Poise seems like a deliriously old-fashioned virtue, especially in a world where reckless oversharing and virtue-signaling are de rigueur. Where a certain brand of crass can almost feel non-negotiable. And that’s precisely why Dove Cameron’s maturity, her absolute poise, as a performer and public figure feels so refreshingly modern, humble, and relatable. After retiring her successful twin-sister characters on Disney’s ‘Liv & Maddie’, the 22-year-old actor/singer began another phase of a creative evolution, putting her chops on display in the Hollywood Bowl’s production of Mamma Mia, and NBC’s live TV production of Hairspray, effortlessly holding her own against stage heavyweights like Kristin Chenoweth and Jennifer Hudson. This year, her star is set to catapult even higher with turns in Marvel’s Agents of Shield, and the Ann Fletcher-directed adaptation of Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’, a tale of sisterhood and self-love co-starring Jennifer Aniston, that feels incredibly timely. Even while charting a career moving at meteoric pace, Cameron has managed to maintain a sense of quiet grace, intrigue, and groundedness that has undoubtedly helped her navigate an industry that can be tough on young people and especially tough on young women. We spoke with Cameron about what’s in store for this coming year, rebuking lazy comparisons, and discovering a whole new meaning to sisterhood.
I saw that you and your stylist were super busy these last couple weeks. You grew up sewing and making clothes, so the process of getting dressed and previewing collections must be a delight.
My stylist and I are always thinking ahead, always thinking about when we might need a fashion moment. We’re good friends in real life, too, so we’re always thinking, planning, being creative. I’ve always loved clothes since I was little, honestly. My first big purchase for myself was a Brother sewing machine from Costco when I was 8 years old. And family friends always got me the cards that said things like “You’re such a fashion diva!”
You two pulled together more than 20 looks! That means you’re really gearing up for a packed season.
We’re going into award season and there are a lot of events to get ready for. It’s a busy time, but somehow I’m managing to find balance, enjoying work, and staying sane, which is wonderful. I’m actually in a trailer on set right now for Agents of Shield. It’s a wonderful set, a wonderful cast and crew, and it’s a really interesting narrative for me in their 5th season. I have a couple of films in the pipeline and there’s definitely music happening right now.
But somehow, amongst everything that’s happening, you’re still active on social media. You’re still interacting and maintaining meaningful connections with your fanbase in authentic ways. Do you feel a responsibility to them in a way?
Whenever I get recognized, it’s such an interesting experience, no matter when it happens or for how long. It’s hard to attach to myself [the fact that] a fan has seen themselves in something that I’ve been apart of. It’s not that they necessarily love me, and now I feel responsible to love them back. It’s not like, “Thank you so much for putting me up on your wall! – you are now my fan and I am your celebrity!” I’ve never felt that. In the way that you can never truly see yourself in the mirror, the way that it’s always just a reflection of you, sometimes I get the feeling that people will never see me. They see what they want to see in me, see what I mean to them. But the fact that I can mean so much to so many people, it’s a beautiful opportunity.
It’s less about adulation, but more about interpersonal connection, and making meaning.
We all put up such tall cells and walls, but when somebody can make a little divot and let something in, a role or character that I played, and that gets into them, it’s an authentic offering of a deeper connection from a stranger, and what you can do with that is immense. The reason I became an actor is because I just love people. They are my life. I love watching people, hearing from people, connecting with people. It means a lot to me. There are so many people who want to offer that to me. I get to go past that top layer of being a stranger and get straight to a deeper connection, a more friendly, familial connection. I can hear things from the things that are interesting to me. It’s like this tailor-made virtual program that you can sign up for, where people know a lot about you and then they can say “Here’s some tailor-made advice.” and it’s like “Whoa, that IS great for me!” (laughs)
That’s a really special way to deal with fans as a celebrity, a touchingly human way, really.
I always felt weird about fandom and celebrity because I don’t necessarily want that. I want an army of friends. So I don’t feel a responsibility, per se. I just get a great, deep sense of joy from connecting with these people. I think I try first and foremost not to think of myself as an actor or like a celebrity. Sometimes it’s like living in an alternate universe, an alternate reality, like you’re wearing VR goggles. You put them on and think “Oh, I can play two people sharing their stories on a TV show.” (laughs). It’s like being in a long game of The Sims, and then you get home and you’re like “oh, that was fun.” (laughs)
It seems like you bring a lot of what people share with you into your work, and you bring a lot of your personal life into your performances as well. One of my favorite stories about you is how the writers of Liv & Maddie often surprised you by inserting small portions of your life story or your interest into the scripts.
It’s complicated. Because as an actor or artist, sometimes you have to surrender your rights to your own life story if you want to be good at it. And that goes beyond just using your own personal story to create an emotional reaction, which can be really useful as an acting tool. It all kind of becomes one thing: the work you do on screen, the person that you are in the public eye, the things you write, or whatever you choose to share. You have to share all of it and blur those lines pretty thoroughly if you want to be good. And in some ways, I’ve always lived my life like that.
