Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Reichen Lehmkuhl Talks About Life in New York City and on “The A List”

Reichen Lehmkuhl first came into the public eye when he and then-partner Chip Arndt won The Amazing Race as an openly gay couple. They later split and Reichen famously dated Lance Bass at the time when the former NSync singer came out publicly.

Reichen has written a book (Here’s What We’ll Say) and dabbled in acting (Dante’s Cove on Here! TV and the off-Broadway play My Big Gay Italian Wedding) and has now circled back to reality television as one of the stars of the new Logo series The A List which premiered last night.

He talked to Socialite Life about the new show and how it came about. Here is the interview:

Socialite Life: Hi Reichen! What are you up to?
Reichen Lehmkuhl: I'm shopping for an event. I'm receiving an award from the New York Liberal Democratic Club.

SL: Congratulations! And congratulations on the new show, I saw it and it's really entertaining.
Reichen: I can't wait to see it! (Laughs)

SL: How did you end up getting involved with The A List?
Reichen: Actually, it was a year ago in October, I was asked if I was willing to move to New York to do this show and at the time I couldn't just take off from Los Angeles, so I said "no". And then, this year I put on my Facebook that I was moving to New York to do an off-Broadway play and the same casting director saw it and asked me if I would come in and do an interview for the same show, because they still hadn't cast it yet and they still wanted to do it. So I came in and they put me on tape for Logo and then, three days later, they called me and said they're going forward with this show and they wanted me. It's pretty cool.

SL: You wrote a book about your experience as a gay man in the military, "Here's What We'll Say". Was it hard for you to come out and tell your story?
Reichen: You know, it was cool to write it because I was getting it all out - all of my thoughts and feelings. When I went to publish it, yeah, it got a little scary because I knew I was exposing the way LGBT people were treated behind the closed gates of the US military and service academies and I knew I was going to get some backlash from that. So it was something that I really had to keep a thick skin about and just do it.

SL: I heard that there may be a film version of your story in the works. Is that true?
Reichen: It is true. A production company in Los Angeles has just purchased rights to shop it around the Hollywood studios. They're in the process of doing that right now. A screenplay has already been adapted and it's brilliant. It's awesome. I've already read it and it's looking good right now.

SL: This show couldn't have arrived at a better time, with "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in the spotlight. How do you feel about Lady Gaga bringing the DADT issue front and center?
Reichen: I'm just so happy that Lady Gaga, who's probably the most well-known person in the world right now, would come out and support this cause that we've been fighting for so long - since 1993, when "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was born. I think she's kind of brand new to the cause to a lot of us, but it doesn't matter because she's using this huge voice that she has - bigger than any voice we've ever had - to bring attention to it, and that's what we need. The more that people are aware of the problem, the more it's going to get fixed - because the name "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" gives Americans this false feeling that everything's fine. If you just go in and don't say anything, no one's going to ask you and you can serve - but it's not like that at all. There's a horrible environment in the military of homophobia and discrimination and violence associated with homosexuality and someone can just accuse you of being gay, you didn't tell anyone and nobody asked you, but if someone accuses you of it, an investigation starts. So DADT does nothing and there's been over 14,000 discharges of gay people since DADT, so it tells you that the policy doesn't work.

SL: I know you're very involved in activism and advocacy for DADT organizations - in fact, you donate 10% of the profits from your Fly Naked jewelry line to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. Can you tell me a little bit more?
Reichen: All of my work with DADT is with the SLDN and the focus of my jewelry line is to bring more awareness to the issue and also to help the SLDN and that's why we 10% of the gross proceeds to fight the ban.

SL: What was your most awesome experience from being on The Amazing Race?
Reichen: My most awesome experience was running up that last hill and beating the second place team by seven minutes and having Phil Keoghan say "You just won a million dollars!" There's nothing like that!

SL: Aside from Amazing Race, you've done a lot of traveling. What do you think is a place everyone should put on their "bucket list" to visit?
Reichen: Everyone should go to the islands off of Cairns, Australia and charter a boat and dive for like three days on the Great Barrier Reef and stay on one of these amazing islands with perfect weather, the most beautiful water and just hang out there for a few days. I stayed on Bedarra Island for a week and it was probably the most heavenly vacation I've ever had in my life. I was truly relaxed. I laid in a hammock all of the time, looked out at the water and read books. It was so quiet and so nice.

