By Mark Savage-BBC music reporter
https://www.bbc.com-image copyright Disruptor / Columbia
image caption The star started acting when she was eight, and has more than 40 million Instagram followers
Dove Cameron likes to stay busy.
This year alone, she’s filmed a six-part TV musical, reprised her role in the hit Disney show Descendants and signed up to star in a movie adaptation of the young adult novel Field Notes On Love.
In the midst of all that, she’s launching a pop career, at the same time as shooting a live-action reboot of cult cartoon the Powerpuff Girls, in which she plays Bubbles – a superhero who can summon a peal of thunder with a clap of her hands.
“I guess I function best when I have about 10 plates spinning at once,” laughs Cameron, who calls the BBC after finishing a gruelling night shoot for the Powerpuff TV show in Atlanta, Georgia.
“There’s so much going on right now – but my notes app has never been more filled with lyrics and observations and big ideas.”
The work ethic has certainly paid off. A Disney star from the age of 16, she won an Emmy for playing the dual lead roles in the teen sitcom Liv and Maddie; and starred as Maleficent’s daughter in The Descendants, which scored the Disney Channel’s highest-ever viewing figures when it premiered in 2015.
Since leaving the House of Mouse, she’s made consistently interesting career choices: Playing the assassin Ruby Hale in Marvel’s Agents of Shield (in her first episode, she cut off another character’s arms), and appearing in the Italian-English musical The Light In The Piazza on London’s West End.
With 42 million Instagram followers, the 25-year-old has more fans than Britney Spears and Harry Styles… And she’s hoping they’ll follow her from the big screen into the world of pop.
Her songs are messy and complicated, deliberately avoiding the “drippy” clichés of romantic love. A case in point is her latest single, LazyBaby, a glitter-speckled anthem about dumping someone who’s eroding your self-esteem. (Please note, track contains expletives).
Inspired by her break-up with Descendants’ co-star Thomas Doherty, it’s the first of several big singles she’s got planned for 2021 – which, if everything goes to plan, could be Cameron’s breakout year.
Despite just four hours’ sleep, the star was fizzing with energy as she took us on a whistlestop tour of her career so far.
You’ve been acting since you were a kid. Do you remember your first audition?
I do! My first audition was for a Foster Farms chicken commercial when I was seven years old. They had me sitting on the edge of a porch, pretending to eat and the narrator went, “What you got there?” and I’d go, “Chicken!”
I didn’t get it but that was my first audition.
What was your first proper role?
Well, I started in musical theatre so the first thing was probably Little Cosette in Les Mis when I was nine.
What was your favourite theatre role?
I played Toto in The Wizard of Oz when I was 10 years. I was in a dog suit, in face paint, on all fours for four months. It was fun [but] I think that was when my lower back problems started!
You eventually moved from Washington to LA. What prompted that?
I was auditioning in Washington and I got really close to getting cast in the Coen Brothers re-iteration of True Grit…
The role that eventually went to Hailee Steinfeld?
Yes, which is funny because I did a movie with her a few years later. But I went in for that role like eight times – which was just enough for my mother to be like, “Okay, I’m not insane. This is something that she could possibly do.” And then I basically strong-armed her into moving to LA.
How did you convince her?
My parents got a divorce and I seized the opportunity. I was like, “Mom, this is your transitional period. If you’re going to move cities, why don’t we move to LA, and I’ll go with you?” And I did a PowerPoint presentation and I made her move out.
Yeah! Listen, I come from a family of lawyers, I was incredibly precocious, I knew what I wanted. I presented an inarguable case.
After you moved to LA, you signed to Disney and started playing twins on Liv and Maddie. How taxing was that?
Oh my God, the most taxing thing ever, I won’t lie. There’s no way around shooting every scene twice. There’s no magic, you’re just doing it.
Did you have a technique for switching between the characters?
I really truly was making it up as I went. I originally auditioned for another character, and they literally called me on the freeway and said, “Hey we’re picking up this show. You’re no longer Alana. You’re playing twins, and we’ll figure it out as we go. See you Monday.”
And I was like, ‘What on earth?!” They had no proof that I could do it. They basically gave it to me and were like, “Alright, well one of them plays basketball, the other is an actor, the rest is up to you.'” And I literally sat in an office for three months with my director, writing out every difference I could think of. One is left handed, one is right handed, their voices are different… There are backstories that nobody will ever know except for me – but because I knew those, they were fully-fledged people in my mind.
