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Interview: Dove Cameron chats 'Schmigadoon!' Season 2, human connection, and using her trauma to better understand characters.

Interview: Dove Cameron chats 'Schmigadoon!' Season 2, human connection, and using her trauma to better understand characters.

“I feel like we’re just best friends,” expresses Dove Cameron, a certified girl’s girl and the type of human to compliment someone the minute they appear opposite her on a Zoom call. For years, fans of Cameron’s have felt like they’ve grown up with her, watching as she easily and effortlessly morphs into beloved characters that showcase her breadth as an actress. Where Cameron truly shines, though, is the moments where she nonchalantly (and eloquently) allows the rest of us into her world; a place of magic, love, and joy (even if that last one is always something she’s working on).

Magic is the thread that ties together the second season of Apple TV+’s hit musical-comedy series 'Schmigadoon!' which returns this week. Compared to the first season — a homage to the squeaky clean Golden Age musicals of the 40s and 50s — things look a little different the second time around. Schmicago, a nod to the musical 'Chicago', is a tribute to 1960s and 70s musicals — a time when Broadway was more pessimistic, sensual, and political as a reflection of what was happening outside of the theatres.

For Cameron, who previously played the doe-eyed waitress Betsy, approaching her character for this season was vastly different. Where Betsy plays into every ingénue stereotype known to pop culture (think one-dimensional, zero agency, and a “good” girl), Cameron’s new character Jenny Banks was one she felt a deep connection with in more ways than one. Jenny is a loose parody of Sally Bowles, a British flapper and cabaret singer, from the musical 'Cabaret'. Unlike Betsy, she’s a fully-fledged human; she’s the lead performer, she has agency, and has a larger-than-life personality that runs circles around her many suitors. She’s quick to take people under her wing and show them the ropes despite dealing with the trauma she faced as a young girl.

Much like Jenny, Cameron is the first to bring people into her circle. She understands the power of being truly vulnerable with those you love. And although her career has grown tenfold since the release of the first season — from winning awards to her music going platinum — what has always been a constant is her desire to connect. Where some may shy away from past turbulent times and trauma, Cameron faces it head-on, using it as a way to make the uncertain feelings swirling around her head more tangible. Whether it’s through the music she creates or the characters that seem like extensions of her, she’s done it all by wearing her heart on her sleeve. And audiences are better because of it.

With this week's release of the second season of 'Schmigadoon!' followed by new episodes weekly, Coup De Main chats with Dove Cameron about using her trauma to better understand characters, the mysterious relationship she has with TV-dad (and pseudo-father) Alan Cummings, the advice she has for her character, Jenny, and more...

COUP DE MAIN: It’s an anthology so you play quite a different character this time — Jenny Banks who is inspired by Sally from Cabaret. Was there anything you did differently to prepare for Jenny that you didn’t do for Betsy?
DOVE CAMERON:
Betsy was such a nonperson. The whole joke of Betsy is that she is the ego reflection of the male lead. When you think about what the ideal woman would be, you’d think she has massive boobs, she'd have pigtails, she'd be making pies all day, and she would just want me [a man] so much. I had so much fun sort of poking fun at that stereotype and there was something very healing about acknowledging how wild that is during those eras of musicals. The women were just devices for the leading man. I really didn't need any prep. I know what is expected of me, I was like, “Girl, I know this game. I've done it before.” <laughs> I knew that whatever I had done in the audition, that’s what they wanted. For season two, I had already spent so much time with our showrunner Cinco Paul and our writers and we got to know each other really well. He created the character of Jenny Banks with me in mind. It’s a totally different process — you don’t have to ‘win’ the role or audition. The scary thing about having a role created for you is that you never proved that you could be good at it. For me, I just really wanted to make sure I did this character justice because he’s giving me a wonderful gift. I wanted to make sure that I played this character with love and give the adoration and worship that Liza [Minnelli], who played the original Sally Bowles, deserves, while also keeping it relevant and keeping the campy tongue-in-cheek world of 'Schmigadoon!'. I had so much fun despite being nervous about being half-naked and doing dances, but we survived!

CDM: Yes! That first performance you do for the song 'Kaput' is so incredible. You must’ve felt so powerful in that moment.
DOVE:
You know, I actually did. I think I was so scared out of my fucking mind leading up to it. Here’s the thing, Kelsey: I know I present a very feminine vibe, very dark and confident, but I am not that person! I am a sea urchin on a daily basis, I am the opposite of a femme fatale. I walk around looking like the opposite of what anybody would be attracted to. So, for them to suggest that their dream version of my character is me in fishnets with garters and I’m doing the splits and bouncing on chairs in a bowler hat, I thought, “Fuck, thank God I have two months to prep!” <laughs> Thankfully, I shot it at the very, very end. By the time we got there, I was incredibly empowered. I felt very confident and at home in my body. I had been stretching those splits every day. I was walking around in less clothing every day just to get myself ready to be pretty naked on camera for the most part. I had so much fun and now I know how to do that hat trick for fucking ever, so!

CDM: Something I love about your portrayal of Jenny is that, through your acting, you immediately can tell that even though she puts on this confident front, she has had a hard life. I know you don’t know tons of her backstory aside from what happened to her mother and father. How did you try to fill in the blanks?
DOVE:
Well, it's funny because I think Cinco [Paul] knows me really, really well, at this point. He's like a father. I think once he realised how traumatised I was as a person, he was like, “You got this, it’s going to be easy!” <laughs> I joke about my trauma, but it's true! I think I find it really easy to portray traumatised characters because I know the complexity of being somebody who is very wounded and still very much looking for the magic in life and human connection, and still open to falling in love. There is a tenuous relationship that people who have been through intense trauma and loss have with joy. It's the thing that you always want and it's on the tip of your tongue, but you're terrified of joy because it's the thing where you were right before the bad thing happened. A lot of joy, I have found, in traumatised people is really performative because they know that they're supposed to be happy. They know that other people expect them to be happy and they almost feel guilty for not being happy, but they don't have full unbridled access to it.

