Offering miles of showgirl realness, Courtney Act has done extremely well on this season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, serving leggy charm and barbed bantering while wearing flags, eagle costumes, mattresses, and everything else she can conjour from down under.
The Brisbane-born creation of Shane Jenek, Courtney rose to fame in her native land on Australian Idol in 2003, going on to conquer America with a fetching mix of drive and sparkle. Here’s the chat I just had with the sassy showgirl, who’s picked up some exciting celebrity friends—and all that Chaz.
Michael Musto: Hi, Courtney. Congrats on scoring high points on the show. You happen to be attractive as both a guy and a girl. Is that unusual for a drag queen?
Courtney Act: The thing I love about what I do is I have two parts to me, or more. I love performing as a boy and in drag as Courtney. I’ll tell you what’s amazing. Being in the room with RuPaul as a man. He is a very striking, enigmatic man.
He truly emits wisdom.
He does. He has this aura that radiates from him. It’s fun to bask in his energy.
I knew him when he was just trashy fun with a message. But now he’s an oracle. Is Bianca your toughest competition on the show?
I thought you said Beyoncé. I wouldn’t put myself in the same category. [laughs] Bianca Del Rio is amazing and brilliant. I’m thankful that what we do is so different because I’m able to stand back and admire her. I was eating at a Mexican restaurant the other day, and I took a bite of the chile and it was really spicy. It was all I could taste for the rest of the meal. Bianca Del Rio is like that. So fiery and fun, you can’t help but watch her.
It takes a lot of cold water to wash that girl down. Meanwhile, Milk is one of the contestants who got booted off early on, but she’s a New York favorite. Do you like her avant garde style?
I loved Milk on many levels. And although my drag is very pretty or realistic or whatever, I do what I do because I love subversion. The subtlety of that is sometimes lost on Drag Race, but on mainstream heterosexual society, it’s very apparent. But Milk had this shock value that cut through.
Yes, where do I start? Generally, their “relying on pretty” comments frustrated me. I don’t think I was relying on pretty. Earlier on, my Australian aboriginal flag dress was a quintessential pageant drag look, or when I came out in a bed, with bed hair and a teddy bear, it was a complete conceptualized look, in some ways quite subversive, presenting this ultimate image of the heterosexual as well. And all I got for that was, “Stop relying on pretty.” I thought, “Did you miss the fact that I just came out in a bed?”
It’s the curse of being beautiful.
Particularly Michelle Visage. I think she likes her drag to be a certain way, and if it doesn’t conform, she doesn’t quite get it. But all the guest judges were wowed by what I’ve done.
Chaz Bono, especially. He looked like he was getting rather hot for you.
Chaz was quite beguiled. That was the first time we met, but we’ve gone on to become good friends. We often come back to trans issues. It’s been fascinating discussing those issues with someone who has a different perspective from any of the trans friends that I have. He’s also been educating me on some great American cinema that I’ve missed out on, being Australian. We watched The Godfather. I’m ashamed to say, I’d not seen Victor/Victoria. He’ll reference a movie, and we’ll put it on the list and watch it.
But he hasn’t made a move on you.
No, no move.
There’s a picture on your Facebook page of you making out with a hot guy.
That was Simon, from the pit crew from Drag Race.
Are you a couple now?
No. He’s been my drag husband for quite a few years. He’s Irish and I’m Australian and we both live in America, and we bonded over cultural similarities. He’s my Halloween partner. I dress him up in drag or something fabulous. He’s a possessive husband when he’s in drag. He holds me close. He tried sticking his tongue down my throat, which I wasn’t opposed to. At one point, there were three men at once!
If that’s not a feat, I don’t know what is. Two of them were reality stars.
Hussy! Does dressing in drag help your social life, sexually?
It helps all areas of my life. I’m very open about the fact that I’ve had sexual experiences in drag. I’ve written a whole show about it, Boys Like Me, and I’m doing it at the Laurie Beechman Theater in New York again on May 27 and 28. It’s about my experiences living life on the gender divide.
What’s your idea of a really good date?
I wouldn’t be in drag. It would be with a boy I’m attracted to, who’s attracted to me. It’s about the person you’re with and the chemistry, as opposed to where the date might take place or whether you’re going to dinner or a movie. I’ve got these beautiful memories etched into my brain with beautiful people all around the world. Especially when you know you’re leaving in a few days, you throw caution to the wind and have a magical time.
Also magically, you’ve performed for Lady Gaga and gotten to know her.