And you went from that to The Descendants – which was a big-budget movie musical, overseen by Kenny Ortega, who made High School Musical and choreographed Michael Jackson. What was that like?
Well, talk about taxing! I don’t think people know how difficult those movies are to shoot. Like, you’re losing weight by the end of the day with how much you’re sweating. You’re dancing in 100-degree weather in a one-of-a-kind couture leather hand worked costume, while you’re sword fighting and doing massive stunts on practical pirate ships. It was so intense, but also the coolest thing ever.
And of course Kenny Ortega is a living legend. That man is probably going to be the person to walk me down the aisle, if I get married one day.
You sang on the soundtracks to all these shows, so were you always plotting to make your own music?
Music was always something I wanted, which is why [I accepted] when Disney offered me a contract when I was 15 years old.
I was actually really nervous about that because my father had just passed away. (Dove is the nickname her father had for her, so she legally changed it from Chloe in his honour after he died). I was in high school, I was extremely shy, and I was holding the pen in my hand, looking at my mom through tears, shaking like, “Am I doing the right thing?” But a lot of [the decision] was because I knew that part of their whole thing was music.
You kicked off your solo career with two singles, Bloodshot and Waste, in 2019. At the time, you said: “I finally feel like I see who I am reflected in something I’m sharing with the world”. Why did those songs mean so much?
Waste, especially, was a marker for my development as an artist because it was such an anti-pop song. I went to the wall to fight for that to be the first thing I released because it is so crunchy and weird and alien and creepy – and that’s always been who I am.
How important was it to make that break from your past?
It’s almost like drawing a boundary when you leave your parents’ home. “OK, I love you guys, I am in college now, I’ll be back on the weekends but don’t expect me to be home all the time”. It’s not disrespectful in any way. I actually love Disney. It’s more about drawing that line for the public.
You don’t shy away from discussing the realities of love. There’s a great lyric on Remember Me: “Please remember me like this / Beautiful and talking [expletive]”.
Thank you! I don’t believe in an idealised love. I think it’s more romantic to acknowledge things how they really are. Lyrics that fly above it diminish the gravity of love and how big and important it is.
LazyBaby is very obviously not a love song, though. What’s the story behind it?
I was going through a really rough transition, at the end of a very important relationship and I was having a hard time finding my footing again.
You know that feeling when you’re stuck, and you’re rudderless? I knew where I needed to go, but I didn’t know how I was going to get there and LazyBaby was the bridge that got me to the place where I needed to be.
But it’s not a break-up song in that classic Adele style.
Right and that was really important for me. You know, this was one of those, “the world is ending, everything is imploding, I won’t survive this heartbreak” situations – but I was stuck in Canada, shooting a new Apple show called Schmigadoon, and because it was the pandemic, I was completely isolated.
Mother and my best friends would normally be flying out and eating endless amounts of brownies and ice cream but [that couldn’t happen]. I couldn’t even spend time with the cast outside of work because it was illegal.
So I was truly not coping well and I couldn’t listen to any sad break-up songs. I needed something that was going to get me back into my body, and allow me to survive, so I knew the break-up song I wanted to write would have to empower me, rather than sink me deeper into my feelings. And that’s why I call it a breakthrough song, not a break-up song.
You’ve got a few big projects in the works besides music. What attracted you to the Powerpuff girls TV show?
Oh my God, I was obsessed with the Powerpuff Girls growing up – and I didn’t even have cable! So this is like a big, full circle moment for me. We’re getting away with absolute murder on this show and I’m very excited for everybody to see it.
Schmigadoon is a musical TV show that pairs you up with people like Alan Cumming, Kristin Chenoweth and Jane Krakowski. What was it like singing with legends like those?
Alan Cumming will be one of my best friends for life, now and forever. I was going through that really intense time and every day he’d come to set and be like, “Good morning. How’s the break-up treating us?”
I couldn’t have asked for better people to be surrounded with at such a difficult time, and the show itself is just going to be, like, truly nutso.
It’s about a town that’s trapped in a 1950s musical, right? It sounds like Wandavision with show tunes.
People have said that! I actually haven’t seen the finished version of it so I can’t comment – but it’s the strangest show, and I’m billed with the best people. I really think people are gonna love it.