Dove Cameron

Dove Cameron Is Embracing the Dark Side

The Vengeance star is shedding her Disney pedigree and finding herself.

On Spotify, Dove Cameron eats boys for breakfast, and then sings about it for 14 million fans. In real life, the 26-year-old prefers oatmeal and coffee.

"So basic, I know!" she laughs over the phone, hiding out somewhere secret in Manhattan.

The oatmeal-to-OMG contrast is almost too fitting for a celebrity whose public persona is high-key goth vixen — think bejeweled black Balmain corsets and Iris van Herpen cage dresses with wings — even as her daily life happens in "sweats, big bulky tennis shoes, and a slicked-back bun ... If you see me on my off time, you really won't recognize me."

That admission is pretty typical for someone famous — most celebs lead a double life in public and private, after all. But thanks to Cameron's massive social media presence (50 million on Instagram alone) and extreme style statements — claws instead of nails, hair that flashes blonde and then black in the blink of an eye — Cameron takes the duality to another level, jumping between "keeping it natural" IRL and being supernatural on various screens. Of course, changing one's image in warp speed can be a lot, as Cameron half-heartedly admits.

"It's almost like I'm tired," she sighs. "But that's when, creatively, you can discover some really good stuff."

Dove Cameron
Kristen Jan Wong

This month, that "good stuff" includes Vengeance, a dark indie comedy. Directed by and starring B.J. Novak, the film follows a wannabe podcaster as he unravels the mysterious death (and equally mysterious life, it turns out ...) of a one-night stand. Cameron plays the dead girl's sister, a Texas teen with big Brandy Melville energy who's convinced she should be famous — though for what, exactly, she hasn't a clue.

"The funny thing is, I actually didn't know she was super-famous in real life when I cast her," says Novak. "Our casting director sent me her audition tape, and she just leapt through my laptop screen. She nailed every single comedy beat, sometimes in ways I hadn't even envisioned. She was like a comic savant [...] I actually had her do another audition. I just had to see if it was a fluke."

It wasn't a fluke — and neither is the fact that despite her far-reaching fame, Cameron is taking a smaller part in an independent film.

"It never occurred to me that I shouldn't!" she insists. "I think the [Vengeance] script is brilliant. I think that B.J. is brilliant. That was pretty much it. If [B.J.] was like, 'Do you want to come be an assistant? Do you want to copy scripts for the writer's room?' I would do it. For me, I care more about the project than how big my part is gonna be."

But let's be real: Historically, Cameron's parts have been huge. Before her tenth birthday, she starred in regional theater productions of Les Miserables and The Secret Garden; by 16, she was headlining the Disney Channel comedy Liv and Maddie, and then the unstoppable Descendants franchise, which dominated both streaming channels and soundtrack charts. Like Cameron herself, her Gen Z fans were born with social media as part of their daily lives, and as she became a mainstay on TV, her online persona grew bigger than the entire population of Spain. That's not hyperbole, by the way — just math.

"I entered the industry really young," she says when recounting her Disney days. "I had a lot of self-hatred; I had a lot of trauma." (As a teen, the starlet's father died by suicide; several years later, in 2019, the actor Cameron Boyce, her friend and Descendants co-star, died from a sudden medical tragedy.) To get through it, she explains, "I actually used the entertainment industry as a place of control and validation and structure ... I grew up in chaos; when someone else ran the show, I felt safer. And that's what I needed at the time — to feel safe. Now, that's changing. I've been taking huge risks with writing and music and [film]. I've been doing my own music video treatments, taking more charge of my career, and experimenting a lot with self-styling in terms of fashion."

Cameron publicly came out as queer in 2020, which she cites as a personal and creative milestone. "It led to finding more pieces of myself," she says. "And also, learning that I can answer questions, from myself and from others, with 'I don't know yet.' And that's really powerful. When I was younger, the unknown would be where all of my fear and anxiety was," she elaborates. "Now, I've started learning that uncertainty is a true place of joy."

