Jonny Beauchamp opens up to HL EXCLUSIVELY about playing The CW’s first drag queen on ‘Katy Keene,’ what the role of Jorge means to him, Pride Month, and more.
Jorge Lopez is no ordinary TV character. He’s extraordinary. Jonny Beauchamp brought Jorge Lopez and Jorge’s drag queen alter-ego Ginger to life in the delightful and joyful Katy Keene. Jorge is a proud queer man looking to make it big, and for Jonny, art imitated life in this instance.
HollywoodLife talked EXCLUSIVELY with Jonny about the moment he vowed to play Jorge, and why this role was “perfect” for this moment in his life. He said it’s “humbling” to be able to represent the LGBTQ+ community, and playing a queer character who has no “hang-ups about his gender identity” has been a role of a lifetime. Jonny also opened up about he’s celebrating Pride Month and why this year is a “crash course” in what Pride really means.
Jorge is truly one of a kind. When you got the role, was this character fully fleshed out? Did you have a chance to really put parts of yourself in this role?
Jonny Beauchamp: This character specifically is the first time that I kind of felt so much of myself was on the page. When I read the script for the first time, I just kept having all these flashbacks of being 22 and living in Washington Heights with my best girlfriend who was a singer-songwriter. I was trying to be an actor, and we could never pay our rent. We are super different because I think Jorge is a little bit braver than me in a lot of ways. But so much of me was in the pilot that I just made a vow: this is my part. I have to tell this story. I know how, and they let me do it!
You’ve been in the business for a while. Why was this role perfect for this time in your life?
Jonny Beauchamp: Excellent question. No one’s ever asked me that. I think it’s perfect for this time because I’m really in adulthood now. I’ve been working for a decade, and it’s really lovely to revisit where I started. But I get to do it with a job, so not only do I get to learn a lot, but the show has been a constant nod to my come-up. A lot of this conversation that I have with my girlfriends on the show, I’ve had in real life. A lot of the feelings that I’ve had towards casting or how I felt, that pilot really nailed it. I was told I was too short, too fat, too skinny, too gay, too this, too that for anything. Those are my words, but they were on the page, and it’s really something special to not know anyone. I didn’t know anybody involved with the show. To have them write this person that I thought was so true to me and being a little bit older now and looking back, I’m getting to participate in my life present. It’s a little paradoxical. It’s been amazing. I think I’m also more confident now than I’ve ever been in terms of my work. I can just show up to work, and we just play. We go places, and sometimes our things really work out. Our bits are so funny. Everyone has one-liners that we just throw in. It’s a really fun job. Sometimes you have a job, and it’s a little hard. Jobs are jobs, and then once in a while, a job comes along where it’s just very different. Working on this show, the hours are crazy, but I’ve never felt so supported.
You could feel that with this cast. It felt very effortless onscreen. The comfortability of this cast is so apparent.
Jonny Beauchamp: It’s a lucky thing. I’ve worked with a lot of great actors, so I’m really lucky. But what’s cool about this is that we actually really dig each other. On and offscreen, it’s been such a great ride. It’s been really humbling to be allowed to represent my community in this positive way because I’ve played a lot of really sad characters. I loved them. I loved shooting Stonewall. I loved those projects so much, but this has so much joy. For the first time, I’m getting to be a queer person, who has no hang-ups about their gender identity, who has no hang-ups about who they are as a person and is supported not only by their community but their friends and their family.
TV is evolving slowly, but roles like Jorge have been given to heterosexual actors in the past.
Jonny Beauchamp: That’s a constant conversation happening on and off set. Now we’re in a really interesting place. I think the best thing we’ve done in the last couple of years is really lean into the fact that we need more transgender visibility in every workplace so that the same goes for actors. We’re getting more trans characters, but now we get real trans people to get to tell their stories. That’s really amazing. Maybe things will start moving. In other words, maybe queer people will start to get to play straight people, and then it won’t be so bad that straight people play gay people. The scale just needs to tip a little bit, tell us a little bit in one direction. We just kind of need it to level out a little bit. And then who’s to say what the future can bring?
Ginger was The CW’s first drag queen. What did it feel like when you became Ginger for the first time?
Jonny Beauchamp: It’s so crazy to have been told my whole life that this part of me, this part that I love to express, this hyper-feminine energy was actually going to hurt me. That it was actually going to take away all the things that I wanted in life. Maybe I’m the last generation that’s going to come up that way, but that’s really how I came up. A lot of my teachers said, “Well, if you want to work, you really can’t lean into that. Or if you want to be considered a serious actor, you have to do this.” It’s so funny that this part of me is what’s actually been the most integral in my success. It’s actually been what’s unique and special about me.
What has it been like for you to be able to connect with fans?
