Angelica Ross never needed Hollywood.
Long before she got famous on Pose — burning up the screen playing ballroom diva Candy Ferocity, who stole season four by starring in an episode set at her own funeral — she was already an accomplished activist and self-taught computer coder who founded TransTech Summit, which helps trans people find careers in tech. But Ross’ natural talents for acting took her far in Hollywood: After Pose, she transitioned to another Ryan Murphy production at FX, American Horror Story, where she held her own among vets like Emma Roberts and Billie Lourd in the slasher-themed 1984 season of the anthology series. But all was not copacetic, as Ross revealed this week in a flurry of X (formerly known as Twitter) posts and Instagram Live broadcasts.
Providing screengrabs of emails and detailed accounts of conversations, Ross, 42, says Murphy abruptly stopped communicating with her three years ago, during which no one in his company, Ryan Murphy Productions, would offer her any information about her status within the AHS franchise. Roberts, meanwhile, could be a bullying presence on set, Ross alleges, once going so far as to misgender her in front of a director. The revelations come ahead of an announcement that Ross is packing up her home in downtown Los Angeles and moving back to her house in Georgia full time, where she will transition to a career in politics — just one of the things she reveals to The Hollywood Reporter first in this exclusive interview.
I saw your tweet, so why don’t we start there? What do you mean when you say you’re “leaving Hollywood?”
It’s sort of a “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me” situation. I thought that Ryan Murphy was going to be my champion. I thought he understood. He tweeted something about me after season three of Pose : “I really appreciate Angelica for her strength and her bluntness, but also her talent.”
All the people who are part of all of this know exactly what I’m talking about. They know how I showed up on set. They know that I was moving in my Buddha nature. My hairstylist would even say, “Angel, I can feel the peace radiating off of you.” There would be so much chaos going on because on a Ryan Murphy set, there is sure to be chaos. That’s just something that people know from Glee. We’ve heard about that on American Horror Story, Scream Queens and so on.
But Murphy did seem to champion you. He put you in Pose. He brought you to American Horror Story.
Going over to American Horror Story, the truth is I rejected their offer. I knew that by killing me off on Pose and then trying to usher me over to American Horror Story: 1984, that [Murphy] was trying to paint a narrative that he is supportive [of championing diversity].
But when they came to me with a salary of $28,000 an episode, I was a little offended. I was just like, “No, I need more money.” I asked them for $50,000 an episode, and they told me they couldn’t do that. So I said, “I appreciate your time, but tell Ryan Murphy, thank you.” I was willing to walk away from the situation because in truth, I’m a scaredy cat. I’m really not great with horror. But they did come back and did give me more money. It wasn’t $50,000 an episode, but it was a significant bump. And then I went on to do those seasons.
And was it as chaotic behind the scenes as Pose?
What I witnessed — my eyes just bucked open. I just wasn’t sure what I was witnessing. I definitely was witnessing a lot of white men on set in kind of a white-male dominated space. But somehow folks like Emma Roberts and others — I mean even Billie Lourd, but Billie Lourd I’m cool with — those girls were able to make moves on the set. They were able to open up their mouths and things moved. Sometimes I didn’t know if I was watching a mean girl or if I was just watching a woman standing up for herself.
At one point, I see Emma talking to the director, John, about something that he wants to do. He’s trying to get Emma to do something, and she’s not complying. And she says to him, “What are you going to do about it, John? You’re going to cry about it? Waaah. John’s not getting his way.” I was like, “Well, damn, she’s been in the business for so long, she probably knows what she’s talking about.” You know, Emma was aware of the T-shirts.
There was a crewmember who was operating my vehicle that I had to drive on camera, so he’s right outside my windshield and every day he was wearing a racist T-shirt.
One day it was, “BUILD THAT WALL.” The next day it was white praying hands in front of an American flag, and it said, “I DON’T KNEEL.” Those are the ones I remember. This guy had a collection. I started speaking up about it.
Where is Ryan Murphy in all this? Is he there every day?
No, he’s not around. Ryan’s not usually there for American Horror Story.
OK, so who’s the boss?
Well … Whoever is number one on the call sheet.
So Emma Roberts?
Yeah. From what I saw on set and how she talked to the directors and everyone else, my view would be Emma was the boss. She had her trailer outside of the sound studio, not where all the other trailers were. She made sure that everything went through her. She would literally tell them what order we were filming scenes.
You tweeted that Emma Roberts called you to apologize for her behavior on set. How did that go?
