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To Wong Foo,Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar

Es hörte sich auf dem Papier wahrscheinlich richtig gut an: drei Hollywood-Stars (Patrick Swayze, Wesley snips und John Leguizamo) spielen drei New Yorker Drag Queens, die ein Provinzkaff aufmischen. Herausgekommen ist eine ungenießbare moralische Pampe. Schade.

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The following article is reprinted from Metro Arts & Entertainment Weekly, a
gay and lesbian weekly distributed free of charge throughout Washington, DC
and Baltimore. It originally appeared in the issue dated August 31, 1995

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FAIRY TALE

by Randy Shulman

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Wesley Snipes has flipped his wig.

"Ain't gonna happen, man. Ain't gonna happen. I don't think they'd come to
me and even suggest it. The amount of money they'd have to pay would
supersede anything Jim Carrey ever thought of. Wall Street just might
collapse!"

Snipes is discussing the possibility of a sequel to his new movie, To Wong
Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar, in which he stars as a drag queen
named Noxeema Jackson. Although Snipes is fetching in the role, turning in a
funny, sassy performance, the working conditions ultimately proved too
taxing for this monolith of cinematic machismo, what with "the intense
Nebraska heat, the wigs, dresses, plastic silicone boobies, panty hose. It
was rough, a real test."

So if he's carping so much, why did he accept the role in the first place?

"I did it not so much because I have a thriving, burning passion to be in a
dress, but because nobody would expect me to do it. Frankly, I'm a little
concerned about me being perceived as just an action guy. I really consider
myself more of an actor than an action star."

An action star in a henna-highlighted wig and gold-embossed eyelashes that
go on for days. It may be true, Snipes, who portrayed a drag character
several years ago on Broadway in Execution of Justice, doesn't kick ass in
Too Wong Foo, but he sure as hell wiggles it -- as do his co-stars Patrick
Swayze and John Leguizamo.

"Wesley did a ritual with his wig and his pantyhose and burned all that
stuff as soon as we wrapped," recalls Swayze, who plays the delectably
elegant, big-hearted Vida Boheme. "I looked in the mirror and said, 'Oh
well, last time I get to be pretty.'"

Next to the recently released Jeffrey, To Wong Foo, which opens at area
theaters next Friday, September 8, is the most eagerly awaited film in the
queer community. We're waiting to see if it's homophobic (it isn't). We're
waiting to see if it's just like Priscilla (it is, up to a point). We're
waiting to see if it will portray drag queens -- often the most denigrated
members of our community -- with the respect, honor, and integrity they
deserve (it does).

Written by Douglas Carter Beane and directed by Beeban Kidron, Too Wong Foo
is the ultimate fairy tale. It's the story of three queens who travel cross
country in (not a bus, but) a vintage canary yellow Cadillac convertible;
they're en route to the grandest of drag beauty pageants in Los Angeles.
When their car conks out in a tired, dusty old Midwestern town, a place
where the cobwebbed locals gave up the notion of life long ago, these three
"girls" work a little magic, spread a little love, and revitalize the town
in time for the annual Strawberry Social. As Vida remarks to her cohorts,
"Sometimes it just takes a fairy."

"They're superhuman characters," says Beane, an openly gay playwright who,
among other things, forged a New York theater company with the infamous
Nicky Silver. "They're wonder women who sprinkle love and move on." A kicky,
fun-filled fantasy, the movie owes a debt to The Wizard of Oz and the
feelgood films of Frank Capra and Preston Sturges; its warm, fuzzy message
of believing in oneself is hokey yet appealingly sweet.

"I was trying to imagine a drag movie being put together by Frank Capra --
lots of warm gooey feelings," says Beane. "It's basically The Music Man in
dresses." Any similarity to Priscilla, he claims, is purely coincidental.

"My mom and I were watching RuPaul one night, and she said, 'She's a lovely
girl, but has terrible proportions.' And I thought to myself, 'That's
interesting. That could make a good movie: if drag queens showed up in a
small town, people would think that they weren't drag queens, but New York
career girls. They would think Mercedes Ruehl had come to visit.

"So I wrote it, and sent it out to the world on a Friday. And on a Monday it
came back, rejected by all these studios with really mean [comments, like]
'Not appropriate material for a film.' Then I got a phone call from my agent
saying that there's a bidding war going on between Disney and Spielberg. And
I said, 'They know these are drag queens, right? They don't think these are,
like, dragons? They know that these are gay men in dresses?' And my agent
said, 'Yeah -- and they want it!'"

Right after the movie went into production came the dreaded phone call: Hey!
D'ya know they're releasing an Australian movie just like this one?

"We were already making the film when I found out about Priscilla," sighs
Kidron, a soft-spoken Brit whose films include the lesbian coming-of-age
film, Oranges Aren't The Only Fruit. "You think to yourself, 'Just how far
do you have to go these days to make an original movie? Three drag queens in
a car -- they've done it twice? In as many years?'"

"Priscilla took itself too seriously," says Swayze. "It was much more of a
character study into the lives and heads of its own drag queens as opposed
to creating a movie anybody can identify with. Wong Foo doesn't take itself
quite so seriously -- and I think because of that, it's accessible to
anyone. For me, it's a drag queen movie that reinstates family values."

Adds Kidron: "I haven't seen Priscilla, but I hear that apart from the most
superficial way, our film is very, very different."

You bet it's different. For one thing, Vida, Noxeema and their Latin
protege, Chi Chi Rodriguez, are rarely ever glimpsed out of drag.

"It's fantasy, man! Fantasy!" maintains Snipes. "I accepted very early on
that this film was a fantasy joyride. I don't think it should be taken so
seriously where people try to compare it to real life. I mean, three
multi-racial, multi-colored pattern drag queens drivin' across the country
in a Cadillac? Coming into this town and in one weekend, having eight
costume changes? You never saw where their luggage came from. We never had
anybody to help us put our stuff on, but we always looked fierce. It's the
Land of Make Believe!"

"It's about drag queens when they're in drag," says Beane. "Drag queens when
they're not in drag is interesting, and maybe I'll tell that story sometime,
too. But this is about drag queens when they're in drag."

Point two: There's no lip syncing or any of the usual performance routines
typically associated with the art of female illusion.

Says Beane: "This is my idea of what a drag queen does. This is what I
wanted to create. It was a beauty contest and it was about them going off
into the real world."

Fair enough. But onto point three, one that is more pertinent to our
community: aside from Chi Chi's marginally deceptive flirtation with one of
the town's boys, none among the three express any interest in having a
boyfriend or even, at the film's conclusion, stroll off into the sunset with
a beau on their arm.

"We could never let this movie be about addressing sexual issues," insists
Swayze, "otherwise it would fall flat on its face. It had to be about heart.
It had to be about people."

"The [movie's drag queens] manage to all be in love with themselves, don't
they?" says Beane, casting the issue aside as though it were a old, tattered
chiffon scarf. "That's their journey, it's what their story's about. It's
about learning to love yourself."

"This movie didn't seem to be about that kind of love," remarks Kidron. "Chi
Chi is the only one who comes closest to finding it, but the guy she's
pursuing is not another gay man and therefore it was not appropriate [to]
end [their flirtation] in consummation. Nobody else was actually looking for
a lover. It simply wasn't part of the story we were telling."

Swayze is more direct. "Look," he says, "you [put] sex...in a drag queen
movie and you're gonna alienate 98 percent of your [straight, conservative
Middle America] audience." At least the film never conceals the fact that
the three beauties are gay.

"That was conscious effort on my part," says Beane. "I'd be writing and
every five pages I'd say to myself, 'Remind everyone that these are not
straight men running away from the mafia. Keep reminding the audience that
these are gay characters.' For example, when Vida remarks, 'What in gay
hell?' that's there to say, like, 'I'm gaaaay and this is my gaaaay hell.'"

While several legitimate drag queens auditioned for the roles, the studio
inevitably went with Snipes and Swayze -- who are straight -- hoping to
snare a wider audience.

The part of Chi Chi was written especially for Leguizamo, who Beane knew
from the theater world. Of the three, the young actor pulls off the female
illusion best. Moreover, his character undergoes the story's most complex
and interesting journey, from foul-mouthed, self-centered street hustler to
a cultivated, giving princess.

"It's not the first time I've done drag," says Leguizamo, now sporting a
thin wiry scruff of chin hair. "I did it before in one man shows, but it was
the most extensive approach to it. Before I'd just throw on a wig and a
dress. This time I was shaving four times a day, between takes, and wearing
these bra things, gender benders...and tight, uncomfortable, binding
clothes. "I wanted to come across like a Latino Sharon Stone," he jokes.
"Except that I kept my panties on."

Despite his grousing, Snipes concedes that he found "Noxeema's physicality
and camp...interesting. I like people who are not afraid to express
themselves and be creative and be like flowers. What's wrong with that? Why
does everybody have to be tough, stern, and serious. Be fun! Be a rose!"
When reminded that Noxeema's character is a rather tough rose at times, he
chuckles. "Yeah, well every rose has a thorn somewhere."

"A lot of people say I look like Miss Kitty from Gunsmoke," says Swayze.
"The process of trying to turn macho Patrick into a woman was a little
scary. It was interesting to go from a narrow minded, limited heterosexual
point of view into a much more open-minded point of view. [In movies like]
Tootsie and Some Like It Hot, the men are [hiding out] in dresses, but
they're always men. This is a different situation: these are men who do not
come alive or feel they have any specialness or life until they're women.
They never got noticed as men, but they sure are something as women.

"My whole modus operandi," he continues, "was whether I'd sleep with myself
or not. And I have to honestly say I wouldn't sleep with [Vida] -- but I
know a lot of guys who would."

When Kidron talks of Swayze, her voice grows soft, reverential. "I
auditioned all these guys, and just couldn't find the right Vida. To find
someone who had some emotional weight, who was going to be able to act the
part, and look drop dead as a girl, was quite a task."

Immediately after her audition with Swayze, Kidron remembers calling the
producers and saying, "I think I've found my Scarlet O'Hara."

Asked how the three macho men coped with their drag queen getups between
takes, Kidron notes that "it's important to remember they were playing men
being women. They didn't ever become women. And I think psychologically
that's a very crucial thing: they were never asked to lose their
masculinity. But honestly?" She laughs. "When we'd wrap a shot, their legs
would spread open, they'd scratch their balls and tell some terrible filthy
joke. I must say I've never heard so many new words for penis in my life."

Kidron is vocally proud of the film. "I think it's pretty strong, and I
think that more [straight conservative] people will be turned by it than
confirmed by it.

"The reality about drag is that it's not about being a woman," she
continues. "It's about theatricality -- gay men celebrating their feminine
side. And to get the applause and the sunshine and the spotlight that that
brings. I'll never forget one of the drag queens I know, who works in
Bloomingdales in a perfume department during the day as a man. He says, 'I'm
on my feet all day. I come home, my feet are sore -- but I put on my high
heels and I'm dancing.' And there's something of a fantasy there. It's a
theatricality, living a movie within your own life. Which is very
Hollywood."



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Interview mit John Leguizamo:

Men At Work

by Deborah Gregory

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Two years ago, every Dirty Dancing and Action Jackson thespian hunk in
America threw caution to the wind and "sashayed and parlayed" in full drag
onto the Universal lot for a crack at a starring role in the Steven
Spielberg-produced film with the very long and strange title --"To Wong Foo,
Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar." So fierce was the competition for a
chance to prance in size 15 pumps, that not one of the pumped-up candidates
batted a Maybelline lash at Wong Foo's even stranger storyline (three New
York drag queens head to Hollywood in search of fame and fortune but must
survive the wilds of Nebraska when their car breaks down en route).

Patrick Swayze beat out the likes of Gary Oldman and pretty boy Matt Dillon
for the gender-bending role of Vida and action hero Wesley Snipes was chosen
to play Noxeema over hundreds of others (including dragmeister RuPaul who
does appear in the film). But the role of Chi Chi was won by the relatively
unknown John Leguizamo (pronouced Leg-way-zamo). Suffice it to say the
Colombian-born actor had a leg up on the competition.

Back in 1991, Leguizamo wrote and performed his Obie Award-winning one-man
show, "Mambo Mouth" showcasing a montage of seven Latino street
characters--the stellar standout of which was the over-the-top transsexual
prostitute, "Manny the Fanny." Hot on the heels of "Mambo's" success,
Leguizamo staged his second Off-Broadway one-man show, "Spic-O-Rama"--
introducing us to Gladyz Gigante, a dysfunctional Latin Mom whose idea of
concocting "smoked chicken" consists of munching on chicken breast while
chain-smoking Marlboro cigarettes! Subsequently, both of the shows were
aired on HBO -- receiving more critical acclaim and adding colorful chapters
to Leguizamo herstory.

On this particular some-like-it-hot July night of Wong Foo's four-month
shoot, Leguizamo is the ever-so-tacky Chi Chi. Decked out in five-inch
bubblegum pink pumps and an even pinker Satin strapless dress, the Latina
spitfire is trading quips with an even tackier looking Noxeema (Wesley in
tye-dye hot pants, an Auburn bob and snakeskin boots), between takes in a
restaurant scene where the trio have come to celebrate. Both Vida (Swayze's
drag brings to mind the Duchess of Windsor look) and Noxeema have just won
the Drag Queen of the Year Contest. "God, Wesley, don't pull my hair so hard
- this isn't an action movie!" Leguizamo screeches to guffaws from the crew.
Hundreds of dolled-up, real-life New York drag queens, assorted fabulous
divas (including myself--opting for the surefire low-cut Leopard look) and
supermodel Naomi Campbell are adorning the tacky Jersey City restaurant
tables. The all-night shoot wraps at 10:00 the following morning and
Leguizamo's Chi Chi is a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Fast forward to March 1995, six months after Wong Foo has wrapped. Femme
fatale fatigue doesn't begin to describe Leguizamo's exhaustion. Inside the
Astoria, Queens office of Leguizamo's new FOX-TV variety show, "House of
Buggin'"-- of which he is the star, co-creator, co-writer and
co-producer--the bespectacled hyperkinetic talent look likes an exchange
student. He is seated in front of his computer wearing Calvin Klein baggy
jeans, a striped pullover and Timberlands. After a deep exhale, he confesses
that his life in falsies and pumps are over.

"I will never do drag again. I'm over being a girl. Pa fuera!," he bemoans
with a sweep of his hands. "It took three hours to become Chi Chi every day
and by the end of the fourth month, Patrick, Wesley and me started getting
on each other's nerves. After Wong Foo wrapped I had bra burns and the corns
and bunions on my poor little virgin feet were killing me!" For all his
laments, Leguizamo admits that he was a pretty woman. Wesley, on the other
hand, he chuckles, "looked like the kind of woman you have after a thousand
beers and the bar is closing!"

Even without his reliable drag characters, Leguizamo has an endless array of
personalities to choose from for his sketch comedy show. He credits their
creation to his upbringing. "Jackson Heights is the biggest melting pot on
the planet. You have Hindus, Latins, Jews, Jamaicans -- and I just imitated
everyone and learned different accents." While Leguizamo's 'House of Buggin'
facades are far too many to count, his favorites include the catty Asian
talk show host Kogi Ono who is the fictitious brother of Yoko Ono; Blaine
Alexander -- the platinum toupeed president of Illegal Alien Makeovers ("I'm
not only the president, I'm also a satisfied customer.."); and Miggy -- the
endearingly mental nine-year-old from his Spic-O-Rama show who now tells
Totally True Urban Legends such as the case of the Possessed Plant ("That's
so whickety whack!")

Happy to have his own groundbreaking television show (it's the first Network
Latin variety show) and a co-starring role in the upcoming film, "A
Pyromaniac's Love Story" opposite Billy Baldwin and Sadie Frost (from
"Dracula" fame), Leguizamo is headed off to an appointment with his boxing
coach, Juan LaPorte, at the nearby Astoria Sports Complex. Before he dashes
off to throw a few good punches ("nothing gets rid of stress and hostility
better that boxing," he confesses, baring his boyish grin), Leguizamo offers
these words of wisdom to wannabe dragsters: "Buy bras that fit -- don't get
suckered by ones that have a nice push up and look pretty! And always wear
open-toe sandals -- forget pumps, banditos, they're murder!"




John L.


Die echte Julie Newmar

Patrick S.