There’s a scene with Jenny and Melissa where she mentions her speaking to Jenny’s father and her response is “that’s funny because I don’t have a father.” There’s this thing that happens where she’s pushed to her edge by Melissa's questioning and she flips around and she kind of gives it back to her. She sheds a tear or two and then she’s closed off again. We know that there is a mechanism in place for that. She flicks back into her madcap patter with Josh, which is just so clearly a mechanism that I have employed many times in my life.

I think the allure of the Sally Bowles character, when I was watching that film again as an adult, that scene with her in the bed at the very end when her partner is walking out on her, is just the whole story in a six-minute scene. When he’s leaving her, he is acknowledging that she is never going to be anything other than this. She's like, "This is it? This is me?" There's a pain in that reality and I think that is highly informative. For the character of Jenny, though, I do think she is capable of growing and healing and changing because she's got a couple of other people in there. She's got some Velma Kelly, she's got some of me in there, you know?

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by DOVE (@dovecameron)

CDM: Even touching on that, there is a specific scene in episode four that's really beautiful. It’s between Jenny and Topher and she mentions not knowing where the “performing” Jenny starts and where the real Jenny ends, which I know a lot of people will relate to. After people finish watching this season, what do you hope they take away from it?
DOVE:
It's interesting because the overarching theme this season is about happiness. I imagine it as a little plant growing up in the cracks of the cement. The world right now around us is so oppressive in so many ways for so many people. I think we're all feeling a bit disillusioned post-pandemic and we're all feeling disconnected and we lack community. I think the burnout that everybody is feeling socially is very real and present. Cinco really tapped into that and with this idea that “if you feel that this is not going the way that you anticipated, you can always find the magic again and try again.”

There is a poem by Ellen Bass called 'The Thing Is' and it talks about taking life in your hands and looking at it in the eyes and saying, “I will take you and I will love you again.” There was something about being so in pain and deciding to be brave enough to try something again… That is what this whole season really is about. I think that's the magic that Jenny and Topher experience together. It's the whole story that I hope people take away. Jenny has this idyllic charmed life as the star of this cabaret show; she gets flowers and chocolates and gentlemen calling her nonstop and she's celebrated. She's an icon and she's miserable. That's also what Melissa gets to experience and Topher as well is a leader who doesn't know who he is enough to lead these people.

I really hope that is what people take away; there is no greener grass overall. Everybody's life can change. But I think the real magic in life is the day-to-day moments that make us so connected, that make us so similar, and that make us so human and pure. That was so convoluted, I’m sorry! <laughs>

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by DOVE (@dovecameron)

CDM: No, not at all! It’s about finding magic in its many forms — through connection, through art, and so much more. Knowing what you know about her arc over the season, if you, as Dove, could give Jenny some advice, what would it be?
DOVE:
I think a lot of the stuff that Jenny and I share is quite specific. I guess the advice that I would give her would be recent discoveries of my own. I think for a long time, I thought that my trauma made me untouchable by human connection. I would never even want to burden anybody with all of this mess that I can hardly hold, so I kept myself away from human connection in a real way because I felt guilty. Even introducing myself as a possibility into someone's life, I’d think, “You don't want this. I don't want this. Why would you want this?” I would never even be so bold as to try to show you because I know that you don't want this. I felt it was a good thing to do — to keep myself away from people — because I thought it was being generous. That's just not true. It is a really, really hard thing for people who have been through trauma to embrace that and accept it. My voice still shakes when I think about it.

I think letting people love you is very, very brave. It’s not just letting people see all of you, it’s letting people see the true, guttural, ugly, middle-of-the-night panic attacks. That is true vulnerability and allowing people to see that is an act of generosity. I think you would be surprised how many people can hold space for you and how many services you're really doing for others when you allow your full humanity to sneak in because it allows for them to be fully human, right? I think Jenny puts on this manic pixie dream girl performance because she thinks that’s what everybody wants from her is something that she can put down. She can learn to let herself be loved and, in that way, love other people and heal herself.

CDM: That’s beautiful, Dove. People like you and characters like Jenny can help others learn how to be open and hold space for other people and for love. In the show, there are a few mysteries, like who the murderer is. But the one I’m most interested in is the mystery between you and Alan Cummings' character, who plays your father. I won’t spoil it, but can you discuss how you and Alan approached that mystery?
DOVE:
Honestly, it's so funny because Alan really is like my adopted father. I just want to clear up any rumours. People always comment and say “she’s obsessed with Alan Cummings.” Yes, yes I am! I'll acknowledge that 'til the day I die. I grew up being the biggest fan of Alan and then when we met in season one, we developed this weird affinity for each other like two little kids. We just became each other's little pocket pals and we’d go everywhere together. That’s why Cinco wrote this whole arc for us, but the twist is that we don't see each other the whole season! <laughs> It was nice to think of him in my head as a father figure even though I think of him that way anyway, but it was great to have that sort of relationship in my mind while I was crafting Jenny. Alan's portrayal of Sweeney informed Jenny's character a lot.

'Schmigadoon!' season two is currently streaming on Apple TV+.

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