An audience favourite at January’s Palm Springs International Film Festival, Thom Fitzgerald’s Stage Mother is in select US theatres and on demand from Friday August 21st. The uplifting comedy stars Oscar-nominee Jacki Weaver as a small town Texas choir director, Maybelline, who unexpectedly inherits her estranged son’s struggling gay bar in San Francisco and decides to put on one helleva drag show to save it from bankruptcy. Among the club’s performers are resident drag mother Dusty Muffin, played by the legendary Jackie Beat, and breakout Tangerine star, the Independent Spirit Award winning Mya Taylor.
Ahead of the Stage Mother’s US release The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann had an exclusive chat with Jackie Beat and Mya Taylor to talk chosen family, the importance of queer spaces, drag mothers and working opposite double Oscar-nominee Jacki Weaver.
James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: Congratulations on the film, it’s such a heartwarming watch. First of all I wanted to touch on the theme at the heart of the film, explored through Jacki Weaver’s character Maybelline, that of familial acceptance which then becomes celebration of her queer son, even though she’s in fact too late. I think it’s something that a lot of us as LGBTQ people can really relate to and I wondered what resonated about that with each of you?
Jackie Beat: “Yes, exactly that aspect is what really attracted me to the project. As LGBTQ people we often have to choose our own families. I mean, I feel like I was really blessed with a mom and a dad who always embraced everything about me. And I mean, even as a gay person I’m on the sort of weirdo end of the spectrum, if you will, as a comedian and an entertainer. I mean, just look at me! But yeah, it’s just a really important thing. A lot of people have asked us to sum up the movie in just a few words, and I just always say that I feel like love always triumphs. Love always wins out. And that’s why I think the movie works, because we all go through drama and people come and go, but ultimately, love is what’s gonna win.”
Mya, how about for you?
Mya Taylor: “There have been moments in my life where I felt like all of my friends were much nicer and more of a family to me than I felt my own family was. Not to say that I have a bad family or anything, but back then I felt like there was so much that was just misunderstood, you know, but that’s my own situation. For some people’s situation, their families just don’t like them for whatever reason so they have to go and get a whole new family.”
Another thing that is really striking about the film, especially with all of our queer bars and clubs having been closed is that it’s a celebration of one of those spaces in some ways isn’t it? So many scenes are set in this bar and it’s very significant to a lot of the characters. How important have queer spaces, like the bar in the film, been to both of you over the years?
Jackie Beat: “Well, I think that it’s sort of ironic that a big part of the story is this struggling gay bar trying to remain open and do whatever it takes. And you have to be creative and really think outside the box because that’s what so many businesses are going through right now. So it’s kind of a perfect message for right now and you just have to keep fighting and you have to stay with it. You know, gay bars are going to come and go, and obviously it’s really sad when a historical one closes or there’s one that’s personally important to you because it was your place, but this is the world we live in and you have to kind of roll with the punches. I hate to say it and I don’t want to lump everybody together, but within the gay community there really is this tendency for and a hunger for what’s new. So it’s tough.”
Mya Taylor: “It’s true, and I hate it so much because I’m so old school and traditional with everything cuz I’m a 90s baby, like the music that I listened to and everything. There’s some good new artists, but I normally go back to all of my older artists that I knew from the 90s like Whitney Houston or Brandy and Monica, or Aaliyah; all of those is what I listen to. I miss Club Arena, that was my favorite club to go to and it’s not around anymore; Donut Time isn’t around anymore. So yeah, it’s it’s sad to me.”
Mya, you mentioned all the artists that you love and we talked about that last time we met, which was five years ago in London to talk about Tangerine, so I know that music and singing is really important to you. Tell us about that aspect of this Stage Mother, because we get to hear you sing quite a bit in this movie.
Mya Taylor: “I was excited to to sing in this film! There were songs that we did as group numbers with me, Joan and Tequila. And those boys can sing, they really can. The process of filming it in the studio was that I went first, because I’m the highest I handle all the high parts. Allister who plays Joan has a stage voice and because he’s used to singing on stage his voice is really, really big, whereas my voice is very light. And when he opened his mouth and sang and did his part I said, ‘Oh, no! Hell no, this bitch is not gonna out sing me, let me go back and redo my parts!’ So there was that going on because they’re talented and I loved working with them and we helped each other out in the studio, like ‘Okay, so hit this note like this’, or ‘breathe like this and then let that note go.’ I just I miss all of that. I think that’s what I miss the most about being quarantined.”
Jackie, your character is a drag mother and I’m sure you’ve been a drag mom in real life as well as a drag daughter, could you talk about the importance of that experience?
