BWW Interviews: BIANCA DEL RIO On Her Book, HURRICANE BIANCA 2, And Returning to the Stage
Bianca Del Rio is sitting on a tour bus, laughing. She could have sworn that she'd be in Detroit that night - until her team told her she was actually a few hours out of Milwaukee. "As long as I'm not in an airport terminal, this is great!" Her perpetual laugh is just as ceaseless as her wit, balanced between characteristic 'rolodex of hate' sass, and her well-versed referential humor. She's riding a strong wave - her first book, Blame It On Bianca, is a couple months from release, alongside the highly anticipated sequel to her first film, to be titled Hurricane Bianca: From Russia with Hate. The tour bus is surprisingly for neither- this is her third international tour, a comedic set also titled Blame It On Bianca.
But Bianca is also Roy - Roy, who tells me that Sammy and Dede are doing great, even if they're angry he hasn't been around to visit. Roy, who worked as one of Broadway's premiere costume designers at Barbara Matera, Ltd. Our talk went over time, diving into only half of what I had prepared, despite getting a wealth of information I couldn't have dreamed of. At this point, sixteen years after Roy was first interviewed for a national publication, Bianca Del Rio is a professional, and she has a lot to tell us.
BWW: In 2014, you told VADA Magazine that the three words that best describe you were: Boisterous, seasoned, and fearless. You've said you're an 'erotic clown', while others have said anything from "Joan Rivers of the drag world" to "such a shady bitch". You're putting out your first book this year and the sequel to your hilarious first film - given the opportunity to describe Bianca Del Rio in 2018, what would you say about her?
Bianca Del Rio: I would say still going (laughs). Still a fighter. Still schlepping through it. It's just been such an amazing journey. I always say this to anyone, I think that Drag Race came at a really good time for me. In 2014, I was thirty seven or thirty eight years old at the time. It shifted my world. Being a drag queen, or performing, or being an entertainer, or doing basically anything - I worked on the stage and behind the stage for many, many years - it all paid off in the end. It gave me clarity about what I wanted to do. I'm still passionate about all of the other parts of my life, but it was a golden ticket. To go out and shine, or sit back and go, "Well the world owes me something!"
It was this chance for me to go perform and travel and do it, and I just said, let's fucking roll. Let's do it while the interest is there. Years pass by, it's kind of insane that it's been going on this long, but with it has been a lot of growth, with me as myself, but also as a performer, but also the interest in what I do. Which has truly been amazing. I'm grateful for the opportunity, but it hasn't been a cake walk - it's really been challenging, but I'm up for the challenge. The last thing you want to hear is a drag queen complaining, there's enough of them.
I figure, run with it. Keep going. I'm a worker bee, I like to have a schedule, I like to have a place to be, and a time, and a schedule - it just makes sense to me. It's been unreal. And then the people that are watching you- that's the amazing thing about the world, you don't know who's watching you or who's interested in it. It's been a lot of fabulous opportunities that have opened up - which is insane! I would say I'm a trucker, imma keep going.
BWW: You're a person who toes the lines of theatre, comedy, and drag with ease - that versatility is lethal. In Not Today, Satan!, you had a great set on reality TV that you loved. When you're travelling around the world, or on a tour bus going through the middle of the United States, do you find watching more drag, comedy, or theatrical entertainment? What are you finding more of nowadays?
BDR: Oh god, I stay away from drag! I can't with drag! The last thing I want to see is a bunch of men in wigs. I have friends that, when I'm off, I like to go travel and see their shows. People like Lady Bunny, or Jackie Beat, Coco Peru, Varla Jean Merman. I will support friends, because I love something about them, there's a slew of them that I enjoy. But let's face it, a lot of the drag queens, it's the same shit. A Beyoncé number, a split, a hair flip, and a hair reveal - woooooooo. I've seen it all. That doesn't interest me, on that level - not to say that other people aren't talented! I just don't get into it like I used to. When you work at Walmart, do you want to hang out at Walmart? No. That I don't watch.
Theatre I miss, because now I live in LA. Now I don't get to see much in general, which is horrible. There's not much culture there. Beautiful weather! But, ha, you can't walk down the street and see Patti LuPone in Warpaint. I do miss that.
I think, mostly, I'm late to the game! I was never a Netflix person. Just because, oh my god, if I get wrapped up in Game of Thrones, I'm fucked. I'll never get anything done. I'm usually home for a short spell, but on the bus, I am looking forward to watching The Crown. I love anything to do with the Queen Elizabeth - the first and the second. I'm excited to catch up on The Crown, because it has pretty costumes and pretty rich white people problems. It makes my life seem sooo much easier! That's probably it.
