It was playing Prince Charming in a send up of Snow White that hooked Gus Kenworthy.
He was in middle school — before skiing consumed his “free time” — and the Telluride Repertory Theater had cast the young jock in the brief stage role. He rode in from offstage on a “spring-loaded horse contraption,” delivered his performance, kissed the girl (eww!) and rode off into the proverbial sunset to thunderous applause.
Yet it wasn’t necessarily the reaction of the audience that grabbed his interest.
“I like taking on different characters,” Kenworthy told Outsports. “I like being someone else for a moment. Maybe that is like a metaphor for the fact that I was in the closet for all those years, like I was playing someone else.”
For much of his life the Olympic silver medalist (we’ll get to that in a moment) did play someone else, even on NBC during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. When he and his secret then-boyfriend tracked down some stray dogs in Russia and decided to adopt them, Kenworthy played the role of straight Olympic medalist who was suddenly the darling of every dog lover in America.
He’s spun that role in his head a million times, coming out on the other end about a year ago and finally leaving behind his life-long performance. Since coming out as gay he has continued his success on the slopes as one of the rare publicly out professional male athletes, winning two silver medals at the 2016 X-Games.
Yet even at 25, Kenworthy has started thinking about life after skiing. While he won’t be putting on the “straight-acting” role again in his personal life, he told Outsports when he retires from his sport he wants to return to acting.
He left the craft as a youth to pursue skiing, and he has some unfinished business there.
"I like acting. It's what I want to try to get into after skiing. I've done a lot of interviews and stuff on TV [earlier this year he appeared on celebrity Family Feud] so I'm not really nervous in front of the camera.”
Kenworthy said he has had a couple auditions recently that haven’t quite panned out.
Next week he makes his scripted national television debut on ABC’s The Real O’Neals, playing “Gus Kenworthy,” an openly gay professional skier with an Olympic silver medal. OK, yeah, he plays himself. Actually, Kenworthy told me he plays a “sassy, bitchy version” of himself in the episode. Touché.
Still, playing himself with scripted lines isn’t as easy as one might think. In the episode, Kenworthy nails the performance. He delivers one particular line — a fun little dig at Robbie Rogers (don’t worry, Rogers hits him right back) — with the perfection of a seasoned comedic veteran. Visions of Bea Arthur danced in my head.
While I’m a sports writer today, I was a development exec at Disney Channel for several years, so I have some background identifying a good performance. In just a few lines, Kenworthy delivers here. I was actually quite impressed. I’ll have a complete review of the full episode this Sunday.
As for Kenworthy, he told me that his young acting career ended when he was offered a role as Danny in a stage production of Grease. He had to choose between that and skiing. He chose well.
If his performance on The Real O’Neals next Tuesday is any indication, he’s already chosen his post-retirement profession well too.
The show’s sports-themed episode airs Tuesday, Dec. 6, 9:30pmET/PT.