Tribute’s Matthew Pariselli sat down with Hurricane Bianca director Matt Kugelman and star Roy Haylock, whose alter ego Bianca Del Rio is the popular drag artist and winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race. They chatted about the inspiration for the film.
What was the inspiration for Hurricane Bianca?MK: I was inspired by this one right here! (Looks at Roy) I wish I had a better story, but I was new to New York, I had just come out of film school and wanted to make a movie. I met him — I was drunk — and was like, “Oh, this would be a good idea.”
RH: What’s funny is that everyone thinks it’s my movie or it was my idea, but really it’s all his. He was like, “I have this idea, let’s do it.” And I was like, “Okay,” thinking it would never happen. And then here we are, it’s happened and it’s kind of nuts. But he’s that sort of person, he makes shit happen. I will talk about it for 40 years but he’ll actually make it happen.
Roy, what was your first initial thought when Matt pitched the idea of Hurricane Bianca to you?RH: Well I’m the lead, so I thought it was magical. But no, I was very interested in doing it. I thought it sounded great. But in my brain, I also thought, “We’re never going to get all this money. How is this possible?” Matt comes in and says, “Let’s try it.” And I’m like, “Oh, okay, like that’ll work.” But then sure enough it works, so I need to stop being such an asshole. I think that’s my own thing. I think it’s why we work well together. But I didn’t think it would happen so quickly, so professionally, so soon.
How do you feel about finally releasing your work to the world?RH: It’s a huge relief. For me, I was involved with the back and forth process of the writing and the different versions of the screenplay. I had 18 days to do all that I had to do because of my schedule. So I basically went in, did it, and got out. It was great for me, but daunting and I didn’t have much time to think about it. I couldn’t over analyze it. But all that was just the beginning of the madness for Matt because there was also the editing and color correction and all that kind of crap that I really didn’t think about. So he’s been living with it far longer than I have. But it’s great. People can stop asking me, “When’s it going to come out?” Everyone thinks we’re George Lucas and had $42 million and 6,000 people working on it. So the process is a lot. But Matt’s probably most happy.
How do you hope people will receive the film?MK: We hope they laugh, for one thing.
RH: I’ve said it to other people, but it’s a very serious topic that’s done in a comedic way. For me, a lot of the films I’ve seen that are LGBT related are either completely heart-wrenching and too serious, or so insane that they’re impossible to believe. But this falls in the middle. It’s a serious topic that’s happening in America and it’s done in a fun, light-hearted way without being too preachy, without beating you over the head, going, “This is the moral!” It’s not about that. It’s not like an episode of The Golden Girls. You know, by the end you’re like, “We know, we know!” It’s done in a funny way and that’s what I like about it. If it gets too serious for a minute, it moves on to something else. You’re not sitting there with a razor blade going, “Ugh!” And it’s got a lot of action too, which I didn’t realize until I was there.
MK: We really put him through hell, especially in the last two days. It was accidental, but it was perfectly timed (laughs).
In a surprising number of states in the U.S., it’s legal to fire someone based solely on their sexual orientation. Can you speak to that?MK: I think it’s 29 in total, definitely more than half.
RH: It’s nuts. I didn’t know about it until Matt brought it to my attention. It was interesting to find out about it. People’s assumption of what our film is about comes from its title, and not that it’s misleading, but people don’t necessarily know what my motives are to become Bianca. When they find out, and they learn about what happened to my character, they’re like, “Oh! You’re shitting me. That can’t be real!”
MK: People kind of live in a bubble. We live in New York or L.A. and it’s not legal there, but for some people out there it is. They can get married but they can’t have jobs and feed themselves and their families.
RH: It’s insane! But it’s typical, isn’t it? Typical of America? In one state, this matters. In another, it doesn’t. It’s crazy. This isn’t about whether someone can use a certain bathroom. These are jobs we’re talking about! People have to work. And what if you’re passionate about what you do? Which is the case for my character, who shockingly loves being a teacher. So he does want to seek revenge but he also wants to prove a point in the film.
What are your favorite memories from the shoot?MK: For me, it was totally just hitting the ground and running, never stopping. It’s the most I’ve ever worked, the hardest I’ve ever worked, but the most fun I’ve ever had. It was a blast.
RH: When you grow up and say, “This is what I want to do, I want to act in a film,” it never really happens. Hardly anyone gets to be the lead in a movie. That’s my brain, anyway. But then this moment arrived and I was just doing it, I didn’t have time to think about it. I told Matt, I just assumed it would be me, him, a flashlight and someone else with a camera. But it was professional! People were there making sure it was right, asking, “Do you need anything?” And I’m like, “Yeah, to learn my lines!” But I was impressed. It takes a village to make something like this happen. And learning from Rachel Dratch was a riot. She’s just as funny off camera. Alan Cumming, Margaret Cho, RuPaul, William Belli, Shangela, Alyssa Edwards — everyone was great.
MK: There was a moment on the first day, pulling up to a roller skate rink at 5 a.m. I knew what to expect having been there prepping, but I also didn’t know what to expect. We pulled up and Roy was saying, “Why are there so many trucks here?” RH: I thought the roller skate rink was still open, that we were going to film around all these people, and Matt’s like, “No, that’s the crew.”
MK: It was that moment when I got chills. It was the coolest moment, like walking into battle and knowing we had a support system there to help us.
RH: It was insane. I didn’t imagine that. I’d been on sets before, but it was fascinating that everyone knew the script, what needed to be done and even costumes. For me, as a drag queen, I usually bring my own stuff, make it all work, pin together something someone else created that’s a nightmare. But everything was laid out, labelled. I thought, “This is amazing, I could get used to this.”