I also brought a book with me to read, about Norma Scherer, an actress from the 30's that I was interested in reading, I haven't read it yet. I'm not a Kindle person, I have to have an actual book. That's what I'm currently ready to start - I started the book, and I haven't yet started the second season of The Crown. That's my entertainment, for currently.
BWW: The video of you as Cabaret's Emcee gives me life on the daily.
BDR: OH! (laughs)
BWW: You haven't been in a musical onstage for almost a decade now - will we ever see you make that return? Personally, I would love to see you star in a revival of 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, as Vice Principal Panch.
BDR: (laughs) Look, I never rule anything out. That's kinda how my career kind of started. I was working behind the scenes and they said, "Would you interested in doing a role?" It was a show called Pageant, they were doing it in New Orleans, and I was there. I was working backstage - structurally the show is written so there are six contestants that become five finalists. Whoever is eliminated would make a return in a costume change, as the returning queen from the year before. That's how it was originally written. The theatre group I was working with decided they wanted to make it a legitimate contest, they really wanted the audience to pick the five finalists. [Due to] costume purposes, they could not have one costume to fit whoever was eliminated. That's how I came into play. I was the returning queen - and here was this very small role, which was made to kill time for a costume change for the other characters, that started out as a two-minute bit, then it became a four minute bit, then it was ten minutes (laughs) It was one of those things where my improv skills took over.
Through that, I started performing a lot more in theaters - it was the usual roles, you know, the Emcee in Cabaret (which I've done at least three different times), Mazeppa in Gypsy, which, perfect! (laughs) No explanation why I'm a man. Obviously, I did Angel in RENT, which was challenging at one point. Vocally, I was having severe issues then. I think that's one of the reasons - that's one of those choices where I went, "Sure! I'd love to do it!" And then you realize... what did I get myself into? I don't rule it out. I don't rule it out at all! Cabaret is one of my favorite shows, but I wouldn't say no to anything. I'm not a picky bitch.
BWW: I know you're a fan of Drowsy Chaperone, that's always a possibility!
BDR: YES! I love Drowsy Chaperone. When I was in New York, we made a lot of those clothes at Barbara Matera, we did a lot of Sutton stuff, and the Drowsy's pajamas. It was crazy. It was... working there was surreal. Coming from the theatre world, I was fascinated by everything. Being there, getting able to meet Lupone, getting to meet Elaine Stritch. You're making their clothes! It's this raw, unedited version of these people. It was a gay man's dream, I must say. To be able to work with the designers, people I knew for many years. Greg Barnes, who is one of the most genius designers there is, has become a friend of mine! When I was doing my first movie, he designed a gown for me. He was like, I would love to! The shop I worked at made it for me. THIS IS SO INSANE! Those years were pretty amazing.
BWW: I have to ask you - what can we expect from your upcoming publication of Blame It On Bianca? Will we get a bit of an autobiographical self-help book like [Willam's] Suck Less, the RuPaul staple of Workin' It, or just a good old bitch fest like [Michelle Visage's] The Diva Rules?
BDR: It's more of a bitch fest. When I was first asked to do a book, it was one of those moments when I was working with a publisher that was concerned about me and my material and my comedy. I stood my ground and said, "Listen. I'm not interested in doing a book about myself because no one cares. We've all heard the tragic gay life story. It doesn't matter, move on." I wanted to come from a comedic place. Also, with social media so many people were asking me questions. Everything from: "What eyeliner do you use?" to "My boyfriend's an asshole, what do you think?" "You seem very straightforward, how to I tell this friend they're a douche?" All of this stuff was like, why don't' I do this. Why don't I do a big Q and A.
It's a self-help book to an extent, without giving too much explanation about myself, but answering people's questions and doing it in the most comedic, raw way. It's definitely the response you would get from your gay best friend. Where you REAAAALLLLY shouldn't take the advice, but being really honest, really honest. It's said in a fun way. We had people through Facebook and through my website and Twitter ask me anything they wanted. Some deal with drag, some deal with relationships, some deal with family. I'm there to give support and sharing small anecdotes about my life without it being all about me. I know for sure that the suicide rate is going to go up, but other than that - as long as they look at it as a joke, it's fun. It's just fun reading that you can pick up at any chapter and just cackle at. I figure if an asshole like Dr. Phil can do it, why can't I? He's not even a real doctor! So, why not? Why not give the people a comedic turn on a sad situation?
