Pose’s “Never Knew Love Like This Before” is quite possibly its heaviest episode to date. There’s been death before, even within the last few episodes, but who would have thought that this would be the last time we’d see Candy Ferocity completely eschew the rules of a Ball category, or wield a knife on Pray Tell.
The co-Mother of the House of Ferocity has always been a difficult character to fully grasp. We’ve seen her traverse insecurities with her appearance and muster a tougher than tough love approach with her own house while trying to climb to icon status in the Ball community. Any viewer would expect to see her grow even further throughout the series — maybe that’s what’s so difficult about losing her, especially to a violent hate crime. And though tragic, her storyline fits cleanly with the recurring deaths of Black and Brown trans women.
So far in 2019, there have been 13 reported deaths of trans women of color in the United States, but this is a global epidemic. Most recently, Honduran TV presenter Santiago Carvajal was shot and killed. Her story, like many others, involves gruesome circumstances like Candy's. So the character's fate hits close to home for many a viewer. And perhaps no one was more affected than the actress who’s portrayed Candy since the onset of Queer America’s favorite TV show.
Out spoke with Ross before the episode aired about how she pulled off one of TV’s most powerful performances and why we need to act sooner rather than later to keep Black trans women alive.
So episode four of Pose’s second season is an emotional roller coaster to say the least. What was your first reaction to learning about the next part of Candy’s journey?
I was absolutely stunned and shocked when, first of all, I got a phone call from Ryan Murphy. I knew it was going to be about something important. He said, “I just want to rip the Band-aid off and tell you that we decided to show how trans women of color have been murdered and still are being murdered through Candy’s storyline.” I was very speechless because that obviously meant that I wouldn't be filming Pose anymore. I love the family that I’ve sort of created with the crew, as well as the fans. It’s great that the rest of the cishetero community has joined the party, but I really was there for the community and for the fans that have been looking for a show like this for so long.
In being confronted with Candy’s fate, were there things that you were imagining for her character development going into season 2?
I would definitely imagine in a different world for Candy in the same way I imagine that for trans women of color. I had plans for Candy to not only pull her look together, but to pull her life together with the connections at her retail job or develop her career like I did by starting at the beauty counters. So, I saw that there might've been an opportunity for Candy to live her dreams too, just like Angel was able to live hers. But when it comes to statistics, not just with HIV, but with trying to make it as a trans woman, one of us has got to go. It's sad the way that it is, but I kind of took that responsibility on willingly and said, “If this is to be what it is, I will make this the most glorious episode.”
One of the most direct connections in people's pop culture memory is to Venus Xtravaganza’s death as documented in Paris is Burning. What was it like to pull on the feelings around that particular murder? And are there other experiences or instances that particularly resonated with you in developing how you were going to approach that moment?
I actually had to go into a shell like a turtle. Like I was on set [physically and mentally], but I went so deep inside myself for most of the filming to the point where many days I had to ask the [production assistants] and different people to not speak to me during the breaks so that I could stay in place because everything was so sensitive.
You know, girl. [Black trans women] live this every day, finding out about another trans girl being murdered and being misgendered by family, so the whole process felt so familiar. There really was no research that needed to be done. It was that I needed to make myself completely available to the moment, to the story. When the makeup department was doing my face for when Candy's body is found, I couldn't look at myself in the mirror while that was being done.
You were filming in mid-to-late June, so it was happening in the middle of all of the murders of trans women of color during Pride Month. How was navigating that experience in particular?
With the scenes at the funeral, none of it was rehearsed. We didn't rehearse a single bit of that with any of the characters: me and Angel, me and Lulu, or me and the parents. I told Ryan I didn’t want to rehearse it like we usually do. Most of what you’re seeing is the first take.
It was so hard because when you're seen as a leader in the community off-screen, a lot of times people are looking for you to say something to make sense out of what’s happening. I didn't have words of encouragement or hope to give, because I’d given it all during an 18- to 20-hour film day. We filmed for eight days and it was emotionally draining. Now that this episode has aired, I hope to continue speaking in interviews and bringing context to Candy’s story, helping others realize that this is not just a piece of fiction, but very real for many trans women today.
What’s interesting about Candy is that she wouldn't be a character that many people would anticipate losing. Often when you think about characters that have the most profound impact, they are ones who have less complicated storylines. With Candy, at times she was an antagonist and at others she was a protagonist, so she’s such a complex character for many to love. Could you speak to her as a character that really fought so hard literally in every battle?
