In “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks,” the film adaptation of Richard Alfieri’s play, out actor Cheyenne Jackson plays gay dance instructor Michael Minetti. As he comes week after week to teach the uptight Mrs. Lily Harrison (Gena Rowlands), the lessons are more about tolerance than tango.
Jackson spoke with SFGN about making the film, being comfortable in his own skin, and getting his ass grabbed.
Where and how did you learn to dance?
I guess from my mom. I just did it. I started working on Broadway in 2002 and you hit the ground running. I did a tap show and I had to take lessons. I faked it ‘til I made it. This role was different because I had to talk about the dances.
How did you get involved in Six Dance Lessons? Were you familiar with the play?
No I wasn’t. It was never on my radar. I had to do some quick homework.
Your character Michael tries to be charming, but gets off on the wrong foot with Lily Harrison. How do you become comfortable in your own skin?
As an actor, it’s so up and down. You can be in situations where you are trying too hard, or telling a joke that’s too blue. But you find your way. It took me a while to get there. I had an advantage because I started late. I had perspective. What makes me confident is my family, my husband, my dog, and my parents. Acting isn’t the end of the world, the be all and end all, but I stopped hanging so much on things. It’s a joy to do it and make a living at it, but it’s not everything.
Do you feel pressure to carry a film like “Six Dance Lessons” rather than be in a supporting role?
I’d be lying if I didn’t feel pressure. But I go into it to make every moment real. I made this with an acting legend. I had to be confident and make choices and stand by them and verbally spar with her.
What can you say about working with the incomparable Gena Rowlands?
Luckily she’s gracious and generous. When you start any job you are nervous and excited. I needed to be believable calling her a big stupid cow within five minutes of meeting her, so I had to get my worship out of the way. She was willing to share secrets and techniques, and talk about Cassavetes and that was the best thing I got out of this film--my relationship with her.
There is a scene in which Michael ‘comes out’ to Lily. Can you talk about your coming out and any bias you’ve had from someone with tolerance issues?
Every single one of us judges all the time. We see someone and size them up: this is who they are, what they do, and where they are coming from. Michael’s arrogance is that he’s doing the same thing toward Lily--she’s a white woman, a pastor’s wife. They learn about themselves through each other.
In contrast, you have some broad comic scenes with another client, Irene (Jackie Weaver), who grabs your ass. How are you with people being handsy?
Because of the roles I’ve done--the Elvis show--it was trial by fire with women at the stage door feeling carte blanche to just grab me. People see me as approachable so they pinch and grab.
But you’re married now. What can you say about your current romantic situation?
I am the happiest I’ve ever been. I love being married. It works. Life is about ups and downs, and I’m in a great place right now.
The film imparts lessons that are more about honesty and integrity, aging, sexuality and loneliness. What are your thoughts on those topics?
I think the same as most people. I’m on the road a lot, and tour a lot and managing time and having enough time for my family, and trying to do it all.
Do you have a new CD coming out soon? What can you say about that?
I’m working on a second album. I’m writing it right now. Hopefully later this year.
Cheyenne Jackson Brings Broadway to South Florida for Valentine’s Day
Multi-talented singer and actor Cheyenne Jackson will return to his Broadway roots with a special Valentine’s Day performance on Feb. 14 at the Parker Playhouse.
Guest host Seth Rudetsky, a regular contributor on Sirius XM’s Broadway and OutQ channels, will join Jackson for the evening of conversation and music, and yes, a little bit of showbiz gossip.
“I’ve known Seth for a decade, so it’s going to be fun,” promised Jackson. “With Seth, you can plan what you’re going to do, but he’s so unpredictable.”
The openly gay singer is preparing a program of Broadway and pop songs, and will revisit the early years of his career in New York City. Audiences could be serenaded by numbers from his hit shows, including “Damn Yankees,” “Xanadu,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” and “All Shook Up,” or ballads from his album, “The Power of Two,” recorded with five-time Grammy winner Michael Feinstein.
“It’s going to be a surprise for all of us,” Jackson said, “kind of like ‘Actors Studio’ meets a recital.”
The newlywed recently concluded a sold out run at the Café Carlyle in New York City and will revisit many of the cabaret standards that had audiences returning night after night, as well as romantic ballads appropriate for the couples at the Parker Playhouse—and his own husband.
Tickets are $51.50 to $126.50 at ParkerPlayhouse.org. The Stonewall National Museum and Archives is also hosting a gala reception with Jackson, including open bar, heavy hors d’oeuvres and silent auction before the performance at 6 p.m. Tickets for the fundraiser are $100 or $200 including VIP seating at StonewallNationalMuseum.org.