BWW: Well I know I'm looking forward to it. Now that you're in post-production, it'd be criminal for me to not ask you about production on From Russia with Hate. Working with Katya finally, getting back with Alyssa and Darienne Lake, Shangela and Rachel Dratch, what were some of the best memories you had on set? Who did you love working with creatively?
BDR: Getting to do it the first time was a little overwhelming. The first time, I had a break, and we filmed everything for me in eighteen days. It was kind of wild. The second time, we had a little more planning and we were lucky enough, so lucky, to have Rachel back. What's brilliant, my friend Matt Kugelman, who wrote the original film, wrote the second film with Derek Hartley. We had a lot more opportunity to explore, because the characters were already established from the first film. We realized how Rachel and I had great chemistry that they decided to give more plot to us in the second film.
It's all Matt's plotting and planning, and he's like, I really want Katya to do this film. I was like, she's great! I never get to work with her. Everybody assumes we hang out with each other daily because of Drag Race, but I had never really been in her company for more than maybe two nights. Maybe on the road or maybe at an event. I really didn't know her. I was excited to get to know her, and she's brilliant in this film, because, it's in Russia! Shangela is always a hoot, we pick up where we left on, two old ladies cackling about everything. Darienne was great to get to come back. Also, we were lucky to get to score some other brilliant people who have been so kind to me over the years since Drag Race that I've gotten to know and talk to. Cheyenne Jackson makes a cameo, and we also have Kristen Johnson from 3rd Rock from the Sun makes a cameo as well.
AND, one of my all-time favorites, Wanda Sykes is also in the film! Here's someone I've known for over ten years, from Fire Island. Living in New York, I would always see her every summer out there, we always chatted and had a drink. I never wanted to impose and say, "Would you be interested in the movie?" I remember this summer before last, she was out there, and was like, "DID YOU SUBMIT A MOVIE TO MY AGENTS?" I was like, yeeees. "Why didn't you tell me?" I didn't want to make it awkward! Because, if you're not available, you don't want to do it, I don't want to jeopardize our drinking relationship. I didn't want you to feel obligated. She was like, "I WILL BE THERE! I will DO THIS!" We're very lucky to have her. With the second film, I'm very excited about it. It's a much funnier situation now, and everybody else that was involved, how lucky are we?
BWW: Finally, what do you want the die-hard Bianca Del Rio fans and this new Rupaul generation both to know? What are your final words to all of these readers?
BDR: Well (laughs) I would say, now, we live in a world where there are so many goddamn drag queens everywhere you look. They're falling out of trees right now. You know, in New York, any queen who was in Kinky Boots or did La Cage one of the twelve times it was done, is wearing a wig now because they realized they can make more money doing that than doing an audition for a real show! They're everywhere! I would say don't do it, it's a trap! It's a big trap!
No, I think it's amazing. Here is this television show that's airing in people's living rooms, and people look forward to it. It's getting bigger and bigger. RuPaul is winning Emmy's, the show is winning awards, it's a pretty fabulous time. And truly people say I would expect it? I didn't know it. I just think it's great to celebrate life.
One of the things I do enjoy about Drag Race in particular, and I think it's because I experienced it from a personal level - for many years, people just looked at a drag queen (especially even in the gay community) it was just like, oh you're a drag queen. You're beneath me. Ewww! (in perfect imitation of Madame LaQueer's season 4 acting) Then you watch the show, and eighty percent of the show, you get to see us out of drag. It gives a human side to it. You get to see that we are performers, or that we are actors, we are clowns. It just humanizes us, which is very, very important. I didn't have anybody interested in my regular life until I did Drag Race. I was always judged by what I've put out there, which was a cold, nasty bitch! (laughs) Which is fine! And I accepted that. I think it's kind of humanized us, and made it acceptable, which is surreal. And I think, more power to it! Especially with this current administration, we need some form of entertainment. I encourage them all, go out there! Do it! Live your life! Have a good time, I've had a great time. And I'm twenty two years into it. It's been kind of surreal. Go out, audition for the show. Try it. Put on drag for Halloween. Go down the street (laughs) You'd be surprised what you can get away with in drag. Trust me, I'm proof!
Blame It On Bianca dates can be found here. The book, Blame It On Bianca, will be released on May 29th and can be purchased online or wherever books are sold. Hurricane Bianca: From Russia With Hate will be released May 18th online and at select venues.