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Gus Kenworthy on skiing, 'Horror Story' and coming out
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times
2019-11-13

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Gus Kenworthy first made an impression upon many LGBTQ individuals not so long ago—in 2018, when he was one of three openly gay U.S. athletes competing in the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea ( Brittany Bowe and Adam Rippon being the others ).

Since then, Kenworthy has stayed in the headlines, thanks to appearances on such shows as RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars, an upcoming role on Will & Grace and his leading role as Chet Clancy on the current season of the FX show American Horror Story: 1984.

Kenworthy talked with Windy City Times when he was briefly in town ( his first time in Chicago, incidentally ) for "Halloween Rocks with Gus Kenworthy!" at Roscoe's Tavern.

Windy City Times: You did a project with Coors Light.

Gus Kenworthy: Yes; the mountain that's on the Coors can is the one in my hometown. We hiked that mountain [Wilson Peak, in Telluride, Colorado]—it's about 14,000 feet or so. It was the real deal; it took a whole day, and we got caught in the rain and hail. It was fun but also rewarding.

WCT: You really like Halloween. Do you know what you're going to be?

GK: I always do a few costumes because I'm very extra. I feel Halloween is not a one-night thing; you have the weekend before and the weekend after, so you have lots of opportunities for costumes. Last year, I did three. This year, I'll do a couple. I'm going as Evan Peters from the first season of American Horror Story for a party this Saturday; for tonight, I'm doing a rocker vixen look.

WCT: Let's talk acting. What was filming like?

GK: Well, it was pretty whirlwind. I feel like I was thrown into the deep end of the pool; I kind of didn't feel like I knew what I was doing the first few days on the set. There's so much to do that's not directly acting, like hitting your marks and knowing your eye line. All the actors on the show are really wonderful and are really helpful. I'm quite comfortable on the set now, and I don't need a ton of direction for the simple stuff. The schedule has been pretty daunting. I'm excited to see the final episodes—and I want to book something else.

WCT: You wrote an essay in ESPN because you got negative feedback about being cast in "Horror Story." Has the feedback gotten better since?

GK: It's gotten better. After the first episode, I made the mistake of looking at my Twitter and reading what people were saying. I've constantly been told, "Don't read [the posts]—even if you're thinking you've done the best job ever." So, I've changed my approach, but you still see comments here and there.

At the beginning there was pushback—which I totally understand. As the season has gone on, people have been a lot kinder and supportive.

WCT: In that ESPN essay, you said that the gay community can be very supportive—but it can also be very quick to undercut someone. Do you still feel that way?

GK: I feel that it's true with myself, the gay community I know and the LGBT community, as a whole. We are very quick to support someone; when someone comes out, I feel like that person is immediately embraced and supported—but you have to watch where you step and what you say; there are pressures and expectations, and you will learn very quickly if you've done something wrong. However, sometimes it's not explained WHY you've done something wrong.

There are so many wonderful things about the LGBT community: It's smart, poignant and supportive. But what I ask of myself and of others is to be more forgiving and accepting, and to help others learn. However, that's not just for the LGBT community—it's for everyone.

WCT: It seems like you're proving something to yourself as well as the general public.

GK: Yeah. I've always wanted to do, and it's what I want to continue to do after this show. I definitely think I've proven to myself that I'm capable and competent, as an actor—and I think that some people are definitely agreeing with that.

WCT: I'm going to contrast that with Will & Grace. Which is tougher to do: comedy or drama?

GK: I think drama is harder. I think I'm quite funny, whether or anyone does. I feel that I have a good sense of timing, and that comedy lines are easier to deliver. With drama, sometimes it's hard to know how to deliver a line. But Will & Grace was so much fun—a multicam show with a live audience. With Will & Grace, they film a whole episode in less than a day; with "Horror Story," an episode can take two weeks—and sometimes it can take 12 hours to get one shot. It is what it is, but Will & Grace is like a well-oiled machine.

WCT: Going back to "Horror Story," what is Ryan Murphy like?

GK: He's a sweetheart. He can be intimidating, but he is sweet. He truly has more going on than just about anyone. Trying to pin him down is difficult, but when you have him, it's undivided attention; he's very, very present.

WCT: You mentioned performing in front of audiences when talking about Will & Grace—and you're used to that, being a competitive skier. Is it too early to talk about Beijing [the site of the 2022 Winter Olympics]?

GK: No; I'm training. The qualification process hasn't started yet, but I plan on being there, although I'm concentrating on acting right now. I want to go to one more Olympics.

WCT: And you're also connected to a skin-care line?

GK: Yeah. I'm working with one. [Previse] reached out to me and it's a really wonderful product. I don't have a background in skin care, but I take care of my skin. [Smiles] So I've partnered with them, and we're working on new items.

WCT: How do you feel about being a role model?

GK: I think anyone who's in the public eye is automatically a role model, whether they want to be or not. It's something you have to take seriously because there are so many people who are being influenced by you. I guess since my first Olympics I've taken it quite seriously. I used to be so prudish that I didn't swear, but I feel that I've now found my groove.

WCT: This interview is being conducted during National Coming Out Month. Who was the first person you came out to?

GK: The first person I came out to was actually my sports agent. I was in the closet with a closeted boyfriend, and everyone thought we were friends. But there was another skier, older and more established, who gave me a ton of shit and made me feel totally uncomfortable; I told my agent I wanted to be done with the company the older skier and I were connected with. The agent asked if I was upset because there was a little truth in it, and I broke down, crying—and I came out.

The agent said, "Your secret's safe with me, but anytime you're ready to come out I've got your back." It was three years before I told anyone else—and that person who was my mom. She's been wonderful.


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