EXCLUSIVE: LAURIE ANDERSON BY ANOHNI

Shirt and Jacket  by Comme des Garçons Comme des Garçons

Photography by Jason Rodgers | Styling by Shala Rothenberg | Interview by Anohni

Famed artist, musician, director, and visual/sonic pioneer Laurie Anderson releases a new book and discusses her decades-long career with other-worldly talent Anohni.

Laurie Anderson’s retrospective book, All the Things I Lost in the Flood published by Rizzoli, chronicles her lengthy career in the world of art and music, marriage and collaborative career with the inimitable Lou Reed, and the power of books and language. Anderson’s artistry encompasses composing music, performance art, fiction writing, and filmmaking. A true polymath, her interest in new media made her an early pioneer of harnessing technology for artistic purposes long before the tech boom. Two years ago Anderson began looking through her archive of nearly forty years of work, which includes scores of documentation, notebooks, and sketchbooks.

In this exclusive interview for Iris Covet Book, Anderson speaks with a fellow pioneer. singer, composer, and visual artist Anohni, about art, VR (Virtual Reality), American culture, and the edge.

Hi Laurie, shall we begin? Going back and looking at the accumulated works of your long career, how did working on this book cast new light on your life’s work?

It cast a lot of light! I thought I was doing new projects one after another. As it turns out, I’m doing the same ideas. I can’t believe it. It wasn’t like psychoanalysis, but it was something close to it. I found a lot of things that were really shallow, too, that I put in the book anyway because I had thought at the time, as a young artist, that they were what art was about.

We’re working on a book of Lou’s early poems called Do Angels Need Haircuts?  There was one night in 1972 on St. Mark’s, he was reading his poems, and I realized that I was a couple of blocks away that night with my friend Lucy Lippard, the art critic. We talked endlessly about ‘the edge.’ That was really important to us. We’ve done too many images, too many colors and too many lines. What art is about now is how we see things. That’s what we felt. We were making things that called attention to the fact that we were paying attention. So this all was very meaningful at the time. You could write long, long essays on ‘the edge’, the edge between this reality and the other.

For me, it meant doing minimal sculptures. I was making things. And they looked pretty much like something you would see at any construction site, a piece of sheetrock leaning against a wall, or a line bisecting the room. And that’s what we talked about and that’s what gave meaning to our work. Now if you try to talk about that now, people don’t have the slightest idea what you’re talking about.

Was that conversation a foundation for what we’re talking about now? In terms of seeing multiple points of view? Intersectional thinking, spectral thinking… you were pioneering that.

John Cage was pioneering it when he said, “Everything is music.” Robert Morris was pioneering it when he said this cube is a work of art, this plywood cube, because it forces you to look at the edge and your displacement and your position versus it. It forces you to use your eyes.

Eventually I began to use images again, and I thought, “Am I going backwards?” But then I wasn’t bothered by it anymore. I no longer see my life as progress. I just see it as trying different things at different times. One art form isn’t truly more advanced than the other. I just came from a conversation about how sound works in virtual reality. How can you make music and sound that doesn’t have a beginning and an end? What does that stuff look like? That’s the way we’ve always made music through history… with a beginning, a middle, and an end. But our lives don’t work that way so much either. Mine doesn’t have a beginning, middle and an end. I was born at one point and I’ll die at one point. The stories of our lives just don’t have any plots. Mine doesn’t really have a plot.

The only thing I’m pretty sure of is that we are evolving towards complexity. We are not sliding back down the evolutionary scale, slowly becoming toads and single cell creatures.

Jacket by Issey Miyake, Shirt by Comme des Garçons, and Laurie’s own Morgan Le Fay Trousers.

Shirt by Comme des Garçons, and Laurie’s own Morgan Le Fay Trousers.

The series of drawings you did about the life and death of your terrier Lolabelle in the film you created Heart of a Dog are so beautifully illustrated. There was a strong sense of the space itself in those drawings, supporting the figures and objects. I loved that you brought the aesthetic of your hand drawings into VR. It’s markedly different from every other experience of VR that I’ve had.

It’s because it has dust in it and smudges, and also because we made the atmosphere out of tiny little letters, so you would be able to see the air. It was full of infinitely small, dust mote letters. Most VR is airless. It’s like going into this really sterile boardroom. Like there’s no atmosphere whatsoever.

In the new book, you refer to your work as a combination of narrative and visual language. How have your stories changed over time? What stories are you interested in telling today?

They haven’t changed that much. That’s another thing I realized. I’m a short story teller, and a short story can be a two-sentence story. And if you can get it done in two sentences, then just do that, because who has time?

It’s vivid, and our mind can wrap around it without moving through much time. I think it’s harder for 21st century people now to read, to sit down with Crime and Punishment and absorb all those atmospheres, all those characters, all those days, all those roads, and all those moods, stringing them together. We’re more visual than that now.

You were saying to me recently that you feel like film will soon be relegated to museums… and the future of popular storytelling will be in VR.

VR and MR.

What’s MR?

Mixed reality. I don’t know how to do MR, but I’m really interested in learning. These are lighter weight viewing devices, and of course everything will get lighter until there’s no weight to it at all and it’ll just be retinal. In MR you will have a glass on this table, exactly like this real glass, with the reflections from your computer and of your shirt in there, and it will move, but it won’t be there. It’ll be a virtual glass that is beyond real.

It’s really wonderful for disembodiment, which has always been my personal goal as an artist. To have no body, to fall into a work of art and not be able to get out, ever. Just fall into it. And you can fall into a book, too, identifying so much with the character.

