On the FOX TV series LA to Vegas, about a budget airline that makes weekender runs between the two cities, Nathan Lee Graham serves up sass, fashion, and deliciously off-kilter laughs. The openly gay singer-actor excels in these sorts of slightly twisted, fierce, and memorable comic roles: as Todd, assistant to Will Ferrell’s demented villain, Mugatu, in the two Zoolander films; and as designer Frederick in Sweet Home Alabama.
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, the NYC-based Graham has an impressive list of stage credits to his name including Broadway’s Tony-nominated The Wild Party, in which he co-starred with friend and idol Eartha Kitt; and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, as well as cabaret and concert engagements. He’s performed tributes to Gershwin, Garland, and friend Eartha Kitt (he’s also been a headline performer on RSVP Cruises). Currently at work on a first solo album, “NLG NYC Le Jazz Classique,” set to feature renditions of songbook classics by the likes of Stephen Sondheim, Cole Porter, and Noël Coward, Graham joined us in the VIP lounge for some saucy dish!
What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen when flying in first or business class?
I did see someone take off their shoes and socks and attempt to do their toenails. They got a signature NLG throat clearing and look. My side-eye was so severe, I got a headache from it. I’m not even kidding.
How would you actually fare as a flight attendant in real life?
Oh my God, God bless those passengers. The thing is, to be honest, I probably would be a very good one because I do care about people and want them to be treated fairly. So, as much as I would like to be bitchy and blow everyone off, I’d be very attentive and try to be best friends, but I wouldn’t let anyone treat me like a doormat. I would be that wonderful mixture of Bernard, saucy, but ultimately I’m gonna help you out.
What are the best and worst airline meals you’ve had?
The best was a shrimp primavera that was really tasty, and a piece of banana bread that was so lovely. The worst? Oh gosh. It might have been this vegetable lasagna that seemed cold and not done. I can tell you one of my favorite things was to take the red eye as a kid, and they would give you a sliced hard-boiled egg with Grey Poupon dijon mustard on a bagel bite sort of thing. And maybe a cornichon. I thought, this is what you get for the midnight meal. Very fancy and luxurious. I loved that! That’s a throwback meal. Now they throw you a bag of peanuts.
Have you ever watched yourself in an onboad movie or show?
I have!! I have! But only for a few seconds. I’ll smirk. My movies are always on the plane, especially in the classic section—Zoolander, Sweet Home Alabama, they’re always there!
Whose life story would you like to star in?
I think James Baldwin. What a wonderful life and cross section of people he came into contact with. All of his work still resonates today. A wonderful activist by just being himself. A man of letters and renaissance person. An incredible human being. If I could transform myself into him in some way, that would be extraordinary. I wouldn’t mind playing a woman, and I have onstage, because it’s the ultimate character embodiment for an actor. Dionne Warwick would be great, and my idol Eartha Kitt. In fact she said to me, ‘you know, Nathan, lots of men do me…you can do me.’ Singer Bobby Short, who is more obscure but had a very interesting life in the cabaret scene of NY. He came into contact with so many people, presidents, the jet set. Not too many people know about him, and he was a part of NYC’s café society and the elite. You might not have had a chance to get to know him beyond his 1970’s ‘Charlie’ commercials with Shelley Hack. He had such an interesting life and was so talented.
Speaking of cabaret, where should one go in NYC for great cabaret acts?
54 Below is wonderful because they do a lot of crossover with Broadway. The Café Carlyle— Eartha introduced me to it, and I saw her there first in my 20s. She stroked my arm when she came out of the backstage area heading on to the stage. There’s a new one called The Green Room 42 at Yotel. I like this space and have been asked to perform there, and think I will soon. And try to see Anne Hampton Callaway, she’s lovely and at City Winery quite often. And make sure to see her sister Liz Callaway, they’re both wonderful. Also there’s Birdland. It’s quite nice, with Jim Caruso. If you can catch Charles Busch anytime, please do.
What is your favorite memory of Eartha Kitt or a bit of advice she gave you?
So many! We would go out in-between shows when on Broadway, and I would notice she put on sunglasses in the dead of night during winter and I asked why. She said, ‘it’s a barrier and you should always wear them 24/7.’ To this day I wear mine all the time. A natural barrier where you don’t want to be rude to people, but they know not to come too close. So they won’t encroach upon your personal space.
You have quite the fashion sense, so where do you like to go shopping?
The honest truth is I shop everywhere. Bergdorf for Men is a wonderful store, you can find anything you need or want. But you’ll catch me at an H&M, Forever 21, Bloomingdales, and Macy’s. I know how to put things together and mix high end and low end and keep it moving. Every once in a while I’ll do a vintage piece, and I love accessories and Paul Smith. My favorite eyewear place is called Native Ken—it’s from Adam Porter-Smith, Billy Porter’s husband, in Chelsea! And specialty stores like Aedes de Venustas, a West Village perfumery where you have to buzz to get in.