wade into the acting world and try his luck at auditions for Pose. A few weeks later and with no callback necessary, he’d joined the cast and become part of what has become one of the most groundbreaking television series’ in history — thanks largely to the record-breaking number of transgender and queer people of color who’ve joined the show.
Working within the subculture famously immortalized in documentaries like Paris is Burning, McClain is fully aware of the pressure to do right by the community he’s representing. “There’s obviously a pressure but it’s a pressure I’m ready to take on to tell their stories correctly,” he notes. “Pose is so important because it can change lives and even save lives by showing LGBTQ people of color on screen.”
As McClain finished up his Pride festivities and hid away from New York’s summer heatwaves, we caught up with the star to talk about who he’d have in his House, what his go-to Voguing song is, and why he loves his queer black fans.
Jacket by Chalayan, trousers by LOROD Studio, and galoshes by Moschino.
OUT: Did you know how to Vogue beforehand or did you learn on set?
Jeremy McClain: I had learned through being in clubs but professionally, I had to learn on set. Luckily I got to learn with such amazing teachers like Leiomy Maldonado and Danielle Polanco [who choreographed the series’ ball scenes]. It was actually very intimidating to be honest. These women have been Voguing professionally for years and they know their stuff. It was such an amazing experience to learn about something I’d admired for so long.
What’s the secret to a sickening Vogue?
It’s truly just about being comfortable with yourself, not thinking too much about it, and having fun. In rehearsal, I would get into my head a little bit too much — especially with the old way of Voguing. It’s so much more geometric and about making shapes and Pose is set in 1987, so it was very much the old way. That way is a bit more difficult because the new way of Voguing is more flouncy and free. It’s really just about letting go and believing in yourself.
Do you have a go-to song for Voguing?
Oh dear, that’s a hard one! I actually really like “Yo Vogue (VIP)” by French Fries.
If you could create your own House, which three people would you pick for it?
Oh my god. (Screams) I would choose Naomi Campbell because she would give a sickening runway. Let me see… I’d go with Rihanna. Then, I feel like I need to put in an older queen in here. Wait, Grace Jones. Oh my god, duh.
I think you’d win every contest with this team.
It would be the most sickening House ever.
Blouse by Tibi and earring by Alexis Bittar.
We just celebrated Pride month and, living in New York, you’re in a super LGBTQ-friendly city. What did Pride mean to you this year?
For me, it’s all just about celebrating yourself in your purest form without any shame or guilt. This year was a special Pride for me because we have this amazing, historic, and groundbreaking show that has literally never been seen before. To be able to be a face in that is so amazing.
How does it feel to represent the LGBTQ community on TV during such a difficult point in American history — to say the least?
I feel honored to be part of the show and to be given this opportunity by Ryan Murphy and his team to represent such a marginalized community. They’re finally getting the chance to tell the world their story. There’s obviously a pressure but it’s a pressure I’m ready to take on to tell their stories correctly and to not presume to know what they went through. Every time I’m on set with these icons who lived through it, I just shut up and listen to everything they have to say about that time.
You’ve just got to do your best. It’s hard because over a dozen trans women of color have been killed so far in 2018 and I believe last year there were 28. This is a very real thing that is still happening. Pose is so important because it can change lives and even save lives by showing LGBTQ people of color on screen.
What would you tell the queer black kids like yourself who watch you on TV every week?
I would just say I love you. Honestly, I love you. You matter. You are stars and the world is your oyster. You can do whatever you want and I hope that this show will remind you you can do this. I love you.
Feature Image: Coat by Band of Outsiders and earring by Alexis Bittar.