You mentioned in the introduction that the book is about language in live performances, the difference between spoken and written words, the influence of the audience, the use of the first, second and third person voices, metaphor, politics, the story of dreams, songs, misunderstandings and the new meanings that are created when languages are translated. How do you think language can change the world?

I think it might be one of the only things that can change the world, that can really let you see it in another light. Like the wall we’re building between the U.S. and Mexico. It’s actually not a wall. The wall doesn’t exist yet, but the wall is so real in our minds and it’s such a contentious thing that it’s more than real. And you have to remember, the wall is just somebody’s idea. It’s a wall of words. People react to it as if it were a real wall. We’re already living in a virtual world, you know? It’s not there yet. We haven’t even collected the money to build it. So you have to remind yourself that we live in a fantasy world, a dream world, where half the things that we’re talking about don’t actually exist.

I think it’s supported by contemporary technologies and media. It’s almost a tenet of fascist propaganda, that if you say something five times it becomes real. And I think that’s very much what Trump did with the wall. He said it so often that it became a specter in our minds and imaginations. And that leads me to a question about mythology and storytelling. Do we have a moral responsibility to write other stories besides the ones that seem most likely to happen?

I think we have a moral imperative to tell stories that turn out better than we think they might.

Last December, the Sag Harbor Theater burned down. They asked a bunch of people to pick the film that they think best embodies American values. I picked American Psycho, and we screened it on Sunday. It was a little beyond the veil for people in South Hampton. Even after the Valentine’s Day massacre, they don’t want to tell the story of a white psycho-killer who wants to kill people because he just doesn’t have enough stuff. He doesn’t have it the way he wants it. Frankly, I find the most frightening part of that story was the way the guy treated women, the cartoony-ness.

It was really disconcerting. You tell the story that you feel like telling. To me, American Psycho is very representative of what people love in this country: status and beautiful things and power and lording it over other people, and men being these absolute creeps. The prostitution was the thing that bothered me most. That was much more horrifying than the cartoony, meat-chopper stuff. People reacted to the chainsaw stuff because it’s horrible. He grabs a woman’s leg and tries to eat it. But the truly scary stuff were the things that were very real to me, which is the dismissive way that these hedge funders were talking about women, saying, “Have you ever seen an intelligent woman? I haven’t.” But people didn’t see that part of the film, because that’s so much a part of the culture.

Is this kind of storytelling the same thing as myth? In one way, it’s a discourse talking metaphorically about what’s happening. But does it reach even deeper than that?

Think of the Greeks – —Medea, Electra…all about hacking the head off your mother and eating the bones. I mean, horror movies are Greek. They’re really Greek. They’re about the hatred and rage we feel towards each other, particularly the rage towards mothers and fathers. So those are our DNA stories. But then you have these stories about heaven and particularly the ones that are trying to convince you to behave in a certain way. I don’t think they’re so much about morality or rules. I think they’re about time, ways to explain time to people, where you came from. Where are you going to go after you die? You’re going to go to heaven or you’re going to go to Nirvana or you’re going to stay in the cycle of suffering, or you’re going to be with a bunch of virgins. Time is the biggest mystery to us.

When the Christians concocted the ascent to heaven and the final coming and fire and brimstone, that was all a projection into the future.

I think it’s not very clear, because they disguised a story as something that is about human personality, and then distorted it to punish people for being bad people, because that’s the other important part of the myth. There’s something very wrong with you, and you were born with something wrong with you, and you’re going to be punished unless you do this. And that gets various shadings, like the King James Bible, for example. Jesus had always been in the Christian Bible referred to as Master or Teacher. King James wrote his Bible, and he paid for this Bible. It was the first time Jesus was called King of Kings, Lord of Lords. He became a secular, powerful person, not a teacher.

So everyone is using these structures and these stories for their own ends to get what they want, particularly power. That’s what religion mostly has come down to. It’s about control.

 

Shirt, Jacket and Trousers by Comme des Garçons Comme des Garçons

Shirt, Jacket and Trousers by Comme des Garçons Comme des Garçons

Did it work? Did they get that control through the use of story? Or did the story tell of the power that they had already acquired? Is there a power in storytelling that can define the future, or even form the future?

Sure. That’s why I think women telling different stories is fantastic. Even in American Psycho, some of the greatest shots were the reaction shots of the women. Everyone is focusing on the men. But these cameras pan over to the women and they’re going, “What? Can you believe this asshole?” They’re not saying anything, but you can see it, it’s fantastic. This silent language of this woman filmmaker is telling a very different story. She’s telling it on a bunch of different levels. It’s a really complicated film.

Today, marginalized groups are sharing their narratives to ever increasing and attentive audiences. How has this recent cultural phenomena affected your work and your outlook on the work you’ve done?

When I was a young artist in the early ‘70s, I was part of a group of women artists. I joined it because I thought “OK, finally a group of people are joining together because we have different things to say than men,” and we do. But what was the focus of it? How to get into galleries. And I understand that on a professional level, but that’s not what I was there for. I was trying to find commonality with this group and be part of something.

And this was at the same time as separatist inclinations in various self-advocacy groups nationally. But you’re sort of describing a scene downtown that was more utopian.

