The queen strikes back

Alyssa Edwards tackles ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ again, this time as an  All Star.  And she’s more prepared than eve

ALL-STARS-GROUP

By J. DENTON BRICKER AND ARNOLD WAYNE JONES

When Alyssa Edwards walked onto the set of RuPaul’s Drag Race for Season 5, she was shocked to see her longtime rival Coco Montrese among the queens she’d be competing with. The drama made for delicious television, but probably threw Edwards off her game — she finished in the Top 6, but failed to be declared America’s Next Drag Superstar.

So when she was asked to join the cast for the second incarnation of Drag Race All Stars — which begins airing on Aug. 25 on Logo — she decided to play a smarter mental game. She didn’t ask past All Stars for advice. She didn’t worry about who would or would not be her competition. She went all Zen on those bitches’ asses.

“I told myself don’t overly coach — go in there and be you,” Edwards says. “Don’t get inside your head. You need to do this like you do every single day of your life — whether you’re in the studio teaching, or onstage performing, you’re tackling the challenges you’re faced with. You should avoid letting it becoming a mental battle.”

That was certainly good preparation, because once filming began, it was a free-for-all. First up was the discovery that the rules had changed.

“[This season is] borderline Big Brother, because Ru doesn’t make the decisions this time,” she says. “We found that out on Day One. We had no clue! And you’ll see how cracked out we are. All of your dreams have been crushed because guess what? [We were told,] ‘You are going to be sending yourselves home.’ And I’m just like oh-my-gosh.”

This surprise definitely changed dynamics among the contestants, because even though the competition has always been cutthroat, this development took it to another level of intensity.

“I was looking around the room like, ‘Well OK, I’m glad I’m kind of friends with everyone almost.’ Luckily, I do have a good rapport with the girls. That doesn’t mean that they don’t want to send you home, honey, because you’re a threat or you’re the possibility that could get in the way of cashing that check.”

One of the girls in the room, it so happened, was Coco Montrese … again. And three other queens from Season 5, making it a reunion of sorts (though not necessarily the good kind).

“I was a little shocked [that] five of the 10 girls came from [my] season. I thought there would have been two, maybe three of us. But we all knew each other — you know somebody and you know when they’re having a bad day or moment, and therefore not overanalyze things that they say,” says Edwards.

That pressure was modulated by other rule changes … including the ultimate reward.

“The stakes are a little different this time around. I’m talking about the coin, the dollar,” Edwards says. “I think everyone that watches the first episode is going to be in for a treat because they totally ru-vamped the idea [of the show]. ‘Coming for you’ is a nice way of putting it.”

But Edwards was prepared this time. Before, she was a pageant queen with a long list of titles. Now, she has not only one season of RPDR under her belt, but the web-based series Alyssa’s Secret and a work ethic rivaled by no one. She went in a stronger queen than ever before, but also a wiser one: She has a solid grasp of her strengths and weaknesses — as well as those of her competitors …. and where they would best be served.

“We are all good in one thing [or another],” she says. “I would never want to step foot on a runway or a photoshoot [to challenge] Violet Chachki, but we can lip sync [against each other] all day. I don’t ever want to get into a Snatch Game battle with Chad Michaels. And why on God’s green earth would I ever ponder a comedy challenge against Bianca Del Rio?”

But Edwards — aka Mesquite native Justin Johnson — also knows something about showmanship. She worked with former Dallasite Rey Ortiz — a fashion designer and himself a former Project Runway contestant — to come up with her smashing debut look, a dazzling ruby gown with a majestic collar.

“I told Rey, I’m OK with doing something fashionista. I don’t consider myself a fashion girl and I don’t think I have the body to model. But I wanted something avant garde, something sexy with my platform heels. I wanted something that just speaks royalty — like she’s the queen. It has a touch of regalness to it but a touch of okurrrr. He was like, that’s a lot of inspiration.”

That costume may have contributed to her secret weapon: Attitude.

“This time I presented myself to be open, confident … and not to tell myself ‘no.’ Just like I teach my kids every day: ‘Can’t never could.’ You better get up there to sing and sew,” she says. “Alaska said it very well: When you’re in Drag Race it’s kind of like a constant fight-or-flight mentality.”

