Published 05/12/2019 at 19:54 GMT | Updated 24/12/2019 at 18:01 GMT
Gus Kenworthy sits back in his chair and laughs.
“Honestly probably the three scariest moments of my entire life,” he says as he weighs up the decision in front of him.
He’s just been asked to rank the three following moments from least scary to most: standing atop of his medal-winning run at the Sochi Olympics in 2014, his first day filming on set at American Horror Story and the moment he came out as gay.
Not your average resume to choose from, but then again Kenworthy isn’t your average athlete.
A freestyle skiing prodigy, Kenworthy took the sport by storm and in 2014 was part of an American trio on the slopestyle podium. He’s also a budding actor who is starring in the latest series of American Horror Story and in a 2015 article with ESPN he came out as gay An on-screen kiss with former boyfriend Matthew Wilkas was one of the landmark moments of the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Kenworthy’s mother is British, he was born in Essex before moving to Telluride, Colarado, and he has now switched from the US Ski Federation to GB Snowsport.
And it is now at the GB Snowsport offices that Kenworthy has to make his choice.
“I think I would say coming out was in a way the scariest but it was also the least scary once I got to the point that I was going to do it,” he says after some deliberation.
I think when I was in the closet it was built up to be the scariest thing in the world but once I started going down the road and I had said the words ‘I am gay’ to my mom and my friends it became easier and easier.
“I felt such a weight lifted off my shoulders and I felt so liberated that even though I was nervous for the announcement and for everyone to find out I was also quite excited.
“I think I was nervous but also excited but I told myself that even if I had no support from anyone else I knew I had the support of the important people around me.”
“The run in Sochi I would say. I actually stuffed up my first run so it was ride or die in the second run.
“All the pressure was building up and I remember towing up on the back of a snowmobile being like, 'holy f*** this it it, this is your last chance'. But then I was like, 'oh my god don’t say that then you’ll jinx it' and I was having this stupid internal battle with myself between putting the pressure on or trying to take it off as I didn’t know what to do.
“Then when I got into the start gate I was so pumped up and was like, 'this is it right now'. There wasn’t any outside pressure, it was 100% on me to put the run down.”
Which only leaves…
“The first day of filming on Horror Story was truly the scariest thing I’ve ever done.
“Especially because the first thing we filmed was an opening scene for the show and it’s an aerobics class so we had to learn this choreographed dance and I am not a dancer, I’ve never learned choreo in my entire life.
“I struggled with it so much, I was practicing in my bedroom looking like an idiot and filming myself in the mirror so I could watch it back and make sure I was doing it right because for everyone else it clicked and I was doing it the opposite way and falling over my feet.
“It was the first thing we were going to shoot, my first time on a set, my first time acting, this huge role that I didn’t really feel like I deserved, that I was so nervous for because I just wanted to do a good job and it couldn’t have been a scarier scene to film.”
Kenworthy has been through a lot, and that’s why he wasn’t too bothered about what the reaction was going to be when he announced that he was going to be representing Great Britain.
“I knew there were going to be some people who thought it was a bit of a controversial move but it was a move I did for my mom and where I was with my career and my life,” Kenworthy explains.
“It’s definitely what’s best suited for me and what’s going to make me happiest going into the next Olympics so there’s no regrets.”
Gus Kenworthy of the United States competes in the Men's Ski Modified Superpipe Final presented by Toyota during Day 4 of the Dew Tour on December 16, 2018 in Breckenridge, Colorado
Image credit: Getty Images
Kenworthy’s mother Pip is a pivotal character in his story: she was the one who supported his skiing consistently, she was the one who introduced him to the world of theatre, and it was her he came out to in 2015, recovering from a serious knee injury. Now it’s her he wants to honour with this move.
“I’ve kind of considered it [dual nationality] since my first Olympics [2014 was the first Olympics to have Kenworthy’s preferred slopestyle discipline]. I’ve had the option to go down this road since I started on the road to Sochi in 2014. I could have been doing that for GB, I have dual citizenship, I was born over here.
“Basically at the time it felt easier to go for the US, I was already on the team and there was infrastructure there to facilitate my training and I was living in the US.
“Coming around this time it’s definitely my last Olympics, I have no desire to compete at other Olympics four years past Beijing.
Because this is my last one I decided I would take that step and switch up teams and go with GB.
“I really thought I’d be doing this for my mum, she’s my number one fan, she was driving me to hills when I was a kid and drove me to competitions and was always stood at the bottom of courses, waving a US flag and supporting me.
“I’d like to get an opportunity to wave a British flag and support her.”
Now he will join a British freestyle ski team that can already boast Olympic bronze medallist Izzy Atkin, younger sister Zoe, former junior world champion Katie Summerhayes and of course current world champion James Woods.
They are just a number of a group of athletes who GB Snowsport believe can help propel them towards the overall goal of becoming a top five Winter Sports nation by 2030 - and Kenworthy is buying in.
“It’s absolutely possible,” he replies immediately. "There’s talented athletes and a support system in place. We’ve already seen a rise in GB Snowsport and we’re going to see that from a medal count and then participation.”
And what about Kenworthy himself? He’s said before that he wasn’t sure about competing at Beijing in 2022, does he think he’ll be able to by then?
