July/August 2021 Cover Story: Canada’s Own Hollywood
Hollywood Jade is the Canadian entertainment icon you should be watching. He talks to IN about the power in being authentically yourself, and why it’s important to recognize those who came before us, as well as lifting each other up…
By: Bianca Guzzo
Photographer: Fabian Di Corcia
Makeup artist: Imarra
Products by: Cherry Bomb Eyes
Wardrobe: L’Uomo Strano by Mic. Carter and Roell Designs by Roell Gomes
Nail jewellery: Infiniti Nail Jewelry
Hollywood Jade has been working both in front of the camera and behind the scenes in some of our favourite music videos and movies for nearly two decades. The dancer-turned-choreographer/producer – who was first featured earlier this year in IN Magazine’s “Black, Bold, Queer and Beautiful” article by Jumol Royes – is a first-generation Canadian who also identifies as Jamaican-Guyanese, as well as queer.
His hard work and determination have followed him through his time as a backup dancer in music videos, to dancing in movies like Save the Last Dance 2, Make Your Move, Camp Rock 2 and the iconic Hairspray. That would eventually lead him to start choreographing, as well as assisting other choreographers on various projects including music videos, television performances and award shows, and, most recently, head choreographer for the first season of Canada’s Drag Race. From a kid who loved movie musicals to a multitalented dancer, producer and director, Hollywood Jade has not only paved his own authentic and original path but makes sure to bring others along for the journey.
Hollywood Jade, born Jade Anderson, grew up in Toronto. But he was actually born in Alberta, which he says surprises a lot of people since his work has become synonymous with Toronto’s performance art scene. His discovery of movie musicals as a kid helped him realize he could make a living out of blending two of his favourite things, movies and music. “When I found movie musicals, it changed the game for me. As far as I can remember, Grease was like my first taste of that.” Hollywood Jade also credits movies like Babes in Toyland for sparking the idea that a fusion of all of the things he loved could possibly be his career. “As a kid I saw these movies and thought, ‘I can do this. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but that’s what I want to do,’” he says.
As for his name, “Hollywood” was given to him by a former mentor of his, and it was originally meant as a dig. “I’ve always been a very fashionable person. I credit my mother for this. But I would go to rehearsal in these outfits, and one morning I just wasn’t feeling it, and I had my Starbucks in one hand and my sunglasses on, and I’m in my outfit, and I walk into rehearsal. I was over in the corner practising, and [my mentor] started with rehearsal, but I was so out of it I didn’t realize. She’s like, ‘Hey! Excuse me, Hollywood. Do you wanna join us?’ and I was just like ‘I love that!’” He ran with it, adding Hollywood before his first name to create something that’s not only memorable but authentic – a recurring theme with the work Hollywood Jade produces.
Soon enough, Hollywood Jade found himself dancing in music videos for Canadian music artists. Eventually, he was dancing in bigger productions, the first “big” one being the Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen movie New York Minute, which was filmed around Toronto. Unfortunately, Hollywood Jade’s scenes ended up being cut from the final movie, which is why he considers dancing in Kelis’s 2003 music video for Trick Me to be the first job he was on that he knew was a big deal. “I remember being on set and saying, ‘I can’t believe that I’m here.’” That video was directed by Director X, who is known for making music videos for Canadians Sean Paul, Nelly Furtado and, famously, Drake’s Hotline Bling music video, as well as videos for countless other global superstars such as Ariana Grande and ZAYN.
As Hollywood Jade started dancing in more productions, and working with a variety of artists and choreographers, both Canadian and international, his determination and creativity grew, eventually leading him to becoming a choreographer for artists like Canada’s R&B queen Jully Black, as well as producing his own work. There was one job he worked on specifically where he said that ideas started to click for him.
“Hairspray! Without a doubt, to date Hairspray was the game changer for me,” he says, describing it as being “a crash course in being in the entertainment industry.” Getting to work alongside industry vets like Adam Shankman, Anne Fletcher and Jamal Simms gave Hollywood Jade a chance to not only learn from some of the best but to create lasting professional relationships with them. He even credits Jamal Simms (professional choreographer and, most recently, the lead choreographer on American Drag Race) as being the person whose career he is trying to model his own after – not only because of Simms’ talent, but because Hollywood Jade describes him as being “a genuinely, lovely human being, who also just happens to be an amazing choreographer.”
Another important and lasting professional bond Hollywood Jade made on the set of Hairspray is with fellow dancer-turned-choreographer Eboni Nichols. After their work together on Hairspray, Nichols asked Hollywood Jade to assist on jobs, and that was just the beginning: they’ve been working together for over 10 years on projects for stars like The-Dream, Snoop Dogg and Lil Wayne.
“It definitely played a big role. Getting that co-sign from these people who I idolized and looked up to was huge,” he says, especially since he wasn’t getting that type of recognition from his peers at the time. It not only told him that he had what it takes for the next level of his career, but that the narrative he was creating was adding to the conversation rather than simply making noise, which was important to him. “I was contributing to the conversation of dance and pushing the narrative forward, making it acceptable for queer people to be their authentic selves on stage.”
Being able to share himself authentically through sprinkling what he calls his “queer-isms” in his work was not always easy. Hollywood Jade says that who he is today is more in line with who he was when he started in the business, as opposed to who he was in the middle, where he says he was concealing parts of his personality in order to be hired. “I slowly started hiding more and more of myself to acclimate to be what was bookable,” he says. “I faced all sorts of, ‘No, that’ll never work; we don’t want to see that,’ you know? The people around me were like, ‘We accept and understand that you’re queer, but we don’t want you to bring that to work.’”
When he started working in the entertainment industry, Hollywood Jade explains, everything was very “commercial,” with repetitive steps, meaning there was very little room for him to add that personal flair for which he is now so well-known. “It made it challenging getting my point of view and my perspective as a creative across, because I felt like so much of the hesitation was wrapped up in them resisting accepting me fully.”
Acceptance, and recognition, is something that has rarely been given to Black members of the queer community. Black queer people have contributed a lot to queer culture, but that not only goes unnoticed, but also unattributed. Hollywood Jade wants to make sure people are recognized for their work while they’re still alive. “As a Black queer Caribbean man, I think we make up a huge population of the creatives that we’ve seen – our names just haven’t been mentioned,” he says. He talks about the people we’ve lost recently just in the Canadian queer community, and how their life’s work could have gone unnoticed if their names weren’t spoken in places where they hadn’t previously been mentioned – people like Michelle Ross, a Jamaican-Canadian drag queen who was an icon in the Toronto queer community, especially for Black queer folks.
Ross, who died in March 2021, happens to be the first drag queen Hollywood Jade ever experienced in person. “If not for people like me and Tynomi Banks, who when she was on Drag Race made sure that she mentioned her, [Ross] could have passed away and the world would not know the greatness that was her,” he says. “I’m tired of that being the narrative. I’m tired of people not being celebrated until they’re gone. It’s important for me that we’re bringing recognition to people while they’re here and while there’s still time for more impact to be felt. It’s important that people can put a name to the things that trigger positive things in their lives.”
While talking about how the last season of Drag Race ended, Hollywood Jade mentions how happy he is that Symone’s specific, and sometimes niche, style of drag was accepted and celebrated by so many. “What I’m so happy about is that the state of the world has shifted so greatly. Somebody’s true authentic self was able to shine through and be crowned and celebrated in such a public way,” he says. “I just hope that the world really takes a step back and looks at what has happened and it’s like, “There is space for all of us to exist.”
Speaking of Drag Race, Hollywood Jade served as the resident choreographer for the first season of the Canadian version of the show, working closely with the queens, choreographing the performances…and any Drag Race fan will know how hard it can be for some of the queens to learn the choreography. This is something that Hollywood Jade was totally prepared for ahead of filming. “In my career as an instructor, I have commonly taught beginner and intermediate classes,” he says. “Even if you look at the dancers I hire, I’m the guy who will hire the underdog and spend the extra two hours rehearsing with them to give them the opportunity to prove themselves. So, with that being said, I’m used to working with a wide variety of skill sets.” It was that same variety of different skill sets from the queens in Season 1 that made him feel right at home, allowing him to flex his muscles with his teaching and communicating, which is something he regularly does outside of the show.
When it came to the choreography, he says most of the challenges had nothing to do with how fast the queens could (or couldn’t) pick up the steps, but instead came from the show’s production itself, issues like time constraints and working in spaces where they were constantly being watched. “It presented a challenge, but it was one I was completely prepared and ready for,” he says.