Her newfound calm even informs how she wants fans to watch All Stars this time out.

“I hope the fans watch it this time from a different angle. Drag Race is such a sport — we all get caught up in it, so involved. Just watch it this time: laugh, giggle, have fun with it. Ride it like a rollercoaster; let the ups and downs be equally exciting. Support all the girls, all the queens. It is so difficult when there is a platform and you’re under a microscope. Remove that microscope and live for what it is. Cheers to that.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 12, 2016.

—  Craig Tuggle

Meryl Streep: The gay interview with the icon and star of ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’

Meryl Streep as Florence Foster Jenkins in FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS by Paramount Pictures, Pathé and BBC FilmsMeryl Streep is laughing her signature laugh. You know it: Sometimes light and airy, sometimes a surge of boisterous euphoria that carries well into the next question — but always unmistakably Meryl.

Cinema’s grand dame cracks one of her warm, famous chortles during our recent interview, while entertaining the idea that her latest chameleonic role, as real-life opera diva Florence Foster Jenkins in the movie of the same name, could once again spur drag queens to emulate another one of her queer-loved characters. Then she laughs again as she fondly remembers locking lips with Allison Janney in 2002’s The Hours. Meanwhile, the mere mention of 1992’s Death Becomes Her Meryl unleashing a hearty roar. Another laugh, too, when she ponders how sexting and Snapchat are related.

Gay audiences know this laugh because they know Meryl Streep. They also know her compassion for LGBT issues, both as an extension of her queer-inclusive acting repertoire and more explicitly, when, during her Golden Globe acceptance speech in 2004, she slammed then-president George W. Bush by condemning his anti-gay marriage stance. They’ve learned the art of shade from her sharp, searing tongue in The Devil Wears Prada, and they live for all the campy one-liners in Death Becomes Her. And during Angels in America, HBO’s 2003 watershed miniseries about the AIDS crisis, they wept.

Now, Streep, 67, sheds her skin once again to portray Jenkins, one of the worst singers in the world. In the poignant dramedy Florence Foster Jenkins from Stephen Frears, director of The Queen, the esteemed once-in-a-lifetime luminary plays a wannabe opera singer with a voice so hysterically appalling her loyal husband (Hugh Grant) bribes critics into letting her think she can sing.

Here, during this rare and revealing one-on-one conversation with Streep, the three-time Academy Award winner and record holder for most Oscar nominations discusses why she regards Angels in America as one of the most important LGBT-themed films she’s done and how she feels about gay men performing Meryl monologues. And looking ahead, is the biopic queen ready to consider her own story becoming a feature-length film in the future? Streep laughs at the very thought, of course, but she’s not kidding when she says, “I hope I fade into oblivion.”

Dallas Voice: You’ve given the gay community a breadth of greatness over the last four decades. When you look back at your gay roles, which has been the most important to you?  Streep: Oh, gosh. To me, I mean, Angels is such an important piece of history, and I felt really lucky to be part of that because I don’t think there was anything like it before. It really felt like being at the Democratic National Convention in the moment that Hillary shattered the glass ceiling — a big deal. The Hours was important, too. And of course I got to kiss Allison Janney, which was a perk!

Don’t tell Emma Thompson, who famously tongue-kissed you and gave you an orgasm in Angels.  Yeah, right! The Hours was nothing like that!

I remember Emma talking about that kiss in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. She’s very proud of it. She said she learned that “you have to use tongues even if you’re not a lesbian.”  Oh yeah, you really do. [Laughs]

When you look back at that moment, how does your takeaway from that kissing scene compare to Emma’s?  It’s just, you can’t take the baby from the bathwater. You can’t. It’s just the whole thing of it — that [orgasm scene] was just like the culmination of it. But what [screenwriter Tony Kushner] was doing was for a really mainstream HBO audience at that point — just groundbreaking. That hadn’t been on television. Movies, yes. But not television. So it was very cool.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

While Drumpf continues to mount campaign of hate, Hillary reaches out with love

The internet and social media have made it amazingly possible to get a political message out to people that really resonates with constituents without having to pay Super Bowl prices. Take, for instance, this well-produced 75 second video from the Hillary Clinton camp, that reaches out to LGBT voters. Not that she needs to, but have you seen anything like then from the GOP? Like… ever?

