“It’s about armor,” says Kevin Cahoon of his performance as drag performer Bobby Barnes in “GLOW.” Cahoon was a new addition to the cast for Season 3, and frequently stole the show thanks to a complicated portrayal of a gay man trying to succeed in Las Vegas of 1986. Watch the exclusive video interview above.
Though Bobby is confident and joyous on stage, Cahoon suggests that “he’s putting on a good face.” In the 80’s Barnes would have to face rampant homophobia in the Vegas club scene and face the looming threat of the AIDS crisis. “He’s a survivor,” declares Cahoon, “he’s going to do what he had to do. And if that means putting on a happy face, and putting on that armor, and putting up that shield, that’s what he was going to have to do.”
The actor did plenty of research into the state of drag at the time of the series. Though the art form has a sense of empowerment to it today, the queens of the 80’s were usually closeted off-stage. “All these people were packing these theaters to see them,” describes Cahoon, “yet they weren’t willing to accept them for who they were.”
The queens of the 80s often considered themselves “female impersonators,” and the popular divas they embodied would gradually fall away during the act until the performer could unleash their own fabulous self. This struck a chord with Cahoon, whose Bobby impersonates icons like Liza Minnelli, Carol Channing, and Barbra Streisand during “GLOW.” He loved the concept that these women acted as “beacons of light guiding these performers to their truth.”
Those small moments of empowerment on stage lead to one of the most tender scenes of Season 3, when Bobby takes Sheila (Gayle Rankin) under his wing. In a nearly wordless moment, the normally guarded “she wolf” allows him to remove her wig and comb it. Cahoon recalls the moment as a “magical pairing.” He says the pair “did not talk a lot about” the scene, instead relying on the script and given circumstances to create a beautifully simple moment of human connection. He praises the smart writing for using Bobby as “a catalyst for Sheila’s liberation.”
Of course, Cahoon is no stranger to donning a wig and makeup. The performer was in the original cast of “The Lion King” on Broadway, but left the coveted job to become the standby for John Cameron Mitchell in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” downtown. “My agents at the time said ‘you’re nuts, you’re losing your mind,’” jokes the actor. But “Hedwig” spoke to him more than anything else ever had. “It was a benchmark moment in musical theater and in telling stories of LGBTQ people who were disenfranchised,” claims Cahoon. The experience “continues to be the gift of all gifts.”
“Hedwig” (a role he eventually took over from Mitchell) was the actor’s first time in drag, and “it sort of opened this door for the rest of my life.” All these years later, the veteran performer was uniquely prepared to inhabit Bobby in “GLOW.” As Cahoon puts it, Hedwig and Bobby “are both fighting and climbing every bit of every rung they can find to land on their feet.”
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