Jackie Beat: “Most drag queens have a drag mother and a lot of drag queens have drag daughters. You need help. There are things that you need to be told: ‘trim your eyelashes, nobody wears a full eyelash.’ Or, ‘You’ve got a fat face, you need a bigger wig, bitch!’ You know, loving advice like that. So, there are versions of that in our community. When I first started doing drag over 30 years ago, the world was a different place, you couldn’t just go on the Internet and look up a makeup tutorial, or ‘where do I find you shoes for a big man feet?’ So now it’s a little more mainstream, and thanks to technology people can really find out anything, but back in the day it was like you’d be backstage and people would be like, ‘Where did you get those lashes?’ Or, ‘Where do you buy jewellery?’ And you know, ‘Where can I find that?’ I just feel like you need to be a generous person and give of yourself and I’m always sharing tips even on social media now. I’m like, ‘look what I found. Here’s where you can get it.’ And not to ruin her street cred, but Bianca Del Rio, the biggest bitch in the world, she is the most generous person. Whenever I’m backstage, she’s like, ‘Get over here, let me fix that wig!’ Of course it’s always a backhanded compliment. Or I would be like, ‘where did you get that makeup?’ and the next day, she’ll bring me a box of the makeup. I think that most drag queens are naturally maternal and generous and kind. People think that it’s all drama and that we all hate each other and it’s really not true. We’re just a big family. And there’s the occasional bitch that we don’t like, but they remain nameless.”
Mya, was filming Stage Mother this your first experience of doing drag?
Mya Taylor: “Yeah.”
How did you find the drag aspect of the role? Did you get any tips from Jackie?
Mya Taylor: “Actually all of the girls were extremely supportive. Jackie wasn’t there all the time, Jackie had to leave a lot because she was doing work everywhere, but Chris Cochrane, the makeup artist, really coached me a lot. She’s trans and she does drag and she was there to coach me and tell me, ‘Okay, so when you walk in these heels, make sure you poke your ass out, and keep those legs straight. We’re not trying to look like a horse, you know?’ I think the hardest part for me was those platform heels, just because I don’t normally wear a platform heel. I normally do like a pointy type of heel, the really classy one. Or I do the one that’s on the floor, I do those heels because I’m already five nine, so I don’t need to be any taller. Dancing in those heels I can’t tell you how many close calls I had where my ankle just went to the side like that. But we were all supportive of each other, there were some laughs, but we supported each other.”
One of Jacki Weaver’s character’s ideas when she comes into the club is to have the drag queens sing rather than lip sync, and Jackie what’s your take on that, drag queens singing rather than lip synching? Is one better than the other?
Jackie Beat: “Well, listen, this is a slippery slope. First of all, I’ve done drag for over 30 years and I’ve never lip synced in my life. I always sing live, it’s sort of what I’m most famous for to be perfectly honest. And I mean, granted, I rewrite the songs and make them absolutely filthy, but I can sing the fuck out of them. And so it was kind of ironic that I would play this character who only lip synced and actually kind of bristled at the thought of live singing, and I even have to lip sync a number in the movie, which was really fun actually. But like I said, I don’t want to put anybody down but there’s a part of me that just feels like we need to evolve and not everybody can sing, but I can’t imagine a comedian going to some club and handing the DJ a CD of someone else’s comedy material and saying ‘push play, I’ll just move my lips.’ And that’s where you have to be creative and do an interesting song, know all the words, add some schtick. You know what I’m saying? Don’t lip sync the number one song that the DJ has probably already played three times, do a Dolly Parton song from 40 years ago, do a little known live version of a song that maybe no one’s heard. That’s the way to get their attention in my humble opinion.”
And we have to mention Jacki Weaver who is brilliant in the film. You both have some great scenes with her. Tell me a little bit about getting to work opposite her.
Mya Taylor: “I just think she’s adorable. It’s her personality. She’s just so motherly naturally and so professional all the time. She never gets upset about anything. If she does you you’d never know, and she’s always prepared. I liked working with her.”
And Jackie, how about you, Jackie and Jacki?
“Oh, she was amazing. The first scene we did was me out of drag sitting at the park bench, and it was sort of the heaviest scene, and it was just me and her and I was like, ‘Okay, this is a two time Academy Award nominee, who is in one of my favourite, iconic movies of all time, Picnic at Hanging Rock, and I was nervous, but the moment you make eye contact, she just makes you feel comfortable and safe and supported. And she’s just an amazing person and I love her.”
Stage Mother is released in select US theatres and on demand Friday August 21st 2020.
Watch the full interview with Jackie Beat and Mya Taylor here:
By James Kleinmann