Dove Cameron had her first taste of musical theater as a child via her family’s vast collection of show tunes CDs, DVDs, and cassette tapes. Her mother used to bring home playbacks of classic musicals after business trips to New York. Cameron, who grew up in Bainbridge Island, Washington, seems to have emerged from the womb with her baby fingers doing jazz hands. She was thrown into the structured chaos of Rent when she was only a few months old, the whimsical characters of Wicked when she was seven, and the inspirational themes of The Phantom of the Opera when she was in her teens. “Musicals have always been this otherworldly access to magic. It’s like little flecks of gold that were delivered to me,” Cameron shares from her home in California, where she splits her time when she’s not in New York City.
A child of music lovers, she’s always had an innate lyrical prowess. After exhibiting an undeniable fervor for performance, her mother signed her up for singing and acting lessons, which she took to with unusual seriousness. “Theater was the one thing that I couldn’t get enough of,” she explains. “My parents just knew that’s what I was going to end up doing with my life.” Fast forward a decade later, Dove is still at it. Earlier this year, the 27-year-old starred in the highly celebrated AppleTV+ series Schmigadoon!, which featured homages to those early musicals she loved so much. In this “entirely foreign and fantastical world,” she plays Jenny Banks, whom Cameron describes as essentially “Sally Bowles meets Velma Kelly.” And as she took on this grittier, more mature role, she thought about her theatrical renditions of the past: Mamma Mia!, The Light in the Piazza, and Clueless.
As if the young multi-hyphenate wasn’t busy enough, she has developed a foothold in the pop mainstream to go along with her already burgeoning career as an actress.
On what was otherwise just another normal day in February, Cameron’s latest song dropped. Then jaws did. In a matter of weeks, her queer anthem “Boyfriend” went platinum, accumulating over 500 million streams to date. For Cameron, the track served as a departure from her sweet melodies, but it also showed an artist freeing herself from the shackles of society’s expectations. “Coming out has helped me feel more in my body and more like myself,” she says. The songstress has released a couple of singles since “Boyfriend” (“Breakfast” and “We Go Down Together”) and hints at a forthcoming body of work that will divulge some of her more intimate feelings and revelations about the past six months.
Dove Cameron is growing into a more fully realized version of herself, both as an artist and as a person, and learning how to manage expectations. As for her long-term goals? The artist has a lot of ideas–among them, a world tour spanning Europe and Asia, a fashion line, and a book of poetry. But at the top of that list? Prioritizing her own happiness. “When I’m unable to move my body, I want to look back and see that I honored myself,” she says—and as she should. There’s bravery and beauty in committing to yourself and no one else.
For more on Dove’s creative process, musical upbringing, and future plans, read below.
V MAGAZINE: I just finished watching Schmigadoon!, it was wonderful! What was it like to return for season two?
DOVE CAMERON: Schmigadoon! is one of those very rare projects where you get to immerse yourself into an entirely foreign and fantastical world. This experience has been so transformative to me as a performer and an actor. Especially because I got to work with these incredible actors–people I grew up watching and have been deeply inspired by. It felt like summer camp, in a way. There was a deep sense of family. Even when the day was over, we all stayed to watch other scenes because we were all inspired by each other. I would say this is probably one of the closest-knit casts I’ve ever had in film or television. Every day was so magical.
V: That does sound magical. And I know you’ve been in quite a few musicals before–Les Misérables, Clueless, The Light in the Piazza, just to name a few. What’s your earliest memory of musical theater? When did you first fall in love with it?
DC: My mother and father own a jewelry business, so they were constantly traveling for work. My mother had to take a lot of trips to New York when I was a kid, and she would bring me back these Broadway scores. She was always a big theater girl, and I remember getting a new CD every time she came back to New York on a business trip. I grew up listening to Rent when I was about zero to two years old and listening to Wicked when I was seven. We didn’t have television since we lived in the woods, so it was really DVDs, CDs, records, and the radio that I had to entertain myself. I feel like this upbringing was a privilege because I was raised on the classics–not just for musical theater, but also films and music. My dad listened to Elvis, Little Richard, and Beethoven, so I grew up listening to those artists. Music, film, and musicals have always been this otherworldly access to magic. It’s like little flecks of gold that were delivered to me in a little package. And so I don’t know, I guess I’ve always been in love with it.
V: And aside from the new season Schmigadoon!, I heard you’re also working on new music. What are you looking to say with your new work?
DC: I just want to tell stories about things that have happened and put certain things to bed. I want to write love songs about things that are happening now, write goodbye songs about things that have ended, but also write a bunch of sexy shit. A lot has happened in my life, but sometimes you just got to write a sexy bad bitch anthem. Right now, I’m just writing things that feel right in the moment and that resonate with me.
V: That’s so exciting. We can’t wait to hear it! You’ve been on sets and recording studios since a young age. How do you think you’ve matured as an actor and a person since then?
DC: The person that I used to be was very, very afraid of everything. I was afraid of myself, of my own power, of my sexuality. And people have expressed to me that they wished I’d remained the same as I was a few years ago. But I think it’s very funny because the person that they’re referencing was absolutely terrified of expressing themselves. I was not only really introverted and shy but incredibly people-pleasing, and I didn’t know myself. I was operating out of a sense of survival. It was a really traumatic young life that I had been experiencing, and I didn’t know anything different.
I really started doing the work around two or three years ago, when I started to find myself and when I came out. So now it really feels like a big divorce from what everybody was seeing before and the person I am now. I didn’t know that the life I was living before was a shell of a life. And the life I’m living now is real human life. I’ve learned to prioritize it, and I’ve learned that my job can’t be my world. At the end of the day, I’m enjoying a life that I deem worth living, and that’s what’s important. And if I could say one thing to my fans and listeners, it’d be to take care of yourself. Prioritize your own mental health because, at the end of the day, there’s nothing more important.
V: And that’s all that matters. Finally, where do you see yourself in the next decade?
DC: If we’re just talking career, I definitely want to go on a world tour. It’s been so long since I’ve seen my fans, so I’d really love to go see everybody and meet everybody. I definitely want to start writing and directing films. I want to do projects with my friends. Hopefully, I can get back into design because I was originally planning to go to FIDM or RISD to become a fashion designer. I want to write a book of poems. But then, after all of that, I just want to feel sane and happy. But also balanced and grounded. This life as a human being is wildly trying, no matter what your life looks like. It’s a tall order. And I think we underestimate that mental health is at the center of everything. So I just want to feel fulfilled and have a great sense of community, but also get a good night’s sleep.
Photography Dennis Leupold
Fashion Matthew Mazur
Makeup Lilly Keys (A-Frame)
Hair Clayton Hawkins (The Visionaries)
Production Vanessa Vossen (Art Department)
Digital Technician Kevin Leupold
Editorial Direction & Casting Czar Van Gaal
Editor Kala Herh
Photo assistant Marco Bravo, Allison Lopez
Stylist assistant Nia Shambourger
Makeup assistant Elaina Karras
Hair assistants Sydney Staehle
Retouching Venus PP
Location Dust Studios