Lady and the Vamp
Photo: Christopher Desantis
There are few TV stars with more buzz right now than Candis Cayne, the co-star of ABC’s Dirty Sexy Money, and the first openly transgender series regular on network television. Though she has a long performance history on stage, it was DSM and an earlier appearance on CSI: New York that brought Cayne to fame—and landed her on the pages of every major entertainment magazine. Behind that hot actress is her lesbian manager, Nikki Weiss, herelf a triple threat (actor, producer, manager). The equally gorgeous Weiss has been a big name behind the scenes in Hollywood, appearing on Work Out last season, but it was a spot on an Oprah episode about married women coming out that made her a household name.
I love the story of how you came together while Nikki was making a documentary on the Baton Show Lounge.
Weiss: Yes, it’s the oldest venue of its kind for transgender performers and it’s located in Chicago.
Cayne: We were introduced to each other and immediately hit it off…I was looking for representation, but also for somebody who really got me. Nikki and I just really hit it off.
How is it you both ended up in Hollywood?
Weiss: I’ve split my time between Los Angeles and Chicago for the past 15 years because of my business, representing feature film and commercial directors. I sold my place in Chicago and moved here permanently about two and a half years ago. And then, when Dirty Sexy Money really took off for Candis, I said, “Girl…” and she said, “I’m on my way.” [Laughs] But when I took on Candis it was like my labor of love. I had bigger visions for her than she did for herself..
Cayne: The one thing that Nikki and I really have in common, which is kind of the binding thread between us, is that we’re both really driven women and both of us have spent our lives working and trying to get to the next level.
Does that make Nikki a successful manager.
Cayne: It really does help that she is very confident and poised and beautiful, because she has that power, because you don’t expect the stuff that comes out of her mouth. [Laughs]
It’s interesting that men often don’t expect beautiful women to be powerful. Does that have an advantage.
Cayne: Yeah, I’m sure it does, but I don’t think Nikki realizes how pretty she is.
Weiss: It makes me actually feel uncomfortable. I’m very appreciative if somebody says that I’m attractive, but it’s just not what I’m focused on and I’d rather you see that last.
Cayne: But unfortunately you see that first. [Laughs]
Weiss: Look who’s talking.
Candis, does your current fame feel sudden or a really long time coming?
Cayne: Really a long time coming! [Laughs] I’ve been working for so many years and it’s just amazing to me sometimes…it takes one audition, one person to say, ”I think she would be great in this role,” and suddenly your life changes.
Speaking of life changes, Nikki, you were an actress and a model when you were younger.
Weiss: I stopped doing that in my 20s.
Why did you turn to the other side?
Weiss: I didn’t want to starve for my art—that was the first thing. I wanted to have more control and more financial freedom. I made a conscious decision when I was 21 to say, “I’m going to leave this side but I’m still going to try to be on the creative end of things, just in a different capacity.” It was a conscious decision; I don’t think I wanted it bad enough to starve. There are so many actors and actresses out there that want it so bad, they don’t care what they have to do to get it. For me, it was more about my craft and I knew that I just wanted to be comfortable in my life. I didn’t want to struggle.
I think having that awareness about yourself is a great thing, too.
Weiss: I think so. I wouldn’t change anything. I was just a very tenacious kid. I really was. I had a vision for myself and that’s what I went after. I grew up in Philadelphia, on the East Coast, and I was doing the modeling thing and I was going to New York and I was acting—I think I got it all out of my system when I was a young kid.
Have you been surprised by this sudden embrace of Candis in Hollywood?
Weiss: I’m not shocked by it at all. She is the real deal, and, I have to be honest with you, it’s not because she’s transgender. She is really talented. Candis is a trained dancer, a choreographer, she sings, she’s a comedienne, she’s got “it,” and mainstream Hollywood is embracing her for the first time in this role. But this isn’t the first or the last you’ll see of what Candis’ capabilities are.
Candis, is there still the barrier there that you haven’t broken yet, in terms of playing a non-trans woman in a film?
Cayne: Yeah, it would be amazing to get to the point where I would just be cast as another girl in a role. I know that being transgender is kind of a cross I bear, because I’m one of the first of my kind to be out there. That’s the way people are going to look at me, and I don’t mind that. If I were to only get trans roles the rest of my life, I wouldn’t be sad about that, because I know that what I’ve done has pushed social consciousness forward a little bit. That’s satisfying to me, as long as I’m working.
Hollywood moves slowly. They’re still not even writing color-blind roles yet. If there’s a black character, it’s still written as “this black character…”
Cayne: Or gay character, or lesbian character…
One thing, Candis, that I really like is that the media has dealt with you in a really non-sensational way, practically making you sound like a suburban soccer mom.
