Take 2

CASTING A WIDE NET | Paris, Texas’ Ash Christian scored a stellar comedic cast for his low-budget, North Texas-shot indie film that includes John Waters, Jennifer Coolidge, Leslie Jordan and Heather Matarazzo.

Gay Texas filmmaker Ash Christian’s second movie encountered death and cast changes on its way to its debut this week — in his home state

CLICK HERE TO SEE MORE PHOTOS FROM THE SET OF ‘MANGUS’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

It is New Year’s Eve 2009, and Ash Christian is ready to unwind a bit — probably for the first time in a month. In a few hours, after a haircut and a disco nap, he will be out partying at Dish in the ilume. The wine will flow freely that night, and at midnight he will ring in 2010 to the strains of Black-Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling.”

Ash Christian certainly is feeling something that day, and that is stressed. He had returned to North Texas a few weeks earlier for what was supposed to be a quick two-week trip to scout locations and raise money for his independent film, Mangus, which was supposed to finish filming before it had actually begun.

But as with a lot of what happens in Hollywood, things did not go as planned. Christian had an enthusiastic backer in Friley Davidson, a well-off Dallasite who had pledged a big chunk of the budget for Mangus. But Davidson died unexpectedly just before Christmas … and before he had cut the check for the film. (Several months later, Marty Hershner, owner of the Tin Room — Christian’s favorite gay bar in Dallas and the set for one of the climactic scenes — dies, devastating Christian.) It’s been a scramble ever since.

Christian is used to it by now. Although it’s only his second film, and he was only 24 when he started on it, Christian is already a veteran of the indie filmmaking scene and all the potholes that dot the road. He was 20 and about to shoot his first movie, Fat Girls, when civic leaders in the town of Canton, where photography was supposed to take place, pulled the permits a day before production was set to start because they didn’t like the gay content in the script.

ON THE SET | Jennifer Coolidge’s improvisation of a breadstick to look like a penis cracked up Heather Matarazzo during the last day of filming on ‘Mangus.’ (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

“I don’t know why we even wanted to film in Canton anyway,” he says years later. Christian found a replacement quickly in Waxahachie, and the final product became well-received on the festival circuit, praised for its quirky charm about a gay, musical-loving Texas boy and his chubby best friend (Ashley Fink, now on Glee).

Although not a financial hit, Fat Girls got Christian noticed in Hollywood. He “took a lot of meetings,” as they say, discussing big-budget projects studios wanted him to helm. But nothing seemed to fit. Whatever they wanted him to make isn’t what he wanted to make.

“You need to believe in your vision,” he said earlier this week over chicken flautas at Komali. “You have to be comfortable with your vision not being totally mainstream.”

That devotion has paid off in little ways. This week, Mangus gets its world premiere in Christian’s home state with two screenings at the Dallas International Film Festival.

“I’m happy it is premiering here, because so much of the crew was based here. It’s great for them,” says the Paris, Texas, native. “We already have some distribution offers, too, so we’re in a good place.”

It’s been a long journey from that day 15 months ago when I met Christian, one of his stars, actress Heather Matarazzo, and her girlfriend, Caroline Murphy, at Taco Diner in the West Village, where we discussed the film over fish tacos and quesadillas. There was a lot of excitement that day, as filming was about to start. They toasted with Diet Coke.

But things happen quickly and unpredictably in the universe of indie cinema: Sometimes things go smoothly and sometimes not. Christian was lucky to get Matarazzo to do the film — he wrote it with her in mind even though the two had never met.

(Originally, Christian had written a leading role for himself, until he got too old to play it. He doesn’t appear in the final version of the film at all.)

“I went to the premier of Saved [in which Matarazzo starred] and I came up to give you…” Christian begins, before Matarazzo interrupts.

“Was I nice?” she asks. Yes, he responds.

“I remember exactly where I was. He said I wrote this script for you — people say that all the time but this happened to be true,” Matarazzo said. He told her he wanted to film it in North Texas, which just happened to be where her girlfriend was from.

