Hedwig & The Angry Inch: Days after seeing Hedwig, the thing was still crawling around inside me. I couldn't shake those images I'd been force-fed during the screening. As a whole, the film seemed wedged right next to Pootie Tang in a "Did I love this, or completely hate it?" section of my brain. Now I had to go look its creators in the eye.
Two-halves of one beast that came together on a plane somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. A wielding of minds in creation of this year's most anticipated stage translation. One wrote the music, the other wrote the screenplay. It's a tight seal that will surely frighten the gods, and possible even those moviegoers who are turned off by a she-male with a one-inch nub. Me? I wasn't scared. I was ready to behold the power that is Stephen Trask & John Cameron Mitchell.
First, I had to get past the white courtesy phone, a sexy girl with water cups, and some #@!* with gummi bears in his sweaty hand. I was quickly ushered into a tiny room. The sliding door slammed shut behind me. It was like that scene in Empire where Han, Leia, And Chewy turn to find themselves locked into dinner with Darth Vader. At the end of my table: John Cameron Mitchell. His fingernails were pink, painted in specks of white. I drew my tape recorder only to find it hovering in front of him. I get that winning smile, our eyes locked.
It's not everyday you find yourself thrown into conversation with a flamboyantly outrageous German whore who used to be a man. It's heart-stoppingly horrifying. I was on the verge of hyperventilation. Mitchell's charming ease was better than a brown paper bag in calming my nerves. Instead of Hedwig repulsion, I found myself completely transfixed on this young man. His sheer presence pulls me in like the promise of free beer. A smart-aleck, I can tell we're going to get along just fine.
O: So, how was your weekend?
Mitchell: It was good. We had a really crazy week with the two premieres, and a lot of press. I was kind of wrecked. Wrecked!! This week's been even more. I don't want to be in a position where I'm like, "Oh, you should have done that shindig." Because we're really such an ugly duckling of a movie, we can't afford to lose any of that press.
O: You really think this film's an ugly duckling?
Mitchell: Yeah. In New York we're really a hometown favorite, you know? We're starting with the three cities. In LA, there's not quite that kind of urgency as when you get with a tight-knit town.
O: Hedwig's opening in LA, New York, and San Francisco?
Mitchell: Yeah, starting out. San Francisco has more of a condensed feeling.
O: That's interesting. Do you think people are offended by the film's content?
Mitchell: Oh, no. I just mean that we're, you know? We're not Reese Witherspoon. Or Julia Roberts. I'll challenge her to a mud wrestling competition any day. I don't care.
O: Julia Roberts? I'd like to see that.
Mitchell: Well, I'd like for Reese and I to go a round. Toe to toe.
O: Reese is kind of small. She's only about this tall. (I indicate four feet off the ground with my hand). I think you'd be able to beat her senseless.
Mitchell: Oh, yeah. (he smiles like a candy thief)
O: Would you encourage people to go see your movie?
Mitchell: (quick to cut me off) No.
O: No, no, no?To pay to see your movie, and then sneak over to one of the bigger movies like Planet of the Apes or Jurassic Park?
Mitchell: That's a good idea. You know, does that happen? They can't stop that really, can they?
O: I want to tell you, I got to the Edwards 26 in Long Beach, and I see four in one day. It's so easy to do.
Mitchell: That's how all those kids get into the Rs. I would encourage, because we're not allowed to market to them, for kids to sneak into Hedwig.
O: Do you think that's a good idea? They'd have to pay to see another movie.
Mitchell: Then sneak into us, I would prefer that.
O: You'd be losing some money.
Mitchell: Oh, that's right. But, you know, we have bootlegs out.
O: You already have bootlegs of the movie?
Mitchell: Well, of the play and stuff.
O: Oh, of the play?Okay.
Mitchell: I'm like the Grateful Dead. I like bootlegs.
O: The movie's not yet available in New York for 5 bucks on the street corner?
Mitchell: No. Maybe it will be in Hong Kong soon. On VCD, or something.
O: You think so? I'd buy it. (did I just sell out?)
Mitchell: I'd take that as a compliment. Well, you know, the DVD will have a lot of deleted stuff on it.
O: Did anything get cut to receive an R rating?
Mitchell: No. No.
O: The deleted scenes are all stuff with the band?
Mitchell: There's stuff with the band. And Phyllis. And Yitzhak, my back-up singer. It just didn't fit, but they're great scenes. So, rather than deleted scenes, I actually edited a whole 17 minute sequence that has re-edited scenes and then deleted scenes all in a large sequence that you can watch at once. It has Andrea Martin doing some shtick. It's hilarious. You see Yitzhak in Croatia where she met Hedwig. All the stuff that didn't quite fit in the final edit. This just wasn't the right place for it, but it's just great stuff.
