Sunday, Oct. 15
The Barns at Wolf Trap
1635 Trap Rd.
Cheyenne Jackson likes to portray himself as a normal guy. He’s sitting in his car outside his dry cleaner in Los Angeles on Monday when we talk.
It’s just mid-morning but one of his 1-year-old twins had him up at 3:30 a.m. “He’s teething and needed a little TLC,” Jackson says.
After feeding the babies, a jaunt to Barry’s Bootcamp and a trip to the cleaners, the 42-year-old Broadway vet and actor/singer has time to chat in advance of his weekend show at the Barns at Wolf Trap. His comments have been slightly edited for length.
WASHINGTON BLADE: How is family life? How are (husband) Jason (Landau) and the twins?
CHEYENNE JACKSON: They’re amazing. Family life is awesome. It’s busy, it’s loud, the days are long but the weeks and months are short. Just two days ago they turned 1. I can’t even believe it’s been a year already but it’s great.
BLADE: Do they usually sleep through the night?
JACKSON: We’ve been really adamant and committed to a sleep schedule and we knew going into this we were going to be the ones doing the care. We don’t have help at night or on weekends. I don’t want a nanny sleeping in my house at night. I think it’s just weird. So we knew we needed a schedule. … I would say about 98 percent of the time they sleep about 11 hours. It’s awesome.
BLADE: Tell us a little about your Wolf Trap engagement.
JACKSON: I’m very excited because I haven’t done a show in quite a while. It’s been a crazy year. Being a dad and just things in my life. Some personal things. I lost my father a few months back. So doing shows and doing concerts hasn’t really been in the forefront of my mind but when this gig came to me, I thought this would be a good opportunity to get back into it and find some of my favorite songs from different shows I’ve done. I’m gonna do a couple new tunes, things I’ve always wanted to do, so it’s really a mix. I’ll take some songs, a couple songs from each of the albums I’ve done, mix it in with some covers and things I’ve been working on, then a couple of originals. It’s going to be a totally special new night.
BLADE: So this isn’t really a show you do here and there, it’s more its own thing?
JACKSON: It’s its own thing for sure. Some of the songs I’ve done here and there in one way or another but … it’s gonna be very intimate, very personal and fun.
BLADE: What kind of instrumental backing will you have?
JACKSON: Just me and my musical director, just me and piano. He’s such a savant. He plays piano like five people are playing the piano. But yeah, it’s just us.
BLADE: What’s the set feel like on “American Horror Story”? Does the creepiness of the show affect the set or is it just like other sets?
JACKSON: It’s definitely its own thing. I’ve never been on a set like “American Horror Story.” I think it’s because of the nature of the show and what the show’s about, it lends itself to be a special kind of unique experience. First and foremost, it’s shrouded in secrecy and everybody really respects that. Not everybody knows exactly what’s happening from episode to episode and some people are just on a need-to-know basis. So it’s exciting and fun as an actor to not know who knows what and just stay in the moment trying to bring everything to life. … Because it’s such heavy subject matter and such dark fantasy, we find ways to keep it light when it needs to be. We don’t just sit in the heaviness of it unless you have a super, super crazy, emotional thing you need to go sit in the corner to prep for, we try to keep it light.
BLADE: How long did it take to film that sex scene with Lady Gaga and how was it for you?
JACKSON: (laughs) Well scenes take way longer than you’d think. That whole sequence, I would say, I don’t know — maybe six hours? It’s a lot. Every different angle and every possible setup. And you know, it’s awkward and it’s funny and it’s silly. I always try to look at things like that instead of trying to take it super seriously like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe I’m sitting here naked with Lady Gaga.” I just kind of flip it on its ear. … She’s so great and a friend and she made it very comfortable. But sometimes you do kind of snap and think, “What’s happening here,” and you look around and there are, you know, 30 people standing around with microphones and booms and filters and lights and it’s nuts. It’s a crazy thing but it’s what we do.
BLADE: “Hotel” had a lot more sex than other season. Do you think it ever got gratuitous?
JACKSON: No. I feel like every season is its own animal and there’s a reason for everything. I never really question what (creator/producer) Ryan (Murphy) wants or envisions. I trust him implicitly. He’s hired me four times so it’s one of those things where … sometimes you wonder if you can do what he’s asking but then you think, “Well, if he thinks I can do it, that means I can probably do it.” Is the show really violent sometimes? Yeah. Is it really super, hyper sexual? Yeah. Is it dark and creepy and confrontational? Yeah, but that’s why it’s called “American Horror Story” and, you know, that’s why my mom has to watch it through her fingers.
BLADE: You also had a pretty intense sex scene with Audra McDonald in “Hello Again.” Who was better screen sex — Audra or Gaga?
