Cheyenne Jackson is a busy guy. When he’s not filming one of the many roles that he has in different shows, Cheyenne is spending time with his husband of six years, Jason Landau, and being a dad to twins, Willow and Ethan, who Cheyenne told me were being “extra four-years-old” that day and they had gone down for a nap right before our interview.
Jackson not only is playing Caleb Covington in the Netflix series, Julie and the Phantoms but also has a role in the HBO Max docuseries Equal, which chronicles the birth of the LGBTQ rights movement during the 20th century. Jackson along with many LGBTQ actors including Anthony Rapp (who was interviewed by one of my colleagues), Hailie Sahar, Isis King, Jamie Clayton, Keiynan Lonsdale, Samira Wiley, Sara Gilbert, and Shannon Purser.
We talked about his role in Equal and his upcoming roles including his new series, Call Me Kat as well as a role he is trying to manifest among many other things.
Gerald Biggerstaff: It’s looking like a busy year for you when it comes to the roles you’re doing: Julie and the Phantoms, Equal, the new Saved by the Bell, and Call Me Kat.
Cheyenne Jackson: Yeah, it’s been, in spite of the global pandemic, pretty steadily busy, thank goodness. Some things were filmed prior and had to stop halfway through and then we picked up. We started Call Me Kat after. So, it’s a whole new world but I feel really fortunate to be working when so many of my friends and colleagues are struggling. It’s just a tough time.
In Equal, you play Dale Jennings, one of the founding members of the Mattachine Society and Editor in Chief of the first magazine focused on gay men, One Magazine. How did you come upon getting the role of Jennings in this docuseries?
In a very nontraditional way. Actually, I was shooting a movie in the Catskills last winter. So we were up in the middle of nowhere and one of my costars in the movie was up for this. We were sitting around on set and he was reading his sides and talking about it. And I said, “What is that? That sounds really interesting.” He said, “Oh, it’s this thing on HBO Max… Greg Berlanti and Jim Parsons.” I was like “Wow, there’s got to be something in there for me.” Sometimes actors can be territorial but he’s wonderful and he was like “Here’s the information. You should have them call your agent.” So I did. I said, “I heard about this project. I love the idea of the whole construct and highlighting people that have made a significant difference in the LGBTQ community, but we don’t necessarily know their names. So see what you can do.” Then, that’s how it happened and the director he insisted I was at the top of the list for this role. Though that’s his story. (laughs) I’m going to just take his word for that, but I hadn’t heard anything about it, so it worked out.
How much did you know about Jennings before filming?
I didn’t know anything, and I know my fair amount of my gay history. I’m a pretty well-read person and I think the fact that I didn’t know. I mean I’ve heard of Mattachine and I’ve heard of Harry Hay, but I hadn’t heard of him (Jennings) and so that was one of the things that was the impetus because I thought the fact that I had never even heard of this person. There was significant things that he did and founded and started. That’s exactly the reason why I need to do it.
How different was it shooting Equal compared to Julie and the Phantoms or 30 Rock?
I was a little weary of the whole idea of a docuseries that was reenactments based on transcripts and also real footage because it can go one of two ways, you know, reenactments often, the ones that I’ve seen, are not that convincing and it just takes you out of it when you see somebody kind of reenacting what we are hearing or reading actually happened. But then when I met with the director and I met with the cinematographer and I saw it was going to be very visual and that there was going to be a lot of projections and a lot of it was really going to come down to the editing, how the real footage and the real archival information that they had intercut with what we were doing. It was just explained to me that it would work so, I just took a leap of faith and it was an interesting experience just because there was long periods of shooting but there was no dialogue in the moment. It was a lot of voiceover, but we were at the Disney Ranch way out in the middle of nowhere shooting, you know, I was walking around being tailed by the cop. In the cop car. It was very montagey. It was very dreamy. Because it’s nonlinear, it’s very poetic in the way that it’s shot, and I think to great effect.
In your interview with Metro Weekly, you talked about shooting episodes of the new Saved By the Bell series, what is the role you are playing?