SL: What is it about New York that is so appealing?
Reichen: Well, you know I always said up until this past April, when I moved here to do the play, that I loved New York City to visit, but I could never live there. And then, it's crazy, once you get an apartment here and you have a job here, and you feel a little settled and safe, it's amazing (laughs). You walk out your door and everything's at your fingertips. You can have anything you want, meet anyone you want at any hour of the day. There's so much energy here and people are so eager here to talk and get to know you and exchange ideas and I think people are very open here, compared to LA. People in LA are very nice but I think there's a lot of pressure in LA - and I kind of fell under this too - to always say everything in your life is just wonderful because having everything in your life being wonderful is what you depend on putting out there to make sure you keep getting work (laughs). Where here, I find more people are open about the everyday s**t that goes on in their lives.

SL: A lot of the first episode revolves around your work on the play (My Big Gay Italian Wedding). Was that a fun experience for you?
Reichen: It was a lot of pressure, but it was amazing. I know the show is probably going to show my weakest moments, because that's good TV, but I had to learn how to dance and learn to sing some of these songs and I ended up pulling through to the point where people told me, "Wow, you're good at this and you can really do this." It's cool to have that feeling of accomplishment.

SL: Is acting in the theater something you want to continue to pursue?
Reichen: Yeah. Right now, I'm really interested in this new play coming to Broadway called Yank! It's about a gay service member in the army during World War II. I've met with the producers and we're in initial talks about some sort of involvement that I could have in the play. If I don't have a part in the play, I want to be some sort of associate producer or a promoter because I think it's such a cool story and I want to be a part of it.

SL: We didn't get to see you actually sing or dance on The A List. Would you ever be interested on appearing on Dancing with the Stars?
Reichen: I'd love to do Dancing with the Stars. I think I would have to work harder than most people but I think I could make it work!

SL: You've done so much in your career already. Is there anything you haven't done yet that you really want to do?
Reichen: Yes. I think I want to get a little more personally political. I would love to run for office one day. I don't think in the next few years, but I want to get a little more serious and kind of study up on the legislative system in our country and, even if I do something on a local level, I think it would be cool to be politically involved - so I see that happening for me down the line. But right now, I'm really stimulated by theater and acting and the business of television - and especially reality television, which I think is the strongest and fastest-growing genre of entertainment right now and I feel so lucky to be a part of it.

SL: How do you feel about having cameras following your every move and having it all out there for the world to see - and comment on?
Reichen: Well, I've been through it a lot before, this is the fourth reality show I've done. People really scrutinize me and my life and I think I'm finally to the point where I'm doing and saying what I want to do and say and not worrying about what people think. Someone's always going to have a problem with what you do or say and there's always going to be someone who thinks you should have done it differently or better but, you know, everything you do, there's so many choices you have and the way that you do it. You just put yourself out there and hope that it's interesting enough for people to watch or relate to and that's what I'm doing.

SL: Out of everything you've done, what is your proudest accomplishment?
Reichen: My proudest accomplishment is definitely graduating from the Air Force Academy because it was really hard - it was the hardest four years of my life. Everyday was hard - not only because of the things I had to do - but just to mentally tell yourself not to quit for four years because it's everyday. You're always under the gun and, especially being in the closet, I had so many reasons to quit and I didn't - I stuck it out. My second greatest accomplishment is definitely writing my book because I wrote it myself on my laptop, with my own fingers and every word is mine and it's helping people. It makes me so happy to receive emails from people thanking me for writing it, they relate to it, they tell me "I can remember that happening to me" and it just feels awesome.

SL: One last quick question, what does the tattoo on your back say?
Reichen: It says "Only God can judge me". When I finally broke free of the very public relationship and break up I had, I was getting so concerned about what people were writing about me and I read lie after lie after lie and it horrible to be judged in such a mass audience type of way. I remember I was in Hawaii and I got inspired by those words and I went and had it stuck on my back so I'd remember it forever.

SL: What's next for you?
Reichen: This will make you laugh, because you've listed all of these things I've done, but I got a letter from this soldier in Afghanistan, actually a pilot, and he was telling me that he was in this unit that was very secret, under the gun and all of the communication in and out of the unit was being monitored by intelligence and he was gay. He couldn't write in emails or phone calls or even letters how he was feeling to his partner and neither could his partner. They couldn't communicate for a period of four months and it drove him crazy to the point where they didn't know if either one of them was still into the relationship. So when he sent me this letter, he had read my book when he got out of the unit and he thanked me for the book and for what I was doing with DADT - and the letter made me cry. I wrote a poem about it and my friend who read the poem said, "You should make this a song". So, I play the guitar - I've played since I was seven but I've never performed in public or anything, so I wrote this song, I wrote the music, wrote the lyrics and I played it for this music producer and he said "We're going to make this into a single". So we are recording this single now called "Up to the Sky" and we're even making a music video. So I have a hit single coming out with a music video!

You can keep up with Reichen via his website. And don't forget to watch the next episodes of The A List on Mondays at 10:00 pm (ET) on Logo.

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