Interview: Cheyenne Jackson Sees Blue Skies Ahead
Contributor Jim Gladstone chats with Cheyenne Jackson about work, love, loss and what’s ahead for 2014.
Jackson debuted a version of the act at Birdland in New York last month in conjunction with the release of his first album of original songs, I’m Blue, Skies.
“The last two years have been among the best and worst of my life,” Jackson says, “Putting this act together was partly a way of processing everything and finding my way forward.”
Amidst major life transitions—a divorce from his partner of 13 years/husband of two; a commitment to sobriety after what Jackson has described as “20 years” of struggling with drugs and alcohol”; the start of a new relationship; the release of a debut album, I’m Blue, Skies—Jackson has managed to keep his diverse entertainment career roaring ahead.
After making his initial mark on Broadway in musicals including All Shook Up, Xanadu, and Finian’s Rainbow, Jackson, now 38, has spent the past few years focusing more on film and television, with memorable roles in projects ranging from Glee and 30 Rock to Beyond The Candelabra to the upcoming feature Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks with Gena Rowlands.
“She’s one of the greatest screen actresses of her generation,” he exults. “I learned so much just by acting with her. Also when we were shooting Candelabra—I had a small part, but when I was there, I had the chance to really watch these masters at work. Acting for film is so much different than on stage. I’ve learned a lot about how the camera comes to you. I can just think something and the camera will catch it.”
The week after his San Francisco cabaret debut, Jackson heads to Sundance for the premiere of a film project he’s particularly excited about, Love Is Strange, starring Alfred Molina and John Lithgow as a recently married gay couple and Marisa Tomei, who Jackson describes as “a force of nature.” Strange is directed by Ira Sachs, whose Keep The Lights On was one of the most powerful portraits of a gay relationship in recent years.
Given Jackson’s gay fan base, his openness about his own sexuality and his public support of LGBT causes including marriage equality and the Hetrick-Martin Institute, it’s a bit of a surprise to learn that his shows at Feinstein’s will mark only the second time he’s performed in San Francisco. His local debut was in the role of Tony for last summer’s historic San Francisco Symphony performances of West Side Story (A CD will be released this spring).
“That was incredibly challenging,” Jackson recalls. “I finally embraced that I’m really more of a tenor than a baritone. I had played Tony in a local theater production in Washington State when I was 24, so to be able do it again 15 years later at this level was an amazing opportunity.”
It may be quite a while before Jackson performs live in San Francisco again: His schedule for the year ahead is packed with film projects and his fingers are crossed for a full-season pick-up of Open, a new Ryan Murphy-created HBO series for which he’s already shot the pilot.
Blue skies, indeed.