All Hail Your Next Teen Queen, Dove Cameron
Fame, while never the goal, kind of just happened for Dove. After growing up in Washington and spending time in India where her parents used to design jewelry, her mother moved her and her sister to L.A. when she was about 15. She claims the success of Liv & Maddie occurred overnight, which led to her ubiquitous presence.
Since starring in the Descendants franchise as the conflicted daughter of Maleficent (played by her spiritual twin Kristen Chenoweth), her digital fandom has skyrocketed. Dove's Instagram boasts 23 million followers who are more than willing to buy her merch, tickets to her limited New York performance, and new music—when she's ready to release it. (Look out for that at the top of this year, she tells me... at least, once she has the time to promote it.)
Over a week after our photoshoot, I meet Dove again at a Joe & the Juice close to her hotel in midtown to finally get into it. Like the most well-known Disney stars before her (Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus, etc...) superstardom seems to be well within reach, but there’s something different about Dove. Something that reminds me of Molly Ringwald, Anne Hathaway, and Neve Campbell—the teen queens of the high-school rom-com era.
As we talk over cold brews with almond milk and an energizer juice (both Dove’s) I realize what it is: she feels a bit more grounded, touchable, and surprisingly, a little wounded.
Dove came into the iconic role of Cher Horowitz, the original launchpad of teen queen Alicia Silverstone's career, incredibly last-minute. She'd just finished filming project after project. From appearing in Netflix's Dumplin' to voicing Gwen Stacy in Marvel Rising to wrapping Descendants 3, Dove was tired, but unwilling to miss out on the role of a lifetime.
“We decided that it’s a lightning in a bottle moment,” she says. “Clueless the Musical is happening right now and probably never again. They’re not going to come to us in six months. It doesn’t wait for you, a theater doesn’t wait. So do it now, or you don’t do it.”
After seeing Dove portray the original valley girl heroine, it's hard to imagine anyone else filling those designer shoes. She’s the same Beverly Hills popular girl you already know and love (complete with the iconic yellow plaid skirt set), and yet nothing like Alicia Silverstone’s Cher. Dove's Cher, she explains, is complicated. She's naive, but somehow wise. "Clueless," yes, but sometimes completely self aware.
"I think everybody in storytelling, and in Hollywood, since the dawn of time, has this commercial and perpetuated purity complex in women," Dove explains. "Women are virginal and simple—not as in unintelligent, but simple as in lovely, and a bit mysterious. But warm to you. She's not the star of her own story, she's the apple of your eye." Basically, not "too much" of any one thing that would risk threatening a male viewer's fragile ego.
"But all the real women in my life who make me feel deeply—it's more than friendship, not romantic, but something a little bit closer to romantic than friendship—there is something that is so enrapturing about women. Something that is so enamoring that I don't feel about men. Women have this phenomenal ability to be a million things at once, and not lose any pieces or aspects, even if these things don't make sense together." In other words, actual humans.
Like Cher, maybe it's easy to rule Dove out as just a bubbly personality with pretty blond hair and an extremely smiley, symmetrical face. But that's not nearly all there is to Dove Cameron, who has not lived her stage alter-ego's charmed life. As often as she shares adorable couples photos and red-carpet appearances on Instagram Stories and Twitter, she also engages with her fans about depression and mortality.
These posts can be macabre at times, and Dove admits she's lost followers from some of her more somber messages. "People always get weird when I say what I'm about to say, but it's part of life, and I think it's important to include," I have no idea where this is about to go, but Dove seems calm like she's telling me a story that happened to someone else.
When Dove was eight, she tells me, her best friend was murdered by their father, who then murdered his other daughter and committed suicide. A few years after that, when she was 15, Dove’s own father took his life. “A lot of people in my family, including myself, deal with some variety of mental health stuff.”
This is why she finds time to discuss depression and mortality with her fans as often as she can. "To lose somebody who is your world, so suddenly, with no goodbye, and then no explanation. No letter, no reconciliation. And then to slowly realize over time that they're never coming back... I woke up in the middle of the night, like a month ago, and I was like, 'Oh, my God.' It's real. That's a forever thing."
It's important to her that she doesn't hide that part of herself on social media or from her followers. "I'd rather look at them, face-on, head-on, with the lights on. And make them less scary for my young fans. And make them acceptable to talk about. So that it doesn't become this festering thing that they don't know how to deal with."
It becomes harder when the Internet turns malicious. Dove tells me about a videos on YouTube attacking her past, and how she made the ultimate mistake of reading the comments. "I need a break," she admits. "when you see enough, you start to get really freaked out. Like in an animalistic way, where you're like, Ah, oh my God, danger everywhere.'" This is where meditation, and her perfect boyfriend—23 year-old Scottish actor Thomas Doherty, who she met on the set of The Descendants—comes in.
"He's such a kind soul. I come home, and he's drawing me an Epsom salt bath. He lights candles, and rubs my back with that muscle rub stuff." Thomas is staying with Dove through the musical's run, taking advantage of New York city to stay in shape and take auditions. "I've never asked him to be like that. He's a really selfless kind of care-taking guy."
That break she's asking for is going to have to wait, though, because Dove's got a list of upcoming projects a mile long "like a crazy person." While Clueless the Musical closes on January 13, she's in the middle of developing another reboot that she can't announce just yet ("it's really weird"). Dove is also set to film a rom-com she's also not really supposed to be telling me about ("it's like a Valentine's Day kind of thing, and I'm obsessed with it") before moving to London for the West End production of Light in the Piazza. "I love a romantic comedy. And I've never played an adult before. So I'm very excited."
All that's not even to say her Disney life is completely behind her. In fact, while she tells me Descendants 3 "ties up all the loose ends," she won't tell me that it's necessarily over. "It's weird to say this, because the movies have such a big fan base. But these movies, we really make for ourselves. Like, me, and Sofia [Carson], and Kenny [Ortega]. Like those people together, we're in this weird little conspiratorial love affair."
The Dove Cameron train just doesn't seem to be slowing down, despite what Dove, herself might say. "I'm super-grateful, because obviously, these people don't need to be asking me to come do their projects. So it's like, phenomenal for me as a performer to feel so supported by this industry that I love so much," she prefaces before telling me her hopes for the future. "This is going to sound silly, but if I've learned anything, in my nearly 23 years being on the planet, I need a little bit of time off, first. I am my best self, when I have been alone, and quiet."
Maybe one day Dove will be able to take a much-deserved break. Rest her voice for real and recover from the stress of Hollywood before completely burning out. But I have a feeling it's not going to happen for her any time soon. While on the Cosmo photoshoot, I notice her dance to Panic! at the Disco and struggle, unsuccessfully at times, not to sing along or chat between poses. Even when she's not supposed to talk, you can tell she's got so much more that she's bursting to say.
Makeup: Katie Jane Hughes; Makeup Assistants: Gianna Cabrera and Isabel Y Rosado; Hair: Mia Santiago; Hair Assistants: Angela-Lynn Ware and Rashida Bolden; Set Designer: Stockton Hall; Set Design Assistants:Andrew Carbone and Vassilea Terzaki; Fashion Stylist: Tiffany Reid; Photographer: Ruben Chamorro; Creative Director: Abby Silverman; Senior Visuals Editor + Producer: Raydene Salinas Hansen; SeniorDesigner: Katie Buckleitner; Cinematographer: Jennifer Cox; Video Producer: Amanda Kabbabe; Video Assistant Producer: Meghan Allen; Video Editor: Livi Akien; Supervising Video Producer: Abbey Adkison
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