Murphy and her brother ended up writing music for the film. Then Matarazzo scored another coup for the film.

“Heather got Alan Cumming to take a part!” Christian gushes over his most recent casting decision. “She just sent him the script and he agreed to do it!” (The two had worked together on The L Word.)

But things are fluky. Within two weeks, Cumming will drop out, only to be replaced by Leslie Jordan. Jennifer Coolidge, who has been tapped to play the mother of the small-town kid Mangus, was still onboard though, as was Matarazzo, whose costume of Daisy Dukes, a blonde wig and hooker shoes “make you look like Jessica Simpson,” Christian observes. (That’s her character’s name in the film, too.)

Shooting was delayed, as was the fundraising to produce the damn thing, but it eventually proceeds. Even that, though, was not without its drama. It’s Feb. 10, 2010 — the last day of filming — and an unexpected snowstorm has all but ruined the final shots of the script. Overcast skies make the lighting all wrong for the scene, where Mangus’ mom welcomes him home. It doesn’t help matters that Christian is hopped up on antibiotics; he’s been fighting a losing battle against the flu all week. But there are no sick days when you’re making a movie in three weeks.

“This is my day, just sitting around,” Christian says with frustration on the set, waiting for his cast to get into costume. But a year later, he’s singing a different tune.

“Directing is my favorite part,” he says. “You learn a lot. [The final film] isn’t what I thought I was writing. Actors bring their own interpretations to it. Leslie is kind of amazing in the movie. Coolidge is great — she’s really, really funny. Some of the stuff they come up with is funnier than anything I could have written.” For instance, Coolidge suggests arranging the breadstick on a plate to resemble a penis; she keeps breaking up Matarazzo with her adlibs, necessitating numerous retakes.

Christian has learned some practical lessons as well to help him negotiate the minefield of moviemaking. He’s just wrapped on his third feature, Petunia, starring Oscar winner Christine Lahti and David Rasche, the movie he fully expects will usher him into “the next level” of filmmaking. And a new financial angel has just given him half a million dollars to put toward his next picture. (This time, he got the money in hand before something happened to the backer.)

And as always, things seem to work out. Eventually, John Waters even joined the cast of Mangus to play the part of — wait for it — Jesus Christ.

“I sent him word I would like him to be in my movie and a few minutes later I get this call, ‘Ash, this is John Waters. Can you send a script to my apartment?’ I wasn’t even sure if I needed to deliver it myself or send a courier or what. But he read it and quickly said, ‘I’ll do it; call my agent.’” They ended up shooting Waters’ scenes in Provincetown in front of a green-screen to be digitally inserted in the final product. He can’t wait for his local friends to see it.

Christian, who has lived in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan for years, says he fully expects to end up back in North Texas eventually. He likes Dallas, he says: The people and how much cheaper food is … and, presumably, the reaction he gets here to his movies. But until the screening, it’s across the street to drink sweet-tea vodka martinis and stare at the dick dancers at BJ’s. Hey, there’s a time for movies and a time to relax.

For additional information, visit MangusTheMovie.com.

Also of interest at DIFF:

In addition to Mangus!, some other films that came up on our radar at the Dallas International Film Festival include:

Boy Wonder — a psychological thriller about a comic book fan who witnesses the murder of his mother, becoming a vigilante by night as a super hero. Screens at AMC NorthPark on April 1 at 7 p.m. and April 2 at 10:15 p.m.

Lucky — A comedy about a fledgling serial killer (Colin Hanks), who wins the Iowa State Lottery, enabling him to pursue his hobby. Also stars screen legend Ann-Margret, who will receive an award from the festival. Screens at the Magnolia Theatre, April 1 at 7 p.m. and April 2 at 12:30 p.m.