O: Is this going to be one of the new Infinifilms that New Line recently started putting out?
Mitchell: You know, I just heard about that. What does that mean, exactly?
O: The one I saw was Thirteen Days. It goes through the movie, at certain places an icon will pop-up, and take you to other material related to that scene, or a deleted scene that was to follow the original scene.
Mitchell: In this case, it's so delicate. There's no perfect place for it in the real film. It's almost like creating a new short film. It's like an addendum to the film. We'll have the commentary. We'll have the documentary about making Hedwig, where my mom is the narrator.
O: Your actual mom is going to do that? That's cool.
Mitchell: Yeah, and my dad, who was the general. He's going to talk about Berlin.
O: Really? I haven't seen that done yet. So, were you guys talking about artwork before I came in?
Mitchell: Yeah, they're talking about?It's all new to me, but they're talking about how they had the original image in the ad. Then after a few weeks they sort of change the image.
O: Like in the LA Weekly?
Mitchell: Any ad. Not the poster, but the ad. They start it out then they get a new photo. And that photo in the poster is by Mick Rock, who is the Bowie guy. He was like the Ziggy era, King of Rock & Roll. The guitar kings of the 70's. He did all the great covers. I said, "We got to use him." We have to go for the real thing. He did a lot of different shots of different costumes, so we're going to use more of those in the ads.
O: I was going to ask you about the artwork. You're happy with the look of the poster?
Mitchell: Yeah, well, I kind of got to co-design it.
O: Did you?
Mitchell: Yeah, It was nice. The trailer's another thing. It's not really?I don't think any director's happy with the trailer.
O: You weren't happy with the trailer?
Mitchell: No?But then, I had some veto power. I got rid of the narrator saying, "In a world where a man is a man, and a woman is a man." I was like, "No." But at the same time, they say, which makes sense, that a trailer isn't for a director. A director would make a short film if he were allowed to make the trailer. He would shoot and direct it. It's for those people who wouldn't go see the film, anyway. To kind of get them in the door. So they went with the shtick. Obviously, when you see Hedwig, it's more than just shtick. There's a lot more emotion. But, that's their way in. They have to make it feel like it's more to emphasize the shtick and the fun. I'm like, "That's not what the film is about."
O: Well, after I saw the trailer, I knew I wanted to see the film.
Mitchell: You did? Then it worked. The director never gets to edit his trailer.
O: Really? I heard Kevin Smith?You know Kevin Smith?
O: I heard he edited his own trailer for Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back.
Mitchell: He did? He's a jerk.
O: I think he might have done those just for the Internet.
Mitchell: Oh, yeah?
O: There are special ones just for the internet, and I know there was a debate about which ones were better, those or the one in theaters.
Mitchell: You can be a little crazier. Yeah, that's always a director's thing, you know? But I tend to, so as to not misrepresent it, be involved in that stuff. But also let them do their work. They know better than I do. They did Dancer in the Dark and Before NightFalls. They know how to take a difficult film and get it to those people who don't necessarily take risks.
O: What would you have done different with the trailer?
Mitchell: I don't know. I think I would have done something crazy like, uh?
O: Shot something completely different than what was in the film?
O: I like those trailers, but you don't see them anymore.
Mitchell: Yeah, like the 70's stuff where Albert Brooks would sit down and talk to the audience and say, "Let me tell you about my film Real Life." It's those kinds of things. But that's almost like shooting a new film. And, you know, you gotta cut money, and take extra time for that. The thing is, I was so tired of being Hedwig that I couldn't imagine having to put on that wig again.
O: You don't think you'll ever play her again?
Mitchell: I'll do some concerts here and there, maybe a benefit performance in two years. But I'm burnt out on it.
O: You are, huh?
Mitchell: Yeah, I'd rather have other people do it up on stage.
O: I take it it's still going?
Mitchell: It is, but it's all over different places. It just opened in the Philippines. Iceland.
O: Who's doing it? Anybody we know?
Mitchell: Filipino ladies. As I'm saying, they're really pushing the envelope in Manila.
O: That's funny. So, Hedwig was the first time you dressed in drag?
O: Did you enjoy that, or did you enjoy it just for the character?
Mitchell: I was kind of scared of it at first, because I was always?Like, especially when you grow up gay, and you kind of have an effeminate side. In high school you're told that's the worst thing to be. A girly-boy. You'll get the shit kicked out of you. So I was always, like, kind of scared of it. But then friends were always like; "You should just try it. It kind of loosens things up." I was never a big Rocky Horror fan, but friends would do that. And they were like, "Just try it. It will make you feel looser about yourself." I was like, "I don't know." Then, uh?my composer was working in this drag club, and he said, "I can only get you a gig as a drag queen." So, instead of doing Tommy Gnosis, who was the main character at the beginning, I did the smaller character, which became Hedwig. I was sort of forced; in order to get a gig, to do drag. And I'd never played with a band before, so it was drag and a band at the same time. It was so exciting and scary. It was great. It's also interesting when you're forced to do drag, so to speak. What you do. Because it's your choice on what kind of drag queen you want to be, right? It's really your full creation. It's interesting how some people play their mom. Other people do, like, a slut. Someone else is very sophisticated. It says a lot about you, just the kind of drag queen you choose to be. You know, mine just happened to be a German Whore.
O: Punk rock. So, in the movie?When you're standing in the alleyway, across from the other whore, and the limo pulls up?
Mitchell: Who's actually my wig and make-up designer.
O: You looked a little bit like Gwen Stefeni. Was that intentional?
Mitchell: You know, it wasn't. But my costume designer works with her and Madonna.
O: Do you think, maybe, he intentionally did that?
Mitchell: Actually, she. No.? A lot of those costumes were from the Salvation Army or cast-offs from people, like?I think Gwen?One of the shirts I wore, she wore. Madonna, Courtney, and there's a skirt that Brittany Spears wore in a video.
O: And all of that made it into the movie?
Mitchell: Yeah, it's pieces that, maybe, didn't fit.
O: You had a costume on when you're doing the sing-along in the trailer?Its actual human hair?
O: Whose hair is that?
Mitchell: Thousands of Malaysian women.
O: They just shaved it off?
Mitchell: In the show, I use?Well, you know, that's where most of the human hair comes from.
O: That's where all the perfect skeletons come from too, right?
Mitchell: All the what?
O: The perfect skeletons. With the perfect teeth.
Mitchell: Do people sell them?
O: Yeah, that's where they get them for Biology class. That's what I heard. Malaysia. (according to Return of the Living Dead, anyway)
Mitchell: I have a Malaysian laundry lady that I go to, and I'm like, "Why does all the human hair come from Malaysia?" She's like; "They have beautiful hair. They grow it down to their ass. They cut off half of it, and then grow it out again. Then they sell it." So, in the show, I used to muse on my wig, and go, "Whose hair was this? What was her life like that she had to cut her hair off to survive?" And Hedwig kind of bonds, in away, with the wig. I used to wear a tag on the wig that said 100% human hair. Like Minnie Pearl, or something. When we did the costume, when she designed it, it was meant to be metaphorical. I like the fact that it works on different levels.
O: Is it comfortable?
Mitchell: It is actually. You know when a girl rubs her hair on your arm? It's like?It's nice, if you like that.
(There's a pause. It's not really awkward, but I'm so enthralled with John's presence, that I've lost my train of thought?)
O: Do you find it offensive when a straight man goes into a gay bar just to see how many free drinks he can get?
Mitchell: No, no. I think it's great. It's like, the more the merrier. I really get pissed off with places that are too separatist, anyway. It's like; the world is a big place. And the party is more fun when it's men and women. When there are too many of one whatever, it gets boring. I actually get really annoyed with those gay bars, because I think they're just as conformist as, you know, a red onion, or something. It's the same goddamn music, the same whatever. I love the variety of a different type of situation. The Squeezebox is really mixed.
O: I don't know what that is.
Mitchell: That's a club we developed. It was more gay than not, but it was, you know?It had that feeling of?I don't know if you've heard of Max's Kansas City, but in the early 70's that was with the New York Dolls and Blondie, and CBGBs. It was a mixed scene. It was Warhol, and punks, and whores, and just?If you were a little bit of an outsider, you felt welcome. I liked that. That feeling. And there's always the cute straight guy who can't get any respect from women, so he has to go to the gay bar and get free drinks. (I'm pretty sure this is a hidden dig at me)
O: Was this your first year at Sundance? For anything?
Mitchell: I've been there for films I had acted in. I had been to Sundance before. Actually I met some of the people that worked on Hedwig at Sundance.
O: Do you enjoy that experience of going down there? The cold?
Mitchell: Yeah, it was great. Plus I developed the film at the filmmaker's lab. Which was great. That's an amazing program. You have all these people, Gus Van Sant, Robert Redford, dropping by while you're doing a scene from Hedwig.
O: Did they watch any of it?
Mitchell: Yeah, Bob sat down and was like, "You're remaining true to the character. It's not too campy. You're keeping it real."
O: Redford was digging Hedwig, huh?
O: That's cool. The night you won the two awards for Audience Favorite and Directing? Big party?
Mitchell: They had a big party for everyone. We had plenty of parties up until w