There's a new Tiger King on TV, with John Cameron Mitchell taking on the role of Joe "Exotic" Schreibvogel for Peacock's Joe vs. Carole, a comedy/drama based on the popular Netflix docuseries Tiger King.
This talented gay performer starred in many musicals in the past such as The Secret Garden, Six Degrees of Separation and Big River before his Off-Broadway creation Hedwig and the Angry Inch took off. Eventually, he made a 2001 film adaption of Hedwig that he directed and starred in.
On television, he recently played Aidy Bryant's boss on Hulu's Shrill before taking on Exotic's unforgettable persona. Joe vs Carole teams Mitchell up with another out and proud artist, Kate Mckinnon, who will surely mesmerize audiences as Carole Baskin, owner of the Big Cat Rescue. As the conflicts arise over the course of eight episodes, viewers will be treated to plenty of LGBTQ+ representation in the series thanks to Schreibvogel's history, even resulting in a male trio wedding ceremony on one episode.
Life is a zoo for these two outlandish characters as they compete for attention in an unforgettable battle for fame and fortune in a media jungle.
Windy City Times: Hi, John. I am calling in from the Windy City.
John Cameron Mitchell: I am pleased to see Windy City Times is still up and running!
WCT: It is still going. It was great to hang out with you and your aunt backstage at your last Chicago appearance in 2019.
JCM: Yes, my aunt, who is a nun, lives in Chicago. I went to Northwestern. That was a crazy night. Remember it was during the Jussie Smollett case?
WCT: I remember you talked about it onstage!
JCM: I said, "Girlfriend, just because you are an actor doesn't mean you are a director. That was a bad production you set up!"
WCT: Let's go from Smollett to mullet. With Joe Exotic's hair and country-western garb, was this like being in drag again?
JCM: Yes, I do nothing but blonde wigs. I did play Andy Warhol too! I don't feel comfortable without a blonde wig and even now I don't feel comfortable without it talking to you…
WCT: Does anyone know why Joe wore eyeliner?
JCM: Why does any of us wear eyeliner, darling? I learned about eyeliner in Chicago in the '80s when I lived there!
Joe tattooed it on, actually. At my concert, I use eyeliner all the time. We all have our special things. I think he had a little facelift on the sides of his head. We are the exact same age. I am now wondering when I am 60 if I should have some work done. I will wait until the technology improves! [laughs]
WCT: I heard Nicholas Cage wanted to play Joe Exotic. Was this role tough to land?
JCM: I had to put a hit out on Nic. I was unsuccessful, but I wasn't prosecuted and there was no trail left behind. Wasn't her great in Pig? I loved that movie and it was my favorite film of last year.
I got the role at the last minute, which made me think there was someone they lost out on. They won't tell me because they are being polite. I did get the role within days of my audition. They had to cast it really fast. Usually, there are many rounds of auditions, but I guess I kicked ass.
Actually, I am wearing the jeans right now that I wore for the audition and they have a zipper down the back. For my self-taped audition I flashed the bronze eye and somehow still got the role. I flashed the Peacock!
WCT: Speaking of animals, were there any live animals on the set of Joe vs .Carole? I saw a lot of CGI animals in the series.
JCM: There were no live animals other than stand-in animals. For the big tigers, there were Great Danes. For the tiger cubs, there were hypoallergenic cats and a dog or two that they make into the tigers. They used the movement of the stand-in animals for special effects.
It was a lot easier to work with, especially since I am allergic to cats. That also means I am allergic to tigers I heard, which is really interesting.
The cats were great to work with and better for animal rights.
WCT: Was there one thing that really surprised you when researching Joe?
JCM: The only thing that surprised me was what a great kisser Kate McKinnon is. We had a whole improv part that we made up. I don't know why that would surprise me, though.
I learned that Joe was sexually abused by his father and brother. We didn't really get into that, but that came out.
He saw a picture of me and said, "Cameron Mitchell is going make me look like a flaming fag." My response to his post was the painted-nails emoji saying, "Honey, please we all know…"
After that, I was asked by his people to do the voice work for the audiobook of his memoir and asked them if they had consulted him first. They checked back with him and rescinded the offer. A friend of mine, George Newbern wound up doing the voice work instead.
Much of Joe was as one would expect [in Joe's voice] "I never did anything wrong, everyone did it to me!" At the same time, we got some deep dives into his past about his lovers and coming out. Some of it you have to take with a grain of salt of course.
The center of the portrayal for me was his husband Brian Rhyne, who died of AIDS in 2001. That scarred him. From that point on he became the tough, angry, no-one-will-hurt-me-again guy. This was to his detriment ultimately. All of the homophobia he experienced he ended up internalizing. He almost imitated his oppressor. He became more of a redneck than them and an attempted murderer.
It is sad. A therapist would have told him that he was confusing people with someone that hurt him in the past. If he could have been aware of that then so much trouble could have been avoided, instead, he didn't avoid it.
WCT: I wanted more singing with all of Joe's original tunes. Can we get a Tiger King musical one day?
JCM: That is for someone else to make. I loved his songs [pause] that he didn't write. He said he wrote them, but it was two people in the state of Washington that made those songs.
I ended up writing a song with my friend Brett Every for Joe that I sang called "Call Me Joe." You can check it out online. It is to his late husband Travis Maldonado. Nat Wolff plays his husband and sings really well. He sang Travis' part on it.
I do love Joe, but I am very disappointed with his failures. I do not condone any of his crimes. It is almost like an annoying racist uncle who is really sweet sometimes. He's a product of his place in time. Not many people are able to transcend that.
WCT: What are you working on next?
JCM: I did a small part in Netflix's The Sandman series, which is coming out in April. I play Hal, who does drag and performs songs from Gypsy. It was a good time and now I want to play the part of Gypsy someday. Patti LuPone gave her thumbs up to my performance. I made a podcast musical in the past with Patti, Glenn Close and Cynthia Erivo called Anthem: Homunculus.
I am finishing a new podcast series that will be a fictional, zany satire on the subject of cancellation. I am writing it with a good friend named Michael Cavadias.
I am pitching a TV show that I am writing with Linda Perry of 4 Non Blondes. I am planning on going to Portugal to write that.
I made friends with the guys that created Veneno, the HBO Max Spanish series about the trans celebrity. It is brilliant and I will be hanging out with them in Spain next month.
I am also working on my new house in New Orleans. The house that Joe built with my paycheck from the series. I feel a little guilty because he's in jail!
Prey on the wild story of Joe vs. Carole currently streaming on PeacockTV.com .