By Madeleine Finlay-Hudson
Thinking of heading to the cinema this weekend? Why not unwind with a few cocktails, your gals and a couple of tickets to Stage Mother? We can’t promise you won’t smudge your mascara though as this campy, feel-good film offers a multi-layered emotional experience. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry or maybe you’ll just have a total eclipse of the heart…
If you don’t know by now, Thom Fitzgerald’s Stage Mother follows a conservative church choir director who inherits her late son’s drag club in San Francisco. What starts out as a journey to understand her son, fast becomes a journey of self discovery, leading Maybelline (Jacki Weaver) to question everything she thought she knew about love, drag and life outside her small town.
And, to celebrate the release of Stage Mother in UK and Irish cinemas, we chatted to drag royalty, Miss. Jackie Beat, who plays the fabulous Dusty Muffin. Jackie’s a singer, songwriter, actor, screenwriter and all-round superstar in the world of drag. She’s witty, she’s funny and arguably one of the best queens on the planet. So, if you weren’t already sold, you should be now. Forget about the drag race and walk to the beat. The Jackie Beat.
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us, congratulations on the film, it’s lovely. How did you come to be involved in Stage Mother?
JB: An agent sent me an email asking if I would shoot an on-camera audition on my cell phone. I kept putting it off. Every time I was in drag I told myself I was going to do it and then would either forget or just be too tired after a show. Time was running out — I think there was literally one day left to shoot it and send it in — and Sherry Vine and I were in Rehoboth Beach doing our show Battle of the Bitches. After the show I said, “I almost forgot, I need to shoot that audition I told you about, but I’m too tired.”
To her credit, Sherry grabbed my phone and forced me to shoot it right then and there in the dressing room of the club we had just played. The audition scene took place in the dressing room of a drag club so it was perfect! We even panned the room and shot the costumes hanging there, all the wigs and the makeup mirrors before I started my dialogue.
Spoiler alert: I got the part!
Couldn’t imagine the film without you. Dusty Muffin, nuts and all. Her role in the film is heavily centralised around her maternal relationship with the girls at the bar — in particular Rickey. She’s often referenced as Rickey’s drag mother and confidant. In your own career, do you have a mother figure?
JB: I’ve never really thought about that, but I don’t feel like I have one. I think in most of my relationships I am the mother.
Okay, well as a drag mother, what piece of advice would you offer to your daughters?
JB: I would tell her that drag is a lot of hard work, it’s painful — physically and emotionally, it’s rife with rejection and people judging you, and although it can be a lot of fun it can also be heartbreaking and she probably shouldn’t do it. And if she’s meant to do it, she won’t listen to any of my warnings and she’ll do it anyway!
Speaking of drag, how did you begin your career? Is there a moment you can pinpoint as the beginning?
JB: Like many Gay men, I did drag on Halloween one year with a bunch of friends. I think that’s kind of a rite of passage. Of course, this was way before Drag Race so maybe things have changed. I noticed that I did it with a level of detail that my friends did not. And even though I was having fun, I took my “character” very seriously. I found that when I was in drag I could express myself in a way I couldn’t as the real me. Again, things have changed, but there was a time when drag queens could say ANYTHING!
That being said, you’re also a writer. Do you feel like you’re still able to explore yourself more as Jackie? Does she offer a different level of freedom? Or do you find there is more opportunity to express yourself writing for others?
JB: It really is apples and oranges. Nothing beats being on stage, but it’s also nice to be making money while typing on my laptop while in bed with my dogs. Although I have written screenplays, most of my writing has been material for other performers. People like Joan Rivers, Roseanne, Margaret Cho, Cassandra “Elvira” Peterson, Ross Mathews and a lot of queens from Drag Race.
Writing jokes for other people is fun, but you really have to find their voice. Not everyone is as fearless or crass as I am. I remember once I was working on a book with Ross Mathews at the same time I was writing jokes for Joan Rivers and I came up with a totally raunchy vagina joke for Ross and he just looked at me and said, “Jackie, I’m not Joan Rivers!” But Joan loved it, of course.
It must be exciting to delve into so many different personas and voices. Throughout your career, you’ve explored many diverse avenues — having worked on stage, on set and behind the camera. How do you think your time in the New York cabaret scene influenced and shaped your skills as a performer?
JB: New York City completely changed me and my drag. First of all, I was always terrified of New York. But the moment I got there, I realized that I was actually talented and funny and I had nothing to fear. But working in Manhattan really helped me “step my pussy up” as the kids say today. I used to do more of a punk drag with combat boots and ripped clothes but then I discovered the pretty but painful world of women’s shoes and just a general polish I had lacked before. I think I was afraid to try and be even remotely attractive or feminine. Now it’s all a big stew of glamour & grunge, couture & clown, feminine & masculine — although I hate to use those terms because they literally don’t mean anything anymore.
As you move forward through your career, what would be your dream role?
JB: I can’t think of a specific role or particular character, but I have this dream of getting a great part on a hit Netflix series. In drag, out of drag, maybe a little of both. I’m just at that age right now where I can imagine someone thinking, “Jackie Beat has always made me laugh. And she’s been good in everything I’ve seen her in. Let’s let her play this character!”
Netflix, if you’re reading — call Jackie Beat. So, we’ve talked a lot about your career, but now let’s talk about you. What drag films do you enjoy?
JB: Well, as a drag queen myself I don’t really crave what a drag film might give other people — civilians if you will — since I live it every night. And I’m not even sure if my choices are technically “drag” films, but I would say Hedwig and the Angry Inch and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And can we all agree that Valley of the Dolls is a drag movie?
It certainly has the hallmarks of a good drag film. Maybe that’s your Netflix series. When you’re in drag, do you have a treasured possession or an item you always wear?
JB: Yes, it would have to be a few pieces of costume jewellery that once belonged to my late mother. I love knowing that I’m wearing something of hers and that she is onstage with me.
And, as we touched on before, your character in Stage Mother is very much a matriarchal figure amongst the girls. They’ve built their own community at Pandora’s Box and forged a family. When thinking about family and community, what would you say those words mean to you?
JB: I am fortunate to have had two very loving, supportive parents who always encouraged and nurtured the “weirdo” in me, so it might not be quite as important to me as it is to someone who didn’t have that. But I certainly have lots of amazing, loving friends, many of whom I consider family. And having lived through the AIDS crisis, I know all too well the importance of community.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
JB: Larger than life!
It’s been a pleasure talking to you. Stage Mother is in cinemas now. Find your local venue at: stagemother.film and stay safe x