American Goddess

Dominique Jackson schools us on celebrity, activism and the importance of great shoes

Jackson in ‘American Gods’

We’re pretty sure there’s a picture of Dominique Jackson next to the definition of “elegant” in the dictionary. If not, there should be.

The striking, statuesque beauty grew up in the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago before emigrating to the United States at age 18. As a young, transgender woman, Jackson struggled to survive before embarking on a successful modeling career. Her big break came in 2018 when she landed the role of Electra on the FX series Pose. Her work on the show as the haughty ballroom performer won her a devoted fanbase and status as a transgender icon.

Now Jackson strides into an even more regal role: that of the goddess Ms. World, goddess of globalization, on the series American Gods. The show airs on FX Sunday evenings.

The third season of the show finds Ms. World–one of the New Gods of the modern era, which also include Technology and Media–striking alliances in a bid to protect the modern world from the return of the gods of Old: Odin, Bilquis, Anubis, and more. In an inventive twist, Ms. World is portrayed as a racially and genderfluid character: Jackson shares the role with actors Crispin Glover and Danny Trejo.

We caught up with Jackson just as she unrolls a new rug in her new house. “Shoes are my foundation,” she tells us. “So I look at rugs like shoes.”

Fortunately for us, Jackson sat down to discuss her work on American Gods, her future on Pose, and how she transitioned from a homeless, transgender youth to an international superstar. American Gods airs Sundays on Starz.

So much has changed and evolved for you over the past few years. What’s the state of your life today? Are you safe & healthy?

Thank you for asking. I’m in a good place. I’m safe. And you?

I’m as stir crazy as I’ve ever been in my life. But I get by.

I commend you for that. We have to continue to push forward. We have to continue to make things happen. We cannot let life win. We have to control life, you know?

Absolutely. So your character, Ms. World, is an incarnation of Mr. World—a gender and racially fluid character, also played by Crispin Glover & Danny Trejo. Which, that’s amazing, just to be in their company.

I mean, hello?

[Laughter]

I met Mr. Glover, but I didn’t get to meet Danny Trejo. I’ve been watching him so many years, I’m a total fan. He brings this raw art, this actuality to scenes. Speaking with Crispin Glover while we were in make-up one day—he is so knowledgeable. He was fantastic. We talked about getting into parts, how you have to separate. I learned so much.

When you approach a character like that, how much do you look to the performances of the other actors as a sort of starting point? Do you coordinate?

No, actually. Everything was so independent. For me, when I approached the role, I looked at his character. I was watching to see how I could pull in certain traits that he put out. Once I got to set, Mr. [director John] Emile was likeNo, it’s a transformation. You bring your character.” So I had one whole night to really refocus and pull it together. I realized I wasn’t being offered a part that was going to be something I had to feed off of someone else. I was given liberty to create the character and then have it tuned by the greats like John Emile and the other directors I worked with.

That’s wonderful. So, Ms. World is a goddess—a literal one. I couldn’t help but think—forgive me if this is silly—but she’s kind of who Electra your character from Pose aspires to be: this kind of commanding goddess.

Actually, Electra and Ms. World would not get along.

Why do you say that?

Electra is more about fashion. Electra shows her power through wealth. Ms. World doesn’t need wealth to show power. She doesn’t need to be validated. At times, Electra needs validation. Ms. World is more I know what I want, I’m telling you what I want, and if you don’t do it, I’m gonna beat that bitch with a bat!

[Laughter]

That’s awesome. So, because she is so different, how do you find that empowers you as an actor?

As someone who has faced domestic violence, abuse, when I get into these roles like Electra, or even my role on Chick Fight, it is empowering to know from where I came from—oppression, marginalization—I get to see these characters and be these women who allow me to know it’s OK to say “F*ck you” at times. It’s ok for me to speak up for myself. It’s OK to say “Get the f*ck out of my life. I don’t need you right now.” These women, Electra and Ms. World, give me that power to say it’s ok not to follow a traditional I need you. It shows me power in the feminine aspects of our society.

That’s wonderful.

It shows me also that we need to discontinue with this male-female traditional crap. It’s not about if you’re male or female. It’s about getting the job done. So for me, Mr. World is not this misogynistic character that only feels like he has to turn into powerful men. He now realizes that a non-binary state helps. Being a woman is not to be put down or less than. Being a woman is powerful. So Mr. World transforming into Ms. World is a powerful statement. It’s a validation to many young women and girls around the world that yes, your power is valid.

Awesome answer. Jumping off that, tell me a bit about celebrity. You are one of the breakout stars of Pose, and have become many an internet meme. You’ve also become the subject of a fan campaign to cast you as Storm in the X-Men movies.

I still don’t see myself as a celebrity.

What? You don’t?

I don’t. I’m literally sitting in my kitchen right now thinking about paying the mortgage and fixing my cabinets. I’m very grateful for the love and adoration. But I really don’t see myself as a celebrity. When you talk about the memes that are floating around, you raise a bit of anxiety.

Jackson in ‘Pose’

Oh no.

I went to the store the other day, and this lady was like “Welcome to the neighborhood. Finally, we have some royalty here.” And I’m looking at her like what are you talking about?

[Laughter]

And she’s like “You’re Electra, right?” And I’m like “Yeah, I am.” Sometimes I forget. I have this dream. When you’re a kid and you say you want to be a doctor or a lawyer, and you grow up and you have a great job and you love it. You’re passionate about it. You’re not thinking that other people are going oh my gosh. I’m just happy that I’m here, and I’m grateful and I’m not on a park bench in Central Park or getting beat up on 14th Street.

