‘Yellowjackets’: John Cameron Mitchell on His Trippy Singing-Parrot Cameo
John Cameron Mitchell is in the midst of his 60th birthday festival — yes, festival — when I call him to discuss his latest cameo: a singing, dancing parrot on the latest episode of Yellowjackets. “I love 60,” he says. “It’s the new 40.” And if his role as a cigar-chomping, silk robe-wearing African Grey is any indication, it’s also another glorious decade in Mitchell’s long career of being up for anything.
Mitchell appears in Episode Seven of the second season of the Showtime hit, which follows a group of Nineties teen soccer players as their plane crash-lands into the wilderness, where will they do anything — including the most taboo of acts — to survive. It also shows their adult counterparts dealing with the aftermath; in this episode, that means trying out modern-day cult leader Lottie’s “wellness” methods on her sprawling ranch. Misty, played by Christina Ricci, tests out some sort of sensory deprivation tank, in which she ruminates over her increasingly large body count via a song and dance number featuring her, her new love interest (Elijah Wood), and her trusty African Grey Caligula, played by Mitchell. (If you didn’t understand a single word of this paragraph, go back and watch the show. We promise it’s worth it.)
“It’s sort of fun to be one of the go-to guys for musical ambiance,” Mitchell says, referencing a recent appearance on Neil Gaiman’s Sandman where he got to bust out some songs from Gypsy. He also belted Bowie on Hulu’s Shrill. “This was a jazzy show tune from a hard-bitten African Grey parrot giving advice with a cigar and an evening gown,” Mitchell explains. He based his avian character on Patti LuPone, Jimmy Durante, and a parrot named Lydie whom he shared with an ex (the latter was named after his ex’s grandmother). “They tend to bond with one person, so when we broke up, it bit me,” Mitchell says. “I used that memory to play this one. He’s been around. He’s seen it all.”
Although he says the Yellowjackets team handpicked him to play Caligula, Mitchell has not yet had time to watch the show. When he’s not DJing or hanging at Gaiman’s castle, he’s been slammed with work. There’s a show with Linda Perry about a modern-day Jesus who becomes a rock star (a callback to his career-making role in Hedwig and the Angry Inch), a fictional podcast starring Holly Hunter called Cancelation Island (a kind of rehab for the canceled), and a role on the upcoming Apple TV+ crime drama City on Fire, which mingles murder with early-aughts indie sleaze. “We’re praying it’ll get picked up for a second season so I can afford my damn house,” Mitchell adds, referring to the old painted lady he recently bought in the Bywater section of New Orleans, which he says was previously home to a chapter of an occult church run by Aleister Crowley. “It’s got a lot of good juju in it,” he says, detailing the new stained glass windows he’s installed featuring a Blackstar-era Bowie and Mavis Staples.
Before he hangs up to head to Jazz Fest — a natural continuation of his birthday fest — Mitchell reflects on the road to this, his very first house. “It feels like this house, the final, beautiful chapter of my life will be here,” he says. “Creating music and art. It just feels good right now.”