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Gus Kenworthy Wants to Be the Next Ellen DeGeneres

Gus Kenworthy is looking to host. The Instagram star and Olympic silver-medal-winning skier wants his shot at Hollywood, and the job that he truly desires is to carry his own talk show in the tradition of Ellen DeGeneres or Andy Cohen. Over lunch at the downtown Manhattan restaurant Extra Virgin, he lists off his qualifications. “I love chatting with people and having good conversations,” the 27-year-old says. “I like being on camera.”

But it doesn’t need to be TV talk: Kenworthy would like to find his place in show business. “Growing up, I wanted to be an actor,” he says. “That was always my dream as a kid. It wasn’t even to be a skier. And then that got sidelined when the ski career took off.” He got cast as Danny in a high school production of “Grease,” but he had to drop out due to his sports commitments. “Broadway would be so much fun,” Kenworthy says. Can he sing? “I need to work on my voice.”

He found it — albeit in a different way — in 2015. Kenworthy made headlines when he came out of the closet in a cover story for ESPN The Magazine. Since then, he’s skyrocketed to 1 million Instagram followers as he chronicles his travels with his boyfriend, the actor Matthew Wilkas. At the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, Kenworthy and his pal, figure skater Adam Rippon, declined to meet Mike Pence because of the vice president’s support of gay conversion therapy. But he doesn’t want to be a political lightning rod, short of encouraging people to vote in the midterm elections and pledging to raise $1 million by next summer for the AIDS/LifeCycle tour from San Francisco to L.A. As he seeks a second career, Kenworthy is also contemplating one more winter of competition on the slopes.

He spoke to Variety about being a bicoastal New Yorker — with an apartment in the East Village and a second home in Los Angeles.

How are things in your life?
Things are going pretty well. I’m sitting in the beautiful West Village, across from a cute reporter, and things are going well.

That kind of introduction usually works better if this was a video interview.
Oh, there’s no cameras? I feel like I’m at a sort of weird crossroads in my life. I kind of had planned to be done competing at this last Olympics. And then I got hurt in practice. I didn’t ski the way that I wanted to. They say you’re only as good as your last performance. My last performance was not what I had hoped for. It’s made it really hard to walk away. I haven’t been on the snow since then, but as the season is coming up again, I’m starting to think: “Am I doing this again?” I think I am. I’m still going to compete next winter, probably scaled back from what I normally do.

Are you going to compete in the 2022 Olympics?
I think I would be too old for it. I was one of the older guys at this Olympics. There’s still a career that exists around skiing that doesn’t necessarily revolve around the Olympics.

What other careers are you interested in?
I’m trying to dip my feet in a bunch of other areas. There’s been a lot of exciting things that have almost happened, but nothing’s actually happened. I’ve read and had camera tests for different hosting jobs. I’ve done a few random correspondent jobs. I had two auditions that were sent over. Both of the times, the feedback was “Hey, that was really great but just not what we’re looking for.” So it’s OK. I really am open to whatever.

How did growing up in Telluride, Colo., shape who you are?
It instilled a sense of adventure in myself. I spent a lot of time alone as a kid and a lot of time outside. I learned the value of kindness pretty early, because burning a bridge in a small town comes back to burn you. I knew I was gay really early. I was 5 or 6. I had never said the words out loud. I remember when I was 13 or 14, I told our dog that I was gay. I whispered it to him in my room. It was the first time I said it. I knew he wouldn’t tell anyone.

I went back and reread your ESPN cover story from 2015, where you talked about some of your fears about coming out as an athlete.
I feel like most of my fears were unnecessary, and I think that tends to be the case with people who are in the closet. I think you build it up to be this big thing that’s worse and scarier and harder than it is. I was scared because our whole income was based on sponsorships, and you get sponsors based off your image. I thought there wasn’t a place for a gay guy in my sport. There had never been one before me. I came out, and it was the opposite of what I expected. I was the most endorsed athlete at the Olympics, which was kind of insane to me.

Gus Kenworthy Variety Power of New York-Full-2
CREDIT: Jenna Greene

If you hadn’t come out, would you have gotten so many sponsors?
No. When brands are trying to figure out which athletes to endorse, they’re like, “Who’s got a good story?” They didn’t want a ton of straight white athletes who are normally the face of the Winter Olympics. Adam and I were the only two gay men. I walked into that ceremony holding his hand, knowing we were competing for the community.

Are you surprised that more athletes haven’t come out?
I really thought I was going to come out in ESPN and then suddenly other people would too, other skiers and snowboarders. I really thought it was going to happen, and it hasn’t. It’s not easy, and it doesn’t seem to be getting easier. But I do think that more athletes need to come out, and athletes need to recognize that they have a responsibility to come out. It’s only going to do good to have more representation and visibility.

What’s a memorable celebrity interaction that you’ve had?
When I met RuPaul both times, I was so awkward. I was stumbling over my words, and he was so sweet. I was pretty star-struck for Britney Spears. She tweeted at Adam and me during the Games, and we were backstage at the GLAAD awards [with her]. The whole interaction was kind of jarring and intense. It wasn’t like we had an opportunity to hang out and chat. She was like, “You guys smell good.” I think I said, “You too.”

You recently moved to an apartment in the East Village. What are some of your favorite hangout spots in New York?
I love Central Park. When my mom comes and visits, that’s something we always do. I love the Chelsea High Line. I really love Dumbo. I think the buildings down there are so beautiful. My boyfriend and I used to climb all the time right under the bridge. We’d ride our bikes over and go bouldering. They just opened the Dumbo House. The pool’s amazing. That’s where we should have had this interview.

I’m not a member.
I’ll bring you.

What’s the last Broadway show that you saw?
“Mean Girls.” It’s my favorite movie. I know I’m basic.

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