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Cocktail Friday: The Caipirita

CaipiritaThe Rio Summer Olympic Games officially kick off tonight, so here’s a Texas twist on a Brazilian classic: Not a margarita, not a caipirinha, but a Paipirita.

1.5 oz. Roca Patron Silver

3/4 oz. simple syrup

3 lime wedges

1 Demerara sugar cube.

Making it: In the bottom of a double old fashioned glass, muddle the lime wedges with the syrup and the cube. Add ice and tequila, then roll drink back and forth between the glass and a tin. Pour back into glass, adding more ice if needed.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Dress for success

How out costume designer Orry-Kelly defied Hollywood

 

Orry-Kelly-with-Veda-Ann-Borg---Courtesy-of-Wolfe-VideoDirector Gillian Armstrong rose to fame in the U.S. as part of the Aussie New Wave of filmmaking in the late 1970s and early ’80s — a movement that also included George Miller, Bruce Beresford, Peter Weir, Fred Schepisi and Phillip Noyce. Notably, Armstrong was the only woman on that list, and she brought a feminist perspective to her films, including My Brilliant Career, Little Women and Mrs. Soffel.

But all of these films were decades ago; she hasn’t released a feature in the U.S. in 15 years. So her return now, with the documentary Women He’s Undressed, is a welcome one. And not just because of Armstrong, but because of her topic: the Australian-born Hollywood fashion designer Orry-Kelly, one of the Oscar-winningest Aussies in film history. But while Undressed is putatively about Orry-Kelly’s life and career, it’s indirectly one of the most revealing chronicles ever attempted of gay life in the film world.

I chatted with Armstrong from her base in Sydney about the provocative “outing” of Hollywood stars, the importance of costuming in moviemaking and the state of same-sex marriage Down Under.

Arnold Wayne Jones

Women He’s Undressed becomes available on DVD, as well as VOD and digital platforms on Tuesday.

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Dallas Voice: How did a straight woman make such an investigative film about gay life in Hollywood? And did you know much about Orry-Kelly before you started?  Armstrong: No, it was really my producer’s baby. [He was] researching about Australians who had won Academy Awards, and at that time the most an Australian had won was Orry-Kelly. [He decided he wanted to make a film about it], and it was really a friend of a friend who said, “Why don’t you talk to Gill Armstrong?” When he approached me I said who’s [Orry-Kelly]? Then I looked at his films, and went, “Oh my goodness — 42nd Street? Casablanca? Dark Victory? The same guy did all of these?”

So that’s how you were hooked. What made you settle on the format you used, to have Orry-Kelly portrayed by an actor, who sort of narrates the film in the first person? 
It was a tough decision. The thing was, we found a lot of the words he said in the letters and the memoir he wrote, which we discovered two months before shooting, had this dry, self-deprecating wit. If someone told you what he said, [it wouldn’t have the same impact] — you really had to hear it. So we did a stylized shoot. It’s sometimes a shock to have an actor in a documentary, but I think the audience forgets it’s an actor and you have a great emotional involvement with the character.

It wasn’t until the end that I realized we never saw any pictures of Orry-Kelly throughout, except in his youth — you tell the story through his work and images of others.  It was a conscious decision. When we decided to have an actor portray him, we knew if we were to cut to a real photo, you think, “Oh, his nose is wrong” or “his hairline is deeper,” and it takes you out of the story. So I made the decision not to show him other than as a little boy in a sailor suit [until the end]. Also, there weren’t a huge number of stills — who cared about the costume designer back then? They [wanted to see his clothes and the women wearing them].

You convey a lot about the creative value of costuming — in fact, two of your films were Oscar-nominated for their costume design!
  They were! I’m a huge fan of costume design — it’s one of the reasons I took this film on. I love to help the public understand what goes on behind the scenes. So yeah, I choose wonderful costume designers and push them to do all the things Orry did — I want them to [reveal] character and enhance the mood and the scene.

