John Cameron Mitchell Reveals New Details About His Portrayal Of Joe Exotic

When it comes to the roles actor John Cameron Mitchell has played over the course of his career, the characters that have become intrinsically tied to his legacy have spanned the globe. From the iconoclastic East German genderqueer rocker Hedwig in the 2001 movie-musical "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" to the narcissistic Portland-based editor Gabe on the Hulu series "Shrill," the actor and director has run the gamut when it comes to the memorable dramatis personae he embodies. But now, it seems like Mitchell might be taking on a role that, for all intents and purposes, could ring truest to his roots than any character he's played before — and for reasons that might not be entirely obvious to the naked eye.

In a May 2021 exclusive with Page Six, Mitchell opened up about his preparation for his upcoming role in NBCU's scripted series adaptation of the hit 2020 Netflix docuseries "Tiger King," which followed a murder-for-hire plot concocted by the titular "king" himself — a gay, gun-toting zoo-owner who went by the name Joe Exotic — against the Florida-based big cat sanctuary founder Carole Baskin. Mitchell, who was cast as Joe Exotic in April, told Page Six that despite Exotic's seedy dealings and morally suspect conduct, the actor found a common thread that links Exotic's upbringing to his own — and as a result, has made the convicted criminal's humanity more palpable. Keep on reading to find out why.

John Cameron Mitchell grew up similarly to Joe Exotic

As John Cameron Mitchell told Page Six, the actor was able to tap into a similarity that he and Joe Exotic both share: living as queer kids in the southern and southwestern U.S. during a time where it was often dangerous to be gay. "I grew up in a lot of the places he lived in," Mitchell said in Page Six, referring to spending his formative years in places like Texas, where the actor was born, and Kansas, where Joe Exotic's infamous G.W. Zoo attracted customers for nearly two decades before closing in 2020. 

After Mitchell noted that both he and Exotic are almost exactly the same age, the actor expounded upon the ways in which being queer and closeted could be harmful to queer men, resulting in exhibiting behaviors borne from toxic masculinity. "When you grow up queer in that environment, you hate yourself because everybody hated you," Mitchell explained. "And his way of dealing with it was to imitate his oppressor. Get a gun and say, 'I'm more of a f***ing a**h*** than you are. I've got my hand in a tiger's mouth.'"

Though Mitchell expressed empathy for Exotic, he stopped short at the ways it could have contributed to his darker impulses. "I don't think in life, it's a very good policy," he added, "[but] I understand him without in any way condoning."