It’s an understatement to say that the 2015 film Stonewall was not well received. Director Roland Emmerich’s box-office bust about the historical riots was annihilated by critics and the queer public alike. A recent Vulture feature ranking nearly every movie of the 2010s placed the film at No. 5,276—just below The Human Centipede 2 and 3.
But Jonny Beauchamp, who portrayed the gender-fluid character Ray/Ramona Garcia, says the project “might possibly be my most favorite thing I’ve ever done.” Revealing for the first time publicly that he faced numerous hardships in its wake, he says, “I feel like I became myself, the artist, fully working on that picture.”
Given that Beauchamp couldn’t find roles after that ship sailed and sank and was making a living as a waiter, he isn’t taking his latest gig for granted. In The CW’s much-anticipated Katy Keene, the Riverdale spin-off based on the Archie Comics, the 30-year-old actor (who also starred as lady-for-hire Angelique in Showtime’s Penny Dreadful) portrays one of four 20-something dreamers living in New York City. The Greg Berlanti production, which premieres February 6 and has already been renewed for a second season, features Beauchamp as Jorge, an aspiring Broadway actor who works at his family’s bodega and moonlights as a drag performer named Ginger.
Before its premiere, Beauchamp spoke to NewNowNext about why the kiss in the show’s trailer is a big deal, how he survived the fallout from Stonewall, and why he thinks straight male actors get the roles that should go to queer actors.
Watching you transform into Ginger, it seems your degrees in gender studies and theater have come in handy.
They really have. I’m still paying off my loans, to be frank, but I think it was money well spent! [Laughs] And I definitely would be lying to you if I didn’t say that it plays a huge part in how I deconstruct and prepare for my characters.
I like to say that I build my characters from the ground up, so I always start with the shoes.
Was that the case with Ginger?
Absolutely. I asked if I could have a version of my shoes because I needed to find the walk. First it’s the walk, then it’s the music.
What’d you listen to in order to get into the role of Ginger?
Show tunes, show tunes, show tunes. But also, Jorge really relishes in his Latin roots. He was raised very proud and very Latin, similar to me and my mom, so there was always Spanish music around. We actually got to incorporate a little bit of that into the show, which is really special.
You share a kiss with another guy in bed, and the fact that The CW is showing that in the 45-second trailer is a big deal.
It was a big deal to me too. I give them full applause. It’s just one more battle won in representation.
To be queer and play queer—and for The CW? That must kind of blow your mind.
It blows your mind, and I think we need more of it: a queer person playing a queer person. The best queer stuff goes to heterosexual men. It’s high time we start allowing queer people to interpret and display and actually be the vessel. Since we’ve walked in the shoes, we can bring something that a heterosexual male maybe cannot. So I just feel really lucky that I’ve been picked to do that.
Jorge’s auditioning struggles aren’t something a straight man would have experience with.
I have to admit that’s actually one of the places where me and Jorge/Ginger Lopez are a bit different, because I don’t know if I would have the courage to really speak the truth to a casting director. I think I would follow the decorum and try to grin and bear it. To actually do that was really cathartic for me. [Laughs]
Jorge is seen as being too gay for a role. Have you ever been turned down by a casting director because of your sexuality?
Absolutely. I think things are changing now, but if you’re an actor, they really—until you are Meryl Streep, as a loose example—don’t want to see you transform. They just want to cast the character. I relish in my transformations. So sometimes I do feel like, yeah, I wasn’t given a chance to be considered for things because I’m queer.
Stonewall was your first big film, but…
I learned so much! We did get a lot of really, really rough press. [Laughs] I cannot deny that. Like, yikes.
Did you worry about the future of your career?
I did, 100%. And I would be lying to you if I said it didn’t actually have a huge negative effect on my career. I booked Stonewall and then went directly into Penny Dreadful, and I believe I wouldn’t have even been considered for Penny Dreadful if Stonewall had been released.
I felt I had proven myself as a contender, that I could at least continue to make a living as an actor. But that wasn’t true. Everything stopped for me after that, and I lost everything. My representation, all my money, my house. Everything. I kind of went to rock bottom. It was really eye-opening.
That’s awful. I didn’t know any of that.
This is the first time I’ve actually outwardly spoken about it outside of my personal relationships. But it taught me a lot. The first thing is: You cannot take this for granted. This is a dream for a reason. I have to say that I appreciate it so much more than I did then, because I know it can go away. It was very humbling to have to, after living all over the world and working with some of the most incredible artists and directors, come back to New York with your tail between your legs and become a waiter again. That was really tough for me. But it didn’t break me.
I can’t imagine what it was like to go into auditions being like, “I was in Stonewall.“
Nobody said anything nasty, which was really positive and affirming. Ultimately [what got me through] was my mom and my friends reminding me, “You’ve been doing this your whole life. This has been your dream, and you’ve proven to yourself that you can, in fact, do this, so why stop now?” Stopping was never on the table for me.
Kate Keene premieres February 6 at 8pm ET on The CW.