At 13 years old, I was a little scary, and I was a very scary 5 year old. I used to tell my parents that I thought that I was 8 people crammed into one body (laughs). I think it was just that I always felt like I needed to live out every single person or idea in my body in that day, and that week, and honor all of those different thoughts and points of views. I just thought there was a lot of content in me. Because of that, sometimes it was terrifying to be open and share, to take down the barriers between me and the world. As a result, there were times when I didn’t live my life like that, shared and open. But more often now, I do live my life like that.
A lot of what Liv & Maddie ended up being was us sharing our lives on camera. The intimate relationship that all of us actors, writers, and producers created. That’s really the best way to create real art. Now, I’m not going to sit here and say that Liv & Maddie is a form of high art, but I do think it’s a great example of how to make real, interesting, emotionally resonant work. You have to have it all be one thing, putting yourself and everything you do into it. It’s all one thing: you’re breathing it, it’s breathing you. I have a very hard time departing from my characters. I take them with me everywhere I go. Every time you sign on to play a new character, it’s the study of humans and ultimately the study of yourself.
You’ve really tapped into a mature, developed ideology about what it means to give your all as a performer. There’s a serious focus to what you do, and what you’re headed towards. In other places, I’ve seen people try to compare or juxtapose your path to other former Disney stars, for better or for worse, and you tend to shy away from those conversations.
I don’t feel like I need to identify with my job in a specific way, so I don’t know why I would compare my journey as a human being with other people within the sphere of celebrity. My journey as a human being has very little to do with the industry at large, so I don’t think of anybody who has done a Disney title before me as a person I need to follow necessarily. And likewise! They don’t need to compare themselves to me. Why would they? It’s not worth comparing yourself to anybody who’s had a similar professional because your profession is a tiny part of who you are in the world.
Even if it’s just a small part of you, you fill your work with such passion. You know what you’re looking for, and in many ways, your clarity of vision has filtered into your performances. You’ve played so many strong, sure-headed female characters, and that trend will continue with the projects we’ll see from you this year, which feels incredibly right for the socio-political movement we’re living in.
I do think these projects are really timely. In reality there’s always been a desire and need for strong female characters. If you think about it, in the media, in the arts, in Hollywood and the stage, anything in that realm, you have to remember that art imitates life, and then life imitates art. All of these means of expressions have been moving towards this massive second wave of the women’s movement, the kind of overwhelming focus we haven’t had since maybe the sixties.
And you’ve been vocal on your social channels about this. About the power of womanhood, of female sexuality, about the need to even breakdown the confines of gender. All of that has bled into your work.
In some ways, to be honest, I’ve never thought about it as trendy to be playing strong female characters. I think I get these types of roles because there’s a certain intensity to me. I’ve tried to play the more run-of-the-mill, girl-next-door type of character, but I’ve never been able to book those roles. Maybe it’s because that kind of subtlety isn’t my thing. But I also believe that I’ve always been a little bit genderless in my mind.
I do think that there is a bit of a difference in the inner workings of the female mind and the male mind, and I don’t think it’s at all sexist to say. I think it’s just true. But I’ve never really just thought of myself as this type of girl, like some people who wake up and say “I’m a woman!” (laughs). My characters are always little gender-bendy from a psychological standpoint and everything else around is just costume, hair and makeup, and whoever is cast as my love interest.
But your latest film, Dumplin’ is very much about the experience of embracing sisterhood, and a message of self acceptance that feels wonderfully feminine.
Dumplin’ was an incredibly unique experience for me, a lovely time. The cast was so unexpected. Do you know when you have this time in your life, where you have some huge emotional revelation and there was no reason for it to be happening? But you’re like “Wow, I’m really meant to go on this trip or meet this collection of people.” Being in this film redesigned the pathway in my brain with how I could interact with my girlfriends. Jennifer Aniston is incredible, and kind, and funny. She was very intensive: I learned a lot by watching her work and improvise on set. She’s just such a lovely person: driven by integrity.
What have you taken with you from that set? Indeed from that performance?
My favorite part about this film is the incredible cast of young women, these incredible women playing these diverse characters. You might think a cast as diverse as this one, meant to be a group of outcast, might not get along. But it was the most magical, weird connection, and it was so emotional. We got along so well and it was one of my first experience as a young woman working with so many other women who are interested in being a good human female to other human females. Zero ego. It was my first time working with a female director, and I just learned so much about myself as a young women. I’ve never felt so supported by a group of girls. I had some life changing conversionations that reaffirmed my belief in women. There is a reason this cast had the space to be so warm and emotionally open. I can’t say enough about that cast and our director. I can’t wait for people to see the film.