On the third episode of Pose, FX’s scripted drama about the 1980s New York ballroom culture told through the lens of transgender women — primarily Blanca (Mj Rodriguez), Elektra (Dominique Jackson) and Angel (Indya Moore) — and LGBT youth living under the banner of two houses, a story about a pair of red patent pumps unfolds. It’s Christmas time, and a sullen Angel, a ballroom performer and sex worker who has fallen for one of her clients, Stan (Evan Peters), explains why she doesn’t celebrate the holiday.
“I had never seen anything quite so beautiful,” Angel recalls, growing emotional, about a pair of shoes she had seen at a store, before revealing that she stole a single pump and hid it in her room. “My father slapped me across the face for stealing — but more so for what I chose to steal.” By the end of the episode, Blanca, mother of the House of Evangelista, gifts her daughter a pair of red patent pumps for Christmas.
While the episode was co-written by Janet Mock and Our Lady J, the story comes from co-creator and executive producer Ryan Murphy’s childhood, when he got into trouble for doing the same exact thing.
But the moment was not an isolated experience, Moore tells ET, recalling a story about trying to sneak out of her home to go to school with a tighter pair of pants in her backpack. Just as she was about to leave, her mom stopped her and found the jeans. “I had chosen to take them even though she told me not to and I got in big trouble for it,” she says, adding that it helped her connect with what unfolded in the episode.
It turns out those are just a couple of the many personal details of the cast and crew that have been channeled into the groundbreaking series, which features five transgender actresses in series regular roles — the most for any prime-time TV series — while also having the largest LGBT recurring cast in TV history. Not only that, Pose is largely written and produced by gay and transgender people, including co-creator Steven Canals, executive producer Nina Jacobson and director Silas Howard.
Angel’s relationship with Stan, which is both romantic and sexual, is a major element of season one and part of Mock’s effort to rewrite the narrative for transgender women seen onscreen, especially when it comes to love, romance and sex. “She touched on the issues that trans women experience around desirability,” Moore says. “She really touched on the reality of how affected we are by people who are afraid of being ostracized just by being in proximity to us.”
It’s something that a lot of transgender women are still navigating today, especially the idea of “settling for less … for what little they give us,” Moore says, adding: “This is something that I felt recently through Angel and it was an experience I also had. Learning to want more myself is something that Janet, Our Lady J and I experienced growing up to who we are as adults.”
Indya Moore and Evan Peters in a scene from the pilot episode of ‘Pose.’ | FX
When it comes to Angel and Stan in particular, their relationship — which starts after he picks her up at the pier and takes her to a hotel and progresses to the two playing house in an Upper West Side apartment Stan has rented for Angel — plays out in the opposite way it might have on a show like Law & Order or other ‘90s police procedurals, where transgender women were often victims of violence or ridicule by cisgender men. (Only recently has that portrayal evolved on shows like Orange Is the New Black, Sense8,Transparent, the short-lived Doubt, and now, Pose.) However, an overwhelmed Stan freaks out before the end of season one, which concludes on Sunday, July 22, and runs back to his wife and kids.
“We deserve the same things that cis women do, the same things that other humans do, from our social lives to our families to love,” Moore says.
When it came to the casting of Peters, who is known for his darker, more violent roles on Murphy’s American Horror Story anthology series, Moore was initially unsure what it would mean for Angel. “Just knowing I would be playing opposite of him, I had fears my character was going to be killed,” she says. “I just felt like, ‘Wow, it wouldn’t be far off at all. It would actually be very parallel to the reality of what life is like for Angel.’” Ultimately, though, Moore says Peters’ character helps humanize Angel, and she’s incredibly thankful to have worked with a screen partner like him. “His comfort level was really affirming for me and helped me to perform better.”
Still relatively new to acting, Pose is a career-making moment for Moore. The 23-year-old performer born and raised in the Bronx, New York, only recently made a splash as a budding model — she made her debut at 2017’s New York Fashion Week, was photographed for Vogue España and served face in Katy Perry’s Saturday Night Live performance of “Swish Swish” — and actress, appearing in her first screen role as Dijon in the 2017 independent film Saturday Church.
“She was a total natural,” director Damon Cardasis recalls of Moore’s Saturday Church audition — her first ever — during which she wore an “amazing” purple wig. She even pretended to put lipstick on the casting director. “You hear people tell stories about someone walking in the room and you know instantly that they are the part. It was that way with Indya.”
In the musical film about young LGBT outcasts who find solace and support at a church that opens its doors to them every Saturday evening, Dijon and others, including Ebony (played by her Pose co-star Rodriguez), encourage their new friend Ulysses (Luka Kain) to explore his budding passion for vogueing.
A standout, Cardasis says Moore is “funny, gives amazing reactions, draws the camera to her and has a natural charisma and rawness that can’t be learned. That ‘it’ factor. Sounds clichéd, but there’s no other way to describe it.”
It’s also what draws audiences in to Pose. As Angel, Moore is almost hypnotic, capturing not only Stan’s attention but the show’s dedicated fans with mere looks. “I’ve always been impressed by her presence, confidence and intelligence. She has a special ability to portray equal parts strength and heartbreak — sometimes without ever speaking a word,” says Mock, who also directed her in episode six. Referencing a scene in which Angel is confronted by Stan’s wife, Patty (Kate Mara), Mock says, “She makes choices that elevate the words we write, which is all you wish and hope for in an actor.”
Kate Mara and Indya Moore in a scene from episode six, which was directed by Janet Mock. | FX
If it weren’t for Saturday Church, Moore says, she would have never gotten Pose, which she first learned about through Lisa Kain, mother of her co-star Luka. She was brought in to audition for the roles of both Angel and Blanca, a ballroom performer who breaks away from Elektra to form her own house. As a former member of the real-life (and legendary) House of Xtravaganza — members of which have appeared in the documentaries Paris Is Burning and Strike a Pose and serve as consultants on Pose — Moore could appreciate the family dynamics and what it’s like to want things to be different. But it was after reading for the former that she won over the room, including Canals, with whom she instantly bonded after they realized they’d grown up near each other and went to the same middle school. “It was really dope to feel a sense of home in that audition room.”
Now that she’s made her mark on the series, which was recently renewed for a second season, Moore is not only appearing in the likes of Vogue and W magazine, but also expanding her acting résumé with Magic Hour, a gender-bending retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein she recently shot in Tokyo with filmmaker Che Grayson. It’s her first sci-fi role, which happens to be one of her favorite genres.
With a penchant for connecting the dots between one project to the next, Moore says “it was all written in the stars.”