CHEYENNE JACKSON

TV star Cheyenne Jackson pulls back the cur­tain on be­ing out in Hol­ly­wood, his strug­gles with ad­dic­tion, and the joys of be­ing a fa­ther

Attitude - - Contents - Words Thomas Stich­bury Pho­tog­ra­phy Tay­lor Miller Fash­ion Joseph Kochar­ian

Why life is no longer scary for the Amer­i­can Hor­ror Story star

Stand­ing in the grounds of a mag­nif­i­cent man­sion lo­cated high in the hills of West Hol­ly­wood, Cheyenne Jackson play­fully poses with a hosepipe, spurt­ing water into a wait­ing swim­ming pool. “This is pretty phal­lic,” he smiles, be­fore flick­ing his wrist and send­ing a fresh spray of droplets into the air.

Why, yes, yes, it is.

Not that the brood­ing Amer­i­can ac­tor and singer is a stranger to be­ing asked to bring the sexy. His At­ti­tude cover pho­to­shoot is pos­i­tively prud­ish com­pared with his ac­tiv­i­ties in bril­liantly bonkers TV hit Amer­i­can Hor­ror Story, in which he has a re­cur­ring role. Not many peo­ple can put “be­ing felt up by Lady Gaga” on their CV!

Now that would jazz up a job ap­pli­ca­tion form.

The pause- rewind- re­peat mo­ment lifted 2015’ s “Ho­tel”, the fifth chap­ter in the series, and saw his char­ac­ter, bi­sex­ual fash­ion de­signer Will Drake, dive be­neath the sheets with Mother Mon­ster’s blood- suck­ing count­ess. “It was my first nude scene,” Cheyenne rem­i­nisces. “I was on my stom­ach on this bed and we were en­tic­ing a third per­son to join us.”

“Gaga, or Ste­fani as she wanted us to call her, is very nur­tur­ing. I re­mem­ber she was scratch­ing my back, butt and legs with her long nails — it wasn’t a sexy thing, but at the same time, it re­ally was,” he laughs.

“[ AHS cre­ator] Ryan Mur­phy popped on to the set and he was so non­plussed by it all, he just came up to us and asked: ‘ Hey kids, how’s it go­ing?’”

I ask Cheyenne — pro­nounced shy an — if he’s aware that his Gaga- gripped but­tocks have since been screen- grabbed and turned into a gif.

“She was the first per­son to send it to me! She wrote some­thing like, ‘ I’ll laugh for a hun­dred years’.”

The show, now in its eighth out­ing, “Apoca­lypse”, is per­haps the only pro­gramme where cast mem­bers don’t mind be­ing killed off. “I’ve died six times al­ready, twice this year… I’ve had my eyes pecked out, my throat slit, and been burned alive,” he ex­claims. “It’s been re­newed un­til sea­son 10 or 11, and we never know if we’re go­ing to come back or not. But I al­ways say I’m avail­able.”

Spend­ing his child­hood years in a tiny town in north­ern Idaho — “I grew up in the woods with no run­ning water, it was ru­ral to say the least” — Cheyenne caught his first big break 13 years ago, mak­ing his Broad­way de­but in the Elvis Pres­ley- in­spired mu­si­cal All Shook Up. Soon af­ter, he at­tracted even more at­ten­tion when he made the bold move to pub­licly come out as gay dur­ing an in­ter­view with The New York Times. “I was 29, but I’d been out of the closet [ to my fam­ily and friends] since I was 19. I was kind of the hot guy of the mo­ment, so I felt a pres­sure maybe not to. No one specif­i­cally said, ‘ I wouldn’t do that’, but you could read the room. It was dif­fer­ent back then. I just thought, ‘ What am I go­ing to do, use un­spe­cific pro­nouns and sneak around? No way’,” he re­calls, with a shake of his head. Cheyenne, who lists “bad- ass” Ge­orge Michael as one of his idols, only briefly en­ter­tained the idea of keep­ing his sex­u­al­ity un­der lock and key.

“I thought about it for half a se­cond, but, no, I’m a very open per­son. I’m what my friends lov­ingly re­fer to as a ‘ gold­star gay’,” he chuck­les, “mean­ing I’ve never been with a girl and I’ve never wanted to.

“I’ve al­ways known who I am and what I’ve liked.”

Go­ing on to craft a stel­lar stage and screen ca­reer, with other knock­out turns in 30 Rock, HBO’s Lib­er­ace biopic Be­hind the Can­de­labra, Glee and the Will & Grace re­boot, not to men­tion record­ing three stu­dio al­bums, he in­sists he has no re­grets about lay­ing his cards on the ta­ble so early on.

That be­ing said, Cheyenne, now 43, be­lieves the de­ci­sion has cost him some roles. “I’m sure. Prob­a­bly. Most likely.

But I have no proof of that,” he shrugs. “I’ve al­ways looked at it like, if I’m not best for the part then so be it. Ho wever, if you’re truly not cast­ing me be­cause I’m gay then I don’t want to work for you any­way.”

Although Hol­ly­wood is far more ac­cept­ing com­pared with the scary place of yesteryear (“They’re com­ing out young, it isn’t just char­ac­ter ac­tors over 45”), Cheyenne pre­dicts that we still have a wait on our hands for a clos­eted A- lis­ter to fi­nally fling open those doors.

“We’re not there yet, but it takes just one. Un­for­tu­nately, it boils down to mar­ketabil­ity: are peo­ple go­ing to buy him with a woman if they know he’s mar­ried to a man and has kids? A lot of stu­dio heads and de­ci­sion- mak­ers, gen­er­ally speak­ing, don’t give au­di­ences enough credit for be­ing able to sus­pend be­lief. I mean, when I watch an ac­tor, do I imag­ine him with his wife? No, you’re watch­ing a piece of art.”

Through­out our chat, sit­ting in one of the envy- in­duc­ing man­sion’s many nooks and cran­nies, Cheyenne comes across as a man who wears his sex­u­al­ity with the same com­fort and ease as some­one dressed in a pair of silk py­ja­mas. But that, he tells us, hasn’t al­ways been the case. Shift­ing slightly in his seat, he re­vis­its a painful chap­ter in his past, as a de­voutly re­li­gious teen ter­ri­fied of be­ing shunned by both his par­ents and the Church be­cause of his at­trac­tion to other boys. “It was a re­ally hard time. I was en­sconced in the Church. It was a big part of our lives, my par­ents and sib­lings. From the time I was 10 or 11, I had an inkling I was gay but it didn’t come into fo­cus un­til I was a teenager.

“I was on a mis­sion trip in Mex­ico. It was my 17th birth­day and every­body had got me a blue cake. I blew out the can­dles, then they started singing wor­ship songs, cake all around their mouths. They were pray­ing and prais­ing God, cry­ing,” he con­tin­ues.

“I just thought, ‘ Uh- uh, this doesn’t feel right, this doesn’t feel real’. I knew I was gay and that these peo­ple were go­ing to re­ject me. That was the turn­ing point.”

And he was right to worry. “I knew that my par­ents would

be dev­as­tated, and I knew that the Church would re­ject me. Both of these things hap­pened. It was hor­ri­ble.”

But time, as the old adage goes, proved to be a healer when it came to Cheyenne’s re­la­tion­ship with his beloved par­ents Cher­rie and David.

“My par­ents didn’t know what to do. They had to mourn the idea of what they thought my life was go­ing to be,” he ex­plains. “To their credit, we took a lit­tle sab­bat­i­cal, we did our own thing for a year, took time away from each other, then got back to­gether as a fam­ily. They’ve sup­ported me no mat­ter what.”

Sin­gling out the spe­cial bond he shared with his fa­ther, who died last year, Cheyenne adds: “He ac­tu­ally took it bet­ter than my mum; I thought it would be the op­po­site. You would look at him and think ‘ Yikes!’ be­cause he was such a manly man, but he was amaz­ing.”

How­ever, when it comes to re­li­gion, no bridges could be re­built and Cheyenne has com­pletely sev­ered his ties with the faith.

“I be­lieve in a higher power for sure, but I don’t be­lieve in Je­sus like I was raised to. It isn’t re­ally be­cause of the way I was treated. It was some­thing that I al­ways felt. I went to this Chris­tian camp when I was 12 and on one of the nights we had to speak in tongues.

“When I say had to, there was no op­tion. I would al­ways fake it. I never bought it,” he main­tains.

Many of us will also be able to re­late to the demons that Cheyenne has bat­tled over the years. Learn­ing to ac­cept his sex­ual iden­tity in and around the time of the Aids cri­sis, he was bom­barded with the no­tion that be­ing gay amounted to lit­tle more than a death sen­tence.

“The only im­age I saw of gay men were on TV and they were ei­ther the re­ally flam­boy­ant neigh­bour, or the guy dy­ing,” he said. “My mem­o­ries as a 17 and 18 year old, those are the im­ages, and I would think: ‘ That’s my fu­ture, great, I’m not go­ing to be able to get mar­ried and I’ll prob­a­bly die — that’s the way it seems it’s go­ing to go’.”

Re­fresh­ingly hon­est and open, the bar­ri­ers didn’t come up when I then touched on Cheyenne’s now- con­quered ad­dic­tions to al­co­hol and drugs af­ter sub­merg­ing him­self in the in­tox­i­cat­ing show­biz party scene. “My big­gest thing was booze, but I def­i­nitely liked co­caine and [ other] party drugs [ such as] ec­stasy. I was in that world and it was what you did. You were at a party and there would just be a pile of coke there. It got out of hand. My life be­came un­man­age­able.”

There was no rock bot­tom, he re­veals — it was more of a grad­ual slide that he man­aged to halt be­fore it was too late. “I didn’t have a ‘ thing’ where I lost my job. I was never drunk at work. It was sim­ply get­ting too much.

“I couldn’t even go out to din­ner, or have a mo­ment with friends, where I wasn’t think­ing about drink­ing, and the drink­ing al­ways led to ‘ Let’s get some coke’,” he adds. “It was an un­healthy pat­tern and I’d seen too many friends fall deeper and deeper, los­ing ev­ery­thing. I wasn’t go­ing to let my­self do that. I didn’t go to re­hab, I just started go­ing to meet­ings and got my shit to­gether.” Put­ting his fin­ger on why sub­stance abuse is, as the stats show, more preva­lent among the LGBT+ com­mu­nity, Cheyenne says: “There are so many things that we deal with in gay so­ci­ety, and drugs and al­co­hol are such [ an ef­fec­tive] way to numb it, for a mo­ment, for a night, to make us not think about be­ing an adult, real life and con­se­quences. But then you wake up and still have the same shit, just now you have a hang­over — and, ooof, my hang­overs were rough.”

Cel­e­bra­tions were in or­der ear­lier this sum­mer when he marked his fifth year of so­bri­ety and, as life cur­rently stands, he could not be more f ul­filled, es­pe­cially with his rel­a­tively new du­ties as a dad.

Over the course of the shoot, Cheyenne talks about his adorable two- year- old twins, proudly show­ing off pho­tos of Ethan and Wil­low, born via sur­ro­gacy. Cheyenne shares par­ent­ing du­ties with hus­band and 41- year- old fel­low ac­tor Ja­son Lan­dau, and his face lights up at the mere men­tion of their names.

“We both wanted to have bi­o­log­i­cal chil­dren, and we had a lot of friends who had gone through it and had won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ences. Be­ing there while your chil­dren are born, im­me­di­ately hav­ing skin on skin…” he beams. “If you’ve ever seen your­self as a mother or fa­ther, you want to see your­self

“I went to a Chris­tian camp and had to speak in tongues”

in your kids, and you want to see your mum or dad in your kids. We didn’t con­sider adop­tion, but that isn’t to say that we won’t some day.”

Turn­ing the other cheek, mean­while, is a tac­tic

Cheyenne, who was pre­vi­ously mar­ried to physi­cian Monte Lapka, em­ploys when I won­der aloud whether he’s ever ex­pe­ri­enced ho­mo­pho­bic abuse since start­ing a fam­ily. “Aside from the oc­ca­sional anony­mous com­ment on so­cial me­dia, which I don’t re­spond or give a se­cond thought to, no. I’m fo­cused on my mar­riage, my so­bri­ety and my fa­ther­hood, just try­ing to raise good peo­ple.”

Par­ent­hood hasn’t been a walk in a park, in fact it’s meant nav­i­gat­ing more twists and turns than an AHS script. “It’s the most love that you’ll ever ex­pe­ri­ence in your life, but also the most ex­haus­tion, anx­i­ety and fear. You’re con­stantly afraid that they’re go­ing to die. You’ll never sleep the same, you’ll al­ways sleep with one ear open. That’s how it will be un­til the day I die. No­body can pre­pare you for the weight of it.”

I re­as­sure him that he still looks mighty fine de­spite the sleep­less nights — then again, I’ve al­ways been a fan of dad­dies.

“I kind of like how I’m look­ing, even with the wrin­kles and grey hair,” he replies. “I’m look­ing more like my dad.”

The heart­throb hasn’t al­ways been so con­tent with his ap­pear­ance, or rather, the age­ing process, and based in La La Land, where there are as many cos­metic sur­geons as Star­bucks out­lets, he gave into the temp­ta­tion of try­ing to turn back the sands of time ( she is a mean bitch, that one).

“I’m an ac­tor, I’m vain, so was def­i­nitely aware of what I look like. You are up for parts against peo­ple who are younger than you. There is al­ways some­one younger com­ing through. You def­i­nitely get caught in that trap, and I did for about three years,” Cheyenne ad­mits.

“I had a lit­tle Bo­tox be­tween my eyes and then I thought, ‘ Great, I look more awake’.

“This was eight or nine years ago. I got a bit in my fore­head, more around my eyes, and pretty soon I was get­ting it all over my face.

“Then I started get­ting fillers be­cause my doc­tor was like, ‘ Your na­solabial folds are get­ting saggy’. I went to this event and I had gone too far. I looked waxy and frozen.

“My man­ager took to me to one side and said: ‘ I need to have a rough con­ver­sa­tion with you — you’ve got to cool it’.

“I haven’t done it in years,” Cheyenne says. “I [ ac­tu­ally] never think men who have stuff done look good; it fem­i­nises your face. Lips on men, no, uh- uh.”

But his rougher- round- the- edges looks could help him bag his dream role: play­ing Rock Hud­son, the Hol­ly­wood heart­throb who lived in the closet and be­came one of the first high- pro­file vic­tims of HIV/ Aids.

“I’ve al­ways been drawn to that story and I have a lit­tle time to pull it off, I be­lieve. I un­der­stand his strug­gle in Hol­ly­wood and what that felt like. There have been lit­tle pock­ets of in­ter­est [ in a po­ten­tial biopic] along the way.”

Be­fore that, we should be see­ing more of Cheyenne’s im­pres­sive bod af­ter he con­firms that he will be star­ring in the much- mooted stage adap­ta­tion of Steven Soder­bergh’s male strip­per film Magic Mike.

“I’m not al­lowed to con­firm or deny that,” he pauses, lips curl­ing into a cheeky smile, “but yeah.”

Bet­ter start stock­ing up on those dol­lar bills, girls. Wind­ing down the in­ter­view, I warn him that I have saved my trick­i­est ques­tion un­til last: who his pick is to snatch the crown in RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4?

“That’s So­phie’s Choice!” screams Cheyenne, who has pre­vi­ously served as a guest judge on the series.

“I can’t even an­swer that be­cause I know a lot of the girls. I love Manila Lu­zon, she’s clas­sic and I don’t think we’ve seen all she can do.”

But he reck­ons he could give the queens a run for their money, hav­ing dragged- up in the past. “I was beau­ti­ful… from the neck up,” he laughs.

“I’ m an ac­tor.

I’ m vain, so was def­i­nitely aware of how

I looked”

Cheyenne wears tank top, by M& S, jog­ging bot­toms, by Gucci at MR PORTER

WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE: Cheyenne in Amer­i­can Hor­ror Story

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