Jonny Beauchamp: We have a direct line now. If you want to say something to someone, all you have to do is DM them. The response has been so positive. I’ve actually gotten a lot of messages from mothers, which kind of makes me cry sometimes. I’ve gotten video messages just saying their kid just feels so seen or they really love Ginger or Jorge. I’ve had a lot of mothers actually reach out to me saying thank you. I’ve also had a lot of young Latino actors who’ve said, “Hey, I see you doing everything I want to do, and I feel like it’s now possible.” I thought about something the other day, and I hope it’s not too presumptuous, but I’ll share it with you. When I was growing up, the struggles of my icons, the stars that I love, the pop divas, the actors, their personal struggles really gave me hope in a weird way. I didn’t know them. I’m not presumptuous to think that we were in each other’s lives, but when people opened up about what their struggles were personally, and you saw them in the light, it gave me hope. If in some weird world my struggle can do that and can give somebody hope, then I feel like I’m doing my job. That was the biggest payoff. I got a message like two weeks ago, and it just kind of made me feel like, wow, it’s a weird moment to think that I’m now kind of in the place where I used to look up to.
Is there anything that you would want to explore more of in a potential season 2?
Jonny Beauchamp: We set up all the characters and the dynamics between all the girls and stuff, but I think what makes a really good show about friendship is conflict. With your girlfriends, there’s always conflict. Not everything is rainbows. I think that now that the audience sees how close we all are and how much we love each other, it opens up space for interpersonal conflicts in season 2.
How are you honoring Pride Month while the world is still sort of in quarantine?
Jonny Beauchamp: We’ve been actually thinking about that a lot. I think that we can make it really special because it seems like this year Pride matters a lot. I think that this year, as opposed to just celebrating and partying, this year we get to once again stand for what’s right. I’ve been actually trying to like wrack my brain about what I can do. I’ve been reaching out to a couple organizations. The Stonewall Organization has named me an ambassador this year, so I know that we’re going to have some content to communicate what’s going on and working with different organizations, and since now is like a donation period, everyone is trying to do their part. Everyone is trying to find which organizations to donate to and why, so I’ve been trying to do a little bit of that myself. Hopefully, that will culminate with our Pride Week. I think that everything is really going to try to coincide with what’s going on right now because it’s such a vital moment in our history right now. Once again, we’re getting together and saying enough’s enough. I think that’s what Pride is all about.
Do you have an ultimate LGBTQ+ icon or someone that you looked up to growing up?
Jonny Beauchamp: I really do. Boy George really had a huge impact on me. Of course, David Bowie did as well and Prince, but Boy George specifically. I remember seeing a commercial for this musical Rosie O’Donnell produced called Taboo, and I didn’t know what it was about. I didn’t know anything about it. It was a really crazy commercial, but something told me afterward that I had to go. So I took my $50 that I had saved up, and I bought a last row ticket to a matinee. There’s this number that the character of Boy George, because it is a kind of an autobiographical musical in New York, sings about his relationship with his mother. How she always knew that he was different. How it’s not talked about, but everybody knows. I had never felt so seen before. I had never seen myself truly. I’d always lived vicariously through characters, the female characters, or whatever movie was going on. We always find a way to find our through-line in the scene. This was the first time that it was my story. There were no substitutions. So I’ve always held Boy George close to my heart. Maybe I’ll meet him one day. I actually saw him like two Prides ago. He was in New York. He did a co-headline with Cyndi Lauper. And then I was in LA when he played with Culture Club at the Hollywood Bowl with the LA Philharmonic. It was like my childhood dream. My teenage fanboy was screaming.
What advice do you have for someone who is part of the LGBTQ+ community celebrating their first Pride this year?
Jonny Beauchamp: This is a really special Pride to be your first. This is a crash course in what it really means because I think sometimes all the partying and all the celebrations can be distracting. My advice for people this year if this is their first time is to take it in. Take it all in and look around you because we’re all the same. We’re all one. This is just one day, one week, one month where we get to say, hey, we’re here. This year, it’s less about the self and more about the whole. Look at the community, take it all in, and see where you fit into it. Because we all fit into it. You get to choose what you stand for and what you don’t stand for. We do get a choice, and I really hope that people can see that Pride is so many things. It is not just a party. It’s really important in a lot of places all over the world, and I think this year specifically, with everything going on, it’s so important. If you’re a young person right now, and this is your first time, take a look around because this is the stuff that Pride was built on.
What does Pride mean to you?
Jonny Beauchamp: For me, it kind of is about choice for me because I get to choose who I love. This is a very tricky wording, so I’m going to try to get it right. But I believe I do have a choice, and I get to choose how I live. I get to choose how I treat other people, and I get to choose who’s in my life. You can’t choose who you love, but you can choose to love them. I don’t think you can choose to be queer, but you can choose to live queer. And I do. For me, I do. And I love it. I love celebrating my queer brothers and sisters. Pride’s every day for me. I think the choosing is what’s really special. You get to choose your family as well. You get to choose how you want to dress, you get to choose how you want to dance, what music you like, and we don’t have to just adhere to the norm.