In the Steppenwolf farce POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive, queer actor Chloe Baldwin portrays the president's mistress Dusty, acting alongside a formidable group that includes Caroline Neff and Sandra Marquez.
However, Baldwin is not only a theater actress, having been in films such as Widows (with Viola Davis). She is also a fight choreographer and a drag king (going by the name Christian Rock).
Windy City Times recently talked with Baldwin about the production, queerness and even puppetryand Baldwin lived up to the title on her website: "world's nicest badass." This interview took place the day after the SAG-AFTRA strike ended.
Note: This conversation was edited for clarity and length.
Windy City Times: So the actors' strike is over. What's your reaction to that?
Chloe Baldwin: I'm thrilled! I was on the picket line in Los Angeles because I spent time there as well as here [in Chicago]. You wonder if it's going to make a difference but I'm so proud of everybody for sticking it out and standing up for what we need. It's huge.
WCT: I'm sure it was really scary for 95% of actors, because they didn't star in blockbusters and had to probably work other jobs to make ends meet.
CB: Exactly. Just the base pay changing is going to make so much of a difference for people like me. Plus, having the protection against AI is huge, tooand necessary.
WCT: Let's talk about 'POTUS.' The title might lead some to believe it's just a comedybut this production covers some serious topics, like feminism and subjugation.
CB: Absolutely. I love it because it's dark humor and we get to dig into some of the darker sides of politics and some of the things that are systemically ingrained into our country. It's such a funny thing to say about a farce, but it's one of the best ways to address some of those topics. It really excites me to be a part of this because we get to have an amazing time; yet, I get to make art about something that is really important.
WCT: I brought up feminism. Do you think it could be problematic that the president is assumed to be a "he," even though the title wouldn't work otherwise?
CB: Honestly, I kinda love it. I feel like having all of these women surround this messed-up dude describes situations that a lot of womenincluding myselfhave been in. This guy is in power and we don't know how to deal with this because we don't have the power. Do we prop him up? Do we try to make him deal with issues that affect us? Those situations often go wrong so quickly. I definitely consider myself a feminist and, as one, I'm like, "Hell, yeahlet's go!"
WCT: What do you want people to take away from this production?
CB: Hopewhich is so shocking when we're doing a play about politics. In the last five years, there have been so many times where things seem hopeless. This is something I think addresses the fact that you can't just burn everything to the ground and start over, but we can't let things stay the way they are. Maybe there's this third way that lets us take back power. There's this moment at the end of the play that is both irreverent and galvanizing; it just gives me hope.
I remember being a kid and going to Washington, D.C., and wanting to be a Supreme Court justicebut that faded as I got older because of the reality of things, like the overturning of Roe v. Wade. It's kind of terrifying, but this play gives me hope. We've had all of these political consultants come in for the show and a lot of them were women; just hearing what they're doing to make change in this country gives me a lot of hope, too.
WCT: So you don't want to serve alongside Clarence Thomas now?
CB: [Laughs] Oh, my gosh. What an insane time this is. That's not my bag.
WCT: I also want to talk about you a little bit. You identify as bisexual, genderqueer and queer. How have your identities influenced and informed your choices in acting?
CB: Oh, my goshit's been awesome. The biggest thing, overall, is just knowing about myself, with these bright lights and gray areas; nothing feels black-and-white. It helps me approach any character with open-mindedness.
We're all complex and fluid in a way that it's hard for people to grapple with sometimes. We want black-and-white answers and we want to put people in categories. But with a character like Dusty, all of these images come to mind that are two-dimensionalbut she's a complex person. And for me, who's biseeing my character [witness] this other relationship with two lesbian characters, seeing these women in power and being very sexually empoweredI get to lean into my character and it reminds me of some of the experiences I've had in my life.
After I graduated, I was in this theater company called Babes with Blades, and there were some queer women in this [stage-combat] group. It's great to be able to draw from all that experienceand I really look up to the women in this case. I'm so inspired by them.
WCT: Well, with you being six feet tall, they look up to you, too [Baldwin smiles]but you have plenty of talent, too.
CB: Thank you.
WCT: Going back to the topic of gender, I understand you're quite into Shakespeare. Do you have a favorite character you've played?
CB: Oh, my God. It's tied between two. One is my drag-king ancestor: Rosalind, from As You Like It. I absolutely love her! I've played her three times.
The other character would be Romeo. I just got to play him as a girl, and I was able to use passion and earnestness. He's just so willing to put it all on the line; there's naivete in that, but also courage and wisdom. I like that a lotwearing your heart on your sleeve.
WCT: Is there a role that you want to play or wish you had played?
CB: That's a great question! With Shakespeare, I would love to play Hamlet. A friend played Hamlet, and he and I got to connect over our experiences. And I think Hamlet is so much funnier than people think.
WCT: I haven't seen Hamlet in quite some time. I'll have to see it again, and it'll be interesting seeing it through a different lens.
CB: I totally recommend Andrew Scott's version. I didn't see it live because it was in the UK, but Andrew Scott is so good! [Note: Scott portrays Hamlet in a 2018 film, but it's currently listed as unavailable on Prime Video.]
WCT: Also, are you into puppetry?
CB: Yesa long time ago, although I've dabbled in it since. I love that you found that!
Back in middle school, I was into it. There was a workshop at our local library, which got this huge grantso, for three years, I studied puppetry with these brilliant puppet people. There was every style of puppet except marionettes. That digs deep into my brain!
The other day, I was talking with an old teacher of mine about how you make the puppets "breathe." Even when they're still, you keep moving thembecause human beings and animals are never still.
WCT: My last question is something I've asked several people this year: For you, what is it like to be part of the queer community in today's America?
CB: I could cry just thinking about this. It's been one of the greatest joys of my life. It's so liberating even though it can be so hard to let yourself come out and really find community. But so much of the communitylike drag kings and drag queens, and the first queer women I met in collegehave helped me. I almost have no words.
Two things come to mind. You're free to live within [queer] communities; there's space to explore and find out who you are. And the other aspect that goes along with that is just community, in general. I've never met people who are more giving to each other; there's this sense of community that I think is hard to find, in general. By necessity, we've made it happen in this community.
It's scary to think about doing drag when you think about laws that are being passed in different statesbut [the sense of community] is so much powerful than any fear. And I know that I say this from a place of privilegeas someone who is white and femme-passingbut it's something that I'm really thankful for.
POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive has been extended through Sunday, Dec. 17, in Steppenwolf's Downstairs Theater, 1650 N. Halsted St. Single tickets for POTUS start at $20 and are now on sale at steppenwolf.org or 312-335-1650.