By Aaron Hicklin
Cheyenne Jackson just may be the busiest man in show business. Not only is the new national ambassador to the Hetrick-Martin Institute currently starring in the revival of the 1947 Broadway musical Finian's Rainbow, about, as he recently told Michael Musto, "a Southern racist senator who gets turned black by leprechaun magic," and releasing an album, The Power of Two with Michael Feinstein, tonight he joins the cast of NBC's comedy powerhouse 30 Rock.
Out caught up with Jackson to chat about becoming a part of the 30 Rock family, his virtuous childhood television-viewing choices, and the secret to surviving the harrowing demands of his berserk showbiz lifestyle.
Out: So today is a special day: It's your big debut on zeitgeist hit 30 Rock. What can you tell me about your character?
Cheyenne Jackson: I can't say anything about the character -- part of the point of the show is the element of surprise. It's a really funny character, a really funny arc, and I work with all the major characters: Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan -- who cracks me up -- and of course Jane Krakowski, who I've worked with before. She's a pro, she was the original Kira in Xanadu.
How did the character come about?
I got a call from my manager to say that Tina and Robert -- the executive producers of the show -- wanted to meet with me. I was so excited. I was filming a short film called Photo Op, in which I play this sleazy paparazzi guy. And it was one of those magic phone calls. My manager just said, "Tina Fey just called...." I went to see them. Tina said, "I'd like to gauge your interest on this." I said, "Well, you could say my interest is high." But it's been a dream come true, it's just been amazing. Lots and lots of pinch-me moments every day.
Five things you learned about the cast of 30 Rock?
Alec is even smarter than I thought. Mindboggling, really.
Tracy loves to sing all the time and has a great voice.
Jane and I were married in another life. (How else would you explain this being our fourth project together?)
Tina is surprisingly shy, and the most naturally funny person I've ever met.
Jack has more of a serious side than people may know, and has great rapport with the Teamsters.
30 Rock is an ensemble cast. Was it weird having to fit in with everyone else?
You always feel like the new kid at school, and you always feel like you want to fit in. But the quality of writing and performance is so high that if you bring it, they respect you.
What's the funniest thing anyone told you recently?
Joe Dziemianowicz, the Daily News theater critic, called me the human ThighMaster.
How different is TV from theater?
I approach the character in the same way, in terms of the text, because to me something is funny if it rings true. To make something truly funny you have to really, really believe it. The comedy comes from absurd situations, but you can't try to be funny. You have to believe everything you say, otherwise it's just bullshit. So the main difference is a tonal thing. You obviously have to bring it down on television.
You want to make strong choices, but you want to be clear in the way you make them. You can't be hemming and hawing. It's a well-oiled machine there.
What was your favorite sitcom growing up?
My family was very religious. On the TV set there was a sign that said, "If Jesus was here would you be watching this?" We got them from Sunday school. I watched a lot of Little House on the Prairie.
You've also got a new album coming out, The Power of Two, with Michael Feinstein. What was the inspiration there?
We wanted to bring together our unique sensibilities and explore what we had in common musically, and also what was different. We wanted to, without comment, sing some songs that are often sung either by women, or to women, and turn them on their ear.
Was that a conscious decision on your part?
Definitely. But we didn't necessarily set out to make a political album, it just turned out that way. Neither Michael nor I have any secrets, so us just being our authentic selves has turned out to be quite the statement in and of itself.
What are you on that you're able to do so much?
I'm on four hours of sleep a night, and I'm on [my partner] Monte's last nerve.
What's the secret?
Have two scoops of concealer under one's eyes at all times, be hooked up to a coffee IV, and good lighting.
Cheyenne Jackson's debut on 30 Rock takes place tonight, Thursday, November 12 on NBC. Check local listings for times and channels.
To see our slideshow of Cheyenne Jackson through the years, click here.