You may recognize Cheyenne Jackson as Danny, the Canadian street-performing robot from 30 Rock, but this actor, singer, songwriter has much more diversity in his portfolio. He recently appeared in the award winning film "Behind the Candelabra" with Matt Damon and Michael Douglas, and will next be starring opposite Gena Rowlands in the feature film "Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks" in 2014. He's sold out Carnegie Hall twice: once with Michael Feinstein in The Power of Two and again with his highly-regarded solo concert, Music of the Mad Men Era.
Now he's trying his hand at a solo music career with his newly-released album "I'm Blue, Skies" (Which already has one single that's cracked the Top 40). At once preternaturally multi-talented and disarmingly affable, Cheyenne is the full package. We sat down to talk to him about his diverse career, his role as an openly gay entertainer, and his one-man show coming to Feinstein's at the Nikko (three performances: March 14th, 15th, and 16th.
San Francisco: Can you tell us what exactly your shows at Feinstein's will consist of?
Cheyenne Jackson: This is the first time I'm playing any of my own music live, much of it from my new album "I'm Blue, Skies". But the show is a mish-mash of original stuff, some covers, some old stuff from shows I've been in, and then some pieces from my next album.
You have a history with entertainer and artistic director Michael Feinstein. Will there be any collaboration with him in this show?
There's one song in there that he and I wrote together. My grandmother died last year, and it was kind of a tribute to her. I was writing it at Michael's house in Los Feliz. I was having trouble with grief, and he came in and helped me write this great song. He’s one of my very best friends—very dear to me.
This won’t be your first time in San Francisco, correct? How do you like the city?
I did perform in San Francisco last year. And then last month we only did two nights and it sold out very quickly. I love the city. I lived for fourteen years in New York, and I feel like San Francisco is New York with a better climate.
You don't really have any acting credits before age 30. Is there any reason why you broke into the entertainment business so late?
I was about 27, living in Seattle, working in sales at a magazine, and then two big moments happened which changed my perspective on how I should spend my time: 9/11 , which obviously changed everyone’s perspective about a lot of things, and also, unrelated, but around the same time, we had a death in our immediate family. Both of those things rocked me to the core, and I remember thinking: I don't want to be an old man saying, "Why didn't I try?" So at 27, I moved to New York, and I started acting. I didn't go to college. Didn't study. But I knew I had something.
You knew you were decent to look at anyway.
You have a lot of talents. Acting in films, TV, on the stage. Singing. Now songwriting. Are you focused on any one thing more than the others, going into the future?
I don't know what the future holds. I actually talk about this is in the show. You see it's a very personal show, because I just got sober two years ago. I'm no longer putting any labels or limitations on what I can do. So songwriting is something I've wanted to do for a long time, and it just so happens that Sony thought I was pretty good at it. But film wise—I shot 6 films last year, and I just came back from Sundance after doing a great movie with Marisa Tomei and John Lithgow that just got picked up by Sony Classics. It's called Love is Strange. Beautiful movie. I'm also getting ready to start Ryan Murphy's new show on HBO, called Open. So film and TV is definitely going to continue to be a part of my life. I'm going back to New York to do a musical in April. And then, more concerts.
I recently watched Behind the Candelabra, which you’re also in, and I was blown away by the fact that Liberace stayed closeted his entire life, so as to protect his career. Now I understand you're very open and active in the gay community. Do you think your status as an openly gay man has affected your career? Either in a negative or positive way?
Probably both. I've been out for 20 years. And it was never really a question for me. I always just knew that I was very open, some would say to a fault, but it's just who I am. Do I think that I've missed out on bigger roles because I'm openly gay? Yeah, probably. But if that is truly why I missed out, then I don't want to do those things anyway. But I'm not complaining, believe me. I'm very proud of my career. But I do think things are changing, and I like to think that I have a small part in that. But the fact that Liberace was closeted until his death and even posthumously is just sad. And the fact is, all those ladies knew, and they didn't care. He was a showman. He was a virtuoso on the piano. And nobody thought he was straight. They didn't care. They wanted to go see him. It's sad that we're all so stuck up on that. But it's also a generational thing. You know, all my little nieces and nephews, they all have classmates that are gay or they will have two dads or two moms, and it's just like "next." That's a beautiful thing.
You played Danny, the Canadian street robot turned sketch actor on 30 Rock. Must have been hard to work with all those funny people. Intimidating?
It was a learning experience. They're all so funny in their own way. Alec Baldwin, regardless of whatever opinions or scandals or what not, is truly a comic genius. And I learned so much from watching him. Tina Fey, also, is just the smartest person I've ever met. So you know that was the holy grail of comedy as far as I'm concerned.
Favorite Barbra Streisand song?
It's actually not a very well-known song, but it’s called "Gotta Move." It's like a 1970s special, and she's running around some kind of museum, and it’s all one take and she's like [sings] "Gotta moove. Gotta find ma waaaay" Her voice has never been better. It's 70s. And yea. Definitely "Gotta Move." It's so good.
So what's the deal with this sex tape?
[Long pause] The weather is beautiful right now in LA. What's it like in San Francisco?