'Pose': Angelica Ross Breaks Down Candy's Emotional Episode (Exclusive)
By Stacy Lambe
(Warning: Spoilers for season two, episode four, which aired Tuesday, July 9 on FX.)
In May, reporters gathered along the balcony of an auditorium erected in the Bronx, New York, location of Silvercup Studios, where Pose was in the middle of production of the fourth episode of season two. Below, four of the series’ five transgender series regulars -- Mj Rodriguez (Blanca), Dominique Jackson (Elektra), Indya Moore (Angel), Hailie Sahar (Lulu) -- were scattered about the room, surrounded by background actors as they watched a group of male dancers compete at the ball.
Erupting from the fringes, the fierce and outspoken Candy (Angelica Ross) appeared in full Madonna drag with a corset, cone bra and blonde hair, doing her best “Vogue” impression. Bringing the competition to a halt, Candy and emcee Pray Tell (Billy Porter) go at it. “I’m a star,” she says before being shamed off the floor. It’s a rambunctious and funny moment that recalls Candy and Pray’s previous encounter from season one involving plenty of shade and an attempted hammer attack.
While Ross nailed the scene, she admits to ET later that off-camera -- and out of the view of the reporters -- she was a wreck. It turns out she was filming the opening scene to her final episode as one of the series regulars on the groundbreaking FX series from Steven Canals and Ryan Murphy about the LGBTQ community of color in the New York City ballroom scene during the rise of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
“I went into an ugly cry,” Ross says. “I was hyperventilating.” She was not only overwhelmed by the finality of a consummate underdog who would never get to have her crowning ballroom moment but also the real-life struggles of transgender women facing insurmountable odds she’s helped coach in the past. “I felt the weight of that in that moment and I had to break down,” she adds.
In the series’ most shocking and unexpected development yet, it’s discovered a few scenes later that Candy was murdered; she’s a victim of a sexual encounter gone bad with her body carelessly left behind, inside the closet of a sleazy motel.
Months before the episode aired, Ross was just as surprised to learn of her character’s fate when Murphy personally reached out to her with the news. “He says, ‘Listen. I’m just going to rip off the Band-Aid,’” she recalls. Sent the script before anyone else in the cast, Ross was able to read about Candy’s final journey in private. “I just kept crying page after page after page,” she says. While Candy’s death is a tragic representation of the real-life horrors of transgender women of color being murdered all around the country, “I felt like it was a beautiful send-off for us both,” Ross adds.
Indeed, it was a tear-filled episode full of highs and lows as Pose said goodbye to one of its own. In a phone conversation with ET, Ross breaks down a few key moments from Candy’s emotional episode:
Fights and Final Discourse
After getting shamed out of the ballroom, Candy later confronts Pray and the other emcees about introducing a new category: lip-syncing. Shade is thrown as the camera jumps between the two characters. “It doesn’t know who to focus on because we’re playing tennis right now,” Ross says of the scene, adding: “Any moment to work with Billy is wonderful because I consider it a tennis match. And, I always want to play with someone who is a strong player and who you can hit things back and forth.”
Even though Candy and Pray have always been at odds throughout the entire series, often arguing over the rules of the competition and who gets to compete in what category, Ross says this episode finally shows them both that “they’re more alike than they think.”
It’s later in the episode, during the memorial service, that the two get to share their true feelings about one another -- with Pray opening up to Candy’s spirit about what has divided them for so long. It’s not about the ballroom, it’s about visibility. “You are unapologetic, loud, black, fem -- all the things I try to hide about myself when I go out into the real world. You are all of them,” Pray says, overcome with emotion, adding: “I was jealous of that bravery.”
“I thought it was so beautiful because Billy so beautifully helped to articulate why I think so many black men hate on transgender women,” Ross says. “I think there's this femininity that we have, that we boldly claim that they cannot claim for themselves, meaning as black gay men, it’s hard for them too, to walk through life in this world. They get it too.”
Specifically, when it comes to Pray, Ross says, “[he] can only be so bold behind that podium but outside the ball, he’s not wearing that fancy, frilly stuff, he’s wearing a suit and tie. It’s very beautiful how they touch on the conversation of how Candy is bold in ways that Pray wishes he could be.”
Following her conversation with Pray, Candy gets to share heartfelt moments with Angel and Lulu -- helping them find closure -- before getting an unexpected surprise: A final encounter with her parents.
Showing up unexpectedly to the service, they learn the fate of their child, whom they only knew as a son and never as her true self. At the casket, however, they finally meet Candy. “Why did it take me so long to see you?” her mother asks during an emotional exchange with Candy, who eventually tells them both: “This is who I truly am.”
Ross reveals that she and the actress who played her mother didn’t want to rehearse the scene because they just wanted to capture the rawness of the moment. “We all were adamant that we did not want to run the lines,” she says. “No rehearsal. We just went for it.” And to their credit, it landed on the first take. “The entire background was in shambles,” she says, revealing there was a thunderous applause that followed. “I knew that every single one of those words was hitting everyone in the room. They were feeling it because I felt like they heard those words before.”
The reason it landed is because it’s one of those scenes that Pose excels at -- paying service to the characters and the fans with hopeful and healing messages for the LGBTQ community. “When I read it, it hit so close to home in such a way that I think it’s going to hit close to anybody,” Ross says, adding: “What’s wonderfully unique about the show and about this experience is that normally, if this were on any other show, you would need to call in the consultant.” But not here, because “Janet Mock is already there, Our Lady J is already there, and Ryan Murphy… people who’ve already had these conversations.”
Ross adds, “It was such a healing moment because there are so many things that are said that it was cathartic for me. I know that people at home are going to be able to have these healing moments with their parents and their loved ones.”
10s Across the Board
As the memorial comes to a close, Pray and the other emcees announce that they’ll add a lip-sync category to the competition in Candy’s honor. Then, in a fanciful and fabulous sequence, her casket is wheeled from the funeral parlor into the ballroom, where she gets her final moment to shine. Candy, donning a shimmering, red fringe dress in a similar fashion to Stephanie Mills, steps out onto the floor to perform a lip-sync to the singer’s 1980 hit single, “Never Knew Love Like This Before.” As she shimmies around the room to a roaring crowd, Candy finally gets what she always wanted: 10s across the board.
“It’s sad that we don’t get to see her get her flowers while she’s living,” Ross says, while happy with the final scene Candy gets. She believes that this moment of “glorifying them” helps the dead onto the next part of their journey. “I like to think that Candy is living her best life in the afterlife. And I like to think that all of my sisters that I’ve lost are living their best life wherever they are.”