I hope I’m not painting it as something it wasn’t, but I have some great memories of how much we did help each other. We saw ourselves as workers, somehow. That was the main thing. There were a lot of things that had opened people up in ways that were pretty wild. A lot of drugs around, a lot of sex, a lot of fun. Helping each other on every level. As soon as money came into it, things changed. We never thought we would make a dime from our work. That was the furthest thing from our minds. We all had little jobs, and you didn’t need that much money either. That’s another very important point. You needed almost nothing. You didn’t think about it.

I’m thinking about a photo of you in the book, standing in a crowd playing the violin. You’re talking about not really aspiring to get into galleries, as much, and there you were sort of just outdoors being scrutinized by these gangs of passersby. That image just reminded me of some of the stories you’ve told me of things you’ve done over the years, hitchhiking to the North Pole, just being out there in the wind.

Yeah. I did always want to get out, that’s for sure. I wanted to be part of an art world. But not one that was chummy, more that was supportive. So I was lucky enough to hit that NYC wave at the right moment.

For young artists, where do we go from there? How do we move forward?

To a young artist today, I would say “Don’t listen to me.” That would be number one. Each person finds it for themselves, and that’s the whole great thing about this. No one can tell you what it is. It’s your responsibility to find it. We have a million roads out from here, as many roads as there are artists to follow them. So question all sorts of things, even the idea of progress itself.  One of the things I’m interested in, as you are as well, is the ends of stories and what happens. So I asked my meditation teacher, “What happens to karma when there’s no one to embody your karma, and the whole system, the great dharma wheel, crashes?” It’s built on continuity and giant eons of time, the big wheels of time. So when that wheel stops and we’re not on it anymore, what happens? And he said that’s why the Buddha talked about other universes. I just loved that so much. It was so freeing to me.

It’s a kind of independence.

It’s your freedom to go anywhere and to realize that the rules are idiotic. I mean, maybe that’s one thing I would say, is that there are no rules, so don’t worry about that part. There are zero rules. It’s hard to be free.

Pants by Issey Miyake, T-Shirt by Tai Chi, and Laurie’s own gloves and jewelry.

Hair by Elsa Canedo Using Kerastase, Makeup by Kento Utsubo, Photo Assistant Jordan James, Special Thanks to Rizzoli. Laurie Anderson: All the Things I Lost in the Flood, Available on rizzolibookstore.com

EXCLUSIVE: ERIKA JAYNE


Photography by Alexandra Gavillet | Styling by Rafael Linares @ Art Department | Interview by Cecily Strong

From dancing on gin-soaked stages in the dive bars of West Hollywood, navigating the many dramas of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, to being immortally satirized on Saturday Night Live, the reality star, pop culture icon, and now New York Times best-selling author is taking the world by storm.

Erika Jayne is embracing opportunities with open arms, switching at the drop of a hat between author, international performer, “housewife,” and the icon we didn’t even know we needed. The Real Housewives franchises are filled with meme-worthy moments, unforgettable quotes, and exciting drama, but few women from the reality series have become household names to the degree of Erika Girardi, AKA Erika Jayne. In an exclusive interview between Erika and Saturday Night Live’s Cecily Strong, who parodied Jayne on the legendary sketch show and cemented Erika’s status as a cultural touchstone, the two women discuss ageism in the entertainment industry, creating a public persona, and her new Simon & Schuster bestselling book, Pretty Mess.

Jacket by Tom Ford, Earrings by House of Emmanuele

Earrings by House of Emmanuele

Hello! How are you Erika?

Hi Cecily, I am so good—it’s so nice to talk to you.

You too, what a treat! I am such a fan! A real fan, not just an Instagram fan. I am so excited. I’ve been bragging to everyone at SNL about getting to do this interview! So, starting with your new book, how did the idea to publish a memoir take off?

I was approached to do the book and said yes because these days I am just saying yes to everything. Obviously, you see a little bit of it on TV, but sharing 45 minutes of screen time with five other women is difficult. Writing a memoir is a way to give the audience a more in-depth peek into my life.

How open are you in this book and are you nervous about revealing too much?

There’s always the version of the truth which you can never tell or else all of your friends and family will never talk to you again (laughs), and then there is the book that I wrote, and then there is the book that got published – which went through two legal processes. Hopefully it works out well and people like it.

(laughs) What was the most challenging part writing the book?

Well, my mother and I were discussing how my father left when I was nine months old, and then she remarried and divorced again. I feel like I had blocked out that part of my childhood. I went back with her trying to piece it all back together. I was looking at it through 46 year-old eyes and thinking it was basically ten years of bullshit!

Do you think that your childhood experiences are the reason that you have this amazing life and personality and are so fabulous and youthful—or in other words, do you think that you’re basking in the things you didn’t have in your childhood?

I feel like I’m eternally 16. I had a nice car, a hot boyfriend, good grades, was performing all the time, and I looked cute. I don’t know if that’s because of my childhood, but I definitely know that all of that has an effect on you growing up.

Well, I understand feeling like you’re eternally a teenager because I feel like I’m 16 even though I’m like… 34, but have you confronted ageism in your industry? Is it something you even think about? I know I don’t think about it much.

Good, and I’m glad you don’t, and the only time I do is when someone tells me, “Oh, aren’t you a little too old to be doing this?” and I’m like, “No, actually I’m not.” I think that it’s important to keep doing it and keep pushing and dreaming because that’s an old way of thinking that is falling by the wayside as women continue to improve and show how powerful we are. You know, when you’re in your 40’s you’re not dead, you’re not done! I feel the most powerful now. I didn’t feel powerful in my 20’s, I was a ding-dong!

