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CW's Katy Keene Let's Jonny Beauchamp Snatch the Spotlight in Drag

CW's 'Katy Keene' Let's Jonny Beauchamp Snatch the Spotlight in Drag

CW's 'Katy Keene' Let's Jonny Beauchamp Snatch the Spotlight in Drag

"Success doesn't have to be one way," Beauchamp told PRIDE. "There are no rules." 

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Katy Keene, the CW's newest show and Riverdale spinoff, might just be the queerest series on network television. 

Lucy Hale plays Katy Keene, an aspiring fashionista starting at the bottom rung of her dreams. She hosts Josie McCoy (Ashleigh Murray), who's fresh off the bus from Riverdale, at her NYC apartment. We meet Katy's eclectic group of friends who are all struggling artists in the big apple, clamoring to make it in their respective fields of music, writing, and acting. 

We get our first glimpse of Jorge, played by the loveable Jonny Beauchamp, as he says hi to Josie and rushes out the door, but we don't meet him until the girls hang out at a night club. A hush falls over the crowd as Jorge's glamorous alter ego Ginger Lopez belts out "diamonds are forever" in a stunning silver gown before promptly being hoisted in the air by two shirtless men. 

The series only gets queerer from there. Their friend Pepper (Julia Chan) harbors many secrets, including her girlfriend. RuPaul's Drag Race legend Shangela has a guest appearance. And Jorge goes to audition after audition desperate to take over Broadway but failing over and over again. All he's hearing from producers is that he's too feminine for the role, too gay, too much. The no's don't make him any less determined. Or stop him from shining so bright.

PRIDE sat down with Beauchamp, a self-proclaimed "retro-witch," to chat about his groundbreaking role on the network television show, performing in drag, the parallel arc of his real-life story, his love of the NYC ballroom scene, the potential of a Riverdale crossover, and never giving up on your dreams.  

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Taylor: Congratulations on Katy Keene! What's it like to be a part of the Riverdale universe and this very queer spinoff?

Jonny: It's kind of shocking because I grew up watching the CW. I joke with my friends that it was the network I never thought I would appear on. I just thought I was a little too quirky, a little too Latin, a little too... I never dreamed the CW would come with a project of this capacity. I was really taken aback when I read the script and then when I finished the script and I was like, wow, wow! I have to do this. No one else can do this part. This is mine. I've never really seen myself on the page before. I usually play characters that are very different than me and I was pretty relentless about it, to be honest.

It's been a tremendous experience because I guess I never dreamed it would come out like this. 

That's kind of similar to your character on the show, Jorge, because he gets told all the time that he's being too much, too feminine, too extra, too whatever all the time and literally loses jobs because of it.

I tell you, Taylor, it was like taking notes out of my diary. Seriously, and you know what a beautiful place where Jorge and Ginger and I are different is Ginger seems to have the tenacity to be able to stand up to someone in the moment and say, "hey, I don't need your approval and I don't need your comments and I don't need your attitude. In fact, I know I'm enough and if you think I'm not enough to be in your chorus, well then you've got another thing coming, sis," and I think that's really awesome.

I don't know if I've had the gumption to actually say that to a director, but I love that.

It seems like Ginger, Jorge's drag character, gives him that extra oomph to fight back and stand up for himself.

Absolutely, because like William Shakespeare said, a mask changes everything. Once you put on a disguise, you can say, do and be anyone you want. It's really freeing and I think part of the mystique and the superhero-ism of drag is being all of the things you can't feel you can be without the glamorous armor. It's amazing actually.

Have you ever done drag before the show?

Oh, of course. It's never been a vocation of mine. I've never been a drag queen professionally, but to be honest with you, all of my first jobs were playing drag queens, Off-Off-Off Broadway and musicals or on the guest spot.

I always say I kind of grew up drag and ballroom adjacent. I was in New York City as a kid and I was very involved in the ballroom culture of the village and that was very much my scene, but I've never really participated in it. I celebrated it and I'm kind of like a keeper of the stories and I know a lot of the houses really well, but I've never participated in it. It's never been my lane. I think that's why I play a lot of these characters is because they do have an instinctual way into the psyche.

Do you watch Pose?

Oh my God, I love Pose. I'm so sorry, too. I literally almost swore. I was like, I love Pose. I grew up with a lot of those girls, too, which is really amazing.