Which might explain why in the span of six months, Dove Cameron has gone from appearing in jukebox musicals like Mamma Mia! to sharing lengthy diatribes on identity and mortality on Instagram; compiling poetry for a possible future book; charting on Billboard with sultry pop hits like "Breakfast" and "Boyfriend;" filming season 2 of Apple TV+'s Broadway farce Schmigadoon with Ariana de Bose and Alan Cumming; vocally protesting for abortion rights; appearing in Machine Gun Kelly's experimental film Good Mourning, and — phew! — appearing at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City with her Vengeance castmates, including Novak, Issa Rae, and Ashton Kutcher.

Dove Cameron
Kristen Jan Wong

A few weeks ago, Cameron explained her twisted version of a glow-up to the Los Angeles Times by saying, "I've gone from the girl next door to the bad girl next door."

And yeah, the modern triple threat (actress-singer-TikTok thirst trap) goes hard on villainess vibes, purring lyrics about seducing cheerleaders and describing her inner baddie as "sort of a superpower — I mean, I always knew I was strange growing up, like I would pretend to be Lydia in Beetlejuice when I was 8! I knew I was weird. Now, I know it's to my advantage."

Despite her self-proclaimed affinity to the dark side, though, Cameron has zero desire to do dark things (like get the "vengeance" of her new film's title). "Nope, no way," she says plainly. "I can understand the impulse for revenge or trying to make someone suffer for something they've done. But as someone who has lost people before, through different means of death and loss and tragedy, I have had a great deal of practice in finding closure when there isn't any closure. Vengeance only brings more confusion and chaos into your life. Don't do it."

Likewise, while Cameron enjoys playing a monstrous version of a femme fatale in pop culture, she sees the actual monsters as coming from inside the house — or rather, the smartphone.

"Sometimes, I think [social media] has made us a mirror of a mirror, just a mimicry of reality," she says. "Things that used to be so pure and beautiful, these mediums of art like fashion and music and entertainment. Now, they're basically being consumed by these mega-monsters in the world, and things that have pure intentions, like wanting to create something really beautiful? It's all been commoditized. We're talking over ourselves, you know? Things that are the most human — art, I mean, and the impulse to connect with others — they're now the least human. But if we show up online knowing that, we have a huge opportunity to reverse it."

An underlying theme of Vengeance is the concept of legacy, and the ripples our digital life can make long after posting. "I think [digital media] is part of a good yearning," Novak says. "It is a yearning to be somebody, to feel like somebody, to make some mark. And I think we can really be dismissive of celebrities and aspiring celebrities being superficial, when in fact, they really may just want to matter. I thought [Dove Cameron]'s character would be the perfect person to express that idea of a person who knows she's somebody, but she doesn't know who… [but] in so many ways, Dove herself knows exactly who she is."

Later that night, at the film's premiere, Dove Cameron is a famous Gen Z actress wearing a wispy black Versace gown covered in tiny bows, flashing her Disney-famous smile on the red carpet. A few days later on TikTok, Dove Cameron is a smoldering queer icon wearing a red Britney catsuit, her claw-like nails wrapped in tiny chains and her eyes rolling at the camera, as if she's exasperated at the attention. I ask her how she holds space for both sides of herself, and all the other Doves in between — and whether her fans can keep up with the dazzling metamorphosis, too.

"B.J. wrote this line in the movie that I love," she says by way of an answer. "His character says, 'The problem isn't that people aren't smart. The problem is that they are.' And I think that is a problem for some of the entertainment industry," she laughs.

"But for me, it's great that people are so intelligent. They don't miss a single thing. It's like, to be fully human, we have to acknowledge so many elements of ourselves. If we hide them, people go looking for them. They can tell that they're missing. And if we just bravely show up with that, with all of ourselves, that's the only thing that really works. It's kind of inspiring, right? So, that's what I'm gonna do."

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