I couldn’t wait to turn 30 because I thought, “Finally, people will take me seriously!” And I can’t imagine someone saying to you that you’re too old, that’s insane to me. I’d be like, “Just watch me perform!”

Thank you! Could you imagine telling a man that? Could you imagine telling a man, “Sir, don’t you think you’re a little too old to be running the company?” It’s not fair for us to get a tap on the shoulder like, “Sit down honey, you’ve had enough fun, you’ve had your day, people don’t find you attractive, you can’t sell anything, and your time is up” No! I’m not going to do that.

Good, me neither. We’re taking a vow! What do you hope that people take away from your book and your personal story?

First off, I want people to laugh and have fun. It’s an easy read and a fun read, and if one person walks away inspired to go to dance class again or back to college or just see that, through this human story, we are all the same. My experience is just this way, but it’s the same bullshit for everybody, so don’t quit. You never know what the future holds.

So let’s talk about your persona Erika Jayne, how she was born and how you found her within yourself?

I was about 35 years old, had been married to Tom for six or seven years, and had been exclusively living his lifestyle. I was going to every event and socializing with a whole new set of very educated, super interesting people. I am glad I did it because it was an invaluable education, but it wasn’t me. I was wealthy and living in a bubble where I would shop, go to the gym, and then go to dinners, but what the fuck was I really doing with myself? I longed to go out, create again, and have my own identity.

I just don’t think that Tom expected the book deal, concerts, or this interview in my future. I don’t think anybody did! I started to create on my own, it was something that I loved, and here we are today. And thank God he has been so supportive. I have learned so much, and I am really grateful because without him I wouldn’t be here at all.

That’s so great, and good for you two! You’re a great example for couples. So, when did you get your big break and what was the beginning of your career as Erika Jayne like?

Well, if you take the Erika Jayne Project, it was very small potatoes. It started at my kitchen table and it was just something that I wanted to do. I created the persona with a friend of mine from high school. He took me to a producer friend of his and we made the Pretty Mess album, and I started to perform because that’s what I really love to do. It was the typical beginning. A few people in some terrible dump, no one paying attention, and just begging to get on stage. I thought to myself, “I don’t have to fucking do this, I’m rich! What the fuck am I doing?” (Cecily laughs) I hate to break it down and sound so rude, but there are a lot of naysayers and rejection. I kept putting one foot in front of the other and building it, and slowly but surely people started to pay more attention and come to my shows. The biggest break into pop culture was definitely being cast in the Real Housewives because it took Erika Jayne out of the clubs and into people’s homes, and she even became a parody on Saturday Night Live! (laughs) But I think the most interesting thing was seeing young women, like high school and college-aged girls tell me how much they love my music and style, and I’m like, “Wow, really? I’m old enough to be your mom.” That acknowledgement makes it all worth it.

 

Jacket by Vitor Zerbinato, Dress by Nookie, Boots by Christian Louboutin, Earrings and Ring by Glynneth B.

Jacket by Vitor Zerbinato

Most of my circle of friends are gay men, and so I’m curious when did your relationship with the gay community start?

Children’s theater! (laughs)

Oh my God! Same for me! I was raised in a theater in Chicago by a group of gay men.

That was where I started! And then I went to a performing arts high school where everyone in dance and theater was gay, even our instructors were gay. They were always a part of my life. These are my people and that’s that.

Right, it’s so true, and it’s so funny that I had a very similar experience. When my parents split up I felt that the gay men of my Chicago theater were raising me while my family was a mess.

And I think that’s a wonderful thing to have and I can’t imagine life without gay people in it. They are my closest confidants.

Now what about drag culture? Has drag had an influence on your life and career?

I mean, just take one look at me! What do you think? (laughs) Of course! I love drag because you get to transform into a superhuman. It’s a true art form that is not for the faint of heart. Your costumes, hair, makeup, the whole look, and your style of drag too! There are so many different styles.

What style would you be?

Hooker drag! I want to be hooker drag (both laugh). Are you kidding? Basically that’s what I already am so why not? Keep it going!

So let’s talk Housewives of Beverly Hills! Obviously I am a huge fan, but how has being on the show changed your life? Cameras catching you crying, drunk…I drink a lot, so I could never do reality TV.

I don’t really like crying on camera because you are embarrassed worldwide, and that sucks. But without that exposure I wouldn’t be talking to Cecily Strong and I wouldn’t have a book out today! See what I’m saying? You have to roll with the punches and make the best of it. At the end of the day, it is reality television and I try to be as authentic as I can and have a good time doing it!

As I say in my book, it’s like professional wrestling. There are heroes, villains, costumes, pyrotechnics, but at the end of the day the injuries are real! It’s like we are participating in this absurd narrative, but these are still my feelings and sometimes they get really hurt.

People are awful! Celebrity in general, people feel like they have some sort of ownership over you, and because you get to do your job they get to hurl insults at you. It seems even worse for people in reality TV because it is your name and your life.

Thank god I am 46 and not 26! I have lived a full life, have a successful marriage, had an unsuccessful marriage, I have an adult child, I can pay the bills. Forget it, if I were a kid and did not know who I was, I may not have made it and I would have been crazy-town. Honestly, I consider myself pretty fucking normal.

I think about that all the time. Like I was crazy enough at 22—

Right! I didn’t need anyone telling me I sucked and was awful and should kill myself. You can imagine how the younger ones feel.

I will say that my favorite piece of advice I’ve ever gotten, and I don’t mean to name drop, but it was from Jim Carey at a host dinner for SNL and he told me “Don’t ever let anyone tell you the narrative of your career.”