Thank goodness.

So that’s where I’m at. So when you say “You have these memes,” it’s fascinating and it’s wonderful. But I don’t even know how I would answer the “I’m a celebrity” question.

Related: We visited the set of ‘Pose,’ the show that might just save the world

What does that level of attention feel like for you? Is it intimidating? Is it a compliment? Is it an invasion?

Oh no, no. It’s not an invasion. It does put pressure on me to do better. Now I have the attention of so many people. How do I use that attention? How do I use it to help my sisters not go through the trials and tribulations I’ve had to go through to get here? So that’s where my head is at. I want to make sure my brothers and my sisters are able to gain something. It’s not just about me.

That’s beautiful.

And I do have my fantasies. And my fantasies have come to reality: I love shoes. And it’s because all those damn people in the Caribbean told me for so long I couldn’t look people in the face. Children are supposed to look at feet. And then I realized they had no idea what they were doing, because they couldn’t match suits with shoes.

[Laughter]

They were horrible.

A society is only as good as its shoes. There’s something profound about that.

[Laughter]

When you and I chatted on the set of Pose, you talked a lot about the treatment of trans women, particularly trans women of color. Obviously, you’re a celebrity now. Do you feel like the way the world sees you has changed?

Opportunities are changing. I do feel more secure, but I do not feel safe.

Interesting.

I mean, come on. So many people voted for Trump. That just lets me know that there are so many people out there that are opposed to people like myself being able to have healthcare, or serve in the military. Just to be a regular human being. So it is scary. It’s a mixed feeling. I love my work. I love that I have the Mr. Ryan Murphy saying to me “Good job.” That is everything.

Yeah.

Then on the other hand, I have people who are saying “I’ll come to your door and I’ll shoot you.” So, yeah.

You’re someone who has lived such a varied and dynamic life. For you personally, when you live a life of such highs and lows and challenges, what wisdom do you get from that? What kind of gratitude do you feel?

It just lets me know that you have to work hard. You can’t take anything for granted, you have to work hard. Along your journey you have to remember and realize you’re not on your journey alone. It’s like a marathon runner: if someone hands you a glass of water, you don’t even know who handed you that glass of water. But you know someone handed it to you. So for me, I don’t want to be mean or rude or disrespectful to anyone.

Of course.

And it’s hard at times because people look at my character, and then come up to me and say “You’re just like Electra. If you play her, you are her.”

POSE — “Pilot” — Season 1, Episode 1 (Airs Sunday, June 3, 9:00 p.m. e/p) Pictured: Mj Rodriguez as Blanca, Dominique Jackson as Elektra, Jason A. Rodriguez as Lemar. CR: JoJo Whilden/FX

Oh wow.

And in the beginning, after the first season [of Pose], the reality of “Oh my gosh, people think I am her.” I didn’t think people would realize I was playing what I saw, what I lived, what I knew of these women. Electra is a combination of Pepper LaBeija, Duchess La Wong, Avis Pendavis, Dorian Corey, Danielle Revlon, Octavia St. Laurant. She’s a combination of all these women that live inside of me. And at times, it’s a lot. Most of them, except for Pepper LaBeija, Avis Pendavis and Dorian Corey I got to know through Paris Dupree.

Ok.

We would be at Two Potato and we would have these conversations. She’d be drinking some liquor, and I’d drink Royal Kir. And I would go why is this woman relating to me? Just go on stage and do “In My Eyes” and rip off your eyelashes. It wasn’t until I got to Pose that I realized she was relaying the story to me so that when I had the opportunity to do these parts, I would be able to do them genuinely. It’s something phenomenal to be alve to live between these two worlds.

I’m sure.

To be able to know these women, to be able to bring them to life. If they had the opportunities I have now, they would be masterful. So it does push me to do better, and also continue to protect and help my community to grow.

That’s absolutely wonderful. So I realize you probably can’t tell me anything at all about Pose Season 3. But it’s my job to ask…

Well, I will tell you this: Electra will always continue to be Electra. This is going to be a season that if you thought Season 1 and Season 2 got you, Season 3 is definitely going to catch you. We touch on very important [elements] of our community. We’re not only trying to show ourselves, but we’re also trying to let other see themselves, and let them know how they contributed to the community, to where we are.

Can’t wait. So last question. You have a new house. You’re on two hit series. Where do you go from here? More modeling? More acting? What does the future of Dominque Jackson look like?

Well, all of the above. I still have not played a phenomenal vampire yet. And even though I’ve played a goddess, there’s something about a superhero role that all of us would love to play at some point in time. Moving forward, I would love to decorate our new home, to make sure the shades and the furniture and the walls all coordinate with the rug.

Awesome.

You know what my next venture is? To make sure I have solar panels for the house to save energy.

That’s wonderful. A friend of mine did that and he now gets a check from the DWP.

Oh, you tell me about making money and I’m going to be there.

[Laughter]

Also, most importantly, I really would love to continue to promote and support the Rum refugees. These are LGBTQ refugees in Kenya that have fled persecution in other places. I would like to continue to support my trans community. I want them to know they can have and find jobs and be part of society. And if we have to do sex work, it’s an option. It’s not something that we have to be degraded for.

Anything else you want to add?

Pretty soon I’m going to have a new puppy.

Do you know the breed?

He’s a Doberman. I already named him Vincent.

American Gods airs Sundays on Starz.