I play Elizabeth Berkley’s husband and it’s really fun. Tracey Wigfield, who was one of the producers of 30 Rock, our paths crossed back in the day and she’s just done a really clever take on Saved by the Bell, (the original was) silly and a little cheesy and multi-cam and now it’s single-cam and it’s really fast. And there’s this whole new crop of younger actors but then with the classic (actors) with Elizabeth and Mario (Lopez) and Mark (-Paul Gosselaar) and everybody. It was really fun. I’m the exact same age as all of them so growing up, they were all on my TV, and there I was with them. It’s always a surreal thing when that gets to happen.
I can imagine.
Yeah. I just did some ADR (automated dialog replacement) for it today (Friday, October 23) so I got to see a little bit of it. It’s really funny. I think people will really like it. It kind of sends up in a loving way the original but also says something new which hopefully comedy manages to do.
There is LGBTQ representation on the new Saved by the Bell, right?
Yeah, that’s correct. There’s going to something for everyone to grasp on to and to see themselves in.
I saw that you had mentioned you knew Elizabeth Berkley before doing this. Were there any other cast members that you knew before this or had you just met them for the first time?
No, I mean, I think I met Mario Lopez briefly years ago maybe on a (red) carpet or something. No, Elizabeth was the only one that I knew, and I met her in New York once maybe, 15 years ago. She could not have been sweeter and then she came to a reading of Xanadu I did with Jane Krakowski and we just kind of remained friendly over the years. She’s just one of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet and she’s really funny in this. I think people are really going to dig it.
Over the course of your career, what is the best advice someone gave you?
The first thing that comes to mind is because I always get nervous right before a show or right before a big scene, you know regular showbiz nerves, and I remember when I was doing a Broadway play and Tony Roberts was my co-star and he’s in his 70s and he’s done a million things and Woody Allen movies. I said, “Tony, do you get nervous still?” and he said, “Every time. That’s a good thing because if you don’t get nervous anymore it means you don’t care. So I use those nerves. I think I definitely tend to be somebody that really has anxiety bubbling for big things like that. So I always use that.” He said I was to use it and to kind of covet it and savor it because it’s energy. It also makes things feel less alone.
Earlier today, I was listening to your album, Renaissance. I loved it.
Any plans on recording a new album any time soon?
No. Right now I’m always writing music. Working on Julie and the Phantoms, I met some amazing songwriters so a few of them and I have started to collaborate on a few things, but I think that’s going to be more for selling those songs to be in other things and that might be a next new chapter for me because I really like songwriting and I think I’m pretty decent at it so I think going to keep pursuing that. As far as something for my own stuff, no I mean I released a little EP, I think last year, for my kids and my dad who passed. I’m just really going to focus on this new show that I have and then once we’re out of this global pandemic, who knows when that will be, start some concert work and stuff again. But no plans for an album as of yet. I’m sure I will at some point.
Speaking of your new show, Call Me Kat, what is your role on the show?
I play a guy named Max, who is Mayim Bialik’s- we used to be friends in college, and she had a crush on me but never really told me and I’m back in town now. I’ve come back to my hometown and I’m working at the bar right next to her Kat Café and we reconnect. It’s just a really wonderful, lovely, funny, sad, sweet show. It’s all those things. It’s based on this really wonderful show called Miranda on the BBC and it really just kind of asks the question: “Can you not have it all but still be happy?” Mayim, listen I loved Mayim for years. In this role, she’s so unbelievably dynamic and delicious. Like she has all the colors in the crayon box and people are gonna just absolutely love her. I feel in love instantly and the cast is wonderful: Leslie Jordan, Kyla Pratt, Swoosie Kurtz, I mean, goddess. We’re having a great, great time.
Are there any roles that you are wanting to play that you haven’t so far?
Nothing that comes to mind specifically, but I am kind of manifesting I want to play some kind of superhero. I got to kind of do that last year in the Watchmen. I had a small, but I think pretty important part in the Watchmen and as a child, you have this fantasy of playing a superhero and I know that my kids kind of see me as that and I don’t know, I’m just putting it out there. I think it would be really fun to play some kind of flawed middle-aged superhero so that’s what I say.
Well, there’s plenty of those characters out there, that’s for sure.
That’s what I’m thinking.
You can see Cheyenne in Equal, which is available now HBO Max and Julie and Phantoms on Netflix. The new Saved by the Bell is streaming on Peacock, NBCUniversal’s streaming service, starting November 25th, and Call Me Kat is slated for midseason on Fox.