He’s right, and thank you for sharing that. I’ll split when I’m ready and I’ll do what I need to do. That’s very well said.

Well, thank you Jim Carey! So, what’s next for you? What do you see in the future?

I am on my way to a book signing in New Jersey which is right across the street from a terrible go-go place I used to go-go in when I was younger.

Wow.

I know, it’s really interesting, Cecily. I’m continuing to create, and there’s going to be more music and more shows, and who knows what’s coming, but I feel like it’s going to be really good.

 

Jacket by The Blonds, Bangles, Cuffs, Earrings and Hat by Glynneth B.

Jumpsuit by Any Old Iron, Shoes by Christian Louboutin

Dress by Gucci

Makeup by Etienne Ortega @ The Only Agency using NARS and KKW Beauty, Hair by Castillo @ Tack Artist Group using Sexy Hair styling products & T3 styling tools, Art Direction Louis Liu, Editor-in-Chief Marc Sifuentes, Photo Assistant Mallory, DP Vanessa Konn, Gaffer Zachary Burnett, Production Assistant Benjamin Price, Produced by XTheStudio.com, Special Thanks to Jack Ketsoyan, Laia and Mikey Minden

EXCLUSIVE: RICKY MARTIN

Jacket by Tom Ford

Photography by Greg Swales
Styling and Interview by Marc Sifuentes

Taking over the legendary Sin City strip, making history as the first Latino to headline a Las Vegas residency, and jumping headlong into the world of acting, Ricky Martin shows he is one of the most intriguing and impactful entertainers of our time.

Father, husband, singer, dancer, and actor. Ricky Martin is constantly juggling his many roles with seemingly effortless ease. Currently a resident on the Vegas strip at the Park Theater at Monte Carlo for his solo show, Martin is also eager to further pursue his acting career, release a new album, create a new world tour, and continue helping the people of Puerto Rico and the victims of human trafficking. Filled with love, down-to-earth spirituality, and an effervescent charm, Ricky Martin has proven himself to be an everlasting icon of pop culture.

In an exclusive interview with Iris Covet Book Editor-in-Chief Marc Sifuentes, the Puerto Rican star gets personal about his daily life with his husband and twins, life in the limelight, and his continuous efforts to make the world a better place.

Hi Ricky! I wanted to thank you for doing this interview and for being so fun and easy-going on the day of the shoot.

Well, thank you! You and your team were amazing and had such a beautiful energy in the studio.

Thank you! So, I want to start with asking about your second “back by popular demand” Vegas residency at the Park Theater, what is the key to producing such a successful and in-demand show?

I give credit to the people that I work with: the producers, directors, all of the people behind the scenes, the musicians, and the dancers. It really takes a village, and I wouldn’t be able to do this show without an amazing group of people behind me. I’m happy to have these talented producers and directors who can translate my vision and make it magic! To be the first Latino male to have a residency in Vegas is a big responsibility. What I love about this show is having the opportunity to perform every night in front of a very international crowd. Just to be on stage and see all of these faces from all over the world really motivates and inspires me. What I want to do is break boundaries and unite cultures. To see the crowd disconnect from their everyday problems in life and leave the theater with a smile is a very beautiful thing. I wish we could do this show for many more years.

Will you be taking this show on the road at the end of it’s Vegas run?

Well since I have an exclusivity contract I won’t be able to take this particular show on the road or perform it outside of the Park Theater. But I will hopefully be on the road touring a new show next year through Latin America and the United States. The idea is to take a new show all over the world, hopefully by next year.

I was watching clips of the show and it just looks amazing, you seem larger than life and so confident. Do you ever feel insecure? And if you do, what do you tell yourself to get out of that headspace?

I am very insecure. I am insecure when I write music, when I perform, when I act…but what gets me through are my years of experience. I am human and I go through a lot of highs and lows before I go on stage. If you see the show, for the first song I’m coming down from a 300-foot drop! I may look super confident, but I’m not! (laughs) I suffer from vertigo and it can be very difficult to focus, but it is part of confronting my demons and breaking that trauma that triggers my vertigo. By the time the music starts, I just have to forget everything and jump into storytelling mode.

Well it’s been getting really great reviews! Would you consider extending your residency for a third round?

Oh, I would love that! And funny you should ask because that’s exactly what we are in discussions about at the moment, and if we do, I will need to create a whole new show for the international audience.

jacket and t-shirt by Philipp Plein, jeans by Tom Ford, rings by John Hardy

t-shirt by Philipp Plein, jeans by Tom Ford, ring by John Hardy

shirt by Ferragamo, jeans by Tom Ford

You recently teased your fans with a new single, “Fiebre”, when can we expect a new full length album?

I am thinking hopefully by the beginning of next year, but right now we have been pretty focused on the Vegas show and American Crime Story, which we were shooting for eight months. Today, the record company no longer needs the record out at a very specific time so the artists have more freedom, and if a song is ready then I can just release it. Obviously numbers are important in this industry, but it gives us an idea of what the audience likes or dislikes, and I have never felt more relaxed doing music.

Since you mentioned American Crime Story, how did you become involved and what made you say yes to the story?

A few years ago I had the opportunity to work with Ryan Murphy on an episode of Glee. We’ve kept in touch and he invited me to dinner to tell me that he thinks he has a role for me. Once I read the script I immediately said yes because it was personal. I knew I wanted to be a part of telling Versace’s story. I wanted to remind the viewers the injustice behind what happened. Because it’s not how Gianni Versace died, but how we allowed it to happen. What angers me most is that Cunanan was on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, living on Miami Beach which is a very small community, but the FBI turned the other way because he was a gay man killing gay men. There is no denying to me that this was really an issue of homophobia. I think we did a great job covering that aspect of the story.