More to Live For — A documentary about the quest for bone marrow donors (a procedure which holds the promise of becoming a cure for AIDS). Directed by Noah Hutton, the son of Debra Winger and Timothy Hutton. Screens at AMC NorthPark on April 3 at 9 p.m.

Rainbows End — This Texas-based documentary, which we profiled last week, tracks a kooky gay man from East Texas, pictured, as he sets off for L.A. to get Internet lessons from the gay and lesbian center there. Screens at the Magnolia Theatre April 1 at 10 p.m. and April 3 at noon.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 1, 2011.

—  John Wright

Get an amen with Leslie Jordan’s Church Revival

Getting to the church on time

Church revivals might conjure up suppressed memories, but we think that won’t be a problem here. WIth Leslie Jordan’s Church Revival, the Emmy-winning actor makes church time funtime with his Southern boy wit and humor. Sister Helen Holy will be your guest hostess. And likely the two will keep you from speaking in tongues.
Just laughing in them.

DEETS: Sare Ellen & Samuel Weisfeld Center, 1508 Cadiz Road. 7 p.m. $100. LegacyCounseling.org

—  Rich Lopez

Best Bets • 12.24.10

Friday 12.24

‘Twas the night before Christmas
You aren’t short for candlelight and Christmas Eve services. These places of worship are LGBT-friendly and offer a spiritual way to start your celebration.

DEETS: Cathedral of Hope, 9 and 11 p.m. services. CathedralofHope.com.,
Oak Lawn UMC, 5:30 and 11 p.m. services. OLUMC.org.,
White Rock Community Church, 7 p.m. WhiteRockChurch.org.,
First Unitarian Church of Dallas, 6:30 and 8:30 services. DallasUU.org.

05.28-Leslie-Jordan-2008Thursday 12.30

Getting to the church on time
Church revivals might conjure up suppressed
memories, but we think that won’t be a problem here. WIth Leslie Jordan’s Church Revival, the Emmy-winning actor makes church time funtime with his Southern boy wit and humor. Sister Helen Holy will be your guest hostess. And likely the two will keep you from speaking in tongues.
Just laughing in them.

DEETS: Sare Ellen & Samuel Weisfeld Center,
1508 Cadiz Road. 7 p.m. $100.
LegacyCounseling.org

Thursday 12.30

Here a bear, there a bear
If you’re feeling cold in these winter nights,
head to the Dallas Eagle for the Bear of the Year contest. With all that fur, you should warm up just nicely. Even if you can’t snuggle up close, the beef alone should turn the place into the hottest spot in town. Who will be Dallas’ next top bear?
See for yourself.

DEETS: Dallas Eagle, 5740 Maple Ave. 10 p.m.
DallasEagle.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 24, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Legacy holds 2 fundraising events in December

Leslie Jordan

On Sunday, Dec. 12, the annual Christmas Stocking Auction benefiting Legacy Counseling Center takes place at the Round-Up Saloon.

Executive Director Melissa Grove said there are always great prices for a variety of Christmas gift items included in the stockings.

Doors open at 5 p.m., and the auction begins at 6 p.m. On Saturday night, preview the stockings in the Parlor. Items include restaurant gift certificates, sports tickets, electronics, hotel packages and more.

Then on Thursday, Dec. 30 at 7 p.m., Leslie Jordan presents his “Church Revival” also benefiting Legacy.

The revival takes place at the Sara Ellen & Samuel Weisfeld Center in downtown Dallas. Tickets are $100, but follow this link and get a 60 percent discount.

Grove said sponsor tickets are still available. Sponsors will enjoy a covered-dish, old-fashioned, church dinner with Jordan.

Legacy Counseling Center provides affordable, quality mental health care and emotional support services to men and women challenged with HIV or AIDS with individual, group and family counseling by licensed professionals. They also operate Legacy Founders Cottage, a seven-room special-care facility in Oak Cliff.

So why weren’t these events in this week’s paper? We’ll just blame Melissa for forgetting to tell us.

