Cheyenne Jackson: Going in for the Kill
There’s not much Cheyenne Jackson can say about his new role or show. But interestingly enough, it’s the questions he declines to answer about the upcoming “American Horror Story: Hotel” that makes it all the more intriguing.
This “cone of silence,” if you will, is a strange predicament for the Wash.-born actor, peppering his conversation with BELLO about the fifth installment of the Ryan Murphy FX anthology with “I can’t talk about it” and “You’re going to have to wait and see”-type responses.
What audiences will see is “really scary. It’s very dark. It’s very claustrophobic,” he admits during a recent day off from shooting Episode 5 of “Hotel,” premiering October 7. “There’s always scary stuff. There’s always blood. But I feel like psychologically it’s pretty dark in a wonderfully sexy way.”
Murphy & Co. keep the secrets of the series close to the vest, Jackson says, describing the material as “precious” to all involved, especially for the sake of viewers. “For all of the fans, there has to be something that you don’t know. So, as much as people think they know, you really don’t know at all.”
He concludes that answer with a laugh, a hint of menace in there, something surely imparted on the otherwise friendly and charming 40-year-old by his recent professional surroundings. In “Hotel,” Jackson plays Will Drake, a highly successful, mass-marketed fashion designer who picks up his New York City life, including his young son, and makes the move to Los Angeles where he sets up shop, literally, at Hotel Cortez, run by The Countess, played by Lady Gaga. More on her later.
“He didn’t even tell me his name,” Jackson recalls of his first chat with Murphy about joining the show. “He just said, this is what he does, this is kind of what he’s about, this is the world in which he inhabits.”
About Will Drake and the kind of father he is, Jackson describes him as a “good father. He’s attentive. He’s. . .uh, I don’t want to talk to much about that relationship.”
Whether Drake is a single father or not, “that is something that we haven’t found out yet. . .or that you guys haven’t found out yet. But you will soon.”
A self-proclaimed fan of the “Horror Story” series, this is Jackson’s foray into the sinister world that’s racked up 60 Emmy nominations, winning nine. It’s also the first without perennial favorite Jessica Lange, but anticipation hasn’t waned thanks in part to a marketing campaign serving up disturbing images of someone sewn into a mattress, a blender full of blood, and a bunch of towhead children, among other mysteriously delicious sights.
“We all know kind of a general idea about who we’re playing, and then as it gets closer we get specifics,” he explains. “So part of the fun is that we don’t know the end result, and we all just, with bated breath, wait to see what happens.”
It’s not exactly the way Jackson is used to working, especially with all of the Broadway roles—his credits include All Shook Up, Damn Yankees, Xanaduand Alter Boyz, to name a few. He has rehearsed endlessly, learned the ins-and-outs of, and inhabited night after night for live audiences. His excitement about taking up residence in “Hotel” was only solidified thanks to what one of the series’ stars said. “I was reading an interview with Jessica Lange when I got the part, just to hear her perspective because I’m such a fan,” he says, “and she said that’s the real fun thing about it because you can let your imagination really run wild. You don’t get too much in your head and just jump into the deep end of the pool.”
And he did just that, literally, with his fellow castmates at a party Lady Gaga threw at her Los Angeles home where she dyed the pool water blood-red, images of which she shared on Instagram. A long-time fan of the multiple-Grammy Award winner, Jackson included Gaga’s “The Edge of Glory” in his set list when he made his solo debut earlier this year at New York City’s famed Café Carlyle in an intimate and personal show he titled “Eyes Wide Open”—a 12-night engagement where he entertained audiences with songs including “Falling Slowly” from the Oscar-winning-movie-turned-Tony-Award-winning-Broadway-musical “Once,” as well as some from Elvis Presley, Joni Mitchell, Elton John, and more.
Call him humble or shy, but Jackson hasn’t revealed to Gaga that he performed her song. He has found, however, that they have a lot in common, their mutual admiration of Cole Porter among them. Her music prowess and knowledge are no surprise, really, but Jackson admits he didn’t know what to expect from her as an actor and scene partner. “I only knew her as a singer and such, but I am so impressed with her commitment, with her enthusiasm, with her research, and with her skill level. She’s fantastic! She’s really, really great.”
As excited as he was to work with her, it was Kathy Bates, who won an Emmy for her performance as Madame LaLaurie in “AHS: Coven,” who gave him a real “pinch me” moment.
“Every single day on set is an ‘oh shit!’ moment,” he says, “[but] my very first scene was shot with my favorite actress of all time, Kathy Bates. Being a fan of the show and being a fan of all these people in their own right, with Kathy in particular, I’ve just loved her for so many years. My very first scene was when our characters meet. Soooo…” he trails off, still giddy thinking about it.
But the show is certainly no laughing matter. Murphy has said addiction is a theme of this season, and Will Drake has his own. “He’s definitely addicted to creativity and inspiration. He’s missing it. It was such a thing that drove him as a younger man and a younger designer to start all of this, and without it he’s really kind of going crazy. So he really craves that inspiration and the excitement,” Jackson says. “He wants to really make some kickass stuff again.”
So does Jackson, who says he’s inspired daily by his husband and family, but also in challenging himself, both professionally and personally. “I’ve talked about my sobriety before, being a sober person now going on three years, and how that is manifesting in my work, my everyday life. It’s really wonderful,” he reflects. “So what is inspiring to me is working with people of this caliber, where the stakes are so high and where the expectations are so high, and everybody just delivers. Every day you go in and you’re in these scenes with Wes Bentley and Chloë Sevigny and Mare Winningham. It’s an embarrassment of riches, and I’m just so happy to be there!”
photography ALEKSANDAR TOMOVIC
styling WARREN ALFIE BAKER
grooming CHRISTINE NELLI
words by GERRAD HALL
Production Bello Media Group