I read that Ryan Murphy wants to give you your own show, any word on that project?

Well he told me about it and then made it public, and I got really excited! We haven’t spoken in detail about it because he is transitioning from one network to another and he told me that he will be busy until June, but I’m not in a rush. (laughs) I would love to do something behind the scenes as well. But no, we haven’t talked about it yet.

You brought up the issue of homophobia and it made me think of your new music video. “Fiebre” and of course American Crime Story both show you openly embracing your sexuality. After being forced into the closet for so long, how does it feel for you to finally be able to express being gay through your music videos and now your acting roles?

Amazing! If I could go back and come out in the late ‘90s or early 2000’s then I would, because it felt amazing to come out. When I talk to people who are struggling with their identity, I tell them that it may be bumpy for awhile but in the long run the love that I received from my friends, family, from social media…it was spectacular. I know this is not the case for everyone but at the end of the day it is about dignity and self love.

You recently received a Trailblazer award from The LGBT Community Center in NYC, what did receiving that award mean to you?

Well like receiving any award, it is a big responsibility, but at the end of the day I am proud because it lets me talk about where I have been, who I am, and what I did to finally understand my real essence. In my case, I get to share my story. I meet so many people in the streets or on social media who tell me, “Ricky, thank you so much because I know what you went through and I can better understand my gay father, gay uncle, gay brother, lesbian aunt…” and I think it is a beautiful thing and it is important.

I wanted to talk about your husband, artist Jwan Yosef, a bit. You met on Instagram and I was reading you instant messaged for six months before meeting—

Yes! And nothing sexy! It was very romantic. We talked a lot just about our problems and lives. I never even heard his voice until six months later when I went to visit him in London, where he was based. I said to myself, “This is it. I just met the man who I am going to marry.” Two years later we were married. He is a great man, he loves my kids, and we have so many things in common.

He is a conceptual painter and I have mad respect and admiration for what he does. When I see him and his creative process… it is so sexy. I just love when he locks himself in his studio and starts creating. I become a fly on the wall, watching him paint and create works of art. I am in love, man, I am so in love.

jacket by DSquared2, ring by John Hardy


shirt, pants, and sneakers by Dior Homme, rings by John Hardy

 

shirt, pants, and shoes by Louis Vuitton, rings by John Hardy

You’ve mentioned in the past that you want more children, what do you love about being a father and what is the most challenging part of raising twins?

Yes, I want more; I’m just getting started! If it was my decision I would have six more, but Jwan says let’s take it one step at a time. (laughs) With kids, and I’m sure every parent out there will say this, but everything is new every day and being a single father with twins was extremely challenging, especially in the first year. No one is sleeping, and it’s two against one. Now that they’re older it’s still two against one, but they are amazing kids and the bonding time over the first year was so important. I took a sabbatical, and I did not accept any help. I wanted to do it all, change every diaper, bathe them everyday, and the relationship I have with my kids… there’s just so much love. They are almost 10 years old and this is when dads stop being cool and they start making fun of you! I’m really happy because I’m not there yet with them (laughs).

I’m sure your spirituality plays a big part in your parenting too, what helped you to discover your spirituality?

When we talk about spirituality we go back in time. Religion has nothing to do with spirituality, but I would say that growing up Catholic, even being an altar boy, was too much for me. I kept searching and looking for other philosophies and dogmas to ascribe to. There was a moment where I was obsessed with India and going about four times a year because they call it the “Cradle of Spirituality.”Then my kids became my religion. It doesn’t matter how late I go to bed, I religiously wake up at 7:00 a.m. everyday to have breakfast with them, and that bonding experience with the three of us is the only way I want to start my day. But once a Catholic, always a Catholic. To this day I sometimes look to God when the boys ask me questions because they ask some really hard questions, and I just want to give them the right answer.

I want to talk about Puerto Rico, from your experience can you give us an update on how the country is doing currently? I know that you were and still are very involved in fundraising after hurricane Maria.

Oh man, well 43% of the island still has no power, and if you go up to the more rural mountain areas, even now nine month later, people still have no power, no running water, and are bathing in the river and using candlelight. It is really frustrating and I wish the federal government would have done more. You have to wonder, if this were any other city in the continental US, would we ever hear that nine months later people have no power? No, I don’t think that would happen. But we have to do our part, and Puerto Ricans have experienced a great level of compassion, empathy, and care from volunteers, and the country has become creative and adapted. This too shall pass, but it will take a long time to go back to normal.

Another cause that is close to your heart is bringing awareness to human trafficking, can you explain where this compassion comes from and tell us more about the Ricky Martin Foundation?

With natural disasters like hurricanes for example, the community becomes more vulnerable and human traffickers take advantage. Traffickers come to the island and see all of these people who have lost everything and need money to buy things, and these kids end up selling their bodies or getting forced into pornography.

jacket by Valentino, shirt by COS

 

sweater by COS, pants by Dior Homme, rings by John Hardy

How did it first come to your attention?

