By Tim Parks
Standing at 6’7” (sans heels), RuPaul Charles already cuts a striking figure, just add high heels, a fierce wig, flawless makeup, a fabulous frock, drop the surname and you have the glamorous persona that RuPaul has embodied since the world first took notice with the hit single, “Supermodel (You Better Work)” in 1993.
But, RuPaul is poised in those high heels to show another side, something a little naughtier than the high couture creation that she is most known for. How about an ass- kicking-take-no-prisoners version of the RuPaul we already know and love?
Well, faster than you can say her signature line of “This is the front, and this is the back,” with back being the key phrase, get set to meet RuPaul’s latest incarnation, Starrbooty, at Bacchus House’s Turn-About Block Party (at the Ohio Street Stage) on Saturday, October 13th.
To get to know Starrbooty a little bit better, aside from the San Diego appearance and the film of the same name (which played the festival circuit and will be coming to DVD on October 30th); I spoke with RuPaul about the genesis of this new creation, which actually isn’t an advent from 2007, as she explained.
“Well, it’s a character I created over 20 years ago in Atlanta, Georgia that was a joke, it was inspired by John Waters movies and Russ Meyer movies.” RuPaul said of the character’s first foray into film on a home camera format, before delving into the celluloid version of today. “And I wanted to do it again 20 years later, because I felt like I never really did it any justice back then.
“And I felt that in today’s politically correct climate of overzealous, self righteous people, this movie is a perfect antidote. It is so fabulously rotten and exploitive, and I just saw it again the other night, and it still cracks me the fuck up.”
That is a good thing, since RuPaul also wrote the screenplay and the film’s music (including its rump shakin’ title track), as well as having produced the movie.
Starrbooty follows the exploits of a supermodel agency operative, whose niece is abducted by her arch nemesis, Annaka Manners (played by Candis Cayne), forcing Starrbooty to go undercover as a hooker named Cupcake.
With a healthy dash of raunchy humor prevalent throughout the movie, RuPaul also drew upon a wealth of cinematic influences to flesh out her take on the revered genre of “women who kick ass.”
“When I first saw Cleopatra Jones I was just gob smacked,” she said. “I think it was the only time I ever wrote a fan letter to someone; I wrote to Tamara Dobson, who played the character. I was going to say I never felt that way before, but I remember when Barbarella showed up on the cover of Life Magazine in our mailbox, I felt that way. I remember going out to the garage to try to emulate the pose she had on the cover of Life Magazine.”
However, RuPaul also credits the essence of one of her real life heroes as the inspiration for Starrbooty.
“I grew up in a house with all women,” she stated. “My mother was the biggest bull dyke you’d ever want to imagine, she was a slight woman – she was tall, but she was so butch and so powerful. And, I just admired her so much, I really dug her, and seeing what she was up against from society, in terms of wanting to do her own thing. It made me feel bad. So whenever I can see someone flexing their muscles and getting what they want, it turns me on.”
Speaking of flexing muscles and being turned on in an entirely different respect…there was another challenge that RuPaul faced during filming, like having porn stars Gus Mattox, Michael Lucas and Owen Hawk as co-stars. Which begged the question – was it harder, I mean more difficult, to do a karate kick in high heels or to not cop a feel with her co-stars?
“I have to tell you doing a fight scene in high heels is not difficult for me at all, I’ve never had a problem wearing heels at all, so that was easy,” she replied with a laugh. “Probably keeping my hands off the merchandise is more difficult. We’ve got a whole crew watching, and these stars are some of the biggest and best in the business. Yeah that was the harder thing to do.”
Biggest and harder being the opportune words there.
RuPaul has worn many hats in the entertainment field, with a hosting gig on her own talk show on VH-1, films such as The Brady Bunch Movie, being the “First Face of M.A.C.” cosmetics, and musically there have been duets with Elton John and Martha Wash. But, if she had her druthers, there are two career moves she’d like to make. One is a return to doing a talk show without an audience, and the other is a duet with her favorite celebrity, Judge Judy, whom she looks to for “one hour of clear speak” in her day.
Having spent a great deal of her career being considered an icon within the LGBT community, and the world at large, has definitely given RuPaul the wherewithal to see how the LGBT community has gone through some changes over the years.
She cited the problematic symptoms of “the oppressed taking on the characteristics of their oppressor” with the current gay obsession with all things straight-acting. This is but one way the community has “splintered” in her estimation, and sees a deeper need to stand together in unity.
“Unfortunately, by splintering up and specializing the community, it loses its power,” she recanted. “It’s an illusion that we are all separate from one another. I understand the thinking that everybody wants to be recognized for their own unique way if thinking, or for the way that they feel.
“But the truth is, when we’re together and we are all human beings, we have more power.”
That sense of family is certainly something that resonates with RuPaul literally going back, back, back to her roots with the homecoming performance in San Diego (RuPaul was born at Mercy Hospital and lived here until 1976).
“I get to spend time with my family, and I don’t get to see them as often as I should. I live in New York City, and get out to L.A. and Southern California maybe four times a year. And, I really enjoy them, so I am going to be in a really great space to do a show that night from being around them.”
And, if there is anything audiences can bank on is that the drag-tastic diva will put on one helluva show! And it’s a safe bet that you should dress dance attire appropriately, because San Diego this is RuPaul we are talking about, and if experience teaches us anything it’s that you’d better work!
“I’m performing songs from the movie, plus some of my old repertoire,” she said. “I am having a great time with this show and being able to do these new songs!”
This interview was first published in September 2007