So, you still haven’t said why the gay history was so important to you. 
Well, when you try to tell a truthful portrait of someone, you have to place them in their historical and social context. There were so many myths that I needed to get to the bottom of. A strong part of who he was and how he behaved, [in contrast to] how his old friend Cary Grant behaved. That was due to the homophobia of the time. It was really remarkable — the 1920s was so open [to people being out of the closet]; it wasn’t until after the Wall Street crash that society really tightened up. I understood how there were — and continue to be — a lot of pressure on actors to appear completely heterosexual, but there was also pressure on the costumes designers to have lovely wives and homes because the studios wanted to publicize them as well. But [Orry] refused to have that sham marriage, while the others, like Cary Grant [who the documentary implies was in several long-term same-sex relationships, including with Orry] toed the line while their boyfriends lived nearby, connected through the garden gate. What terrible pressure to have people keep up [such a sham]. And Orry had none of it.

Australia has a reputation as being a fairly open community; is same-sex marriage legal there now?  Same sex marriage is not legal, and it has been a huge controversy. We have a conservative government here, and [the conservatives] won’t permit same-sex marriage without a plebiscite. It’s always the way: Public opinion is with [equality], but a noisy, small conservative minority [rattles the cage]. But if you start making [human rights] subject to a public vote, it stirs the “anti campaign,” doesn’t it?

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 5, 2016.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Olympian effort

Fair_Play_460x470_courtesy_Akashic_BooksAs we begin the Rio Games, we consider the progress of gays in sports

Conventional wisdom says that the locker room is the last closet. The sports world is seen as unwelcoming, anti-gay, left behind in a pathetic time warp while the rest of America hurtles forward, embracing LGBT issues, rights and people.

Conventional wisdom, says Cyd Zeigler, is wrong.

That’s the driving force behind his new book, Fair Play: How LGBT Athletes are Claiming Their Rightful Place in Sports. A cofounder of Outsports — since 1999, the go-to website for news, photos and resources about gay athletics — Ziegler has written more coming-out stories than any American journalist.

For nearly two decades, Zeigler has chronicled the journeys of NBA and NFL players; college and high school athletes, and coaches, umpires, sportswriters. After hundreds of interviews and follow-ups, he’s convinced that the real story is just how accepting teammates, fans and even opponents are when a gay sports figure comes out.

In fact, Zeigler says, he cannot recall one instance in which negative reactions outweighed the positive ones.

Want proof? In the two years he spent writing Fair Play, Zeigler kept adding new stories and experiences. As soon as one edit was done, another famous athlete came out, another team or league took a big step forward, or another ally stood up for LGBT rights. Finally, Zeigler said, “Stop! Let’s print it!”

The book’s 12 chapters cover a wide swath of gay sports issues. Headings include “Young Athletes Are Why There Will Never Be a ‘Gay Jackie Robinson,’” “Straight Guys Look Too” and “Fallon Fox Is the Bravest Athlete in History.”

The first chapter is “John Amaechi and Tim Hardaway’s ‘Tipping Point’ Moment.” It’s about the NBA player’s coming-out experiences — specifically, what happened afterward. Former All-Star Tim Hardaway told a Miami radio audience that he “hated” gay people. Furthermore, he said, they should not be part of the locker room.

Reaction was swift — and anti-Hardaway. Zeigler calls it “the day the homophobes lost the culture war in sports.”

The American culture war continues, of course. It plays out in politics, most recently in North Carolina where legislators hastily passed a “bathroom bill” to address a non-existent problem with trans people.

michaelsam1In sports, Zeigler calls Michael Sam’s experience “chilling.” After coming out in college — and earning awards for his play — the University of Missouri football star was unable to catch on with any NFL team.

In a chapter titled “The Big Lie of the Big Five,” Zeigler tackles the prevailing belief of executives of the major sports leagues that any professional athlete who came out would create an unwelcome, unacceptable “distraction.”

“I’ve been to the Super Bowl,” Zeigler writes. “It’s a distracting mess. The media is ever-present. The host city is overrun with fans, celebrities, major corporations, and parties, from dawn to dusk. If a team’s front office cannot handle the attention a gay athlete might bring, it is woefully ill-equipped to win a world championship.”

