InDepth InterView Exclusive: Cheyenne Jackson Talks 30 ROCK, GLEE, Carnegie Hall, LOVE NEVER DIES & New Album!
Today we are talking to one of the brightest stars on Broadway whose career has virtually exploded over the last few years with recurring roles on Fox's hit musical dramedy series GLEE, as well as NBC's multi-award-winning 30 ROCK - in addition to his newly minted classic character in the canon of unforgettable personalities on Larry David's HBO series CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM - the astonishingly gifted Cheyenne Jackson. Talking all about his Broadway roots and starring in musicals such as XANADU, FINIAN'S RAINBOW, ALL SHOOK UP and more, Jackson and I also discuss some of his favorite performers and he shares fond remembrances of musicals past, as well as looks ahead to what he would like to do in the future, both near and faR. Jackson also reveals what the next few months hold - the early 2012 return of 30 ROCK; the release of his new film THE GREEN - and describes what audiences can expect from his 50s and 60s-themed Carnegie Hall concert on November 18; Cheyenne Jackson'S COCKTAIL HOUR: MUSIC OF THE MAD MEN ERA. Plus, first news on his self-penned solo album with collaborator/muse Sia, as well as insights into his upcoming film appearances in PRICE CHECK and LOLA VERSUS - and much, much more!
More information on Cheyenne Jackson'S COCKTAIL HOUR: MUSIC OF THE MAD MEN ERA at Carnegie Hall on November 18 at 8 PM can be found here.
A Toast To The Most
PC: GLEE is one of the most popular topics on BroadwayWorld, so I have to know what it was like to work on the show? How did you find out you were going to be involved? As a musical theatre actor appearing on that show, did you feel you made it, in a way?
CJ: Well, it wasn't necessarily a moment of "I made it!", but the enormity of that show and just where it is in the zeitgeist is definitely, definitely not lost on me. I was very excited. I was supposed to do a guest spot on the first season, but I got the flu and I couldn't do it. So, Ryan [Murphy] said they really wanted to do something for me, and, so, they wrote this part with me in mind and brought me into the office and told me kind of what the deal was. And, it was amazing.
PC: Was it a thrill to do?
CJ: Oh, yeah - there is a lot going on; a lot of energy. Those kids are… it's just pretty exciting to be on it. And, I love Matt Morrison and we've been friends for years. I like that a lot of my first stuff was with Gwyneth Paltrow, too. She was so incredible.
PC: Did you ever get to shoot any scenes with Idina Menzel at any point that perhaps we didn't get to see?
CJ: No, I wasn't actually in any episodes with her - my character replaced her temporarily as the coach of Vocal Adrenaline. So, yeah, unfortunately, I never got to share any scenes with her. But, I dig her and I think she's a doll.
PC: What was it like working with Charice on the show? I'm not sure if you have heard the news about her estranged father and his murder recently.
CJ: Yeah, I did her about that. It's absolutely awful - and so heartbreaking.
PC: She's so talented.
CJ: She is. And, yes, I did work with Charice in a couple of episodes. She is just such a sweetheart - so shy and humble. Given her powerhouse vocals, it's sort of strange to see.
PC: What about working with Jonathan Groff? Another great young star on the rise.
CJ: Oh, Jonathan is just - as you know - as lovely as can be. I have loved him for years.
PC: Besides GLEE, you have appeared on two of the other finest comedies on TV, as well: 30 ROCK and CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM. Tell me about doing CURB - when Rosie O'Donnell did this column she spoke so favorably about you and what a fan she is of yours.
CJ: You know, Rosie O'Donnell is actually the only person I ever sent a fan letter to.
PC: No way! What was the course of events?
CJ: It was years ago, when her first talk-show came out. I have just been an avid supporter and fan and follower of hers forever - since her VH1 standup spotlight series and A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN and all of that on. But, she was talking about doing Broadway for the first time - I think she got cast in GREASE - and she was talking about it, on the show, and it was so motivating; about conquering her fears.
CJ: Yeah, so I wrote her a fan letter - you know, to her TV show. And, when I was doing XANADU on Broadway she came, and - I don't ever get star-struck about meeting somebody; you know, you just kind of get used to it at a point or whatever - but, I was so excited to meet her and I told her about that and she was so lovely; so great.
PC: I'm so glad I asked!
PC: When Olivia Newton-John did this column she spoke of how much she enjoyed going to the opening night of XANADU - as well as you in it. Tell me about that night - were you a fan to begin with?
CJ: Oh, for sure! Definitely. And, actually, my brother was a huge fan of hers and he had her "Physical" poster up on his wall and stuff. So, he was the biggest fan ever. I didn't even know about XANADU when I was little, though!
CJ: I didn't! But, absolutely, I was a fan - and she was just so fantastic and she has such a great sense of humor. It was great. I know that Kerry Butler had a little trepidation... [Laughs.]... opening night because she was kind of doing a spoof on her, and, it was just great. But, you know, Olivia Newton-John is a class act.
PC: And still "Totally Hot"!
CJ: [Laughs.] Yeah, yeah.
PC: Tina Fey's reference to that and Olivia Newton-John in her book is so hilarious. Have you read it or discussed her with Tina?
CJ: Oh, Olivia Newton-John? Well, yeah, I have read the book - and, I got the audio book just because I knew Tina would, you know, infuse it with characters and voices and inflections like only she can. I am her biggest fan. But, no, we've never talked about that, but, we have talked a lot about XANADU.
PC: There are some great musical moments on 30 ROCK.
CJ: Tina's husband is one of the producers of 30 ROCK, but he is also the composer.
PC: Of course.
CJ: She and her husband are incredibly musical. Most people don't know that about Tina. You read the book, so you know her musical theatre past and all that stuff.
PC: Jeff Richmond's songs for the show are so great - especially that opening number he wrote for the live shows that you and Jane Krakowski positively nailed last season.
CJ: Yeah, yeah! Thanks! All the stuff I've ever sung on 30 ROCK he has written. You know, that is incredibly difficult - to write short songs like that with a beginning, middle and end that also make sense.
PC: And are funny, too.
CJ: It's way more difficult than people imagine. And, the fact that he scores every episode and also gives it a dramatic arc but also comedic punches - he's just incredibly talented. A great, great guy.
PC: And you enjoy working with Jane Krakowski, as well? You have such palpable chemistry.
CJ: Oh, yeah! I mean, we've done - we were saying this the other day - we've played opposite each other like five times in different roles. We can't seem to get away from each other - but, we love it! She's such a pro. Incredibly funny. And, you know, there's nobody like Jane!
PC: Kelli O'Hara has done this column and also mentioned being so impressed by your work. Are you a fan of hers?
CJ: Oh, for sure. Kelli and I have worked together a few times, as well. We did a reading - and a CD - of a new musical. We played lovers - ugh, I hate that word lovers! [Laughs.]
PC: It works, though.
CJ: I guess! [Laughs.] Anyway, Kelli? I could listen to her sing anything. Anything. And, I think she's an incredible actress.
PC: More than 20 TV shows film in New York now - including 30 ROCK. Are there more opportunities available these days?
CJ: Yeah - it's fantastic.
PC: So, it's easier to move between the two? Are you currently shooting 30 ROCK?
CJ: They are shooting 30 ROCK - I haven't shot yet this year. But, yeah - they just started; it was mid-season because of Tina's baby.
PC: Of course.
CJ: So, yeah - I am hoping that a lot of my Broadway peers are able to make that transition, easier than before - just because there are so many opportunities in New York now. But, yeah - I am definitely staying busy. I just got cast in a new pilot and I am definitely still cracking the TV thing and I really love it.
PC: Will you be involved with SMASH at any point? Are you familiar with the project?
CJ: Sure, I know what it is, but, no, I am not involved - of course, I know Michael Mayer, who I did THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE with. I know all the folks involved and I am wishing them much success. I hope it catches on. I mean, what's better than having really, true triple-threat Broadway performers get that chance to really shine on a national television scale? I hope it's a huge success.
PC: Are there other actors working right now you would call yourself a fan of? Will you run out to see something because of a particular actor?
CJ: Oh, sure - I mean, I am mostly inspired by my peers. I love to go to… I just saw FOLLIES and it just bowled me over.
PC: What did you think of it?
CJ: Well, first of all, I didn't know it - I guess I am one of the few theatre people who doesn't know that show. [Laughs.]
PC: Could be!
CJ: But, watching what those women did - Jan Maxwell and Bernadette Peters - was just incredible and inspiring.
PC: What do you think of Sondheim's work in general?
CJ: [Pause.] I mean, he's our living legend. I've never been able to do a Sondheim show yet, but, please! What can you say about Sondheim that hasn't been said already?
PC: Nothing. What do you think of Andrew Lloyd Webber? I don't know if I've ever heard you do any of his material - have you?
CJ: Well, I'm sure I have. I mean, who hasn't? Growing up - in high school and stuff - everybody sang "All I Ask Of You" and "Music Of The Night" and all that. I think Andrew Lloyd Webber has some beautiful stuff. I am very excited about EVITA.
PC: I've heard you were in contention for the Broadway LOVE NEVER DIES. Were you?
CJ: Yeah, I did audition. Many of us went in. I really wanted to see, really, what it would kind of be like. They were going for a younger, sexier Phantom - that's what the breakdown said - so, I thought, "Oh, OK. Let's see what this is all about." And, I really kind of wanted to see him - Andrew Lloyd Webber - and work with him and see what that audition experience would be like. And, it was! It was fascinating.
PC: What happened? The process is fascinating.
CJ: Well, obviously, I didn't get it and nothing went further than that audition - but, it's pretty amazing to, you know, grow up listening to somebody else's work and here you are standing in front of them singing their score. It's amazing. I mean, I loved SUNSET BLVD. - I used to listen to that constantly.
PC: You really are the perfect Joe Gillis.
CJ: Oh, yeah - I just love that show. I love that story.
PC: You and Scarlett Johansson both are big fans, apparently, from what you've both told me - the ideal Joe and Betty, clearly, at least in my opinion. Would you want to do the movie with her someday?
CJ: Are you kidding? Sure! That sounds great.
PC: What songs did you sing at the LOVE NEVER DIES audition? "Till I Hear You Sing"?
CJ: Yes. There were two songs - that one and I can't even remember the second one.
PC: Was the other "The Beauty Underneath" perhaps? The hard rock-influenced song.
CJ: Yeah, probably, it was - one of them was definitely pretty scream-y. But, "Till I Hear You Sing" was the main one. The guy who did the show - Ramin Karimloo - was just amazing and it was just so beautiful. He looks great as the Phantom, too.
PC: Are there any others actors you particularly enjoy?
CJ: [Pause.] Elizabeth Marvel. I would watch Elizabeth Marvel in anything - she is so fierce. I did a reading with her and she is completely fearless.
PC: How wonderful to hear.
CJ: So many others - I mean, I am just so inspired to be a working actor in New York. I am constantly amazed by it.
PC: Will your solo Carnegie Hall concert coming up be the precursor to a possible album and tour or is it more a one-off?
CJ: Well, I am not putting too much emphasis on this in terms of launching anything - this is just sort of a natural next step for me. I mean, these last couple years I have done a lot of concert work and it kind of all started with my friendship and collaboration with Michael Feinstein - who is just such a dear friend and mentor. You know, I've done many dates across the country - little one-offs here and there - and I guested at Carnegie Hall with the Pops last year. Subsequently, they just said, "We want to create a show for you and we want to know, thematically, what you are into."
PC: What an opportunity.
CJ: Yeah, so, I told them I really liked the late-50s, early 60s, swingin', sexy type of music - you know, everyone always told me I was born in the wrong era, vocally. So, it has been a really exciting, fun, challenging collaboration - and I am really stretching myself artistically, and, I am making the New York Pops stretch a little bit, in terms of repertoire, too, I think. Everything is within the same vein, but, we are doing some stuff that is a little outside the norm, I guess. But, I am very, very excited.
PC: What songs can we look forward to? "Besame Mucho"? Any Henry Mancini material - he was so big during that era?
CJ: No - not this time. Not this time. But, it kind of runs the gamut - we are, obviously, doing some Sinatra-type stuff; Dean Martin. But, I really wanted to kind of push the envelope - so, like, they are letting me do an Amy Winehouse tune.
PC: Oh, wow.
CJ: You know, it's things like that - things that are within the same world, but, maybe a little unexpected - is what I am focusing on. I really wanted to do something special and it is really, really turning into that.
PC: It should be quite a night - to say the very least.
CJ: Yeah, my whole family is coming from Idaho - my brother and sister and parents.
PC: Amy Winehouse was an incredible songwriter, as well - very emotionally bare songs. Were you a big fan of hers?
CJ: I was - I was, actually. I had planned on doing a song of hers long before she passed away - and it all just kind of happened this way. Actually, Jane Krakowski - when Amy was first starting to pop - Jane invited me to some private little thing downtown at some, you know, trendy club. So, she was there - and it was really kind of right before she blew up - and it was pretty amazing to watch this little tiny lady with big, giant hair toppling around on big, giant heels and you just could not take your eyes off of her. So, yeah, I am excited to do something by her - it will be good.
PC: And she was a total throwback to the tough girl-groups of the late-50s and early 60s.
CJ: Yeah. Yeah. Totally.
PC: Are you going to have any special duet partners?
CJ: I do have a couple of surprise things - I have a couple of collaborations. But, the show is almost sold-out, so I want it to be really exciting for people to not know what's coming and who is coming out. So, I do have some collaborations - yeah.
PC: So, it's pretty much sold-out, then? Wow.
CJ: Yeah, it's almost completely sold-out, but I think there are a couple of seats left. It's gonna be really, really great.
PC: Do you feel in good company with Hugh Jackman also doing his solo show around the block - the two most talented headliners in town?
CJ: Oh, well - I'll definitely take that compliment! [Laughs.] Absolutely, though - I've been a fan of Hugh's for years. You know, he always fosters his musical theatre side - no matter how much WOLVERINE and his other action-type movies are exploding; he's still just a Broadway baby. I love that about him. What a great showman.
PC: Tell me about working with Lance Horne on his incredible album. We premiered "Strange Bird" in this column, actually.
CJ: Oh, wow? Really?
PC: I love that song. He's such a talented guy.
CJ: Yeah, he really is - incredibly talented.
PC: How did you two meet?
CJ: I've known Lance, I guess, for a couple of years. I know him through AMFAR - I have been an ambassador for AMFAR for about four and a half years. And, Alan Cumming works a lot with AMFAR - and Lance is his collaborator on many of their musical endeavors. Lance is just so kind and funny and interesting. So, we struck up a friendship and we started singing together and he sent me a couple of his songs. "Strange Bird" - I loved it the first time I heard his version and I still actually like it better than my version; because, you know, he wrote it and its for his voice, really. I just think when writers sing their own music and there is nothing more pure.
PC: What an interesting insight.
CJ: I just knew that that was the song that I wanted to do. So, I said, "Can I have that one?" And, he said, "Yeah." So, it was great. I really enjoy him so much and I just think he is incredibly talented.
PC: Would you like to do more of his material in the future? I can imagine you would do an amazing job of "In The Name Of The Father".
CJ: Oh, thank you! Yeah - I am sure I will. You know, I am actually writing my own music. This is kind of a nice segueway, I guess, because I haven't really spoken about this at all up until now.
PC: This is the place.
CJ: Well, everybody has kind of been waiting for me to - for years people have said, "Why don't you put out an album?" And, I did do an album with Michael Feinstein. But, in terms of a solo album - it hasn't felt right stylistically in terms of which way I would go; I just don't want to put out an album of musical theatre covers. And, about two years ago, Sia - who is a dear friend of mine - became my muse, of sorts. And, so, about a year ago, I just said, "I really wanted to see what would happen if I went into a studio and wrote something." I mean, I have wrote for years - poetry and things of my own - but, I never… I guess it just wasn't the right time.
PC: But, now, it is.
CJ: Yeah - she said to me, "You know what? Let's just see what will happen." So, we just went into the studio and we started writing. We started last year, and, of all the things I've done, I have to say that I am more proud, motivated and excited by writing my own music than, I think, by anything else I've ever done.
PC: How exciting. What's the style? Do you write at a piano or a guitar?
CJ: I'm learning guitar, but I do play the piano and I write on a piano. The album is almost written and we are going to be recording it in early 2012, I think - it's happening so, so fast. [Laughs.] It's been since May that we have been writing it - so six, seven months, probably. [Pause.] It's so weird to talk about it because I haven't talked about it with anyone yet, but, it's very, very fulfilling and I am excited to share it with everybody.
PC: So, what kind of sound are you and Sia going for - a pop vein; a folk vein; a rock vein; a hip-hop vein? A Sia vein - I remember her song on the SIX FEET UNDER finale?
CJ: Yeah - that's her. I would say that it's a... me... vain. But, yeah - I mean, Sia and I have a very similar sensibility. I am very drawn to her, stylistically, and what she has to say and her as an artist - but, I definitely have my own sound; I have my own influences. I mean, everybody that I grew up listening to - you can't help but let that seep in - but, I think when people hear it, they will understand and it will make sense. But, yeah - some of it - I have to say, the stuff I have shown to just a few people, everybody is pretty excited; which feels great. You know, it's your baby and it's hard to be close to it and still be objective, but there is some exciting stuff going on so I am excited to show it to people.
PC: Do you have a title for the album yet?
CJ: Umm, well, I do - but, it's still so new that I don't want to be too specific yet. But, soon! [Laughs.]
PC: Is there a song you are going to test the waters with on YouTube or something like that?
CJ: Well, I am not putting anything out yet - and I actually don't really want to say any of the names of the songs yet because it's still so baby-new and fresh and personal that, in a few months when I am going to roll it out, I maybe will introduce one or two songs.
PC: How exciting this news is! Fans have been clamoring for a solo album from you for so many years. Are you sort of newly inspired in your newly-married blissful state?
CJ: For sure. You know, we have been together almost 11 years and we didn't know how much being married and legally, officially being married would change things. But, I have to say that - I hate the word spiritual; just because it doesn't feel right - but, it's the closest word I guess I can use to describe the palpable shift that happens when you do make it legal, in that we really do feel closer and more connected. And, definitely, really, my friendship with Sia has really sort of exploded my brain to creativity at the same time. She - I just needed someone like her to say, "Just do it and see what will happen."
PC: Push you to take the leap.
CJ: Yeah, because, you know, you are afraid that it isn't going to be good or whatever your fears are as an artist. But, I mean, I am so thankful that she is in my life because it really has opened up a whole new world. [Pause.] I am definitely in a creative zone, to be sure, and the album is happening.
PC: PROP 8 was your most recent stage appearance. How was that experience?
CJ: Oh, yeah - that was great. Dustin Lance Black is great. I mean, an incredible cast - Morgan Freeman and so many other amazing folks. I was just - I didn't know if anybody could make boring court transcripts palatable, and, he definitely did. Dustin is an Oscar-winner and that's what he does. So, hopefully, they can use this as a learning tool - I think they want to do this in schools and across the country in small communities that don't ever get to hear and see subject matter like that. So, it was a good experience, for sure.
PC: Were you a fan of MILK previous to PROP 8?
CJ: Of course - yeah. Genius.
PC: Denis O'Hare has done this column and I was curious what you thought of his work onstage and onscreen?
CJ: Oh, Denis is - I love Denis. He is a lovely man and a great friend, as well. He is incredibly talented.
PC: He is insanely awesome on Ryan Murphy's new show AMERICAN HORROR STORY.
PC: Have you seen that show yet?
CJ: Yes! Yes. Denis is amazing. He was telling me about it prior - telling me about the prosthetics he gets to wear. I was like, "Wow!" I love it.
PC: So, I have to ask: Are you involved with the new Kirstie Alley play?
CJ: No, no, no. There is a play I have my eye on, but that is not it.
PC: And it's not Happy in the DEATH OF A SALESMAN revival, either, is it?
CJ: [Laughs.] No, it's not - but that would be amazing, though!
PC: Any hints?
CJ: Well, it's neither one of those - and, I asked the producers if I could give you a hint, but they said no. [Laughs.] So, I can't unfortunately.
PC: That's OK. So, how did you get involved with THE GREEN - currently available On Demand? What drew you to it?
CJ: The script - the script drew me to it. You know, I get offered, I guess, gay-themed movies, and not a lot of them I connect with, and this was something that just spoke to me - as a human and as a gay man and in so many ways. I also loved the creators of it - Paul and Steve. And, I had done one quick thing with Jason and he is so talented, so I knew that would be great to act opposite him.
PC: What about acting with Illeana Douglas and Julia Ormond?
CJ: I'm such a huge fan of both of them - for years; and, for different reasons. I knew it was going to be a great, quick, difficult experience - I mean, we shot the whole thing in 17 days and it is heavy, heavy subject matter. So, it was a challenge - but, every time I am scared to do something, it usually means there is a reason I should do it. So, yeah - I am really happy with the way it turned out and it is getting some great feedback.
PC: What about another new film you have coming out: PRICE CHECK?
CJ: Yeah - PRICE CHECK. I did that earlier this year with Parker Posey - who I just dig and we became friends. She's just hilarious and we did some great stuff together in that.
PC: What about LOLA VERSUS?
CJ: That's a Fox Searchlight movie starring Greta Gerwig and Debra Winger and Bill Pullman - and I have a small part in that, but it's a really, really sweet movie and so well-written. I had a great time on that.
PC: Will you be making a return to CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM?
CJ: I don't think I am going to be back on CURB - I think that was definitely a one-off.
PC: Will you be returning to 30 ROCK this season?
CJ: 30 ROCK - I am hoping Danny will pop back up, for sure.
PC: Are you looking forward to another scene with Patti LuPone - who plays Frank's mom?
CJ: I know! Yeah - we just had a quick scene last year. But, we definitely gravitated towards each other. Yeah - she's just amazing. She's our musical theatre queen.
PC: Even more musical theatre royalty, Angela Lansbury, spoke so highly of you when she did this column. Are you a fan of hers?
CJ: Oh, yes. I actually have to take that back now - what I just said. Angela Lansbury is the musical theatre queen and Patti LuPone is the duchess. [Laughs.]
PC: That works too!
CJ: Oh, she's so legendary. And, especially, at her age to be so impressive and amazing in everything she does - it's just so, so inspiring. She really is real royalty to me.
PC: To see you having such a career high right now is such edification for all of us Broadway babies who have followed you for years - ALL SHOOK UP to XANADU to FINIAN'S RAINBOW, and, now, to Carnegie Hall next Friday.
CJ: Oh, that's so nice. That's so sweet to hear.
PC: So, given the title of your Carnegie Hall concert - Cheyenne Jackson'S COCKTAIL HOUR: MUSIC OF THE MAD MEN ERA - may I assume you are a MAD MEN fan?
CJ: Oh, sure - yeah. To be honest, I didn't watch it when it first came out, but I have gotten into it more recently and I just love it. It's amazing. And, I love Jon Hamm - I just met him when we did the live version of that 30 ROCK episode we were just talking about. He was so incredible - so funny, so great, so lovely.
PC: And Matt Damon was there live, too, for that, was he not?
CJ: Yeah - he was. I actually think he and his wife were just about to have their fourth baby. He was so gracious - so great.
PC: As are you. This was so phenomenal. Thank you so much for this today, Cheyenne! Break a leg at Carnegie Hall.
CJ: Thanks! Sure, Pat - anytime. This was great. Bye.