If you’re not paying close attention, Dove Cameron might convince you that she can be in two places at once. In the past six years, the 23-year-old actress has taken on three starring roles simultaneously in Liv & Maddie and the Descendants franchise, dipped away from set to star in Broadway musicals, and hopped back into the studio to voice animated superheroes and record her first solo album. When Cameron isn’t bringing your favorite characters to life on screens, stages and soundtracks, she’s peeling back the curtain on her personal life, allowing her 25 million fans to get a glimpse into her world. Whether she’s slaying red carpets in jewel-studded gowns, posting goofy behind-the-scenes moments from her life on set, or snapping seriously adorable selfies with her boyfriend and Descendants co-star, Thomas Doherty, Cameron appears to be living a real-life fairy tale. But she’ll be the first to tell you, not everything is as it seems.
At the age of eight, Cameron decided she was destined for the stage. After scoring leading roles as Young Cosette in Les Miserables and Mary in The Secret Garden in her hometown of Bainbridge Island, Washington, she auditioned for the movie True Grit and became a frontrunner for the role before it went to Hailee Steinfeld.
Her family moved to Los Angeles when she was 14 and Cameron joined Burbank High School’s show choir team. She adored her time on stage, but dreaded the moments she spent off of it. Cameron didn’t make a lot of friends, and she found herself face-to-face with her school’s mean girls. One group locked her in a janitor’s closet while another threw shaving razors at her and told her to kill herself. Being herself in high school was a challenge for Cameron, so she relished the opportunity to play someone else.
In 2013, when Cameron was just 17, she was cast as not one, but two characters on the hit Disney Channel show Liv & Maddie. If you thought playing one iconic teen star sounds like hard work, try playing two. “I was so tired I could hardly function,” Cameron recalls of the time she played twins with polar opposite personalities. “But I figured out how to manage the twin thing pretty quickly. Doing everything twice, with the energy of two humans, and at the decibel of a Disney show is no joke!”
While some stars have been quick to move beyond their nascent Disney days, Cameron embraces the 4 years she starred on the show. “There will never be a day when I don’t miss that show. It is home to me and I am so grateful that I got my start there with all of those true angel humans,” she says of the Liv & Maddie cast.
While starring on the show, Cameron also took on the role of Mal, Maleficent’s daughter, in the Descendants franchise, which premiered in 2015 and will be releasing its third and final film on August 2, 2019. But Mal isn’t your stereotypical Disney character. Despite her mother’s penchant for evil, Mal wants more for her life and yearns to make others happy. Cameron loved the opportunity to truly shape her character over the past three movies.
“So much of me is in Mal because she wasn't complete when I got to her. I got to really craft her,” she says. “She's incredibly self-possessed, very strong, very persistent, and resilient.” These traits are not unfamiliar to Cameron herself.
On July 6, 2019, Cameron and the rest of the Descendants cast learned that co-star Cameron Boyce, 20, had died after complications with epilepsy. Boyce played Carlos De Vil, the son of Cruella De Vil in the Disney Channel Original Movies.
“When I heard about Cameron, I had just woken up early in a London hotel room to the sound of my phone ringing off the hook,” Cameron says. “I was nervous about why I could be getting so many texts and calls, so I only looked at my mother’s text. I knew she would be the gentlest, and the most concise, whatever it was. It explained what had happened and I immediately phoned Boo Boo [Stewart], who had already called me twice. We just sobbed without speaking. If there was a word stronger than devastated that could describe the depth of pain that I was feeling, I would use it.”
Cameron met Boyce right after they both signed on to Descendants, and reveals she had always wanted to meet him after watching him on Jessie. “I had always thought, ‘damn, what a charismatic, bright and brilliant kid.’” After seeing him on the lot where they both filmed their respective shows, Cameron recalls jumping out of the car and hugging him, saying, “This is going to sound so weird, but we’re about to do this new thing together, and I’m going to hug you, because I can promise you now, we are going to be friends.”
And they were. “From that first day onward, Cameron was my friend and he treated me, like he treated everyone else, like they were the most important person in the room. I loved him like a brother, and I learned from him every day, how to be joyful, how to be resilient, how to be patient, no matter the circumstances. I couldn’t begin to quantify the wisdom and generosity that this kid had. I still learn from him every day.”
Since finding out about his death, Cameron says the cast has kept in close contact, helping each other through this difficult time.
“Me, Boo Boo, Cam and Sofia [Carson] still have our core 4 group chat active and open, as we have for 5 years. It’s hard when there are no adequate words to express the pain we are all feeling, but the usual text is ‘love you.’ Or ‘are you eating?’ Or ‘how are we all today?’ I think something like this horrible loss makes you realize how important you are all to each other. I am grateful for my chosen family at a time like this.”
This isn’t the first time Cameron has dealt with loss. At the age of 15, right before landing her first TV role on Showtime’s hit show Shameless, she lost her father to suicide. While Cameron has remained private about her family life, she has been very open about her own journey with mental health.
“I would call myself incredibly anxious, and I have dealt with depression,” she shares. “And I do have episodes of absolutely what feels like mania or something that is like I'm all of a sudden in the pits of despair. I can't get myself out. I'm on the floor and I'm crying.”
