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Actor and Family Man Cheyenne Jackson on Balancing it All

photography by Maxwell Poth
Photography by Maxwell Poth

The entertainer and our January/February cover star opens up about juggling a bustling career, happy marriage, and two precocious kindergartners.

Cheyenne Jackson was breezy and relaxed when he spoke to us this fall at a gorgeous home in the L.A. suburb of Granada Hills. Things seemed a lot lighter then -- it was just a few weeks before his costar in the Fox sitcom Call Me Kat, beloved gay icon Leslie Jordan, would die suddenly after a medical emergency that preceded a car accident.

Jackson's role on Call Me Kat -- where he plays Kat's buddy, Max -- will continue following Jordan's death (Jordan's character, a cat cafe employee, is ostensibly getting a happy ending on-screen). The quirky Kat, now in its third season, is the latest career milestone for Jackson, who has been everything from a Broadway draw (Xanadu, Into the Woods) to a major motion picture star (United 93, playing 9/11 hero Mark Bingham) to a Ryan Murphy darling (American Horror Story: Hotel and AHS: Roanoke), with a recent Daytime Emmy nomination (for the Netflix series Julie and the Phantoms) under his belt.

photography by Maxwell Poth

photography by Maxwell Poth

His comfort in the present state of his career and personal life is evident during his interview. He sits criss-cross on a pillow, speaking with pride of being on the cover of The Advocate 15 years ago, where he opined on being a working gay actor in the age of George W. Bush and the Republican war against marriage equality. Even then, he was so excited to be living the life he was, far from his painful childhood.

"Growing up queer, different, in the little town that I did in northern Idaho, I just always knew that I didn't belong. I never felt like these were my people," Jackson says now, sitting up straight. "It never felt like home to me. Once I started to find my people in community theater, I started to really feel okay in my skin. My biggest journey in life really is the journey of being comfortable in my skin and in my body. At 47 years old, it's still a daily struggle for me."

photography by Maxwell Poth

Many things have changed since 2008 -- he's more than just a working gay actor, he's a married father.

Jackson can't help but beam when talking about the people he spends his life with. The star is wed to entrepreneur Jason Landau, with the couple celebrating their eighth anniversary last September.

"I met him at an AA meeting ten years ago," Jackson says. "He was just this cranky, angry, talkative guy. I could see his heart and his brokenness. I just got him and we just got each other."

The couple is also parenting six-year-old twins, Willow and Ethan.

"I always knew I wanted to be a dad, even at seven or eight years old," Jackson says. "There really are no words to describe the love I have for my family. I miss them when I'm with them. They go to bed every night and I look at pictures of them from the day even though I just spent all day with them."

As Jackson's come to learn, there's no perfect way to raise a child.

"It is the hardest job I've ever had," he says. "Jay and I are pushed to the limit because we are extremely hands on and that's how we want it. We are there for every single bedtime, for every single meal, every high and every low. You're not raising kids, you're raising humans."

photography by Maxwell Poth

With the extreme challenges parenting can bring, the small moments are what Jackson holds on to. As the kids begin a new chapter by going to school, Jackson says he's working to enjoy every second he can get.

"I want them to be people in the world that make it a better place," he says. "I was picking them up from kindergarten the other day and I see my son and my daughter surrounded by each of their kindergarten teachers. All four of them were singing 'Seasons of Love' from Rent at the top of their lungs. That is my dream! This is all I've ever wanted... to have kids spreading love and happiness."

Balancing career, parenthood, and marriage is a struggle for everyone, but especially for same-sex couples who have little in the way of societal examples.

"We work really hard at [our relationship] and it doesn't come easily," Jackson says. "You have to be willing to have those conversations and sit in those uncomfortable moments. It's hard to feel vulnerable and you really have to put yourself out there."

When stressed, it's easy to shut down in a relationship, but Jackson always pushes himself to communicate -- both expressing his own feelings and absorbing those of his husband's.

"Some days I'll come home from work and I'll just be full," Jackson says. "Work has been a day, the dogs are going crazy, one of the kids is having a meltdown... sometimes I don't want any feedback. I don't want any advice. During those moments, we'll ask each other if we want feedback or if we just need to be a receptacle. It's so important. When I'm stuck on something, I can reach out and feel heard and seen."

Although Jackson's Instagram may seem like a dream life, the actor says nothing is perfect. Like most working parents, he's exhausted, but his ability to appreciate what he's achieved in his life and his ability to stay in the present allows him to keep everything in perspective.

"Everyone says to live in the moment, but one of my mentors, Jamie Lee Curtis, says it best: 'Be where your feet are.'"

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