—  David Taffet

Leslie Jordan cancels Aspen Gay Ski Week gig

Leslie Jordan has had to back out of his appearance at Aspen Gay Ski Week, says producer Paul J. Williams, due to a conflict with another obligation. Instead, Williams has made this a “best of” year, with returning favorites: Michele Balan, Chuck Sweeney and Jim David will take over for the Jan. 20 concert.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Queering up the slopes

A new gay ski event joins winter wonderlands already catering to gay sportsmen (and chill partiers)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

SHOOT THE BUTTE | Crested Butte, Colo., is home to two gay winter events next year: OutBoard and the inaugural Matthew Shepard Gay Ski Week.

The landscape of gay ski weeks is changing faster than the view from a waxed Telemark swooshing down a double black diamond.

The African-American-centric Winter Explosion enjoyed its last slalom earlier this year, but there’s a new gay ski week founded in conjunction with the Matthew Shepard Foundation — and it’s closer by! And some of the big ones changed their dates in a big way.

Of course, there are many more reachable resorts that don’t have gay ski weeks per se (read about some next week in the Voice), but here are the ones that plan entire weeks around getting queer skiers (and just people who like to cuddle up in the lodge with a furry fellow) to hit their slopes.

Utah Gay & Lesbian Ski Week, Park City, Utah. Jan. 5–9. The season kicks off, as always, in the home of the Sundance Film Festival. Gayskiing.org.

Aspen Gay & Lesbian Ski Week, Aspen, Colo. Jan. 16–23. The 34th annual granddaddy of gay ski weeks brands itself the Wild Wild West this year, and all we have to say is, yee-haw! Dallas-based comedian Paul J. Williams returns to host the Drag Downhill comedy night and performs with Emmy winner Leslie Jordan. GaySkiWeek.com.

Winter Rendezvous XXV, Stowe, Vt. Jan. 19–23. For those who prefer the powder of the Northeast,  Winter Rendezvous returns to the home of U.S.-based gay marriage — Vermont — for its 27th outing. Comedienne Shawn Pelofsky, who recently stopped by the Rose Room, headlines. Winterrendezvous.com.

WinterPride, Whistler, British Columbia, Canada. Jan. 30–Feb. 6. Earlier this year, WinterPride got bumped later in the season because of the Winter Olympics (a fair trade — one town can only handle so much gay at one time), but it’s back to early in the season for the 19th annual party where Queernadians are joined by their Anglo-Gringo supports across the border for this skier and snowboarder party. DJs like hot bear Ted Eiel keep the fun going. GayWhistler.com.

Telluride Gay Ski Week, Telluride, Colo. Feb. 26–March 6. Named the U.S.A.’s top gay ski week by Gay.com, the Mountain Village event is back with T-11. Returning to the party are The A-List’s Reichen Lehmkuhl, who will hosting the pool party Wet, and dragcomedy legends the Kinsey Sicks. (Big  news for the Dallas-based traveler: A new nonstop direct flight on American from DFW to Montrose/Telluride Airport.) TellurideGaySkiWeek.com.

Lake Tahoe WinterFest Gay & Lesbian Ski Week, Lake Tahoe, Nev. March 6–12. Organizers insist WinterFest XVI is on the calendar for the first weekend in March, though no details have been released yet. LakeTahoeWinterfest.com.

Mammoth Gay Ski Week, Mammoth Lakes, Calif. March 16–20. Not that boarders aren’t welcome everywhere, but for the biggest gay ski event in California, you just know they are gonna turn out in droves. The 9th annual event kicks off with DJ Josh Peace (who also hosts The Party @ 10,000 Feet) and yummy DJ Escape spinning at the Avalanche party. MammothGaySki.com.