Well, think about it this way. Blanca said in season one that she’d only had two mothers and when her biological one died, Elektra was the only other mother she had. So, somehow Blanca has been able to sort of force her way into Elektra’s stone-cold heart, but Candy was not successful at doing that nor was she interested in fighting for love.
In this episode, when Candy’s [biological] mother says, “I didn't have a rulebook instructing me on how to raise a child like you” and “I missed you,” you could tell from Candy’s response how much she missed her mother. So, she left her mother to go into a house where Elektra is also not so motherly. No one else is looking out for her because she’s one of the “strong girls.” This is what it’s like for a strong Black trans woman that has to defend themselves because no one else will. You learn to stand up for yourself.
In contrast to Candy’s bio mom, there is a showcasing of softness, or a different type of masculinity with Candy’s father. It seemed he wasn't the parent that seemed to be the most resistant to her living her truth, which is atypical.
That's actually how it was in my family when I was coming out. My dad was actually more accepting than my mom was. The dynamic [in that moment] was really interesting because of the two different notes that I played with the two parents. With the mother, I allowed Candy to break down and be that child in her mother's eyes. And with the father, I decided to be strong for him to allow him to break down and let me be strong. I will say the one line did get me when Candy says, “Having my daddy see me gave me all the strength that I needed to be who I am.” I think that's so true for so many girls. My father seeing me as a boss and calling me his little CEO has given me all kinds of courage to go out in the world and actually be a boss.
So then that brings us to one of the bigger complex relationships with another man in her life. So could you speak to why there was so much tension between Candy and Pray Tell?
Yeah, I think it was one of those situations where you've got two people who don't realize how much they're alike and they're fighting all the time. Pray Tell is actually jealous of Candy, but he actually has a position of power to be able to project his jealousy onto her. He says, “She was bold, Black, loud, and femme and all of these things he couldn't really claim. In the episode, he's wearing some gorgeous yellow outfit with ruffles across the shoulders and sometimes he's wearing like a skirt thing wrapped around himself, but he’s wearing them behind the podium. He's not wearing those on the streets in New York; he doesn’t have the courage to be that bold like Candy does. Through that episode you see that they really understand that they're more alike than they are different. You're going to see in this episode and maybe in the future too that their relationship is one that is eternal. He'll always be fond of and think about ways that Candy helped him really see himself more clearly.
We don't necessarily get this particular question answered, but what do you think Candy would want for the future of the House of Ferocity?
Just like the previous episode where the Evangelistas were roleplaying as Romeo and Juliet, the fantasy for all the girls in the House of Ferocity is to be Cinderella, to find our Prince Charming. The reality is the girls in Ferocity flock together for a reason. We have our eyes set on love and like being treated just like any other woman. So being loved, liking others, being treated like any other woman. So I think with Lulu, Aphrodite, Florida, and even Veronica, I’d love to see them all with rich husbands so that they can be the sickening trophy wives that they were meant to be.
What's the big takeaway that you want the audience to learn and leave this episode with around Candy’s story and the lives of Black trans women?
The big takeaway is that there are trans women across the country right now who need your concern. I'm hoping that this moment is cathartic for everyone involved. I just know that those words were so specific, but then also so universal because everyone who was attending Candy's funeral had real tears. I really hope that the audience is able to heal because there are just words that go unspoken and some of us have missed those opportunities to have those words and some of us are realizing that if we don't do it now, we may miss the opportunity. I hope this episode communicates that time is not promised to any of us and that we need to make the most of that time with each other and actually choose to be family, even with your blood family.
Don't show up to the party too late, because I might not be there. So give us our flowers while we're living. There are people who are going to stan Candy and I love it. They are diehard fans saying something happens to Candy, it's going to be a riot. And that's amazing, because I'll be able to point to Candy’s line and say, “Don't waste your energy missing me, spend that energy on a Candy girl out there. Beautify her in my image.”
So, what's next for you? Obviously you're not going anywhere because you always have so many things going on, but what can we be on the lookout for from you?
I'm literally at work right now (laughs). I'm working on some really big projects that are going to be announced in the next few days, I'm sure. I got King Ester, which we're going to be releasing the trailer to soon, starring Janet Hubert and Roland, a Black trans woman who's pretty much undiscovered. I'm really focused on becoming a creator in Hollywood. Just like Janet Mock has her overall deal over at Netflix, I'm over here in my corner writing and producing things. I think that we just need to be prepared to keep creating more content.