June 13, 2015
THE LAST WORD with STEPHAN ELLIOTT
“I THINK the heart and soul of the film Priscilla, Queen of the Desert that works is that in the midst of all the glitz and glamour and showing off and bitchy lines and great songs, there was a really simple story about a man [Hugo Weaving as Anthony Belrose/Mitzi Del Bra] trying to come out to his son.
I had been wanting to make a movie musical. but they [studio bosses] said it was a dead genre and that I would need a gimmick.
I was a sitting at a bar in Sydney’s Oxford Street one night and I suddenly found it [drag queens lip synching].
The honest truth is that I didn’t want him [Guy Pearce, who played Adam Whiteley/Felicia Jollygoodfellow]. I said: “he is too pretty, he was too handsome”.
For him, I think it was a chance to go out and kill Mike from Neighbours. It was his chance to put [that character] to bed. He took to it with a vengeance. When he was in character [Adam/Felicia], he could do everything that Mike from Neighbours could never be allowed to do.
Terence Stamp was terrified about playing Bernadette. He really was at a point where something had to change for him. He had reached the end of that road of being ‘the sexiest man alive’ for his day. He was getting a little bit long in the tooth. It was a total challenge. It threatened everything.
His reaction was ‘there is absolutely no way in the world’ which I expected when I gave him the script. I said ‘why wouldn’t you do this’ and he said ‘because I’m terrified’. I said ‘shouldn’t this be exactly what you do for a living?’
I think he was coaxed into it by friends. He was genuinely very uncomfortable for the first two weeks of the shoot.
It was the moment of putting him in front of a live crowd in drag — up until then we had been in the studio — that he crossed the line. At the end of his first number, everyone burst into applause. From that moment, I think, he realised it was OK — that he was going to survive.
All three of them [Weaving, Pearce, Stamp] learnt that when they were in full drag absolutely nobody knew who they were. That is very difficult for famous people sometimes — always being recognised. The three of them really found the power of the mask.
Most people remember Guy’s one-liners and Terence’s one-liners, but they can’t put their finger on why the film resonates with them, and I think it really is because of Hugo’s quieter part.
A lot of gay people don’t have family. You have to create your own family. And I think a lot of people understand that. I think that is something that we weren’t aware of that came out of the film.
There was a thousand fun moments [making the film]. It was a blast. I remember saying ‘no-one is going to see this film’. I said ‘it will go straight to DVD — just forget about it’. I think that gave people a level of freedom and so the misbehaviour started right across the board, including the crew.
For me, putting on my brave face, it was a s*** fight. We did that journey in real time on a minuscule budget. As much fun as everyone was having, trust me, I was getting about one and a half hours sleep a night.
If I tried to make that film today they wouldn’t let me. It took so many chances at its time. It broke a lot of rules. It (popularity) keeps going on and I think it is because of its boldness.”
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