I sang “Sweet Transvestite” and “Happy Birthday” and got to meet her and hang out with her. Also, she was doing a performance in Sydney at Town Hall, but she wanted to do a surprise club appearance, which I hosted. That was one of the most electrifying and inspiring performances, to see Lady Gaga from six feet away. And I hung out with her after Roseland. When you’re talking to her, you could be in a sea of thousands, but you feel like you’re the only person in the room. She was so warm and lovely and was up on all the Drag Race developments.
Chaz might get jealous.
I’ll let them fight it out.
Would you ever host an Aussie version of Drag Race?
I would. Drag is very much ingrained in the Australian pop culture—obviously from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert to Dame Edna to Les Girls, a famous ‘70s trans showgirl show that was very mainstream, to myself on Australian Idol. There’s a lot of magical drag in Australia, a lot of talented performers, so it would definitely be something fun.
Is it true that you initially got rejected from Australian Idol because you auditioned as Shane?
Yes. I went the first day as a boy and got knocked back. I planned to go as Shane and Courtney, but Shane got knocked back, and I thought, “That’s not supposed to happen. Wait a minute. I’m going back tomorrow in drag.” Hey, if I’ve been milking Australian Idol for 10 years, Drag Race should see me through till death! [laughs]
You’ll become Dame Edna.
I’ll be a maternal old drag character. Hopefully I’ll get a damehood from the queen of England.
>>>BROADWAY NEWS: Cabaret, Hedwig and the Angry Inch & Casa Valentina
HERE, LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL
Meanwhile, Drag Race is not the only fruit. It’s apparently LGBT month on Broadway—even more so than last month—as straight drag queens, botched transsexuals, and gay Nazis beg for your applause. Cabaret is back in a new incarnation of the fishnet-stockings-and-bumping-crotch-filled 1998 revival, which electrified Broadway with its refreshing lack of subtext. It’s in good shape, with Alan Cumming still sensational as the leering MC (who, at the matinee I saw, pulled a man up from the audience to dance with, then assured him, “Don’t be shy. Just think of me as your proctologist.”) Linda Emond and Danny Burstein shine as the older couple struggling to hold onto old-style values as the world crumbles around them. And the messy but strangely sympathetic singer Sally Bowles is played by three-time Oscar nominee Michelle Williams (no stranger to gay audiences, thanks to Brokeback Mountain and My Week With Marilyn). At first, I found Williams’ performance a little too self-conscious, but she got stronger, playing Sally as a chirpy, self-sabotaging, sad girl. (Williams’ “Cabaret” in Act Two is better than her “Maybe This Time” in the first half.) Whether the MC is sporting a swastika or a concentration camp outfit, this show still has the power to haunt.
Latter-day Germany has an entirely different musical pull in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, with Neil Patrick Harris descending in a glittery outfit that he switches to glitzified denim as he rocks out as the German transsexual searching for completion. The John Cameron Mitchell/Stephen Trask-penned musical is a punky charmer that works as a sort of rock concert/confessional, as long as there’s a star performance at the core (and there is, there is). It’s not your traditional, fleshed-out three act musical—it’s more of a pocket sized culty item, and definitely the most rocky Broadway has been in ages. New name-droppy references have been added to Kathy Griffin and Anderson Cooper, and Harris ad libs a few racy lines, but this is still your grandma’s show about the “internationally ignored song stylist,” her screwed-up operation, and her craving to be loved for her front as well as for what’s inside. There’s an interesting bout of animation (a terrific “scrim job,” as it were), and the familiar singalong, and through it all, Harris is athletic, vocally dexterous, and dramatically subtle. (He only leans too hard on one or two of the early jokes.) And when Hedwig’s ex, the hugely famous ingrate Tommy Gnosis appears, he looks remarkably like Harris, and undergoes a gender morphing of his own. Give this guy an inch…
Meanwhile, Casa Valentina is Harvey Fierstein’s fascinating look back at a 1960s Catskills resort catering to “self-made women” who happen to have been born men, and were heterosexual on top of it. As they gather ‘round the inn to greet the new recruit over cheesecake (a very Golden Girls touch), these characters are alternately campy and sentimental and the play comes off rather dullish in its chipper way. But sparks fly when a debate over sexuality and survival comes up, some of the group wanting to officially distance themselves from gays (“I’m no queer!”), while others welcome inclusion, feeling society’s oppression of men dressed as women knows no bounds. By Act 2, they’re literally at each other’s throats, and the resulting melodrama comes off a little like The Boys in the Band for straight cross-dressers, imbued with Fierstein’s singular point of view on queer history. Congrats to him for creating a multifaceted and original work. The upshot is the way oppressed groups tend to externalize their pain and turn on each other, when in reality it should be, “Mi Casa, su Casa.” Or maybe just “Stop relying on pretty!”