More than a decade ago a friend of mine was building an orphanage in India, and this was when I was looking for any excuse to go to India. I flew to Calcutta, and he took me to the slums and said, “Come on, let’s rescue girls!” I had no idea what this meant, but when I got to the slums he started to point out girls like, “You see those three? They could be forced into prostitution.” and I’m standing there like, “What?! What do you mean? That girl must be five and her sister must be eight and her older sister must be eleven” and he says, “Yes, Rick. This is human trafficking. These girls live on the streets and they need money to help their family and they get paid for selling their bodies.” I was so astounded and went back home and started to educate myself on the subject. I went to Congress and told them we needed to bring more awareness to this global $150 billion industry. The victims are sex slaves.

Did you know there are more slaves today then back in the slave trade of the 18th century? Today, as soon as you open your computer you could easily fall victim to a criminal persuading you into the world of prostitution.

It’s encouraging to hear you are using your platform to educate others of these injustices.

It’s not easy. Ten years ago I wanted to stop. I said I couldn’t do it anymore because we couldn’t keep up. We were working so hard but I felt like I didn’t see any change. My mentor looked at me and said, “Ricky, you’ve got to stop being so arrogant. Who do you think you are? Do you think you will change the world? You’re not Superman! How about focusing on saving one life? And one life can become two.” We went back and built a holistic center in Puerto Rico in an area affected by trafficking, and right now we have 132 children coming to the center. We are educating them about human trafficking and opening their eyes to the predators. It’s a lifetime commitment. We are not going to save everyone, but we will save one person at a time.

What else can we expect from you this year?

I’m getting more prepared as an actor, meeting with great writers, producers, and directors and I think there are some great opportunities on the table. I am so lucky to be at a place where I can pick and choose the projects that speak to me. Aside from still making my music, I really want to jump into acting more and playing amazing roles that can have a positive impact on society. My acting career is very personal to me right now; I am obsessed and don’t want to stop!

coat and shirt by Prada, pants by COS, sneakers by Dior Homme, ring by John Hardy

Hair by Joey Nieves @ Grey Matter LA using Hanz de Fuko, Makeup by Maital Sabban @ MS Management, BTS Video by Lavoisier Clemente, Photo Assistant Amanda Yanez, Art Direction by Louis Liu, Editor-in-Chief Marc Sifuentes, Production by Benjamin Price

IRIS MAN – CHEYENNE JACKSON

Cheyenne Jackson is a master of his own destiny. From sleepy Spokane, Washington, to the lights of Broadway, and now in the luxe hills of Hollywood, Jackson has scaled the ladder of success to become a leading man on stage and in film.


Photography by Karl Simone | Grooming by Lacy Boughton | Interview by Benjamin Price
Sweater by Gucci and Coat by Firetrap

Cheyenne Jackson is a Grammy-nominated singer, actor, and songwriter who, as a musician, dancer, artist, writer, husband and father of twins, is the definition of a “Renaissance Man”. Cheyenne has starred in a litany of noteworthy television shows, theatre productions, and films including the American Horror Story series, the critically acclaimed The Most Happy Fella in New York City, and David West Read’s play The Performers opposite Henry Winkler, Ari Graynor, and Alicia Silverstone. His performance in Steven Soderbergh’s award-winning Behind The Candelabra, with Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, was multi-layered and added a new dimension to his on-screen acting reel. Whether it is singing and dancing onstage, or marrying Lady Gaga in a demonic hotel in American Horror Story: Hotel, Mr. Jackson brings new life to each character he plays.

Cheyenne will soon be on our television screens once again as one of Ryan Murphy’s elaborately crafted characters on American Horror Story: Cult, a new comedy series entitled American Woman, and he continues to work on his own writing, music, and an upcoming project in animated voiceovers.

In addition to all his artistic accolades, Jackson is fully immersed in several charities focusing on a variety of social issues. Cheyenne is a strong advocate for LGBT rights, marriage equality, animal welfare, and HIV/AIDS research. He is an international ambassador for The Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) and serves as the national ambassador and spokesperson for The Hetrick-Martin Institute and the Harvey Milk High School. Jackson also actively supports “The Trevor Project” and the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network. Cheyenne Jackson sat down with IRIS Covet Book to discuss his journey as a small town boy on Broadway, our current political discourse, and dressing up as Wonder Woman.

How did your professional path as an actor take you from regional theatre in Seattle to the Broadway stage?

I had never had the guts to make the move to NYC up until 9/11 happened… and I didn’t want to waste any more time in my life. I was 27 years old at the time, which is considered late to be “starting”, I knew it was now or never. I decided to head to New York City because it is the home of Broadway. I was determined, I was prepared, and I was lucky. My first broadway audition was for Thoroughly Modern Millie and I booked it. I was on Broadway after six weeks of being in NYC. I was in the ensemble, was understudy to the two male leads, and it was heaven!

How did you make the jump from the theatre stage to television?

Tina Fey came and saw me in a production of DAMN YANKEES at the New York City Center when I was starring alongside Sean Hayes and Jane Krakowski, and she asked to meet me afterward. She said she liked my “big midwestern face” and my comedic timing, and I joined the cast of 30 Rock a few months later. It was the most amazing four years of comedy and television training. Baptism by friendly fire, as it were.

How young were you when you knew you wanted to be performing? Were there any signs as a child that you would be in the entertainment world?

As young as I can remember. I sang from the time I was 2 years old, and I knew music would be a big theme in my life. By the time I was 7 years old I was making my own Wonder Woman bracelets and tiaras out of cardboard, so there were signs that entertainment was in my future.

What is your favorite movie/musical and why?

It has to be Mary Poppins because it’s perfect and it reminds me of being a little kid when everything was safe and worry-free.

