Charles Busch might be the biggest drag diva this side of RuPaul. But unlike Ru, Busch has a legitimately impressive résumé, which includes critically acclaimed work on the stage, a memorable run on the most underrated television show of the last 20 years (HBO prison drama Oz), and a pair of feature films adapted from his own stage productions. The first, Psycho Beach Party, was part of the 2000 ImageOut Festival. And Busch's latest, Die Mommie Die (see review this issue), closes this year's festival before beginning a limited theatrical run later this month. It's Busch's first lead role on the screen, and he won a Special Jury Prize at Sundance earlier this year for his performance.
City talked to the frantically busy Busch, who is in the midst of putting the final touches on the upcoming Boy George-as-Leigh Bowery musical Taboo, which hits Broadway just two weeks after Die premiers.
City: So you're too busy to come to Rochester, eh? We get that a lot.
Busch: I really wish I could get there. I've never been to Rochester and would have loved to visit the George Eastman House. And I'm a big Louise Brooks fan --- I would have tried to find where her house was. I'm right in the midst of rehearsals for Taboo, and I kind of promised my boss, Rosie O'Donnell, that I'd just focus on this project.
City:Is it frustrating when you don't have time to promote your first starring role?
Busch: It's sort of frustrating. There will be a long period where I'm sort of laying low, and then suddenly everything happens at the same time. In a way, the movie is the favorite thing I've ever worked on. It's a complete fantasy-come-true for me. All my life, I've fantasized about starring in a movie, and this was the first time I've ever done that. It came out exactly the way I'd like it. It's amazing because I'm a bit of a complainer. I'm like Norma Desmond --- I just watched it over and over again on the video. Nobody can come over to my apartment because if they're here for more than a half-hour, eventually it's "Oh, God. Here he comes again, bringing the movie out."
City:Was the mood on the set pretty light?
Busch: It was really exhausting. At the end of the day, there were times I was almost hallucinating I was so tired. Those 18 days were so intense, and I was there 16 hours a day. I don't think I've ever been so emotionally, physically, and intellectually engaged in a project in my life.
City:Did you stay in character during the entire shoot?
Busch: No, I'm not a weirdo. It's funny --- I was always the first person there, so the cast only ever saw me in makeup and costume. I think they got so used to seeing me in drag. One day Stark [Sands] saw me out of drag and didn't know who I was.
City:Was it weird to give control of your baby to somebody else?
Busch: It wasn't that I didn't trust them --- I knew I was in good hands. I really kind of went into a month-and-a-half funk afterwards, re-living the movie several times in my head, scene by scene, wondering what it would be like. I couldn't get any work done. I couldn't start any new projects.
City:Was there any research done to determine whether or not a person could actually die from an arsenic-laced suppository?
Busch: I've had that idea of poison suppository for years as a method of murder, and I was glad to finally use it. It's a novel way of killing someone.
City: Any crazy stories from the set of Oz?
Busch: I love Oz. They used to shoot it right up the street from where I live. My play, The Tales of the Allergist's Wife, opened the night before I had to shoot an episode. It was an incredible night --- one of the great nights of my life. It was 1 a.m. and the Internet reviews were coming out. I didn't go to sleep because I had to be on the set at 5 a.m. I was so excited I had this big Broadway hit, and then I walked up the street, got into my prison uniform, and got in my cell. I just went into my cell, said my two lines, lied down, and fell asleep. About an hour later, they tapped me and said, "We're done --- you can get up now."
City: So what do you think of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy?
Busch: At first, before it was on, I was kind of resisting the idea. I thought, "Oh, gosh --- here we go again. Do we always have to have the stereotype that all gay men are superficial and just interested in fashion and home décor?" Then when I saw it, it was really cute. I think it's really cool --- the idea that straight men and gay guys can just get together and help each other. I like the idea that Carson gets kind of sexual with the guys, which I think is the ultimate thing that shows these straight guys are so cool that they're not even scared when the gay guy gets flirty.
Charles Busch's Die Mommie Die closes the 11th annual ImageOut Festival next Sunday, October 12, at the Dryden Theatre. For ticket information, call 271-2640 or visit www.imageout.org.