It was a bumpy conversation. She apologized and she said, “I hate that you walked away from our experience together feeling like that. I see in hindsight what I did and how stupid that was. I’m an ally.” I was like, “No, you’re not. You can’t call yourself an ally. [Allyship] is an action. You need to be real with me in this conversation. I’m being real with you. You were being messy.” She said, “I hope that we can go move forward and fix this. I see you out there doing such great work out there.”
And I said, “Oh, so you see me? You see me talking about the anti-Blackness? Are you using your platform to amplify the work that I’m doing? No, you haven’t. So what kind of ally are you?” She was like, “Well, OK. There’s more to be said there. I would love to support causes that you support.”
The truth of the matter is I know Emma’s got big balls. I’ve seen them on the set, so I’m not surprised that she called me. This girl is no damsel in distress, ever.
Did she have any explanation for misgendering you?
She goes, “I was really just referring to myself.” I said, “Don’t. Don’t do it.” What happened is this: She had not allowed the makeup team to age her that much. We were supposed to be aged several years. So I knew from the makeup department about what was going on. So she comes to set and I’m like, “Oh, you look rested.” And she goes, “John, [the director] — Angelica’s being mean!” And he goes, “OK, ladies …” And she goes, “Don’t you mean … lady?”
You shaded her and she was trying to shade you back, but she was basically transphobic in what she said.
That’s what happened.
Roberts declined to comment for this story.
So back to the T-shirt guy. What became of him?
I’m seeing this man with these shirts and I’m trying to focus, and when they say action, I just said, “It’s cut. I can’t do this anymore.” I got out of the car, I went into the [production] van, and I said, “I’m not coming out of this van until you handle the situation. Either he has to take that shirt off or turn it inside out, but this is not right.” Hours were passing. We were losing daylight. So folks are panicking.
This scene sounds more way more intense than whatever you were supposed to shoot.
John, the director, comes into the trailer and he’s just like, “Angelica, look — I understand this is a difficult situation. We’ve seen these shirts and it sucks, but it’s a freedom of speech issue and we can’t do anything about it.” An hour passes, they’re still trying to get me to come out of the van. So I then tweet. “It’s a shame that I do all this work out in the world on anti-Blackness and racism and have to come to a set and do the same work.”
No less than maybe 10 seconds, my phone rings. It’s Tanase Popa, one of the producers, and he’s telling me, “Ryan Murphy thinks you should take that tweet down. Things are being handled, and he considers us a family and we don’t share things outside the family.”
I said, “What does it mean that it’s being handled? He’s still on set and they’re still asking me to come out of my trailer. So what has been handled?” And he’s like, “I hear you. It’s just that these situations are difficult.” I said, “OK, fine, I’ll take down the tweet. But just so you know, I’m being told that this man wearing these T-shirts has freedom of speech, but I’m the one being told to take down a tweet. I feel like I’m being silenced.”
Two seconds later, Ryan Murphy calls me directly. So he was probably there for the whole conversation. He starts off not, “Are you OK?” Not, “What’s going on?” He starts off: “What’s your fucking problem?! Are you serious?!” He goes, “You think that I would fucking silence you after all I’ve done and I’ve been an advocate and done nothing but uplift trans Black women?”
How did you respond to that?
I’ve dealt with this before. This is not my first time at the rodeo of dealing with that energy of white people who think that they are doing good but won’t check their own selves when someone Black or of the people they’re trying to help is telling them, “You have a blind spot.” And so he is cussing me out. After he finishes. I say, “Ryan, that’s not what’s going on here. First of all, the situation has not been handled. The guy is still on set.” And I told him, I said, “I do all this work out here. Ever since I’ve been on Pose, your white actors aren’t clocking in like we’re clocking in. We have to go out there now because Pose is this big show. And you’re saying that Pose is not just entertainment, it’s an act of advocacy. You’re not calculating that you have turned your actors also into advocates.”
Indya Moore and myself have always been ones who opened up our mouth and spoke, and Ryan said that was one of the things that he liked about me. And so to co-opt that energy only so that he can wield my essence whenever he wants to take me out of his actor toolbox, it’s just another form of tokenization. Because he doesn’t really mean what he says that he means.
I said, “I feel unsafe on your set. I feel like I’m just here trying to do a job, and now I got to do a second job of being the adult in the room and handling the situation that you should be handling.” And he said, “You know what? You are right. I’m sorry. I want to be your biggest champion. I understand the work you’re doing, and I want to be your biggest champion.” I believed him.