Those girls on the show?

Yeah, like MJ and Dominique. A lot of the girls who are extras. My girl, Kia LaBeija, who's the house mother of LaBeija was in the pilot episode. She also helped with choreography. The choreographer, Leiomy, does not know me, but I know her very well because she's such a force. Oh, my God. I remember going to balls or going to Kiki functions and without a doubt, Leiomy would shut it down. There was no other winner. She would come in and I remember she said this one thing, that she's very angry. At the time, when we were younger, she was very angry, a lot of injustice, a lot of really horrible stuff going on, and she would take that anger and she would Vogue it out.

Just the sheer performance of it was so thrilling to watch and if you've watched her career from being on America's Next Dance Crew to going onto literally facilitating and choreographing every major Vogue moment of commercial art right now. She's big. She's completely owned her pillar in this pantheon. She's an icon.

That's interesting what you said about channeling that anger into her art.

Absolutely. You got to get to it and somehow she turned a big negative into an extreme positive. She's so inspiring. I've met her a million times and she doesn't ever remember me obviously because whatever, but I am such a fan.

I love that. Everyone on Katy Keene is very much a struggling artist or actor. Did you ever have to go through that personally?

Oh my gosh. Taylor, come on. Oh my God. This is one of the hardest things ever. I've been auditioning professionally since I was 17 years old. I'd done a little Off-Off here, a little off-road there, a little regional, a little tour, a little this, a little that. But I didn't really start working commercially until I was in my twenties and I'm of the type of person that doesn't wait. I never had; not as a child, not as a teen.

I don't just wait for something to happen to me because, I don't know, I felt very early like, that's not going to happen for you, girl. You have to find it. You have to seek it out. I've had managers and agents and they've gotten me stuff, but I'm always hitting the field myself as well, looking for projects, showing them breakdowns. Like what do you think about this? What do you think about that? Sometimes they're annoyed with me because I kind of overstepped my bounds.

I've always been hungry for it. I'll be honest with you, I never thought that there was another lane for me. A lot of people have had backups and that's a really good thing to do. I wish I had. I wish I had studied something different in college just to have more knowledge in something else, but I was just pretty focused on this.

It wasn't until 2018. I had a bit of a lull for about four or five years. I hadn't worked. I had had some really great commercial projects and I felt I was popping off and I was very proud and I lived in Europe for the first time. I traveled all over the world and I'll tell you a little tidbit story. After my Christmas from Penny Dreadful, I came back from Ireland and I bought row G of Mariah's Christmas Show at the Beacon, the very first Christmas show that she did and I bought the row cause I was like "Bring a friend! Bring them all up! Bring a date, girl! We are going to Mariah, we got row G!" It was in the balconies. It wasn't Rosy the Orchestra but I did that and it was such a triumphant homecoming because I grew up pretty poor. I didn't know I was poor when I was a kid because my mother is incredible and I never wanted for anything, but it wasn't until I was older I realized we don't all have the same house.

That was such a moment in my life, I'll never forget it. Pulling up my friends and being like, "listen up, Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, bring a date, bring your mama, everybody gets a plus one." We got row G and that was amazing. After for all of that glory, if you will, it stopped. And I didn't have any place to live and I didn't have a great job and I had no team. Everything had dried up for me and so for the first time in my life, I thought maybe you got to do something else and so I, for the first time in my life, I was in my late twenties. I was like, damn, okay. I put in a thing for Delta Airlines. At least I'll get to travel. I was thinking about going to Florida University to get my teaching certificate.

I felt like I was becoming a failure because I've now spent more time not working than I had working. And I was very scared. I won't say that I was all out, I wasn't really seriously pursuing other avenues, but I started thinking about it for the first time and that's when Katy Keene happened. It's like the biggest gift. Honestly, it was so strange. Literally I worked at the Cornelia Street Cafe for two years. It's been there since 1977. We closed. I lost my only avenue of income. They closed on January 2nd, 2018 and I was out of a job for two weeks. I worked the door at Sony Hall for three days and quit on the spot because it was pretty aggressive.