Cayne: I didn’t ever want [being] transgender to define who I was as a person or an actress, just to be a part of the picture. I think that a lot of times you have the choice on how exploitative your life is going to be viewed. And if I don’t treat myself that way, other people can’t treat me that way. People can say whatever they want; it’s how you react. I think that I’ve always reacted in a positive way, and if people have a problem, I say, “I’m sorry, your problem is not mine.” And not in a mean or confrontational way. .
Weiss: I think it’s because Candis has come from such a beautiful family. Her parents are so loving and so supportive, as is her twin brother…when you’re coming from that, that’s what you exude.
You were performing in drag when you transitioned. Did you worry that transitioning was going to affect your work?
Cayne: Yes, definitely. I thought, I’m probably giving my career up as an actress because society just isn’t ready for this. But, I had to make my living. My whole issue was that I hope my community accepts me while I’m transitioning—and they totally did.
Weiss: And there were times, when Candis went without roles because she was…making that transition. So when she was working in drag in the very beginning, she was doing a ton of music videos and some other things, and then when she started to make the transition…the roles started to dissipate because people didn’t understand what to do with her.
Do you have lesbian groupies following you everywhere?
Weiss: Yes she does, and they ask her out and they are very aggressive. They’re more aggressive than the straight men.
Nikki, you produced a short film with Trish Doolan that she directed and wrote, and you have a cameo, too!
Weiss: It was so much fun to be in front of the camera again, although…I’m such a producer that I’m producing myself, so I would stop the scene and say, OK, wait, we’ve got to stop this because the continuity was all wrong. But I started a production company called Strawberry Blonde with Trish and Helene Shaw because we have some features in development.
Are you and Trish longtime friends?
Weiss: Trish and I met through her former manager…[we] started dating about a year ago.
How does it feel to have launched so many careers Nikki?
Weiss: I love helping people…and I also really love the entertainment industry. I think when you put that combination together you get somebody like me that just really believes in what I do and who I’m representing, and really fights the good fight. I’m all for the underdog.
Both of you have helped writers and producers create transgender and lesbian characters on TV. What kinds of questions do they ask?
Cayne: A lot of writers don’t really know how to write a part for me, so they’ll ask me questions or they’ll write something and I’ll say, “You know, this doesn’t really make sense, so maybe we could change it to this.” I always do it in a positive way and try not to make people feel like they are being insulted. I have been very lucky with Dirty Sexy Money because they’ve always had this really great team of writers that just write my character as a female character who happens to be transgender. It’s been really cool.
I think that’s the appeal of the show. It feels like they’ve written that character almost blind, that they’re not thinking only about the trans issue there.
Cayne: Right, it’s a love story, and people can relate to a love story and somehow me being transgender has become a secondary issue. It’s more about this love story between these two people.
Weiss: And, to be honest, they have the most beautiful, honest relationship on that show.
And what about you, Nikki?
Weiss: I was called in by GLAAD to go and sit with the Grey’s Anatomy people, as was my partner, Trish, because they really wanted to tell a story from an honest point of view. They didn’t want to do it for a ratings stunt. There were two characters that really had feelings for one another and they didn’t want to necessarily define if they were gay or straight. They just wanted to show that these two women had fallen in love with one another. And they were very curious about my journey and how I figured out I was gay after being married and what that meant and how I defined myself—to bring truth to that story line.
Were you happy with the way it came out?
Weiss: I was. I think it was really sweet and I think that more, obviously, will be revealed when they come back next season, but I think it was a very honest portrayal.
AfterEllen.com said it brought the truthfulness that is rarely achieved on television when it comes to lesbians. What’s amazed you most about your experiences in Hollywood?
Cayne: The biggest thing for me is that when I went on set I was just treated as one of their cast members. I was treated as a real actress, I was never looked at twice. I just became a part of the show and it was pleasantly surprising.
Weiss: I think the longevity that I’ve had in my career and the way that I’ve been able to reinvent myself and that people have taken me so seriously, I think it’s surprising for a woman, especially a young woman. I started when I was 21. I’m just very appreciative and sometimes I feel like I have that imposter syndrome where I have everybody fooled, like I’m this little kid from Philadelphia running around on the Sony lot.
When you have clients who are really in demand, like Jason Bateman from Juno, does that give you more sway to help your clients who are less well-known?
Weiss: Yeah, in fact when I sign a client, people are really taking notice because I’m always looking for thought-provoking points of view and really talented individuals. I don’t just sign to sign—I’m way too busy for that. So if I take on a new client, it gives them validity because of who I’m representing. I’ve got a lot of big feature guys on my roster. I launched James Woods’ career from actor to director, now he’s going off to do a movie. I’ve been really fortunate.