After THR reached out to Ryan Murphy Productions, AHS co-executive producer Tanase Popa responded: “Ryan was directing that day on another project. Somebody had told him that Angelica had posted on Twitter and he said, ‘Can you go check with Angelica because she should come to us instead of just going to Twitter?’ I had called Angelica. She put me on speakerphone while she was in the van. Emma Roberts and John Gray were also in the van. My conversation with her was, ‘Hey, I just wanted to check in. Ryan heard that you posted on Twitter. I spoke with John Gray. He’s in the process of dealing with it with HR and labor relations. But if something happens, please come to us. I’m right by Ryan when he’s directing. I can get him easily, but it’s better to come to us. We can actually implement a solution than going to Twitter and just broadcasting this.’
“She then said, ‘You are silencing me.’ And I said, ‘I am not silencing. You can post or say whatever you want, but what I’m saying is we should follow the proper protocol so that we can actually implement a solution on set instead of just going to Twitter first.’ She said, ‘OK, fine, I’m going to take down the post, but I feel like I’m being silenced. This is my role as an activist and I’m going to take the post down.’ And I said, ‘OK, I’m going to go back to set and get Ryan to call you back.’ She says he called her within ‘seconds.’ Ryan was in the middle of several takes, and it took about 10 minutes. He then called her, he stepped outside. I was next to him. His assistant Sara Stelwagen was next to him and we did not hear him cuss at her or say, ‘After all I’ve done for you, why would you do this?’ He basically said, ‘I don’t understand why you would go to Twitter instead of coming to us.‘”
And Murphy seemed at first to be keeping his word of championing you. He put you in AHS seasons nine and 10. So what happened with season 12?
He sent me an email July 3, 2020, which is the screenshot that I posted, saying, “Angelica, you remember that Horror Story idea that you had? That’s what we’re doing. We’re going to get a writers room together in the fall.” Since that July 3 email, that’s the last time Ryan has ever spoken to me or reached out to me.
Was your contract such that they had the option to pick you up for another season of AHS?
Correct. It was almost like they were stalling or something. So in February I sent an email to Ryan Murphy and I say, “Good morning! I’m just organizing and thinking about what season 11’s focus could be.” And I asked him if I could be on the producing side as well, saying, “I think I could add a lot to the table in the overall storyline, if we are still looking to do a Black lead cast.” But he stopped communicating with me. He didn’t say congratulations when I got my Broadway debut [in Chicago]. So I knew something was wrong. I texted [president of Ryan Murphy Productions] Alexis Martin Woodall, “What is up? Is Ryan Murphy mad at me about something? I just don’t understand.”
Did you have any theories as to what happened?
I can only speculate. I think it has to do with the ways that I have not completely disowned Janet Mock after what she did in season three at the Pose premiere. I was in the audience and I was standing up and supporting her and telling her vocally, “I’ve got your back.” I’m not saying that I agree with the way that she did things, but I’m like, “Janet’s very smart. Why would she do something so dramatic?” And I knew there had to be a reason. And when I talked to her, she told me, “Girl, you think this is the first time Ryan Murphy’s hearing me say any of this? I’ve said this all to him.”
Regarding Mock’s now-infamous “Fuck Hollywood” speech, what was Murphy’s reaction?
He was really, really angry.
And he, I assume, has not reached out to you since you made all of this public?
I think Alexis Martin Woodall did reach out through text. At this point though, I’m kind of just looping her in with everyone else.
I have a question about Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, whom you haven’t mentioned yet, but I believe she’s on the new season of American Horror Story. So she’s obviously in good graces with the production team. Why do you think that is?
I mean, this is not rocket science. Every single person in Hollywood is an employee. I have love for my sisters. I have love for all of my people who are out here doing the best they can and trying to hold on to a piece of life and be able to pay their bills. So she works for Ryan Murphy, and we all know that when we have a boss, if you want to keep your job, there’s a lot of shit you’re not going to say or do.
So how did you ultimately learn you weren’t joining American Horror Story: Delicate?
I found out because I called business affairs myself, and I said, “What’s going on? Are we going back? When are we going back to work?” They said, “Actually, I’m pulling the contracts right now and yours is not in here. I don’t think you’re coming back to this season.” That’s how I found out. It made me realize he thought that he can just kind of control my life like an on-and-off switch.
And so you’re packing up your place in L.A. and moving back to Atlanta?
I’m moving back to Georgia to prepare to run for office. I’ve been consulting with Renitta Shannon, a former Georgia state representative who also just recently ran for lieutenant governor. I go into candidate and campaign training next month. I have also been speaking with folks like Bruce Franks Jr., who is also a Black politician from Missouri who shook the table. So I’m fully walking away from Hollywood. But I’m always going to be who I am. You don’t have to be on TV to be a creative person, to live a creative life.
Interviews were edited for length and clarity.