From Going Viral on YouTube to Portraying True Gay Icons

Greyson Chance’s career exploded when a YouTube video of him doing a Lady Gaga cover at a middle school talent show went viral. After that went out of control and brought him considerable success, he then landed a leading role playing the skin care guru and historical queer icon Danné Montague-King. He acted opposite Robyn Cruze as Evelyn “Miss Maybelline” Williams in the film “Maybelline Prince”. I got to talk to him about this movie and his music. He’s extremely witty and the conversation was loaded with more good natured jabs and jokes, feeling like a conversation with the cast of “Ocean’s 11”. Yeah, Greyson is that kind of guy. (I did cut a lot of the jokes out, just know we laughed a lot).

JH: Greyson, thanks for taking the time, I usually interview musicians for Instinct, but, looks like you started off doing that and then accidentally stumbled into a killer acting role, congratulations.

GC: Thank you, yeah, the whole evolution to being on set every day was quite bizarre to me coming from a musician and touring background, so I appreciate that.

JH: I get that, I was actually in a film a couple of years ago, and the whole seeing myself on screen was just weird. Can’t get used to it. I mean, I’ve only watched it twice. How is that for you to see yourself on screen, I mean, it’s surreal.

GC: Honestly I am still learning about it as we are still getting to the final pieces of production. I remember watching all of these interviews with actors and they all said they never watch their movies, and thinking what a bizarre concept that is, and not being able to understand it. Now having done this movie I’m scared to see myself on screen. I think what happened to me was that because I was playing a real person when they said “Action” I tried to be that character, I wanted to truly be him in every response and every line. So I feel a little freaked out to see myself because I wasn’t being myself. Since then I have tried to avoid the monitor.

JH: That is such an interesting answer, I get it. From what I understand your role that they brought you in for, was written from a novel, and, I have not read the book, sorry, I get 5 or 6 books and between 30 to 100 records a week, so I really don’t have time to get to it all.

GC: That’s ok Jeremy, I didn’t write the book, I’m not offended. (Laughing)

Varied shots from Greyson’s Instagram

JH: So, how did you get brought in on this, crossing over from music. I see a lot of musicians crossing over into acting, and it works. More successful than actors trying to become musicians, that usually never works. How did you get into this?

GC: You know, what was funny about this was a story and about Danné’s life in this story of the Maybelline Princess, was that it was a story of very significant coincidences. Things that happened in his life that were so monumental, the people he met, the books he was given about skin treatment, and skin products. That’s how this role came into my life. I had no intention of being an actor, I did some small parts acting when I was a kid, and I remember hating, just dreading it. It felt so far removed from music, so I got this pitched to me by my agent, and I remember ignoring the email, and I was going to focus on my record. Then he followed up with me and I read the script, and it captured me, I was very interested in it, the story was unique, and I still had this level of skepticism where I didn’t think I could pull this off. We just started talking, and finally meeting Danné himself and we spoke, it was just little events of synchronicity. So when people ask when this project is over, am I going to do more, my immediate response is that I will follow my instincts as a creative person and an artist. I don’t know that I will have something as powerful as I have these last 8 months. It was quite a spectacular experience.

JH: I looked at it and thought this is such an obscure story, he was a skin scientist, who crashed in with the Maybelline empire at the right moment. I know nothing about cosmetics, I’m that dumb straight white dude, BUT, I have learned so much about cosmetics in the last few years because I have 3 teenage daughters. I’m learning the hard way. So reading about this story, you can make any story interesting, was that you were making this significant, because of who your character went on to become, and the avenues they explored, became significant, not because they wanted to make money, but … I mean the Mafia, and Harvey Milk, everything becomes significant because of everything it touched.

GC: What I immediately saw in the character Danné was that the majority of the movie takes part in Arkansas in the 1970s. And I am raised here in Oklahoma, so when I am not in either LA or New York, people have this association of being openly gay and from somewhere like Oklahoma, they ask me how hard was it. And what I have to explain is that there is a level of toughness that you naturally have to grow into if you are queer. And most people who live in places like Oklahoma or Arkansas are some of the toughest motherfuckers you will ever meet. And that was Danae, he was tough, he was a fighter, he did not care what anyone thought of him. He was someone who was going to accomplish greatness, and nothing was going to stand in his way. I read that, and I recognized the chip on his shoulder, the other thing that gravitated me toward him, there was a level of performance in him. He understood that if he was going to get through Arkansas and get to where he wanted, he was going to have to put on a damn good show. And that is something I have been doing since I was 12 years old, and what I have done in my life. They could have cast a million other people, and I wanted to make sure that I got this right because he had such an amazing legacy and I wanted to do it true to form.

JH: You are giving some killer answers man.

GC: Thanks, Jeremy.

JH: Well, I’m here in Utah, and you’re speaking directly to the LGBTQ teen crisis we are experiencing here, which you seem to have nailed. Is that when you realized you were queer when you were 12?

GC: I realized I was queer when I was about 16 years old, but once I had that lightbulb moment, I looked back on my life and what so many things meant. I can’t say that I KNEW when I was 12, I admire anyone that does when they are 12, but I was 16 when I came out.

JH: Let’s jump on the music for a moment, I saw some of the Lady Gaga covers videos, being a performer, did you set out to be a performer? You won the school talent show?

GC: Yeah, I can’t say I was declared the “winner” but in the end, I did win.

JH: Yeah, obviously, look where it took you.

GC: No, there was no intention of becoming a “performer”, but my parents were lower middle class, both had a few different jobs that when I was driven to piano lessons every day, I realized what my parents had to sacrifice to do that. I loved playing the piano it brought me great joy to do that. BUT, as a kid, I never felt forced to do it. But what I remember from that night 12 years later was my piano teacher was not happy with the arrangement that night, she thought it was very sloppy playing. (I am laughing at this). And I remember being very nervous about it, and then putting the video up on YouTube, and now here we are.

JH: Well, how was that doing Lady Gaga, I mean, that is a very tall order.

GC: Well Jeremy, she is only 5’2″ so it is kind of short order. (WTF No straight man would know that)

JH: So when you were playing tours and got handed cash, did you think, “This is it” or do I need to go get a real job?

GC: Well this was 2010, my video was in many ways one of the first real viral moments on the platform. There was a lot of attention on me in the beginning, it was very exciting and very stressful for me and my family. What happened after a few years of success during those moments, once I got more comfortable as an artist, and that I could be a songwriter, and be taken more seriously, the same people who welcomed me into the industry all turned their back on me. I was dropped from my record label at 15, and my management company and my PR team, all within a week. So I had to pick up the pieces of my life at a young age. At this point, I’m 24 years old, and I get to do this, I feel like everything is a blessing. I try to keep an honest relationship with my fans, I put my heart into it. If it works, great, if it doesn’t, I’ll be working at a bar in Oklahoma City, so, come catch me for a happy hour special.

JH: SO, how was it as a young man playing the role of such an icon, cause of who he was, Harvey Milk is woven in, did you feel like you were filling some mighty shoes.

GC: This movie takes place in the 70s, this was before he was known at all, so the shoes I felt like I was filling for the movie, were more so his personality, charisma, and instincts. When I first met him, he is so witty, quick, and so very intelligent. So when I got the role, I felt I had to walk around with him, so I found that my conversations with my friends were different. I would only listen to particular music that he told me he was listening to in the 70s, I wanted to understand what he was into, media and books. I did some scientific research into skincare as well. So with all that I got an idea into the person he was in his early life. I am glad I played him in that phase of his life, and not in his later years.

JH: Ok, the 70s, that was when the whirlwind was happening with so much culture change… SO, what was the music he was listening to? I am a music journalist.

GC: Actually, he was all over the place, Edith Piaf, to Metallica and Def Leppard, when were talking he would say how he loved these classical records and play it in the house during the day, then get in his corvette that Evelyn (the Maybelline heiress) had given him, and play the rock station, he had this long-range list of music, and I am equally a psychotic music listener, I listen to everything, just depends on what mood you catch me in. So I think that’s just a testament that he was able as a person to mold himself into whoever he needed to be at that moment. That is the baseline of being a performer.

JH: So, I read that the chemistry between you and Robyn Cruise was fantastic, can you tell us about that? Something to look forward to when we see this film.

GC: IT was funny for me coming on to set, I had some serious “Impostor Syndrome” because those other people are REAL trained actors and had been doing it their entire lives, and I come in “Ok, I’m a musician and have all these Instagram followers”. I really wanted to connect with Robyn, because our characters were such a pivotal relationship in this movie. She held my hand through the process, we worked together, ran over lines, we would ask each other advice about lines. She opened my eyes to what it means to get on set and play someone. Any day that I had scenes with her, I had so much excitement and anxiety, because she is THAT good. She’s an incredibly trained actress I learned so much from her, I’m excited for the audience to see the film because behind the curtain, that exact story was all happening in real-time.

JH: So your professional and personal relationship happened in real-time and mirrored the movie then, that is a neat story. To see if it was real, you know you hear about people who are great on camera, but once they yell “CUT” they are at each other’s throats, or they ignored each other. You hear that all over the industry, but then what you had was very real and special. I look at it this way, 2022, it’s very different for your character and what was happening in that day. Clearly, he didn’t care about what was going on, the social stigma, and the possibility of violence. Did you have to try and imagine that situation, or how real did it feel?

GC: I did often try to think about what was happening at the time. I remember the scene when I was watching the TV and saw the announcement of Harvey Milk, and that was a very tough day on set. But I have to think that as an openly queer person in this day, my troubles are actually pretty juvenile, and so about my dating life, am I ever going to find a husband, and “LOL” and other things. So to think back, that the ONLY activist standing up for you at that time was assassinated, that really hit me heavily that day. I asked Danné about this when he was in Arkansas and was he fearful. His response was, “I decided that I was never going to be scared, or live in fear, I was always going to live as myself, and if that got me killed, that got me killed, I didn’t care”. If you meet him you would get it, that those are true words coming from his mouth. So I had to embody that kind of strength, it also opened up my eyes to my life, and how I walk through it. He is such an inspiring individual, and anyone that tries to mess with Danné, whether in the 70s or in 2022, good luck cause he is going to put up one hell of a fight.

politely borrowed from his Instagram page

JH: See, the world needs more of that, hey they have it in other countries right now. SO, when this is all over, am I going to find you bartending in a gay bar or a straight bar in Oklahoma City?

GC: I will be bartending at a dive bar, where everyone comes.

JH: So final question, what would your message be to the young gay kid who is in the closet, and afraid to come out, in that vulnerable state?

GC: I would say that whoever is going through it in that kind of pain, as cliché as it sounds, you are not alone. No matter how successful in your life, there is a pain for all of us, life is difficult and it’s very hard. My advice is to take life one day at a time. Every day you wake up is a clean slate to wipe off all the mistakes of the past. Wake up with some new eyes, and try to paint something beautiful on it. IF you are feeling any sort of depression, go talk to someone. As difficult as it is, go call a support line, reach out, you are not alone.

JH: Bravo man, this has been a great conversation.


https://www.instagram.com/greysonchance/

https://greyson-chance.net/category/photoshoot/

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