JACKSON: (chuckles) Oh, I would never compare. But it’s the same kind of thing. Audra and I have been friends for a long time and we just really had to laugh through that because it was also very graphic and it was kind of the first time either of us had done anything like that to that extent. But the first thing is to get really comfortable with each other first so then you buy it as an audience member. You can’t get too in your head about it, you just have to go for it and trust each other. She was actually pregnant at the time and we had just gotten pregnant so we look at it now and laugh about what we were both going through at the time.
BLADE: Is being on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” as much fun as it looks? It seemed like you were having fun when you were a guest judge last season.
JACKSON: I have zero shame in saying it’s my very favorite show. I’ve seen every episode of every season. It’s so much more than a reality show. I think it’s a very important show right now in this world and I love that it shows young gay men and what they go through. … I think it’s amazing. I love Ru Paul and he’s been so wonderful to me over the years and he’s a friend so yeah, I always tell them anytime they need me, I’m there. I tried to make it work the last couple seasons but just filming-wise, it’s difficult to work out with “Horror Story” or whatever I’m doing but yeah, it’s so much fun.
BLADE: What seems the most different actually being there versus how it seems on TV?
JACKSON: Lots of things. For one thing, I think people don’t always realize all the judges see is what’s on the main stage. They don’t see all the work room stuff the audience sees, all the bickering and fighting and backstory. The judges, all they have to go by is what they see on the main stage and with the challenges. So if it seems like Michelle Visage and Carson and everybody, if they seem especially harsh and honest, it’s because that’s their only time to see it and make it fair. So that’s what I found interesting.
BLADE: Are the acoustics at Carnegie Hall as legendary as everybody says they are or is it pretty much like other good halls?
JACKSON: I don’t really remember if I noticed such a vast difference because I think I was just having such an out-of-body experience and trying to wrap my brain around the fact that I was performing at Carnegie hall. I just remember that it feels really warm, really good, you don’t have to push. You feel supported. It’s a combination of the acoustics and also the sound system. Everything is perfectly integrated. It’s really special. It definitely spoils you because then you’ll sing in some other shitty little performance arts center in the middle of somewhere and you’re like, “Ugh.” It definitely makes a huge difference.
BLADE: Does “A Case of You” have any subtext for you being a former drinker or is it just a good Joni Mitchell song? Is it on the set list for this weekend?
JACKSON: I will be singing that song and it’s funny, I don’t think of it in terms of wine or alcohol at all. It’s about relationships and connection. I have my own personal things I pull from it, but booze isn’t one of them for sure.
BLADE: “American Horror Story: Cult” is all about phobias. Do you have any?
JACKSON: Not really. I don’t like flying but I wouldn’t say it’s a phobia.
BLADE: You’ve talked before about what a pivotal wake-up call 9-11 was for you. Do you think it’s more than coincidence that you did the “United 93” movie years later?
JACKSON: I have thought of that before and I definitely think it was meant to be my first feature film. It was definitely kismet because the subject matter had been the impetus for me to really move to New York and … start to make things happen at age 27.
BLADE: I don’t mean to sound obsequious but you must get hit on constantly, even if people don’t know who you are. That has to get old, right?
JACKSON: Uhhh, I don’t know that it happens all the time. I’m not trying to be fake modest. … I mean, I definitely know when someone is hitting on me and it feels great. Who doesn’t like to be thought of as attractive or appealing? … More now, I’m out with the kiddos and people want to see them, but does it get old? No. I hope it happens for a long time.
BLADE: Are you allowed to say if you’ll be on more “Horror Story” or do you know yet? Or are you focusing on (2018 series) “American Woman” now?
JACKSON: I’m just kind of focusing on what is right now. I’ve had three great seasons on the show. “American Woman” will be in January I think.
BLADE: What can you tell us about it? Are you filming it now?
JACKSON: No, it’s all done. I was doing it while I was doing “Horror Story” so that was tricky going back and forth, but it was great. It’s set in 1975 and it’s basically a show about feminists with Alicia Silverstone, Mena Suvari and Jennifer Bartels. … I just saw the first four episodes and I’m happy to say it’s very good and very sweet. … I play Mena Suvari’s boyfriend and I got some great cool stuff to work with. I got some secrets in my life and, you know, it’s a fun departure for me. It was fun to look like my dad in the ‘70s.
BLADE: What was it like filming “Cult” since it’s been based so closely on recent events?
JACKSON: I think it was fascinating how Ryan harnessed that into the show. I think it’s really savvy and cool.
BLADE: Which season has been your favorite to film? “Hotel,” “Roanoke” or “Cult”?
JACKSON: “Cult’s” my favorite. I really loved my character last year but I only had a couple really great scenes to do and “Hotel” has such a soft place in my heart because it was my first one and, you know, I loved who I worked with. But this season is my favorite as far as the work I’ve been able to do.