In the family musical drama “The One I Wrote for You,” actor Cheyenne Jackson (TV’s “30 Rock”) plays Ben Cantor, a coffee shop barista and family man who decides to rekindle his dream to make it big as a musician by competing in a reality TV show for songwriters.
During our interview, Jackson, 39, and I talked about singing on film for the first time and what he thinks about reality TV shows like “American Idol” and “The Voice.”
What resonated with you about the role of Ben Cantor in this film?
His story and his personal journey resonated with me. He felt like he wasn’t living up to his potential. Although he seems to change in the film and leave his family, he was doing everything for them. I also loved the simplicity of the story. It’s a love story about a family. It’s simple.
I know you are a musician yourself, so did that sweeten the pot to take on a role like this and show audiences another talent you possess?
Yeah, I’ve never sung on a film before. I did sing a little on “30 Rock,” but that was just for comedic effect. I was also on “Glee” and never even sang. So, yeah, I was looking forward to being able to sing in a movie.
What about the music itself? Was there something that spoke to you about the genre or lyrics you were performing in this role?
Honestly, because I am a songwriter and a bit of a music snob, I was a little worried when I heard the writer of the movie was also the songwriter. They sent me the demo CD of about 12 songs and I had a lot of trepidations until I pressed play. I was thinking, “Please don’t be bad. Please don’t suck.” And the songs were great. I really connected to many of them.
What kind of conversations did you have with screenwriter/songwriter David Kaufmann about singing these songs, which I’m sure were very personal to him? Did he give you any advice or did he want you to just run with them?
Yeah, character wise, I had to find a way for these songs to live and to let them organically come from him and not just be these random songs. I think it’s especially obvious for the title song. Immediately, I knew where he was coming from. We had lots of conversations and did a lot of research and work.
Again, being a musician yourself and seeing how hard it is to break into the business, what do you think about reality TV talent shows like the one that your character competes in? Do you think it’s a good route to take to make it in the music industry?
I don’t like a lot of reality TV. I don’t like TV that is all about people just being horrible to each other. That kind of behavior is not something I want to see. But when it comes to reality TV where people are talented and there is an actual contest, I think those shows can be a great tool. But often it can be a double-edged sword for the kids who go on “American Idol” and win or get second or third place. They think, “Great! I’m going to be a star now.” But, as we see, 99 percent of the time, that’s not the case. I think the shows can be useful, but you really have to think about it if you decide to go down that path. You have to know that it’s a tough thing.
One could argue that there are so many music reality TV shows now, the whole concept is just diluted. Would you agree?
Yeah, I think there was “America’s Got Talent” and “American Idol” and “The Voice,” but after a while there were more like [“Rising Star”] with the Wall. Yeah, I couldn’t get into that one. I tried. I think when it’s overly saturated, it loses its specialness. That’s why when “American Idol” came out, it was so fresh. We were all just glued to it.
How do you think you would do on a competition like that? Would you have considered something like that earlier in your career?
I would not have considered it. I’ve actually been asked to do a couple of reality TV shows. I’m in this for the long haul. I want a career in all different aspects. I want to continue to work on Broadway and continue to work on films and TV and continue to do concert work. If I get more notoriety or fame through one of those, and that helps my longevity, great. But I’m not interested in doing a quick reality show type of thing where you have this pop of popularity and then you really don’t have anywhere else to go but down.