Shoot the Butte (Matthew Shepard Gay Ski Week), Crested Butte, Colo. March 19–26. The newcomer to this year’s ski family is both an ambitious party and a benefit for the murdered teen’s foundation. Reichen pulls double duty (here and in Telluride) with an appearance, and there will be daily skier “hook ups” (meet-and-mixers), a pub crawl and several late dance parties. Be the first to check out this one.  MatthewShepardGaySkiWeek.com.

OutBoard Gay and Lesbian Snowboard Week, Crested Butte, Colo. March 29–April 3. If you like Shoot the Butte, why not just hang around a few days — OutBoard begins just three days later. (In the last three years, it has moved from Crested Butte to Steamboat Springs to Breckenridge and back again to CB this year). You don’t need to snowboard, either — there are ice-skating and wall climbing adventures to be had as well. OutBoard.org.

Vail Gay Ski Week, Vail, Colo. March 30–April 3. Vail, which this year had its event in late January, bumped it two months into the late winter, capping off the gay ski season. This version brings back the Vail Splash Club hot tub and pool party as well as the beer bust and daily après ski socials. VailGaySkiWeek.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 26, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Another reason to go to Aspen: Leslie Jordan

Last week, I mentioned that time was running out to get some early-bird deals for Aspen Gay Ski Week, the Who’s-your-granddaddy of gay ski events. Scheduled entertainment included Dallas’ own Paul J. Williams, who will host the “comedy night.” Now word comes in that the headliner for the event will be Leslie Jordan.

The Emmy-winning star of Will & Grace and Sordid Lives is a fixture in Dallas where his home-spun queer humor plays well. No word yet on whether Jordan will perform his Trip Down the Pink Carpet one-man show, his standup or just improvise with Williams. (I know from experience: Jordan needs no help to be funny extemporaneously for long stretches.)

The show takes place at the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen on Jan. 20. Tickets are $50. Buy ‘em at 970-920-5770.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Leslie Jordan’s ongoing quest to be on ‘Dancing with the Stars’

I’m guessing Leslie Jordan is hoping to go viral with his newest bid at Dancing with the Stars fame (and money). He’s made no bones about wanting to be on the show, and just released this video on YouTube to get the excitement rolling.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Leslie Jordan aims for ‘DWTS’ fame (or infamy)

Just who does that good ol’ gay Southern boy Leslie Jordan think he is? Apparently, he thinks he’s Betty White. Hence the push from the Emmy Award-winning Will & Grace star, Sordid Lives cover boy and frequent Dallas visitor (we last profiled him here) to be one of the contestants on the next season of ABC’s reality competition series Dancing with the Stars. Jordan first began his campaign about two years ago, but with the rise of Facebook — which led to the surprisingly successful bid to get Betty White as host of Saturday Night Live (making her the oldest host in the 35-year history of the show) — Jordan is trying for viral enthusiasm. So far, Jordan’s Facebook page has a respectable 2,400 “likers,” but you know we can do more. So, if you’re on Facebook, click here to become a fan and let all your friends know. Jordan might not be the first openly gay dancer, but he’ll no doubt he the most fun.

Arnold Wayne Jones

—  Dallasvoice

Lily, Leslie; Leslie, Lily; both, off-Broadway

Leslie Jordan is the creator of several one-man shows, but his latest owes something to yours truly. My Trip Down the Pink Carpet, which started as a book and morphed into stage monologues about his life in Hollywood, begins at the Emmy Awards, where he won best guest actor in a comedy series for his role on Will & Grace. Jordan’s most memorable line at the primetime ceremony — that he took his award to bed with him, making Emmy the only woman he’s ever slept with — was fed to him by me. Yup. I wrote that line. No acknowledgement. Not credit in the book. I’m not holding my breath for a memo in the Playbill.

But I digress. The real news is Lily Tomlin — who worked with Jordan on an aborted HBO series set in Dallas — will produce Jordan’s show off-Broadway. Lily’s longtime partner, Jane Wagner, is also a producer. It is set to open at New York’s Midtown Theatre on April 14 and run trhough July. I wish him well, despite his omissions of me.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones