On the eve of the world debut of their feature-length fiction film Hurricane Bianca at the 2016 Inside Out LGBT Film Festival, Roy Haylock, the real life persona of drag queen Bianca Del Rio and his close friend, director Matt Kugelman, sat down with me to discuss their opinions about making a film about homophobia in Texas, what it means to be crowdfunded and how the film got Bianca in trouble with the folks at Drag Race.
Let’s bitch it out…
When I solicited questions from friends who are self-professed fanatics of RuPaul’s Drag Race, I was met with two (often simultaneous) reactions: they were jealous and they warned me that I should prepare to be read. I’ll admit that the comments filled me with a certain amount of trepidation – I’d seen the evidence of Bianca’s wit on Drag Race and I wasn’t sure I would be able to keep up.
To my friends’ mild disappointment, I didn’t end up on the “queen of mean”s Rolodex of Hate (perhaps the library was closed?). When I sat down for our brief 15 minute interview, the person I met with wasn’t even the “clown in a gown” but rather Bianca’s real life persona, Roy Haylock, a smart, business-savvy and very funny man. The loud, lively presence of Bianca was very much present, however (sometimes to the detriment of poor Matt, who struggled to get a few words in edgewise).
The following interview has been edited for length, readability and to make me look more eloquent. You can listen to the entire conversation (~15 minutes) at the bottom of the post.
Bstolemyremote (BS): So obviously, first off congratulations on the film, very exciting to hear that it got picked up earlier today [Ed’s note: Hurricane Bianca was picked up for distribution by Wolfe Releasing].
Roy Haylock: Yes!
BS: Ok, so first question: how is making a feature film different than your previous collaborations?
Roy: It’s on such a grander scale. Usually everything that we filmed was either in my apartment or his apartment with a green screen and a dream and on occasion we’d be on location.
Even my idea of what this film was going to be like in the beginning was far smaller than what actually happened. One instance was when we were first filming the scene that was taking place at a roller skating rink on location in Texas. I had just flown in and I see all these cars outside of the roller rink and I said “Oh we’re going to film in the middle of this?” and Matt said “No, that’s the crew.” And I was like:
Oh shit. This is serious. I’ve got two minutes to really learn my lines. This is a real serious movie.
BS: “I shouldn’t have drunk on the plane.”
Roy: No, you want me to drink – it makes it more entertaining.
Roy: So yeah, it was just amazing to make this happen and we had a brilliant team there, which I really didn’t expect. I’m usually the one having to do everything myself so it was so nice to be surrounded by really talented people that made the magic happen.
Matt Kugelman: Making a movie about moving to Texas, in Texas, just really helped because we were in it.
BS: What’s the connection to Texas? When I first heard about the film, I thought “Oh they’re gonna make it in New Orleans because of Bianca’s connections to New Orleans.”
Roy: Well the premise of it (the movie) is that in 29 states it’s legal to be fired for being gay. And that’s what happens here and so we needed a small town…
Matt: I tried to think of what’s kind of the most homophobic places in America and Texas may not be the most, but it’s one of the most and you can still be fired for being gay. Originally we were going to try and fake it – like film in upstate NY and just make it look like Texas – but it was just so much cheaper and there was a lot of talent down there.
BS: Did the film grow in capacity as a result of the crowdfunding?
Matt: Oh absolutely.
BS: Ok. Because Bianca you had mentioned you thought it was going to be a little bit small
Bianca: Well, I think the difference between Matt and I makes it work because Matt makes things happen but he’s also more of a dreamer. With me, it’s more like “Don’t call me until you have the paperwork” and then I can do what I gotta do. I guess I kinda live my life that way. He looks at things on a different scale so this movie was gonna happen no matter what. I didn’t know the scale of it, maybe it always was intended to be this big. In my head I was like “Oh here we go, I gotta do this and do that” and then you go in and think “Wow, this is kinda great.” I treat everything in my life like that, like if I was meeting the Queen of England, I’d still be like
Oh this bitch is calling. I gotta go have tea with this bitch.
And then I’d get there and be her best friend, you know what I mean? That’s just the way I operate.
