As one of the most high-profile trans women in Hollywood, it comes as no surprise that Laverne Cox, best known for her role as Sophia Burset on Orange Is The New Black, is pulling out all the stops for Pride month this year. In addition to sharing what makes her feel powerful in promotion of Netflix's Prism campaign, celebrating LGBTQ+ characters and stories and making an appearance in Taylor Swifts new Pride anthem "You Need To Calm Down," Cox is also the star of Smirnoff's "Welcome Home" Pride campaign.
As part of the campaign, Smirnoff is hosting a House of Pride pop-up and is welcoming the millions of traveler coming through all of the NYC airports — Laguardia, JFK, and Newark — by broadcasting the Pride Sweet Pride ads starring Cox. "I think it's just really awesome that a black, trans woman gets to welcome people to New York City for Pride Month," Cox recently told Refinery29 over the phone. "That feels really dope to me."
This Pride, the vodka brand is also continuing its annual traditional of releasing limited-edition Pride bottles. "A dollar for every [Limited-Edition Love Wins] bottle created is going to be donated to the Human Rights Campaign and their vital work," the actress and activist explains. "Smirnoff has the commitment that by 2021, they're donating $1.5 million to HRC, which I think is really awesome."
Ahead, Cox dishes on what it takes for brands to be good LGBTQA+ allies, how she likes to celebrate, and what it was really like shooting Taylor Swift's music video.
Refinery29: A lot of brands come out with Pride campaigns during the month of June. Can you share how you evaluate what brands you're going to align yourself with? What went into your decision to work with Smirnoff?
Laverne Cox: Well with Smirnoff, I've been working with them for almost a year. We started working together, I think, last July. That's when we did the "Welcome to the Fun%" campaign with the legendary Ted Danson and that wasn't Pride-related so I had an existing relationship with Smirnoff before they asked me to do the Pride campaign with them.
Even before I changed to work with them a year ago, we looked at their history and what their commitment has been in the past to LGBTQ+ issues, and Smirnoff has been working with our community for nearly half a century so this isn’t something that is new for Smirnoff. It's not something they do just during Pride month; it's something that they do all year long. They're committed to diversity and inclusion. That's kind of how I look at companies: what their track-record is and if it feels like an organic fit. It's just a perfect fit with Smirnoff, and so far, it has been really amazing.
Since this campaign is really a celebration, can you tell us how you celebrate? How do you spend your ideal celebratory weekend?
There are all these events and just being surrounded by all these people, but for me, it's really about the people I love in my life and spending time with them and celebrating them. My core group of girlfriends — we call ourselves "the COTS, the Council of Trans Sisters" — we're all going to be in New York that week. We're all doing our big Pride celebration, but it's really going to be about just being with the people that I love. Love wins, you know? It's about home, and I feel most at home when I'm with the people who see me and love me and support me no matter what. New York City is going to feel like a big love fest this year, which I think is awesome, but for me, sometimes it is about the quieter times with the people that I care about most.
What is your favorite drink for celebrating special occasions?
For World Pride, my drink of choice is the LGBTini. The LGBTini, of course, is made with Smirnoff, some vermouth, and rainbow-colors olives. I was like how are we going to make rainbow-colored olives? But there is edible glitter! Did you know that there is edible glitter, honey? You can dip your olives in edible glitter in the various colors of the rainbow and have your LGBTini. It's a classic martini with Smirnoff and vermouth and rainbow-colored olives, so that is my drink of choice. Obviously, always drinking responsibly.
You were featured in Taylor Swift's music video for her brand new song "You Need To Calm Down." Can you share a little bit about the process of how you came to be involved in that project and what it was like to shoot the video?
It was so much fun and Taylor's so awesome. Todrick [Hall] reached out to me — it's all very top-secret with Taylor — and was like, "Taylor's doing a great video, and she wants to include LGBTQ+ folks in it." I love Todrick and I love Taylor and what she has been doing lately, particularly speaking out in support of our community so I said yes and had the best time. I love how it turned out.
I had met Taylor once before. In, I think, 2015, I presented at the Billboard Awards and gave her a Billboard Award. That was the first time I met her, and she said, 'You look amazing' as we were walking backstage after she made her speech and she invited me to her afterparty that she was throwing and she was so sweet. That was like four years ago, so it was great hanging out with her again and I met her mom. I love what my glam team did for me in terms of the look. It was just a hoot!