And a funny moment that happened was some old chums that I had from high school. I went to a really great performing arts high school. We had a big drag event that night. It was a big award show and they all were coming in and they all saw and I was looking dusty, Taylor. And they looked at me and the way that they looked at me... I couldn't take it. I felt so naked and so humiliated and not that there's anything to be ashamed of, but for me personally, because they had all looked up to me in some capacity, I guess. They're like she's doing things, she's doing things and to see she's taking tickets. I walked out that night. I quit and a week later I got this audition and I was like, I got to get this. I just put all my eggs in this basket, baby, and I'm lucky that it works out.

That's.. wow. What a story.

I know that was like super tangenty, but I felt like I could share that moment.

And it really relates to how your character on the show is determined to be big, but on their own terms. 

Exactly and I think that's so important because I think our audience is going to be a little bit younger. For a young person to see success doesn't have to be one way. There are no rules. They really aren't. And I think this YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, social media generation has proven that there are no rules to pop off. You know what I'm saying? You can find your own and it's fine.

It seems to be the people that are the most authentically themselves are the ones who are rising to the top like cream. I, for a long time, had been very safe. I wanted to be a working actor. I wanted to be Oscar Isaac. I wanted to be Jessica Chastain. I didn't want to do social media. I didn't want to do anything. I wanted my work to speak for itself and I wanted to live my life and I thought that was it. That did not work for me. I now realize I have a platform. Now, this isn't everybody's responsibility, but this is Jonny personally, my responsibility. I feel like I need to share my story with people to just give validity to it, to give relevancy and to show that we come in all shapes and sizes and success is not a present.

You have to go out and seek it and you seek in your own way in your own time.

It's incredible to hear your story and also watch Jorge's story on the show. What do you hope these stories show the little queer kids watching?

First of all, this is the most collaborative show I've ever been on, which is weird because in my mind I had all these preconceived notions about Warner Brothers and the CW and these networks and I just thought the world of them and I thought it was going to be like a tight ship. But out of everything I've ever done, I am asked more how I feel, what I think, what I would like to do, where do I see my character?

I mean it's been completely collaborative and they've taken a few things of my personal life and put it into the show, which has been amazing and a little bit revealing, but amazing to come out on the other side of it. The best part about it is that Jorge is very family-oriented. Jorge's very close to his family and his family is very proud and hold up their Latino roots very high. It's a part of his makeup. It's a part of his person. And we showed that a lot on this show and every family has problems. No family's perfect and everybody has qualms. There's a mom and there's a dad and there are some brothers and there's me and I think as a queer person there... we come in all shapes and sizes, right? We have all kinds of stories.

There are queer people who have walked a beautiful road of roses and daisies and it's been amazing and that is such a beautiful gift and that needs to be showcased, too, because we need to see that's a possibility. But for me, my road wasn't always roses and I think that there's a lot of people like that, too. And to see the negotiation that has to happen within the family unit, I think that's going to be really amazing and I think some people will see themselves and I also think some people will see the life that they want to have for themselves and I think that's really, really cool. Taylor, you get me really excited. You're asking really cool questions and like I'm getting very candid. I keep almost swearing ... I'm trying to keep this PC but just know I'm rocking with you, Taylor.

Haha I'm glad! You're making me emotional. So what's the possibility of a Riverdale crossover episode? Anything planned?

All I can say, because I'm sworn to secrecy, I'll say each of our shows have the same parents, right? So we're all cousins and cousins eventually once a year have a reunion get together. So I think that's something that isn't completely off the record, but I'm not allowed to say, and I don't know if that happened yet, but I do know that we're cousins and each show really loves each other. We've all met kind of. Stay tuned for that one.

Katy Keene premiered tonight on The CW. Watch the trailer below:

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Taylor Henderson

Taylor Henderson is a PRIDE.com contributor. This proud Texas Bama studied Media Production/Studies and Sociology at The University of Texas at Austin, where he developed his passions for pop culture, writing, and videography. He's absolutely obsessed with Beyoncé, mangoes, and cheesy YA novels that allow him to vicariously experience the teen years he spent in the closet. He's also writing one! 

Taylor Henderson is a PRIDE.com contributor. This proud Texas Bama studied Media Production/Studies and Sociology at The University of Texas at Austin, where he developed his passions for pop culture, writing, and videography. He's absolutely obsessed with Beyoncé, mangoes, and cheesy YA novels that allow him to vicariously experience the teen years he spent in the closet. He's also writing one!