To paraphrase that snarky commercial tag line, don’t hate him because he’s beautiful. Yes, he’s supremely good looking and, as his Broadway, TV and film credits attest, a canny entertainer blessed with deft timing. Oh, did we mention a set of pipes that could make angels think about taking voice lessons?
Ah, would someone still on speaking terms with God please ask him why some guys get all the breaks.
For much of his career, Cheyenne Jackson toiled slightly below the radar, best known among cabaret and theatre crowds (he wowed Broadway audiences in Xanadu and Finian’s Rainbow).
Roles in the films Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks and Love Is Strange (gay cops should all be so hot) brought him wider notoriety. In recent years, through memorable characters in such TV hits as Glee and 30 Rock, the proudly out actor who can turn the world on with his smile has long since stepped into fame’s big league.
And his ascent continues this fall, when he’ll be seen in Ryan Murphy’s hugely popular series American Horror Story: Hotel. Lady Gaga will also be joining the cast, but Jackson is mum on whether he and the raccoon-eyed one will share any scenes. (“If I told you,” he warns, “I’d have to smother you with Gaga’s famous meat dress.”)
Jackson has come a long way from simply being that hunky star with the great butch name; from the head-turner many a fan has used in the same sentence with the words “trapped on a desert island.” (Sorry, guys, he’s taken: Jackson and his second husband, marketing entrepreneur Jason Landau, were married last year.) If he once found his openness about sexuality liberating, the same appears to be true of his sobriety—part of a journey he’s candidly addressed for some two years. “I knew I had reached my highest level of potential….” he has said.
“I wanted more.”
As he turns 40 this month, Jackson appears poised to receive just that.
IN You’re known for your singing and your CDs. But not as many people know about your songwriting. Tell us a little about that.
CHEYENNE JACKSON I’ve always loved writing music. It started as a kid, writing melodies and lyrics with my little sister. It’s been a natural progression to show a bit of that side as I get older.
IN Do you have a new CD coming out?
CJ I’m writing a second solo album. It’s a definite reflection of where I’m at now, emotionally—happy, hopeful, healthy.
IN What can you tell us about your role in the upcoming American Horror Story: Hotel?
CJ Nice try.
IN Okay, we’ll have to wait. So, tell us this: What are your fondest memories of Glee?
CJ A cultural phenomenon. [Writer and producer] Ryan Murphy changed the rules with Glee. It was the first of three times he’s hired me, and I’m so grateful to him. I joined Glee in the second season, when the buzz was at an all-time high. It was an exciting set with lots of strong personalities, and things going on with the young cast members dealing with their new fame.
IN Can you share a stand-out moment?
CJ My first big story line was seducing Gwyneth Paltrow. I was super nervous, because I had lots of quick rat-a-tat dialogue and a lot to prove. But she was hysterical, very, very sweet and a total professional.
IN What was life like on 30 Rock?
CJ 30 Rock? The holy grail of comedy. I was the luckiest man in town to get to cut my teeth on a show written by Tina Fey and alongside Alec Baldwin and that genius cast. Everything I learned about comedy on TV, I learned from working on
IN How were the actors behind the scenes?
CJ Tina Fey actually has a beautiful singing voice and is a Broadway expert. Jane Krakowski is a perfectionist and a truly, truly committed comedienne. And I’d love to have a career like Alec Baldwin’s—from broad comedy to Scorsese dramas. What a talent.
IN You’ve mentioned being friends with the talented Matt Bomer. When folks in the LGBT community think of you, Matt, Neil Patrick Harris and others, there’s this image of a sort of Hollywood gay mafia, or maybe it’s a modern version of Sinatra’s Rat Pack. Seriously, though, is there a kind of brotherhood with some of the other gay actors on the scene today?
CJ That’s funny. I have known Matt for a long time, yes. He is such a sweet, generous person. I’m so happy for his success and really looking forward to working with him again on Horror Story. Neil I’ve known for over 10 years from our early Broadway days, and it’s always nice seeing him and David [Burtka, Harris’s husband]. Not sure about a gay mafia, but there certainly is a brotherhood, of sorts. When we all get to do an event together, it’s really a good night.
IN You do stage, film, TV, cabaret—is there any one that’s your favourite and why?
CJ This is the most boring answer, but it’s always the same. Each has its pluses and minuses, and I like them all the same. Whatever I’m doing at the time is my favourite.
IN Obviously, you’re identified in part as a “gay actor.” Do you think that in your lifetime we’ll see those labels drift away, and actors will simply be actors, singers will be singers, etc.?
CJ Yes. It’s already happening.
IN With same-sex marriage increasingly common—Canada has already had it for 10 years—do you think celebrities in the LGBT community feel their relationships are getting closer scrutiny?
CJ I think anyone in the public eye, to some extent, has a bit more scrutiny. The key for me is to just focus on my marriage and my family and not think too much about all that.
IN What advice would you give to a young person today trying to break into professional acting or singing?
CJ Be nice. Be on time. Know your lines. Know your lyrics. Take responsibility. Be prepared. Be motivated. Get a thick skin. Do your research. Practise. Take care of your voice. Take care of your body. Don’t be an a–hole. Be interested in other people.
IN Great advice. To switch gears, do you have a favourite Canadian destination?
CJ I love Vancouver, and I love Toronto. But those are the only places I’ve been to. I really want to visit more.
IN We’ll be happy to have you. So, you turn 40 this month—how does that make you feel?
CJ Excited for the next chapter.