Dove Cameron Is Still That 'Theater Kid' You Knew In High School
"You have to touch this.” I’m sitting outside a coffee shop in Hollywood on a sweltering July afternoon with Disney Channel starlet-on-the-rise Dove Cameron. She is running her manicured fingers across the wall directly to the right of us, which is textured with black lettering. “It’s really nice. I can’t decide if it’s decals or paint,” she muses, before feverishly launching back into what we were just discussing, which is why she feels celebrity doesn’t come naturally to her. “It just promotes this unapproachable pedestal thing, and that’s very lonely and silly. It’s so weird because being a celebrity is no different than having any other job, except we’ve decided as a society that it is. Nobody is higher than anybody else, so what a strange thing to feed into.”
There are three things you notice early on when chatting with the actress/singer, whose mixed feelings about the twisted nature of celebrity haven’t stopped the Disney monolith from launching the twenty-one-year-old to the precipice of fame, after a long-winded stint playing the dual roles of the titular twins on Disney Channel’s Liv and Maddie, and starring as Maleficent’s daughter Mal in Descendants and Descendants 2, which premieres this month to a rabid fandom:
1) She is beautiful, in a warm and exuberant way that invokes a modern day Marilyn Monroe, all wide-set doe eyes, plump lips, and platinum blonde hair.
2) She was (is) a theater kid, radiating energy, talking with her hands, and effortlessly affecting a range of crisp voices and goofy facial expressions when she’s telling a story.
3) She is teeming with an inquisitive thoughtfulness that extends well beyond her years, reserving the same genuine enthusiasm for the paint on a wall of a coffee shop as she does for her relationship (“I’m so in love. It’s criminal. We both just turned our lives upside down, like ‘Oh my god, I had no idea you were out there.’ He’s just the most quality human being. He shouldn’t exist.”) and her advice to her younger self (“It’s like that old adage, ‘Be careful how you see the world, for it is that.’ Don’t let anyone tell you that the world doesn’t revolve around you, because it does.”)
With her Disney Channel days in the rearview mirror and her name attached to a number of film projects for 2017, not to mention a performance as Sophie in Mamma Mia! at the Hollywood Bowl and the release of her first single on the horizon, Cameron is clearly, albeit reluctantly, on the road to stardom. Yet she assures me she’s very much in the driver’s seat.
“I don’t want to do anything unless it’s extremely authentic,” she says early on in our interview, fixing her hazel eyes intently on mine. “I don’t ever want to do anything just to stay busy or have a press release. I have to fight that fear lizard-brain that tells me to just do what people expect of me. It’s a weird, scary thing to live by your reward system alone, but I think it’s one of those things that eventually pays off and creates a much richer life.”
The same goes for her burgeoning music career. Up until this point, Cameron has almost exclusively done musical projects, and claims she’s a better actor when she’s singing and a better singer when she’s acting. She was briefly in a band with her ex, which fell apart when they did, and now she’s striking out on her own – de rigueur for most Disney Channel prodigies, with one glaring exception: Cameron insists on being in complete creative control, and she doesn’t really care if you don’t like her music.
“Everything I release from here on out is going to have my final stamp of approval and no one else’s. I can’t even explain how badass it feels. I feel so claustrophobic when everyone has their hands in my stuff. I almost like that not everyone likes it, because it makes me so sure I love it.” She describes the single, which is an edgy love song, as “pop, if pop was this sparkly, girly, animatronic thing, and then you held a lighter underneath it.”
She is stoked for her new single, but has seemingly only scraped the surface of her ambition, and is showing no signs of slowing down. “I plan on doing it all. I plan on doing Broadway, film, television, music, all of it. My career is kind of all over the place but that’s how I want it. I’m not cut out for Hollywood the way it was handed to me.”
She laughs and says she needs the freedom to be able to freak out and go to Europe spontaneously, because apparently she does that a lot. “I’m kind of known for it. So irresponsible, but I need that sometimes!” I suddenly remember I’m chatting with someone who, despite being an infectiously old soul, is barely old enough to drink. I nod emphatically.
Cameron and I bond over a shared love of hand tattoos and a shared fear that we wouldn’t be able to find our way out of our driveways without Google Maps, and I have to keep reminding myself that the self-effacing and well-spoken blonde sitting across from me is half a decade younger and about 12.4 million Instagram followers more popular than me. It’s enticing to talk to someone famous with such a grounded sense of self, and judging by her massive following on social media, I’m not the only one who thinks so.
Her Twitter feed is full of heavily retweeted odes to self-love and empowerment, unapologetic gems of positivity sparkling against what is all too often a vacuous cesspool of cynicism. “Everything I write is something I needed to hear that day or something I just discovered. I sound like such a college kid going through their self-discovery phase, but I’m never trying to be something for someone.” I believe her, and it’s refreshing. At the core of it, we should all have crushes on ourselves, and maybe Cameron is feeding the youth the language they need to tap into that. At the very least, she’s teaching them to never apologize for being “extra.”
“I’ve always been the most extra. When I was seven, I wore red lipstick everyday and big fur collars. I was not a smiley kid. I was broody and dramatic. My mom always tells this story about how I only liked to drink out of wine glasses. I would walk into the room with my wine glass and sigh really loudly. She’d be like, ‘What?’ and I’d say, ‘I’m just so tired. I’m so, so tired.’ Seven years old and so jaded. I’ve always been a theater kid. Aside from getting a little taller, I haven’t really changed at all.”
Written by Alison Green
Photographed by Robin Harper at Opus Reps
Makeup: Melissa Murdick using Chanel Les Beiges at Opus Beauty
Manicure: Whitney Gibson
Styled by Chris Horan at Tomlinson Management Group
Hair: Bobby Eliot using Oribe at Tomlinson Management Group
Manicure: Whitney Gibson using Chanel at Tomlinson Management Group.