While Cameron’s social media presence features its fair share of glam red carpet moments and exotic vacations around the world, she is also not afraid to share this side of her story — though her vulnerability hasn’t always been easy to come by. “I was scared when I was younger to talk about certain topics because there are a lot of people in this industry that tell you not to speak about a lot of things,” she says. “Then as you get older you're kind of like, wait, no, maybe I know better. Maybe I don't care about what you think. Maybe the risk is much less important than the gain. And I think so much normalcy would come from demystifying a lot in our own personal lives for younger people to look at.”
While filming the first Descendants movie, Cameron also broke off her engagement to former Liv & Maddie co-star Ryan McCarten, who she started seeing around August 2013. The couple was well-known for being picture-perfect on social media, and while the split was especially hard on her, she tried not to let it show online.
“It was my first ever real relationship, and it was on-screen and off-screen,” she says. “A lot of what I went through in that first relationship, the very low-lows, I did not make public. I was under the impression that I had to make everything look perfect all the time and my partner definitely put that in my ear. People thought I was sharing loads, but I hardly shared anything.”
But before she had time to dwell on the split, Cameron was off to the set again. She started filming the second Descendants movie, jumped in to star as Amber Von Tussle in NBC’s live production of Hairspray, and tried her hand at voice acting as Marvel’s Spider-Gwen, while also taking on a live-action role in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
As work picked up, so did Cameron’s love life. She fell for Thomas Doherty, who plays Harry Hook in the Descendants series. “My relationship with Thomas has been different than anything I’ve ever experienced with another human right from the very start,” she says. “I know this is cheesy, but honestly, right from the moment we met, it felt like the earth moved, for both of us.”
Two weeks after meeting on set, they ended up getting matching tattoos. And if that sounds like a whirlwind romance, then you need to hear about the first time he said ‘I love you.’ “He told me he loved me within a week of meeting me, and has never taken a step back from that statement,” she gushes.
Speaking of cute, on their second anniversary, Cameron took receipts from special moments in their lives, including the paper receipts for their tats, and printed them onto pillows as a gift for Doherty.
“He’s a pure soul. A well-intended, completely innocent source of care and generosity, humility and never-ending patience. I’ve never experienced an equality like we have, a real admission of who and what we are together and the guttural knowing that this is right,” she says.
The Disney star has been leaning on her bf a lot recently as she grapples with the loss of Boyce. “Thomas has been my rock. Every thought or feeling I have, no matter how strange or dark or heavy, he is a safe space for me, a never-ending well of patience and generosity. He is my world,” she says.
Cameron says her relationship with Thomas has taught her a lot about love. While she has a better sense of her boundaries and needs when it comes to another person, she also says she’s learned to take care of herself more.
“For years, I abused my body with eating disorders and going on as little as 2 or 3 hours of sleep,” she says. “About 2 years ago, I was completely burnt out.”
Now, she focuses on her own needs and understands the importance of self-care, especially when it comes to her mental heath. “I’m incredibly sensitive and have learned that I have many, many triggers that I have to manage,” she says. “But as long as you are your own mother, healer, and best friend, you will always know what you need. Sometimes it just takes a while to become yourself.”
Even though she’s been more open and authentic on social media in recent years, like many young stars who grow up in the spotlight, Cameron often feels like people’s perceptions of her don’t always match reality.
“[I think people feel like] 'oh, she's a bit sparkly and bubbly’ and then that means she can't be intellectual or intelligent or wise in any sort of way,” she says. “I have a feeling that that's going to follow me for a while. There's always people that you can't really get through to, and I also don't really care to. I'm kind of fine having people think whatever they want about me because I really am at peace with who I am.”
Finding yourself can be difficult when you’re playing other characters for the majority of the day. But Cameron seems right at home in her skin these days, which she credits to getting older and taking the time to show up for herself.
“It's an unfortunate truth that nobody can do for you what you can do for you,” she says.
Cameron has channeled this wisdom into her acting, and now she’s continuing to tell her story through music. Since filming has wrapped on Descendants 3, she’s been in the studio recording new tracks that are unlike anything you’ve heard from her before. “It’s all me, it’s all my sound. At the end of the day, I don’t do anything unless I love it. [This is] by far my most personal experience yet in the industry. It’s taken me a long time, but just like everything else in my life so far, I now understand why I waited so long. It’s finally right.”
Even with the end of the Descendants film series, Cameron already has a number of opportunities lined up, including reprising her role as Clara in Los Angeles Opera’s The Light in the Piazza as well as some new movie and television projects.
Even though she’s really come into her own over the past few years, Cameron acknowledges it wasn’t easy getting to where she is today.
When asked what she would tell her 17-year-old self, Cameron says: “I would tell my younger self to love herself. Being 17 was the worst. I wish I could go back and nurture the broken baby bird I was when I was 17.”
But Cameron is also grateful for where her struggles have gotten her. “I really love who I am now, and I couldn’t be this woman without being that very lost little girl. So, I don't know that I would give her any hints, no cheat codes. I’d just maybe tell her that she’s killing it, and to take no shit, and that I'm really proud of her, every day.”
Photographer: Edward Herrera
Hair: Ruslan Nureev
Makeup: Melissa Hernandez
Video fashion credits: Olivier Theyskens dress, Icing tiara
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