Zeigler makes clear that sports owners and executives are out of step with the times. He counters every Michael Sam-non-signing story with many more counterintuitive ones. (Counterintuitive, that is, unless you’ve been paying attention — as he has — to what’s really going on in the sports world.)

michaelirvin

ZIegler’s Out magazine interview with former Dallas Cowboy Michael Irvin is considered a watershed in paving the way for LGBT understanding in mainstream team sports.

Zeigler’s favorite story might be retired Dallas Cowboy Michael Irvin’s. The NFL Hall of Famer and three-time Super Bowl champion came out as the brother of a transgender person or drag queen (he’s not sure). He supported same-sex marriage, and said he’d have no problem with a gay teammate.

Then — as part of Zeigler’s interview for a cover story with Out magazine — he enthusiastically posed shirtless.

Like the Amaechi and Hardaway moment, Zeigler calls the Irvin story a “game-changer.” So was a follow-up interview with the NFL Network, when Irvin connected his support for LGBT issues with his own experiences as an African American. “Equality for all means equality for all,” he said simply.

Zeigler admits that at times he himself has fallen into the trap of putting most athletes in boxes where they don’t belong. Writing Fair Play has helped him realize that much of the sports world is further along than many people realize.

He hopes it will reach a wide audience. Review copies were sent to mainstream media. They’ve been interested in it — further evidence that sportswriters also understand the importance of, and advances sweeping through, the LGBT sports world.

Meanwhile, the coming-out stories keep coming. Zeigler proudly recounts the story of a young athlete who read Fair Play the moment it appeared on Kindle. He showed it to his parents, to help them understand his experiences.

“I wish more people could see what I see,” Zeigler says. “There is nothing more powerful — for an athlete or teammates — than coming out.”

And no one has seen or described more great coming out stories than Cyd Zeigler.

—Dan Woog

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 5, 2016.

 

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Lily Tomlin to receive Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award

Tomlin-BPatterson03The Screen Actors Guild has been around for decades, and has presented its annual awards for film and television, called The Actor, since 1995. But SAG’s Life Achievement Award has been bestowed every year since 1963, recognizing not just movie stars, or TV stars, but people who has made a real impact on our cultural heritage — people like Bob Hope, James Earl Jones, Betty White and Carol Burnett. Well, add to that list the great Lily Tomlin.

The Oscar nominee, and multiple Grammy, Tony, Golden Globe and Emmy winner, will receive the guild’s 53rd annual Life Achievement Award at a ceremony next January, airing on TNT. It’s like the out actress and comedian, now 76, could also be a competitive nominee for her role in Netflix’s Grace and Frankie.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Voice of Pride finalists ready for the final competition

Top-10-VOP-2016BIt takes weeks of preliminaries and months of preparation to whittle down dozens of contestants to a top 10, but that’s exactly what the Voice of Pride does every year. The finals competition isn’t until Aug. 21 in the Rose Room, which gives these folks — including a number of new faces — about two weeks to perfect their looks, their vocals and their techniques. The winner gets a cash prize plus gets to ride in the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade and perform at the festival in Reverchon Park. Wish your favorites best of luck!

The contestants are, front row: Michael Duane, Imani Handy, Colby Geyer, Steve Patterson; Alvaro Ramalho; and back row: Maurice Doniphan, Eric Way, John Gilstrap, Gloria Devine, Nikolas Dombkowski.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Dolly Parton coming to Verizon; tickets on sale Friday

DOLLYEarlier this year, we announced that Dolly Parton was starting a national tour to promote her new double-D (that’s disc, guys!), but at the time, we didn’t know if she would make it to North Texas. And on the first leg, she wasn’t. Well, AEG Live has announced more dates for the Pure and Simple Tour, including at the Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie on Dec. 3.

Tickets to see the queen of country — and a great gay icon —go on sale Friday morning (10 sharp!). Use this link to get in line first thing!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

WATCH: Chelsea Clinton discusses LGBT rights

Processed with VSCO with hb1 presetThe Democratic National Convention ended last Thursday night with Hillary Clinton’s gay-inclusive speech, but that’s not the end of the discussion of how gay rights will figure into the election. Logo TV reporter Raymond Braun sits down with former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton to discuss her input into her parents’ evolution on gay rights. It’s just seven minutes, so settle in for some insight by clicking here. Or check it out below.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones