Jeremy McClain Talks ‘Pose,’ Gagging, and Hollywood’s Future

Pose’s beauty queen on how Pose is changing the world, as well as the actor himself.

Jeremy McClain VMan 2019

While FX’s Pose is full of queens, the cast’s beauty queen became fairly evident from the first episode. Cubby, played by New Yorker Jeremy McClain (who is, in fact, moving to Los Angeles this month), became a bit of an obsession for the show’s audience. As it often goes, McClain became a show favorite without necessarily playing one of the lead roles; the model and actor quickly nabbed the attention of international fans as well as publications, galas, award ceremonies, and so on. Cubby’s cuter-than-life look, which hinges on a bed of curly hair under oversized baseball caps, doesn’t stray too far form the actor’s real appearance and disposition. In playing his first role on a major television series, it can be tricky to define the blurry line between McClain himself and his character.

It was for this reason that the second season finale served as a breakout moment for Cubby’s character, who transformed into one of the most engrossing drag queens to grace our screens in a hot minute. We spoke to the starlet about being raised by a strong, independent mother, and the show’s effects on Hollywood,

How was filming (and watching) the second season of Pose different than the first, for you specifically?

For the second season of Pose, I think the experience was different because, as with any show, in the first season we had to focus on establishing the world for the audience. We had to show what a ball is and how they work. We had to introduce the characters and what they were going through. We had to give people a reason to care. Once it got everyone’s attention, we were able to do a deeper dive into this rich, beautiful culture that has these really dynamic characters. This time with higher highs and lower lows. Also there was even more opportunity to educate people on the history of the community during one of its most perilous times. Things they might not have known or seen before like the Hart Island burials and the ACT UP protests. Aside from the more serious stuff though, we got to wear even more amazing LOOKS which is always fun!

POSE is famous for its progressive stance on gender and sexuality. As a newer face in Hollywood, what type of labeling or “boxing in” have you seen in the industry?

I’d like to believe Hollywood is shifting towards being a more progressive and open minded industry in terms of gender and sexuality, but there’s still a lot of labeling and “boxing in”. I think it’s hard for them to see you in another light once they get a certain idea of you. It’s like they think if you’re slightly flamboyant in your personal life that’s all you can be. I mean, It’s no coincidence that most of the big actors out there who happen to be gay are hyper-masculine for the most part. That’s what I love about Pose. It’s given a platform to people who are unapologetically themselves. But at the end of the day, it’s acting…we can be anything.

In reality, I hope that we get to a point where everyone is represented enough that a character’s gender or sexuality isn’t even a factor. If it isn’t imperative to the story, then it shouldn’t matter. A trans woman is just a woman. A gay man is just a man. Period.

You yourself were raised with a strong, independent mother. How has that affected your understanding of women?

I’ve always had a very deep respect for women. My mom had me at 22-years-old as a Petty Officer Third Class in the Navy, which is a pretty low rank where you’re making very little money, and raised me for the first 10 years of my life by herself. I was always around her and her fellow single, military girlfriends during this time, some of whom were also young mothers, so I grew up with strong examples of female strength and power. Also, I’ve always been aware that women have many sides. They can be more than one thing. I saw them in their heels and dresses as they were getting ready for a fun girls night out and then in their uniforms getting ready for a 6-month deployment on a battle ship. Seeing their tenacity as they worked their asses off serving the country and climbing the ranks in a profession dominated by men had a really big impact on me.

How has the above affected your understanding of how women are treated in the world?

I always thought my childhood gave me a pretty good understanding of how women are treated in the world but it wasn’t until I got a bit older that I fully realized the disparity. They had to work twice as hard, or more, to get half as far, or less, as men. Then they had to deal with things like sexual harassment on top of that. My mom has countless stories from what it was like back in the day. Honestly, this is still the case. The New York Times recently published an article that said there were 20,500 reported cases of harassment in the military in 2018 which is insane. So it’s obviously still a major problem. Luckily, we’re at the beginning of an era where men are being held accountable and brought to justice for their actions. Women deserve so much more.

The finale was epic, especially for Cubby. What was it like for you to film that?

Filming the finale of season 2 was truly unforgettable. I remember at our premiere I had gone up to our creator, Steven Canals, wearing this see-through pearl dress and silver, 6-inch heels and begged him for a Butch Queen First Time Up in Drags moment. He took a picture of me and sent it off to Ryan Murphy. A few weeks later he texted me: “Okay bitch, hope you’re ready cause your dream is coming true.” I was ecstatic to say the least.

Honestly though, nothing could have prepared me for the big day. We’d had a few rehearsals beforehand to help get us ready with our choreographer, Leiomy Maldonado, but I had no clue what was in store. I thought I knew how much some women had to go through to get dressed up but I had no idea. After 15 hours of the sweltering hot wig, multiple pairs of Spanxs, pounds of makeup, pinchy clip-on earrings and, of course, heels–I was gagging. I don’t know how women do it. I honestly don’t. Respect!

It was so much fun and a memory I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. It’s such an important moment and message that I hope will resonate with people. As usual, Elektra said it best:

“It takes guts to do what these men are doing. Stepping out of their comfort zone and into the shoes of another. We should all do this more. If we did, we would make a better world.”

How have you seen Pose affect Hollywood? The world?

I think Pose has shifted not just Hollywood, but the world, in ways that we’re just beginning to see the effects of. To have a major network show that’s about, starring, and created by LGBTQ+ people of color is something I’m sure a lot of people in the industry didn’t know could happen, much less succeed. It’s the first of its kind. It proves that the talent to create something like it and the audience to watch something like it is out there. There’s no going back really. No one can ever say that it’ll never work…because it has.

With moments like Janet Mock’s Netflix deal, Indya Moore’s Louis Vuitton campaign, and Billy Porter’s Emmy nomination, to name a few, it’s created opportunity and a space at the table that wasn’t really there before. The representation we’ve wanted out there for so long is out there in a real way. That’s how change really happens. When people can get in and hold the door open for others.

Also, the show is humanizing a group of people that for a long time have been seen as less-than. It’s opening hearts and minds and showing people that we’re just like them. I think the show has shifted and will continue to shift the world into a more accepting and loving one.

Pose did indeed cast a lot of its stars based on their gender and sexual identities. When is this okay, and when is it not?

I hope we reach a day when neither a persons gender or sexual identity matters when it comes to casting. Of course I think authentic representation matters, but mostly because we still live in a very biased world where opportunities aren’t equal for those who aren’t cis or straight. Think of how many straight or cis actors have won awards for playing queer or trans roles as opposed to the opposite. The playing field has never been even. So, until we live in a time where it is, can we at least have our own roles?

Top: FENDI Brown Silk Iridescent Sheer Shirt
Velvet Robe: TRIPLE RRR
Jeremy McClain
Jacket, pants, shoes: Dior Men
Full look: Balmain Paris
Blazer, plants: Dries Van Noten / Shoes: Alexander Wang
Full look: Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello
Full look: Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello
Full Look: Louis Vuitton / Rings: Miansai
Full Look: Celine by Hedi Slimane / Earring: Jeremy’s own / Rings and watch: Miansai
Full look: Alexander Wang
Full look: Gucci
Full Look: Louis Vuitton /
Rings: Miansai
Full look: Acne Studios / Necklace: Miansai
Full look: Prada / Rings: Miansai
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