Striking a Pose With Jeremy McClain
FX’s new drama series is the show everyone’s talking about—Pose—where we see Jeremy McClain strutting his stuff on the ballroom floor as the character Cubby. What’s deeply personal and important about the show is this: as an ode to the 80’s New York LGBTQIA+ ballroom scene, Pose sheds light on gay and trans rights in both that decade and our current one, spotlighting the fight for equality, what’s worth celebrating, and what’s still left to be done. If it wasn’t already obvious, the story behind Pose is more relevant than ever before.
On the surface, Pose takes us back to the roots of the community fight for equality during the AIDS epidemic, but there’s so much more to be said of each character’s journey and what complexities we see play out in each episode. McClain sat down with Milk to talk about his portrayal of Cubby on the show, and how Pose resonates with him as a queer actor in 2018. Read below to hear him speak on today’s politics, gender roles, and what the heart of the show is.
What do you hope that this show does for the future of storytelling through television? How do you see it making immediate impact?
I hope that it allows for more writers, directors, and executives to take risks and tell more stories of marginalized communities. Seeing all the love pour in from people via social media who come from all walks of life relating to this story just goes to show that it really doesn’t matter if you’re QTPOC or not, the heart of the show is about family and everyone can relate to that.
How has it been shooting the show with cast members that are a part of the ball scene outside of Pose? What do you feel like you have learned from them?
They’ve literally become my family. To work with the girls especially has been my greatest pleasure and honor. They’re just so strong and talented and to see them at this level is such a marvel. Despite any adversity they’ve faced in their lives, they’ve parlayed it into this colossal success and have no intention of leaving. They’re going to save lives. My brother, Jason Rodriguez (AKA Slim Ninja) who plays Lemar, has been my lifesaver though. He’s always next to me cheering me on (and vice versa) and I would’ve been lost without him otherwise.
As someone who is gay and doing your first major performance as an actor, what does it mean for you to be a part of a production where your identity is embraced in the role that you are performing in?
It means that the world is finally changing and that I’m extremely lucky to be apart of that change. As an actor of course I don’t want to pigeonhole myself in anyway but it’s very special and probably rare to have my first role be someone I can naturally connect with. It’s also been quite healing in a way as it’s forced me to reflect on a lot of real issues because it’s so close to home.
How do you think that the homophobia and transphobia portrayed in the show, though set in the late 80’s, reflects the environment and social climate we are in now?
Sadly, it’s still very prevalent in our society today, which is why it’s so important for a show like this to exist right now. I mean our Vice President literally hates the LGBTQ+ community. Fourteen trans people have already been killed this year, and 28 last year. It’s scary out there but I hope that this show can be a refuge for our community.
“Passing” culture is commonly portrayed in the realness aspect of the ballroom, especially surrounding the concepts of femininity and masculinity. What would you say your relationship with femininity versus masculinity is? How do others read you because of this? Are there any barriers you hope are broken, or that you see are already being dismantled, with the current generation on how we value femininity and masculinity?
I mean I think I have and will always play with both femininity and masculinity. There are so many beautiful aspects of both so why limit yourself? I’ve always had a pretty small frame so I’m mostly seen as a “twink” or whatever, which in the gay community is often either looked down upon or fetishized. I think this is changing drastically though as the younger generations come up and challenge these archaic ideas of gender and what it means and do away with all the labels.
Confidence is super key with both being on the ballroom floor and with voguing. When do you feel most confident?
I feel most confident when I feel independent. When I know that I can take care of myself.
What do you personally hope to contribute to the community with your representation? What do you hope to highlight?
I hope that people can see themselves in my story and be able to connect with me in some way. Whether it’s through Pose or any of my future projects, I just want people to know that they have someone in their corner and that hears them.
Stay tuned to Milk for more rising stars.