“I feel pretty confident. This last season was one of my worst, I barely competed and didn’t perform the way I wanted to but two years ago I was at the top of podium and in the Olympic final. I feel I still have a lot of good tricks and tricks to learn.”
One of the reasons that Kenworthy hasn’t been competing as much, aside from injuries, is his budding acting career.
He had always been open about the idea of acting at the end of his career but when the opportunity came up with American Horror Story he felt he couldn’t turn it down.
Unsurprisingly Kenworthy is a huge film fan, he has a fascination with dark crime documentaries, as well as being a huge Marvel fan, which provides the opportunity for another difficult decision.
A film about the life of Jeffrey Dahmer or a role in the next Marvel blockbuster?
Kenworthy laughs and starts to try to make excuses about what the scheduling would be but eventually says: “I guess all things being equal the Jeffrey Dahmer role would be something that I would be more interested to dive into because it’s so different to me and it’s so dark, and so fascinating and morbid.
“In terms of longevity that would be one really amazing movie I get to do.
“You do a Marvel film and you look at the Marvel universe and it’s never-ending. I love the Marvel movies and I think they’re so fun, light-hearted and family friendly but they’re action-packed and for everybody. They’re just fun. It would be a bit of a toss-up.”
Favourite Marvel film?
Gus Kenworthy attends the 30th Annual GLAAD Media Awards at New York Hilton Midtown on May 4, 2019 in New York City
Image credit: Getty Images
“This is so off the top of my head so I’m probably not even thinking about it but Guardians of the Galaxy.
“With the first one I was not expecting it. I’d never really read those comic books, I truly knew nothing about the Guardians of the Galaxy.
“I thought it looked kind of cheesy from the previews but I could not have loved it more, I thought it was so good.”
Kenworthy was a bag of nerves before his first day on set but was keen to stress just how welcoming the acting community has been to him. However, how has the skiing world reacted?
Kenworthy pauses and then says: “I think I’ve distanced myself a little bit from the sport in the last few years because I’ve been pursuing other endeavours and I've had other opportunities.
“It’s changed a lot as well, it wasn’t long ago that I was the young up and comer competing against my friends but now the majority of my friends are no longer skiing either because they’ve aged out or they’ve had injuries or switched to the film side of things.
“It feels like I have fewer and fewer close friends than I used to, which changes the dynamic when you’re training, travelling and competing.
“Sometimes it feels as if my presence in the sport is a bit polarising, it’s sort of love it or hate it. I don’t think anyone would say I’m not a nice guy which is important to me but I think my presence is received differently.”
It’s a brutally honest reflection but agent Michael Spencer quickly interjects: “not for the top guys.”
He carries on: “I would say the top guys still respect his skiing.
“People are already asking me if he’s coming to Big Air after this announcement. Last year at X Games, I had a load of athletes coming up to me and saying he didn’t even ski for a lot of this season but he’s still doing so well.
Gus Kenworthy competes in the Men's Ski Superpipe Final during the 2019 Winter X Games on January 24, 2019 in Aspen, Colorado
Image credit: Getty Images
“There’s super high respect for his skiing as well and some of the top guys appreciate the fact here’s Gus and here’s what Gus brings to the table because of his experiences in the outside world.”
Kenworthy smiles and it’s obvious this is someone who is incredibly comfortable with himself regardless of what others may think.
He’s not afraid to voice his opinions on what he believes matters. He’s passionate about athletes speaking up and using their platforms and cites Colin Kaepernick - “if he were to apologise, which he absolutely should not do, he’d be on a team tomorrow” - as an example of the punishment athletes can face when they stand up for what they believe in, as the conversation shifts to homosexuality within sport.
No-one understands better than Kenworthy the crushing fear before coming out but, during Stonewall’s #RainbowLaces campaign period, he has a clear message for any gay professional footballers out there.
“I don’t know what that person is waiting for. For me I remember when I was coming out I was like, 'I need to be number one in the world'.
“Which is so dumb but no-one can argue with rankings and coming out as the best shows that being gay doesn’t mean anything in terms of not being able to do anything and that’s how I felt and that’s what I did.
I pushed and I got that ranking and I don’t regret that at all but I wish I would have known you don’t have to do s*** to be yourself
“I don’t know if it’s something like that where they feel like they have to get to a certain point to feel like they’ve accomplished enough.
“But we’ve seen more and more athletes celebrated for being gay, so if there is a gay footballer out there I would implore them to come out.
“I know it’s scary but coming out when you’re playing is going to be beneficial to them and so many other people.
It’s going to make the world a better place for so many gay kids and queer people across the world.
“I just think it’s so important, I think finishing your career and retiring and coming out is comfortable but also cowardly and doesn’t move the needle in the way we really need to as a world and a community.”
Kenworthy is someone who isn’t afraid to stand up for what he believes in, he’s demonstrated that time and time again throughout his career.
Eventually a time will come where he won’t have to speak so often about homosexuality within sport because it will be completely normalised - but sadly we are not at that stage yet.
However with more people like Kenworthy in sport those steps can be made, to spread the message that everyone is welcome, that sport is for every single individual and it can lead the way for societal change.
One of the standout quotes from Kenworthy during this conversation came during the topic of free speech as he was discussing the need to speak out.
“You see so much negativity out there you can only combat that with positivity.”
Kenworthy will bring a lot to Great Britain’s ski team on the slopes but he will bring even more off it because of the person that he is.