“Pose” actress and trans activist Angelica Ross is now a part of showbiz history. The Wisconsin native is starring in “Chicago” as Roxie Hart, making her the first openly transgender woman to play a leading part on Broadway.
“I definitely learned that at this ripe age of 41 this body is still flexible,” she told me on this week’s “Renaissance Man.”
“I remember after the first dance rehearsal, I got up the next day and my body was just crying and screaming and I was just like, ‘What did I get myself into.’ But as I got to rehearsal, my body started to snap back into it.”
Yes, life just keeps getting better for Angelica, who is seeing more success and acceptance than ever. And she’s come a long way in her incredible journey.
She grew up acting and dancing but also entrenched in the church. At a young age, she knew she was different from the other kids and, as she tried to deal with those feelings, she became suicidal. When she was going into high school, Angelica told her parents that she needed therapy.
“I remember, my father is like, ‘Ain’t nothing wrong with you.’ Therapy wasn’t encouraged, you know, at that time. So it was extremely hard navigating a space, knowing even in my own home that my mom is subconsciously setting the tone and making [it known], ‘Ain’t nobody better be gay in this house.’ So it was a nightmare navigating that situation.”
And then something horrific and unthinkable happened. Her mother essentially told her to commit suicide.
“She told me, either kill myself or she had to kill herself, because the church did not condone raising a child like me. And I attempted suicide that evening and luckily survived … But what I would say is this: My life could have ended there and I would not have had the ripple effect that my life has had on this planet, not just on my own family, but in the ways that I have helped move our conversations forward.”
Since September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, I have to point out that the star is a walking testament to the fact that suicide is not the answer.
Angelica ended up transitioning and found solace in therapy, the theatre and eventually Buddhism. Her role in “Pose” taught her to “sell it. Confidence is key. And if you know how to sell it, anything can happen. You know, confidence is kind of the game changer.”
And man, does she have a lot of moxie and confidence. “It comes from a tried and tested sort of journey of not giving up.”
She has also acted in “American Horror Story” and is the CEO of a firm that employs trans people in tech. And Angelica marvels at how things have changed for young people since she was a kid.
“I look at the kids nowadays, like even like your Zaya Wades … and I’m thinking to myself, like, I wish I had [that] and I don’t even know where that courage is coming from. And I’m courageous, but to be coming out like that out the gate and be in school around other kids who are just nasty and abusive.”
But perhaps she can take credit for much of that change.
At the moment, she’s reveling in her “Chicago” role and she hopes to continue to land in more high-profile theater productions.
“My next dream Broadway role will be Elphaba in ‘Wicked.’ You know, the green witch. People don’t know, if you read the book, she was actually born intersex.”
Her advice for young people who want to be in her position?
“Everything is possible if you focus and follow your own drum and, like, are willing to do the work. It looks like a lot of work. It looks impossible sometimes, but just know that you can do anything that you’re willing to take responsibility for.”
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or are experiencing a mental health crisis and live in New York City, you can call 1-888-NYC-WELL for free and confidential crisis counseling. If you live outside the five boroughs, you can dial the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention hotline by calling 988 or go to SuicidePreventionLifeline.org.
Detroit native Jalen Rose is a member of the University of Michigan’s iconoclastic Fab Five, who shook up the college hoops world in the early ’90s. He played 13 seasons in the NBA, before transitioning into a media personality. Rose is currently an analyst for “NBA Countdown” and “Get Up,” and co-host of “Jalen & Jacoby.” He executive produced “The Fab Five” for ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, is the author of the best-selling book, “Got To Give the People What They Want,” a fashion tastemaker, and co-founded the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a public charter school in his hometown.