Garrett Clayton: TV and film fave on his new trio cabaret show
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"It's the worst thing to watch someone jerking off their ego on stage," says actor Garrett Clayton, discussing how he came up with his debut cabaret act which he brings to Feinstein's at the Nikko on June 21 and 22.
Gay fans might disagree, given that many of them likely first encountered Clayton in King Cobra, a pulpy, ripped-from-the headlines 2016 movie in which he played porn star Brent Corrigan, caught up in the murderous rivalry between two would-be Sleazer B. DeMilles played by James Franco and Christian Slater.
But Clayton, 28, is altogether earnest in dismissing the hackneyed cradle-to-fame "My Biography In Song" structure that many celebrities build their solo shows around. And besides, while he certainly has a few Cobraphile superfans and a following from his days as a Disney Channel heartthrob (2013's Teen Beach Movie and 2015's Teen Beach II), Clayton doesn't consider himself a celebrity. In fact, he's decided to not even do a solo show.
His Feinstein's debut, It Takes Three, features Clayton singing with friends and fellow actors Ashley Argota and Desi Dennis-Dylan. A third close friend, Doug Peck, is their accompanist.
Among the tunes audiences will hear are a spin on "It Takes Two," which Clayton sang as Link Larkin in television's Hairspray Live!; "Tightrope" from The Greatest Showman, and a mash-up of famous trios. Argota and Dennis-Dylan will have spotlight numbers as well.
"I really wanted the show to be fairly balanced between us," Clayton says with typical humility. "One of my favorite ways to spend a night is gathering around the piano and singing with my friends and this is really a version of that. I hope it will feel that way for the audience, too. It's not about us standing over people."
Out and About
Clayton's conscientious respect for his colleagues and his audience stems in part from knowing how badly it feels to be disrespected. The Michigan native, who got his start in community theater at age 15 (First lead role: Charlie Brown), was outright rejected by his father and brother when he came out during high school, and remains estranged from them to this day.
Then, after being cast in small film roles and regional theater productions ("I've done Fame twice; both times I've played Leroy!"), he moved to California at 19 to pursue bigger opportunities. But the management team Clayton signed on with ended up making him feel so much smaller.
"I was never in the closet until I moved to Los Angeles," says Clayton, explaining that he was strongly pressured to butch it up by his then-management who was bent on molding him into a heartthrob for straight female audiences.
"My manager asked me if I was gay and when I said yes, he said, 'Nobody wants to fuck the gay guy. They want to shop with him. So we're going to have to figure that out.'"
Clayton has openly described several years of deep emotional distress instigated by his past team regularly pushing him to walk, dress, and speak differently, even going as far as suggesting he wear logoed sports gear in social media photos "to look more masculine."
Even when promoting King Cobra in an interview with Out magazine, Clayton demurred to acknowledge his sexual orientation, saying "I don't really like talking about my personal life."
Speaking to London's Gay Times last summer after publicly coming out in an Instagram post, Clayton recalled his team telling him, "I literally had to change everything about myself, otherwise I was never going to make it. And that was so conflicting, because here's somebody offering you your dream but they're telling you that...you're talented but who you are isn't good enough."
After finally breaking with his management and spending time in therapy, Clayton not only openly claimed his identity as a gay man, but took the opportunity to thank his longtime partner (now fiancé) screenwriter Blake Knight for emotionally supporting him through years of others' bad advice.
"I met Blake when I was working as a waiter after I first moved to L.A. We've been together for eight and a half years," he says, pleased to publicly acknowledge the man who stood by him through a sometimes wrenching struggle.
While Clayton continues to pursue television and film roles —he recently played a suicidal teen in the indie film Reach and Nicholas Cage's son in the bonkers Between Worlds— he remains particularly passionate about musical theater.
Clayton is regularly part of the UMPO (Unauthorized Musical Parody Of...) troupe that mounts song-filled spoofs of pop culture touchstones at Rockwell, a Los Angeles cabaret venue.
He's been a part of tongue-in-cheek takes on Stranger Things and 10 Things I Hate About You. Still embraced by Disney, where he first made his mark, Clayton headlined Gay Days at Disneyland last year, singing "I Put A Spell On You," which he first fell in love with in the studio's own Hocus Pocus.
Among the musical roles he says he'd love to get a crack at are Elder Price in The Book of Mormon and Jimmy in Thoroughly Modern Millie.
Along with moving forward in his career without the burden of closet, Clayton is also savoring the comforts of a now un-hidden domestic life.
He lives with Knight and their two huskies, Dart and Dash, which he emphasizes that he didn't get because of Game of Thrones.
"I grew up with a husky. When I see people buying them now because they want a dire wolf, it's upsetting. They're very unpredictable and you need to know how to care for them."
Clayton has the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter films on heavy repeat and often listens to show tunes on Spotify.
"Do you know the song 'Breathe' from In The Heights?" Clayton asks. "That's a nice one to fold laundry to."
Garrett Clayton with Ashley Argota and Desi Dennis-Dylan in 'It Takes Three,' Friday June 21 and Saturday June 22, 8pm. $45-$75 ($20 food/drink min.) Feinstein's at the Nikko, 222 Mason St. https://www.feinsteinssf.com/