Something else Hollywood Jade loves about working with queens is that he can include as many queer references – or queer-isms, as he calls them – into the choreography, and the queens are always up to work them into a performance, which is something that can’t always be pushed as far while choreographing for cisgender-heterosexual artists. Another silver lining to working with queens? “I get to live out MY FANTASIES! Like all of the songs I loved as a kid, I get to choreograph for these women,” he exclaims. “Nine-year-old me is screaming right now!”
While it isn’t confirmed on whether or not Hollywood Jade will be returning to choreograph the queens in the second season of Canada’s Drag Race, he says his fingers are crossed that he’ll get the phone call.
Another place where Hollywood Jade’s choreography and leadership shines is the vibrant and unique Hollywood Presents: Urbanesque shows. The dance company, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in March 2021, is a place where the structure of commercial dance is met with the whimsy of musical theatre. “Urbanesque is defined as having the breadth of burlesque with the energy and the essence of urban culture past and present,” says Hollywood Jade.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has meant live performances were completely shut down. Urbanesque had their final live performance in February 2020, before the world went into lockdown. Luckily, some of the performances were taped, meaning that throughout the pandemic, Hollywood Jade was able to sell tickets for online viewings of performances via the incredible network he’s built. “Transitioning my live show onto an online platform is really been the biggest pivot that I’ve had to make,” he says.
Hollywood Jade, who is about to launch a new season of Urbanesque, is continuing on with everything the pandemic has taught him. Through holding auditions for new talent, he is now focusing on producing and curating work specifically for online, which is something he’s never done before.
While the online work is his current priority, he knows it won’t be like this forever. As the pandemic eventually winds down, people are becoming more and more eager to get out of their homes and support local artists in live performance spaces. In the meantime, though the pandemic has created hurdles for producing entertainment, Hollywood Jade is thankful for the pause everybody was forced to take, and hopes people recognize the quality of work being put out. “The pandemic has been a huge blessing to me in terms of really being able to take a step back and look at how I want to work and how I want to impact people with my work. So the process has evolved greatly.” He argues that sometimes when an artist’s work is continuously forced out, it compromises its authenticity and staying power.
He knows that the work he’s putting out now is more important than ever, because it’s becoming the standard that people are going to expect when they come and see his work live (as soon as it’s safe to do so). “People are going to want to make sure that ‘If I’m putting my life at risk to come out, I want to be entertained,’” he says. Something else Hollywood Jade says he hopes comes out of all of this is the idea of “curated experiences,” where people pay for the exact entertainment they want and leave feeling totally fulfilled, and that they got a bang for their buck.
Hollywood Jade explains that he doesn’t go into projects believing he has all of the answers; he gives the work time to breathe, and gains different perspectives from other creatives throughout the process. It’s something that was hard for him at first, being a true Capricorn, but he eventually realized it gives everybody involved a chance to explore and grow within the project. Which is how he recently choreographed the Cake music video for Canada’s Drag Race winner Priyanka.
Whether he’s choreographing Canada’s drag queens, the Urbanesque dancers, or dancers for films and music videos, Hollywood Jade has made an imprint on the Canadian entertainment industry, as well as the queer community. He has not only carved out a space for people who have previously gone unrecognized for their work, he is adamant about continuing to give recognition to others who have impacted the Black entertainment industry. One way he does this is with his podcast Hollywood Hosts, which is currently in its second season. “Nobody is talking about the people who started them off, who gave them a springboard. So that’s really what the podcast is about,” he says.
There is still so much Hollywood Jade wants to do, like someday writing and producing his own musical. “I feel like that would be a complete full-circle journey for me as a creative, and as an artist, to be able to create something that some kid is going to see and inspire them to go after all of their dreams. That would be the dream project,” he says.
In the meantime, he’s keeping busy producing and choreographing, telling stories through art, and using his platform to uplift other voices – continuously showing that a Black-queer-Canadian can become a leader and mentor in spaces where Black members of the LGBTQI+ community have not always been welcomed and celebrated, and that there is space for everybody at the table. “I’m really happy about being in a position with all that I’ve acquired, and all of the knowledge that I’ve experienced, and all the avenues that I’ve been in Canada or internationally…that I get to now give this back to people who want to receive it.”
BIANCA GUZZO is a writer based out of the GTA. She spends her free time watching Trixie Mattel makeup tutorials, though she has yet to nail the look.