BS: Can you talk about your collaboration efforts? Did you write the film together or was there ad libbing?
Roy: Well, I remember the first draft that I read and there were scenes that he had written and I was laughing like “Oh, this is funny.” And he’s like “Oh, you said it last week.” I say things all the time and I don’t recall saying them. So I was not a writer for the film, I was not a creator for the film. It was really his.
Matt: But it was written with him in mind. It has a lot of his classic jokes woven in.
Roy: It was marrying my personality for this moment because I’m not necessarily Bianca Bianca – if that makes sense? It’s nothing to do with my life that I’m portraying in this film. I mean, the Bianca character is a bitch, but it’s not my life.
Matt: It’s not a documentary.
Roy: No, it’s not a documentary [laughs] It’s kind of interesting to see how Matt would work in things I’d said that he thought were funny. And then, on set we’d have the option to film it his way or for me to add in what I wanted and then he could do whatever he wants with it cause I’m never part of the editing, I’m always like “I’ll give you all of this and then you figure it out.” ‘Cause you know, as a drag queen, you’ll go:
Oh – that angle! Oh – my face! Oh – did I say that?! Oh – can I do that again?!
So I don’t even bother to look at it. I haven’t even seen it on this grand level until tomorrow
BS: So you haven’t seen the final cut yet?
Roy shakes his head.
BS (to Matt): I’m assuming you’ve seen the final cut
Matt: I’ve seen it once [laughs] It’s a bit crazy. Tomorrow’s the first time we’re seeing it with a big audience.
Roy: And with all the elements, with everything included.
Matt: Yeah, special effects shots. Seeing it all together, all of the elements, finally – it was just great. I was just in post watching it, so I can’t wait (to see it) with everyone around.
BS: Yeah, seeing what the Alan Cumming hologram looks like
Roy: Yes! [Laughter]
BS: Do you have a feeling about the crowdfunding process? Does that influence the way you thought about the film or were you just like “This is what we’re going to do, give us the money and we’ll deliver”?
Roy: Well no. Now I think you take a risk with anything you do. I mean for me in particular what I’ve found over the years is that either they like it or they don’t, and it doesn’t bother me if you don’t like everything that I do. If you don’t like every joke that I do, then the point is to still keep going. If it doesn’t work, you can’t please everyone.
What I love is that Hurricane Bianca began prior to Drag Race and it was such a long process – filming Drag Race, and then announcing the cast and then it aired – and people had already done their research [on the film]. They were like “What is this? What is this about? Is this still happening?” So the interest was there. And it was nice to be able to say it coming up. I’ve always found, coming from theatre, you can spend a year writing, costuming a show and
It’s opening night, you’re exhausted, standing there with this thing that you’ve just created and some motherfucker will walk up to you and ask “What’s next?” and you’re like “Can I just get through tonight?!”
So it was interesting because this film was just lurking. Once I won the show and I was traveling doing my stand-up show, the film came in right in the middle, timing-wise. This is when the ducks were all in a row and Matt could make it all happen. I came in for those eighteen days to film all of my stuff. Even in the middle of it, I was flying off to Amsterdam to do my world tour (Rolodex of Hate) and then flying back to Texas to finish. So that was the great thing about Matt: he knew when he needed me and he knew what was going to happen and he was like “I just need you for this, let’s make it click.”
Roy: It’s interesting to see how supportive people are. Of the Drag Race alumni, no one’s done a film on this level, so it’s like “Oh, this is exciting and this is new!” It wasn’t an album, it wasn’t a music video, it wasn’t a parody, so I thought it was kinda great. The fans are interested in it, which made it a little more exciting for me.
BS: Did the win end up affecting anything with the film (aside from the timing of the shoot)?
Roy: Well, I think all of it helped.
Matt: All of it.
Roy: The movie’s helped me.And I think Drag Race has helped my career and I think it’s just been a great marriage, all of it. I mean, drag is much more mainstream and what’s fascinating about Drag Race, in particular, is that straight people, people you didn’t expect, watch Drag Race as their guilty pleasure. So drag isn’t so threatening anymore.
What’s great about the movie is that the movie is not like LGBT films where there’s one extreme or the other: it’s either suicidal and completely serious, or it’s so ridiculously not funny, campy, ha-ha-ha that you just can’t get through it. This lies in the middle where you have comedy, but it deals with a serious topic. It’s not too preachy and it’s not too in your face; it’s a serious topic with really funny characters and a well-written set-up, which anybody can watch. It’s not even about a drag queen – drag is kinda secondary to what it is.
Matt: She’s another character.
Roy: The only way he’s getting to do what he’s doing is because he’s in drag.
BS: The pick-up today is by a company that predominantly releases gay films. Do you think that potentially limits the audience or do you think the universal message will allow it get out there and still be seen by a broader audience?
Matt: I’m confident that it will. I mean, it’s about anyone who’s ever felt alienated, so there’s a lot of potential for crossover. And plus we’ve got Rachel Dratch, Alan Cumming –
Roy: Margaret Cho. And Ru is in it.
I think it’s interesting. I never grew up with things being labeled: “Oh this is an LGBT film for the LGBT community.” It was either your kind of thing or not your thing. I’m shocked to see the amount of unsuspecting people who watch Drag Race who come to see my show. And I’m thinking “You watch the show?” You know, women in the forties, and there’s ten of them in a row. “Oh my god, we love it!” So that opened up their eyes to what you’re doing. You know, we’re dealing with a topic where people are being fired for being gay, but it’s not –
Matt: But funny is funny
Roy: Yeah, but funny is funny. I think you come in and laugh. It’s not like I’m trying to pass for this beautiful seductress or anything. Well except in that one scene [Laughter]
BS: The bathing suit scene?
Roy: Yeah, yeah, yeah, that one. It’s not gay heavy, if that makes sense.
BS: So I had a friend who nearly died when he found out that I would have the chance to speak to you.
Roy: Oh god…
BS: So he made me promise that I would ask one question: Was the cast photo joke in this season’s Drag Race your idea or was that Ru’s idea? Is there some kind of backstory?
Roy: Oh the backstory is very simple. My schedule was already set; it was already done for months. And I had eighteen days to film with him [points to Matt]. And then two weeks before we were supposed to be filming, I got the call from them:
Ru’s production: “We need you to film the first episode.”
Roy: “Well I can’t do it.” We go back and forth.
Roy: “Well what do you need me for?”
Ru’s production: “Well, we can’t tell you.”
Roy: “Well girl if you’re asking me to stop my life, I gotta know what it is.”
It went back and forth and I said I can’t do it, I’m committed to this (film). And Drag Race films in July, but it won’t air until February.
Roy: “Is there something else I can do?”
Ru’s production: “No, no, no, no”
They were very snarky. I couldn’t go to (Matt) and say “Well, now I need three days”. So I said, no, I can’t do it. And they were not happy with me. Then later on, when I was available in LA – because of course they weren’t going to fly me out [laughs] – it became “You’re in town? Oh, we’d love to film with you!” So I ended up doing the last episode in the end and it was fine, but
…at the time, you would have sworn that I’d aborted a baby or something. It was so ridiculous.
So the joke with the clown: I loved it. I thought it was fucking hysterical to have a clown in my place…I don’t give a shit, put anything in there. So they did put a clown in and they got a bigger laugh than any of the other people. And so when people ask “Why weren’t you there?” I’d reply “Honey, some of us have bookings. Unlike those girls.”
BS: “I’m just the most popular girl, so unfortunately…”
Roy: Oh what’s the worst they could say?
She’s not here because she’s working?
BS: And there’s the insult [Laughter]
Roy: Yeah, so that’s what happened. We worked it out and laughed about it afterward. “Oh my god, thank god you did it.” And then they told me at the S8 finale that the clown was going to come back, I was like “That’s genius. Bring the clown on. Funny is funny. What the fuck do I care?”
Hurricane Bianca debuts its sold-out world premiere tonight (Friday, June 3) at the 2016 Inside Out LGBT Film Festival. Tickets are still available for the encore screening Sunday, June 5. Hurricane Bianca will be distributed by Wolfe Releasing in the Fall/Winter (exact date TBD).
To listen to the entire audio interview, click play below.