Cheyenne Jackson: Cheyenne Stands Tall

Most leading men are afraid to be out and proud. Cheyenne Jackson is bigger than that.

BY Brandon Voss

March 26 2008 12:00 AM ET

“I’ve actually never talked about this before because it’s a little bit twisted,” whispers Cheyenne Jackson across a corner table at Sardi’s in New York City, where a caricature of his handsome head has just been added to the restaurant’s estimable walls of fame. “The first time that I knew I was gay — I think I was, like, 7 — I was watching this Valentine’s Day Popeye cartoon episode that would play every year. There was this scene where Popeye was captured by Brutus, tied up with no shoes or socks on, and Brutus starts tickling his feet. I remember getting a little boner, and I didn’t know what it was about that scene that was creating that, but I knew that it was something naughty that I couldn’t tell anybody, and I definitely knew it was something that made me different. But every year, I couldn’t wait for that episode.”

Jackson’s publicists would probably prefer that he hadn’t shared that anecdote; in fact, as was made clear to me before our interview even took place, they would prefer that this article not focus on his being gay at all. Too bad that’s all I want to talk about. “We’ve had this conversation over and over,” says the actor with a chuckle, sipping a Grey Goose and soda with a splash of orange juice. “I said, ‘It’s The Advocate. I have to talk about my sexuality.’ But it’s their job to say, ‘Don’t only talk about guys you’ve hooked up with!’ They just don’t want me to be pigeonholed, because they want me to have as many opportunities as I can.”

Now starring as struggling artist Sonny Malone in Broadway’s campy hit musical Xanadu (based on the 1980 roller-disco cult movie starring Olivia Newton-John) through July, Jackson came out professionally in The New York Times not long into the run of All Shook Up, a 2005 Elvis jukebox musical in which he made his breakthrough as the Elvis-like lead. “It wasn’t something I planned on doing,” he recalls, “but I’ve been out to my family since I’m 19. The interviewer kind of said, ‘And you’re gay, right?’ I didn’t even think about it and said, ‘Yeah.’ I could’ve, in a frenzy, had people call him to retract it, but I thought, Let’s see what happens. People worry about someone who’s an up-and-comer and so open about it, but I feel like if I don’t make it an issue, it’s not going to be an issue.”

Though Jackson has never regretted his decision, he’s pretty sure his agents have. “To be frank,” he says, “I think I’ve missed out on big parts because I’m open. I’ve screen-tested on some really big projects, and you can’t tell me that behind closed doors big execs aren’t like, ‘We have Dean Cain or this gay guy who played Elvis on Broadway.’ I’m not that naive to think that that doesn’t play into it.”

Conveniently, Jackson says he has no aspirations to be the next Brad Pitt; he just wants to work regularly on quality projects. His well-known sexuality didn’t prevent him from landing the role of the womanizing son in the Lifetime pilot Family Practice, costarring Anne Archer and Beau Bridges, although he learned on the day Heath Ledger died that the show hadn’t been picked up. (“So it was a really bad day,” he says.) The 6-foot-4 tower of muscle also stars in the upcoming thriller Hysteria, in which his character’s wife, he brags, is played by “hot little mama” Emmanuelle Vaugier, a Maxim cover girl. “I’m in uncharted territory because based on what I look like, I get cast as the guy who gets the girl. But I have a sense that the tide is changing, and I have no problem being the trailblazer. I don’t know how or when it’s going to manifest itself, but I think being my authentic self is going to have its rewards.”

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