When your agent offers you a script or an audition, how do you decide which roles work for you?

For me, it is definitely a gut feeling that I need. If I find myself reading the material out loud rather than in my head, that’s usually a good sign. Then there is the logistics. I’m a new dad of twins so now I tend to pick things that will hopefully not take me away from them for too long. I took 6 months off to be a stay-at-home dad, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

You’ve had your time on the television screen, the stage, and the big screen, but is there a “dream role” that you would like to play?

I don’t think it’s been written yet. I’d love my own half hour dramedy series. Something that is topical, irreverent and funny. Like Veep on HBO.

Do you ever think of getting into the world of producing or directing?

I do sometimes. I love the whole process of film and television. I could definitely see myself pursuing something behind the camera at some point.

Speaking of behind the camera, how did you find yourself working with writer and producer Ryan Murphy on the American Horror Story series?

We met after he saw me in Xanadu on Broadway and he hired me for the second season of GLEE. We’ve worked together ever since. His mind is such a mystery to me, and I’m so thankful for him.

Can you tell us about your role in American Horror Story? What can we expect?

All I can tell you is my character’s name is Dr. Rudy Vincent and that I’m having a lot of fun this season. I’m sworn to secrecy, even in press, to give specifics, but I will say it was great fun to play a doctor. I learned a lot. It’s my third year on the show and it’s my favorite season so far.

Is there a dream actor that you would like to work with in your lifetime?

I’d love to have the opportunity to work on a project with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Nicole Kidman, or Robert Downey Jr.

What has been one of your favorite collaborations in your career?

I have a few so far. It was great working on Behind the Candelabra with Michael Douglas, 30 Rock alongside Alec Baldwin, a pilot called The Onion News Network with Jeffrey Tambor, and an episode I had with Gwyneth Paltrow on GLEE. These are just a few of the highlights.

When not on set or rehearsing for a role, how do you like to spend your time?

With my kids and my husband in a big dog pile in our TV room. I love traveling and I love to be outside. My mom lives in Laguna so we spend time with her.

Last year you became a father of two, how have they changed your outlook on life? Is it what you expected?

I always knew I was going to be a father. It’s the only thing I’ve ever been certain of. When it finally happened it’s as if my life began when they were born. Cliché? Maybe. True? Absolutely. It’s just so profound. My work is still important to me but my perspective has changed…the urge to provide for my family is stronger than ever, but the insignificant stuff I used to sweat in my career means so much less now that I know what’s really important.

You met your husband during at an AA meeting you both were attending, how did you two help each other cope with addiction during this period?

We were both newly sober and definitely at turning points in our lives. We found each other when we needed each other the most. In life, we just have to help each other get through this life together. He’s a magnificent person.

What advice would you give someone struggling with alcohol addiction?

Reach out and get help. There is no shame in asking for help; in fact, asking for help and admitting you need help actually takes more bravery than anything else.

What began your involvement with amfAR and Hetrick-Martin institute? Can you tell us about that work and why these charities are close to your heart?

I became personally affected by the disease when a friend of mine was diagnosed with HIV. I felt a desire to get more involved and help in any way I could. I contacted amfAR and asked how I could help. The Hetrick-Martin Institute came to me and asked me to come tour their facility and meet with their team. I went on the tour and loved the work they were doing, and I’ve supported them ever since.

You are involved with over a dozen charities focusing on social issues which include LGBT rights, marriage equality, animal welfare, and HIV/AIDS research, why do you find it so important to give back in this way?

Because I know how lucky I am to have what I have and live where I live. Giving back gets me out of my head and helps me focus on something other than what’s going on with me. I need to be of service in order to feel good about myself; it’s as simple as that.

Given the current state of the world in politics, environmental concerns, social change, etc. what advice would you give to anyone who want to get involved in giving back to their communities?

If you want more peace of mind, more relaxation, more harmony in your head, you should do some charity work. Being of service is the best way to get out of your own way and get some much needed perspective in this crazy world.

With the rhetoric coming from the White House that trans people should not serve in the military and legislature that will allow discrimination based on sexual orientation, are you worried that the LGBTQ community is in serious jeopardy?

How could one not be when under this abhorrent man that is our president? But I have faith in our community, and what I do know is that all this has lit a fire in many people who were previously fairly politically dormant. People are more awake than ever.

As a member of the media, and of the gay community, what do you think is your responsibility to the country when Hollywood and the LGBTQ world are under fire?

The best defense is to live out louder than ever. I am an open honest person and I live it out loud. I’m a gay father and I’ve been out of the closet for 23 years. I have no secrets and I treat people the way I want to be treated, and that’s what Jason and I are teaching our children. Live through example. Be open. Be interested in others.

What is next for you and your career? More music? More film? Maybe something completely different?

American Horror Story: Cult airs September 5th. American Woman airs early next year on Paramount TV. I’d love to continue to work on great television shows and continue to tell stories. I would also love to make more music. I am going to start writing again; I have a lot more to say now. I will always be open to making movies. Currently, I am getting into voiceover work now as well. I’m shooting my first animated pilot next month and have had the opportunity to work with some of the best animated voiceover artists in the country. It turns out I have all these voices in me. Who knew?

What advice would you give to a young actor/singer who is trying to make it in Hollywood or on Broadway today?

Be open. Do your homework. Be kind. Get a thick skin. Don’t google yourself. Don’t be an asshole. Work on your mix. Get it strong and consistent. (Singers will know what I’m talking about!)


Full Look by Calvin Klein