By: Joseph R. Castel
In 2015, filmmakers Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan reunited six of the seven Madonna: Truth or Dare dancers from the landmark documentary of her Blonde Ambition Tour. In Strike A Pose, the dancers tell their personal stories about rocketing to stratospheric fame, only to be jolted back down to a harsher reality after the tour. In conjunction with the 30th anniversary of Madonna: Truth or Dare, FilmMovement.com released the award winning Strike a Pose virtually last May on their website.
To celebrate both documentaries, dancer Carlton Wilborn from the Blonde Ambition Tour, graciously granted Adelantes’s entertainment contributor, Joe Castel, an exclusive interview discussing his life before, during and after Madonna.
Joe: So tell me, why did you decide to participate in Strike a Pose after all these years?
Carlton: It was mainly, because the producers, Reijer Zwaan and Ester Gould, in their initial communication said they wanted to create something that would specifically honor our voice, meaning the voice of the dancers and so a couple of my other buddies from that tour had said over the years, it would be great to have a chance to express what it was like for us.
Joe: Your personal story in the documentary is interwoven with the two other dancers, Salim (Slam) Gouwloos and Gabriel Trupin because all three of you were living with HIV at the time of the Truth or Dare filming. And Gabriel passed away from AIDS in 1995. You discuss how terrified you were that someone, let alone, Madonna, would find out you had HIV and yet, in the Strike A Pose doc, there is no discussion of supporting one another during the tour because no one dare admit they had the disease. It was heart wrenching to hear you and Salim confess those dark secrets.
Carlton: There’s nothing like getting a chance to have your voice expressed and to be able to get that out of your system. Finally, after decades of wanting to, it’s not about hashing out anything crazy, it’s just about getting your truth told and not being a silent player. So that’s just empowering for any person, I believe. When we get to be heard, we feel more at peace.
And helping somebody else along that might either be from the exact same equation, young, black, plagued with similar things or someone that’s not from my world so specifically at all but can relate to what it feels like to feel marginalized, to marginalize yourself, to feel powerful but don’t have access as a full release for all of that. I wanted to get my story out and knew that it was important, no matter how emotionally trying and testing it could be for me to help set somebody else free.
Joe: Do you think you were presented in a positive way?
Carlton: I think it was interesting that we got no update for anybody. All we got was: “here’s what that experience was for us and sort of the heavy duty stuff,” but it didn’t really speak much about where we were in our life at that time and what we were up to because I know that all of us are doing a lot of other powerful things and it just would’ve been nice to have had that included.
Joe: I agree. It’s kinda like you’ve all retired.
Carlton: It did feel like that and that (Truth or Dare) was the highlight of our lives and we had nothing else going on. I’m super grateful for the movie, the movie was a game changer for sure.
Joe: So what are you doing now?
Carlton: Thank you for asking. I have been working as a life coach since 2009. My website is livingfrontandcenter.com, you can go there, it’s all things coaching for confidence. And so I was very clear, as God allowed me to get more peace in my soul, and a lot more things resolved and leveled and balanced that it wasn’t just about me, applauding myself, it was about passing the baton.
Joe: Do you consider yourself spiritual?
Carlton: I would say that, yes I have always been very spiritual. I’ve felt connected to the alternative world most of my life from being a child. Had conversations with my mom when I was eight years old because we would see energies and grey smoke clouds move through rooms in our house and my mom was really comfortable to say “those are our friends and they’re coming to visit us or they’re coming to help us” and so I’ve always had an association with it and felt like I was more other worldly than I was human, and quite honestly, frustrated with that most of my life, but as I began to need to lean on that other alternative self, because HIV can play with all kinds of emotional things, I realized our strength is in our alternate version. It’s not in the skin and bones version of us.
Carlton: The Bible is also critical for me. I don’t start a day without what I call “Getting tuned in” and so for me, that is I DVR certain Christian speakers, TD Jakes, Joyce Meyer, Joel Olsteen. That’s what anchors my day. Even if I have a six o’clock call time, I’m up by four to make sure I have some coffee and get my tune in. Because that’s what really sets me solid.
Joe: Do you have any kind of conflict with homosexuality or bisexuality concerning Christianity? If so, how have you resolved that?
Carlton: Great question. I don’t anymore. I used to, when I first was looking at what my sexuality was really like and when I first started wanting to take the God realm more seriously.
And then probably, I had the right kinds of friends to steer me to the right kind of education and, through reading and researching, I realized that God’s main thing comes from love. As long as we’re focused on love and having a life of integrity. You don’t have to be perfect at it. It’s about honoring the soul of another human, and as long as you’re doing that, God and Jesus are great.
Joe: You’ve also done quite a bit of acting since Truth or Dare that includes CSI: Miami, NCIS, The Chronicles of Jessica Wu and BOSCH. You also played a drag queen in The Mentalist.
Carlton: Glenda Snow. Yeah, we got nominated for a GLAAD Award for that. Currently, I am working on an Amazon Prime special project called “Water”. I’m playing a scientist and so today’s our first rehearsal and we film on Monday.
Joe: So clearly, Truth or Dare was not your last screen credit. Is there anything else you want to say?
Carlton: I think that the order of the day for me right now, the new paradigm that I’m merging myself to, came on me a few weeks ago, and that is grace. And so that’s the final conversation that I want to offer, is that people find the value in grace that you offer to other people, and for sure grace that you offer to yourself. None of this thing that we experienced is locked in to forever be whatever it is that we experience, there’s still the possibility for shift and change. So give somebody, some grace. Give yourself some grace. We are designed to be flawed. We’re designed to not be all that.
Joe: Just one last question. Are you still in touch with Madonna?
Carlton: I hate that question.
Joe: I bet you do. But as a journalist, I have to ask it.
Carlton: And that’s my answer, I hate that question.
Joe: Fair enough.