Model, actor and technically trained dancer Shaun Ross has had the biggest year of his life, with appearences in Lana Del Rey's biblical short film Tropico and as a cattily rigorous beauty pageant instructor in Beyoncé’s “Pretty Hurts”. Growing up in The Bronx as an African-American child with Albinism, Shaun suffered violent bullying as a kid, with one attack leaving him with stab wounds six inches deep into his back. Shedding the nightmares of his childhood, he has since appeared in numerous fashion editorials and Katy Perry's "E.T." video, reluctantly earning the unconventional title of "First African-American Albino Model”. He continues to break barriers and blaze his own fierce trail through the music and fashion world.
“I met Beyoncé on my nineteenth birthday, when I was helping her stylist Ty Hunter carry some bags for her performance for the Spanish Armada in front of the president. Beyoncé found out it was my birthday and she played me her song “Party” inside of her car. 'When I shoot this video, I want you to be in it,' she said. She kept her promise and we shot the video a year later. She has become a sort of aunt to me now.
I worked with Melina Matsoukas for Beyoncé’s "Pretty Hurts" video. She was looking to cast some models for the pageant scene and I was like ‘I’ll help you guys out!’ Later, I made a joke like, ‘Ooh, I wanna be a pageant gurl too!’ And Melina was like, 'No. You can't be a pageant girl! But you can be in the video.' I went on set just to chill and I ended up getting a principal role!
I met Lana Del Rey through my friend Tala Yasseri, who knows Naomi Shon. Lana Del Rey’s sister, Chuck Grant, is Naomi’s roommate and we shot some stuff for her book once. We wanted to do a tasteful editorial that was inspired by the whole Californian, Cholo lifestyle. Lana saw those photos and said, 'This is the direction I wanna go for, for my next short film, Tropico. And I want to use him.'
One thing led to another and we shot Tropico on location and also in this huge studio where they’d built an entire forest! We had all these live animals running around on set but none of them attacked each other – I was like, ‘One of these animals will die today’, but none of them did!
The shoot was long and going up in the harness was intense. It took forever to get that shot. We kept incorrectly lifting our feet whenever the crane pulled us up, or we’d be complaining too much and they had to bring me back down because the harness was pulling so tight. I had no circulation in my legs. I was not being a diva though, I’m telling you! I could not feel anything in my legs! We actually shot that scene in the same location that Brad Pitt filmed The Tree Of Life. It’s the exact same tree! Crazy, right?
Even crazier though, was when we filmed in this woman’s house, someone’s actual home. There’s this scene with a heist and all these girls stripping and we’re shooting and stuff and there was this glass window on the opposite side of that room. The family that lives there was watching us the whole time we were filming. Imagine this seven-year-old Asian kid just sitting there doin’ his homework, watching a bunch of strippers and thugs with guns. He was just sitting there doing his work so casually behind the glass window. It was the funniest thing ever!
Lana is already a super sexy character and having that character come to life is not something we see everyday. Add Anthony Mandler’s ingenious direction on top and you’ve got a really sexy and cinematic visual experience. I don’t actually like females in that way, though! (Laughs) I don’t hide that I’m gay. It’s all over me, clearly; but you should know that this is the first interview where I’ve actually said the words ‘I am gay!’
I’m breaking barriers, but having Albinism in this industry has been a hassle. And it does bother me to be prefaced with the 'Albino Model' tag. I’ve had completely ignorant journalists interview me and they’ll make fun of it [Albinism] in the ways they say things. I’ve been asked stuff like ‘How does it feel to be an Albino?’, and I’m like, well what is an Albino? Because I don’t know what that is! I know what a human being is and I can tell you about that."