ANAHEIM, Calif. – Cheyenne Jackson landed a helluva role in “Descendants 3”: Hades. The musical productions in the franchise have all featured characters based on Disney characters, and in Jackson’s case the inspiration is the underworld’s wicked ruler as introduced in the animated film “Hercules.” The actor, best known for his work on “American Horror Story,” took the inspiration and added his own devilish spin.
“They showed me renderings of what he looked like, and there are certain things you can’t ignore like crazy blue hair that lights on fire when you get mad. But I have never seen the Disney version, and I am kind of glad about that because I didn’t want to do anything he did,” Jackson says of the production that featured James Woods as the voice of Hades. “We had to keep the blue flaming hair, but everything else was stuff (director) Kenny (Ortega) and I created.”
Although the natural assumption is Hades is a heartless villain, Jackson didn’t approach the role with such a narrow focus. His approach was to play Hades as a character who was filled with a variety of emotions. He has always made it a point that no matter what role he’s playing, he wants the audience to think of the character as a person with dreams, wishes, fears and goals.
Ortega and Jackson found the balance of huge and quiet moments that allowed Jackson to play Hades the way he wanted to present him.
“Descendants 3,” which debuts Friday on Disney Channel, takes place on VK Day, when the fair-minded children of villains – Mal (Dove Cameron), Evie (Sofia Carson), Carlos (Cameron Boyce) and Jay (Booboo Stewart) – cross the barrier and return to the Isle of the Lost so they can bring four deserving VKs to Auradon Prep. Mal realizes the barrier must be permanently closed to make sure the likes of Hades and Uma (China Anne McClain) won’t escape.
Jackson was aware of the first film in the franchise because his close friend, Kristin Chenoweth, portrayed Maleficent. Chenoweth persuaded Jackson to take on a project that was different than anything he had done before. His credits include appearances on the TV shows “Glee,” “30 Rock,” “American Woman,” “Family Practice,” “Behind the Candelabra” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” plus the feature films “Love Is Strange,” “Beautiful Now” and “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks.”
Jackson applauds Disney Channel for its continued efforts to keep the musical format alive. He recalls how when he was growing up in the Newport, Washington/Oldtown, Idaho, area, the only musical he got to see was the filmed version of “Annie.” It was a limited exposure, but one that had a lasting impact.
“It meant everything to me,” Jackson says. “I just couldn’t believe you could sing and dance in a movie and that could be your job. Because I grew up in such a small town where there was no children’s theater, all I had were the movies and my imagination.”
That changed when he was a teenager and began working in local theater – including productions in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene. When he was 15, Jackson saw a production of “Les Miserables” and could not believe people could make a living traveling around the country performing in such a powerful and entertaining show. It was that moment when Jackson decided he was going to be an actor.
It took some time, but when Jackson was 27, he was off to New York to find work. The musical portion of “Descendants 3” was easy for Jackson because he’s appeared on Broadway in “Aida,” “Xanadu,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “Finian’s Rainbow.” The Grammy-nominated singer made his solo debut at Carnegie Hall with his show, “Cheyenne Jackson’s Cocktail Hour: Music of the ‘Mad Men’ Era.” He also released his first, full-length album of original music, “I’m Blue, Skies.”
Jackson agreed to play Hades for one other reason.
“I now have children, and I wanted to do something that my kids could see. I won’t be showing them ‘American Horror Story.’ My mom has never seen ‘American Horror Story.’ This will be their first movie,” Jackson says.
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