Playing Bobby Barnes on Netflix’s “GLOW,” Kevin Cahoon delivered unforgettable impressions of Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand and other Hollywood icons in full drag. His latest role, however, finds him channeling another legendary diva — albeit in a less obvious way.
The actor currently appears in Fox’s musical drama “Monarch.” The ensemble series, which premiered last month, is centered on Albie (played by Trace Adkins) and Dottie Roman (Susan Sarandon), who have been at the top of the country music industry for decades. The future of their Texas-based dynasty, however, is thrown into question after Dottie’s terminal cancer diagnosis is publicly revealed in an ignominious fashion.
Cahoon plays a personal stylist for Dottie named Earl Clark — a role that gives him the chance to live out his “Dolly Parton dreams,” he told HuffPost. Noted for his eccentric fashion and rockabilly pompadour, the character is loosely based on real-life hairstylist Earl Cox, who has coiffed the likes of Faith Hill and Trisha Yearwood, among other singers.
“Gay men have traditionally found solace in powerful women, so I love how the show explores Earl’s place as a gay man. He likes to think he’s in ‘Steel Magnolias’ 24 hours a day,” the actor told HuffPost, referring to the 1989 film that stars Parton and is set at a Louisiana beauty parlor.
“He always had a dream to be in show business, and he loves that he’s the major-domo or gatekeeper, if you will, to the inner sanctum of the Roman family. He will go to any lengths to protect his place in that family.”
Viewers soon learn, however, that the Roman clan — which includes Gigi (Beth Ditto), Nicky (Anna Friel) and Luke (Joshua Sasse), the adult children of Albie and Dottie — are hiding a multitude of secrets, as well as a body count, beneath their glitzy facade. Similarly, Earl’s less savory ambitions, as well as his penchant for manipulating his cohorts, are revealed as the show’s first season progresses.
Though Cahoon prefers to “take every situation as it is” in his off-screen life, he nonetheless felt immediately at ease with his character.
“I grew up in a rodeo family in Texas, so I’ve had a pair of cowboy boots and a cowboy hat on my entire life. I knew that world,” he said. As for working with Sarandon, he added: “We connected on the first day. I’m in love with her — she knows this, this is not a secret — and blown away by her craftsmanship.”
Together with Ditto, Cahoon provides some welcome LGBTQ representation within the fictional country scene of “Monarch.” In real life, however, things have been more slow going. Last year, Nashville musician T.J. Osborne ― one half of the Brothers Osborne duo ― became the first openly gay artist to sign with a major country music label, Tennessee’s EMI Records Nashville.
Though country is still viewed as socially conservative in comparison to pop and rock, Cahoon believes LGBTQ people are “the engine of the pickup truck” within the genre.
“They’re writing songs. They’re producing songs. They’re creating the looks, and they’re creating the world,” he said. “So to have this show celebrate that is a brilliant idea.”
Prior to his television acclaim, Cahoon was best known to New York theater audiences, with a résumé that includes plum roles in “The Lion King” and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” among other beloved musicals. He also spent years as the lead singer of a glam rock band called Kevin Cahoon and Ghetto Cowboy, which counted CNN anchor Anderson Cooper among its fans.
Much like “Monarch,” the actor’s next role is also deeply ensconced in country music. This month, he returns to the stage in the musical “Shucked,” which is set to have its world premiere at Salt Lake City’s Pioneer Theatre Company. Written by Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally, “Shucked” boasts a starry cast that includes John Behlmann, Alex Newell and Taylor Trensch. Producers are reportedly prepping the show for Broadway after its Utah engagement.
As Cahoon looks ahead to his future on “Monarch” and beyond, he’s hopeful that he’ll continue to offer a positive representation of the LGBTQ community through his performances.
“They say all great country songs are three chords and the truth, but with the Romans, it’s like 18 stanzas, 40 choruses and a bridge, and you still don’t know what the truth is,” he said with a laugh. “Earl, I guarantee you, isn’t fearful of standing in his own rhinestone boots. He’s standing in his truth and not afraid to be in that truth, even though he’s surrounded by a world where the truth is murky.”
“Monarch” airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. EST on Fox.