Need To Know: Peaches Christ
April 29 2010 8:00 PM EST
February 11 2019 7:22 AM EST
You might know Joshua Grannell as the drag icon Peaches Christ. With those killer eyebrows and a personality of 1,000 Joan Crawfords, Peaches Christ is a staple in both the San Francisco and gay community. Take off the makeup and Peaches becomes Joshua Grannell, a man obsessed with horror and film. After a lifetime of slasher fascination, Grannell is releasing his first feature-length film, All About Evil, at the Castro Theater on May 1st. Starring the invincible Mink Stole, the vivacious Cassandra Peterson (otherwise known as Elvira), stud muffin Thomas Dekker from The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and hipster-fave Natasha Lyonne, Joshuas debut screams sensation.
In the midst of media hoopla, I managed to catch Grannell during his sacred free time. Overwhelmed by the films praise, Joshua and Peaches might just take independent film-making by storma no doubt very glittery storm.
Out: I know that horror has always been an important part of your life and work. When did you decide to finally transform All About Evil from a childhood dream into an actualized project?
Joshua Grannell: I started doing short movies starring Peaches Christ and all my drag queen friends in the world of Peaches Christ. It was Hecklina and Martiny. There were really fun and really silly and didnt think they would go anywhere other than being screened for audiences here in San Francisco and at drag events and such. They ended up playing film festivals and really had a life on their own that I never dreamed they would. It was those little silly movies that motivated me to attempt to write something that was non-Peaches centric and really see if the secret of our success was that we were likable drag queens. That was my fear. I was paranoid that I was a one-trick pony and that Peaches had to be in every movie I ever made or people wouldnt like it. I made this short film called Grindhouse that was not a Peaches movie, it wasnt a drag movie, and it was the kernel of this idea of a woman trying to save this old movie theater by creating her own short movies and what the public didnt know is that she is really murdering people in the movies and thats why they are so good and people liked them. From there, that little short movie that we shot in a week proved to me that I could do something that an audience connected with and enjoyed was a great motivator for writing a feature film. I know that was a super long answer to your question.
You're typically more a fan of horror films that tackle real life as opposed to space or some sort of demon?
No, I like it all. I am a total genre nerd so I really love horror set in reality -- what people really find to be frightening in the world around them -- as well as fantasy horror. My favorite movie of all time is the perfect marriage of those worlds, which is the first Nightmare on Elm Street, where you have this gritty, slasher, pedophile, child murderer whos coming to get people in their dreams. I like it all I guess. Im not the biggest fan of straightforward science fiction. I dont even know if I should say that because sci-fi people are scary. But I love Alien and Aliens. Im not the biggest Star Trek fan, but whatever.
The title of your feature length film, All About Evil, obviously samples the title from All About Eve. In what way does the classic film influence your piece?
Its one of those things where the title of the movie actually changed a number of times and I am really happy with the title we ended up with. Its funny because its the title that best suits this movie, which is about this woman whose ego has run wild and her desire, her celebrity, her fame, has led her to do unspeakable things. I think the themes are similar but there is nothing about All About Eve other than the themes or the feelings of ego run wild that is appropriated other than the title. The movie is a movie within a movie because it is about this filmmaker and this woman who was a librarian. She names her own movies after famous works of literature. So one of her movies is called Slasher in the Rye and another one is The Diary of Anne Frankenstein. When thinking about the title of All About Evil, what would Deborah (the main character) name this movie if she was in charge of naming it? Thats kind of where my head went when we were trying to come up with the best title.
You talk a lot about blurring reality, especially in terms of All About Evil. I noticed when I went on the films website, if you click on the Victoria Theater, it makes it seem like the movie is real. Is that your intention through all your work? Even how you manifest movies onstage?
I love gimmick and I love playing with reality! I love playing a character, lets say, that you can have an interaction with. Peaches Christ is so acceptable. She doesnt just exist in a short film. She doesnt just exist in All About Evil or online. You could actually run into Peaches Christ and she would be glad to speak and talk to you in full costume or go on David Letterman if she were ever invited. I love that kind of thing where the character is part of the real world. I grew up worshipping people like Paul Ruebens and what he did with Pee-wee Herman, and of course Cassandra Peterson and what she did with Elvira -- these sorts of characters that exist in all forms of media including real life. With the movie and the website and the fact that the theater is a real place and really exists in San Francisco. We didnt change the name of the theater. You can go to the theater. I love playing with the idea that maybe some of these horrible things took place there. Anyone who is really thinking for two seconds is going to know that it is all a movie. But its so much fun, as you say, to merge what is real and whats not.
At the premiere at The Castro Theater on May 1st, do you arrive as Joshua Grannell? Or do you come as Peaches Christ?
Its no secret that Peaches Christ will be hosting a huge pre-show before the movie -- a very Midnight Mass style production featuring performances by Peaches Christ, Mink Stole, and Thomas Dekker. It will be a drag spooktacular. Joshua will be doing the audience Q&A after the movie with the cast. With Peaches and Joshua, the nice thing is that you can kind of have them in the same place in the same evening, but not really at the same time if that makes sense. This is another sort of gimmick that I like to play with. As Joshua I will completely acknowledge that I play the character Peaches Christ and I acknowledge that it was a challenge writing and directing and also appearing in a movie, but for Peaches she is just a costar in the movies. Peaches would never talk about writing and directing the movie. It just doesnt make sense. For Peaches, she was just asked to play herself in the movie and she is presented as herself in the movie. Its not Peaches playing Virginia Ham or something -- I just made that up. It is Peaches Christ and she is playing Peaches Christ.
How long is Peaches featured in the movie?
It started as a cameo for me. It was a little nod to the world that we come from when I was writing. I write by myself but I am part of a screenwriting group that I cofounded with my friend Scott Boswell, who is another filmmaker here in San Francisco. We have about eight writers in the group. Every time I would present a draft, Peaches would have more dialogue. And they were like, We want more Peaches! This stuff is good! Finally she morphed into what was once a cameo into something between a cameo and a costar. She is in the finale but she is not a huge part of the movie at all. I was terrified of the audience feeling like there was too much of her. I never wanted to put too much Peaches in the movie. I dont like it when I go and see a movie and the director is in the movie and it starts to become distracting. You start to think that is the director in the scene and how much dialogue the person has. There are great movies with directors in the movie. Hedwig and the Angry Inch is amazing! Woody Allen drives me nuts but he makes amazing movies! Once in a while you will see a movie and the director is in the movie and it feels a little too self-indulgent. Peaches ended up on the cutting room floor more than anyone else did, to be honest.
Its all filmed in San Francisco, correct?
Is there ever a fear that having only one location that isnt the big names like Los Angeles or New York, that it could become too San Franciscocentric?
That was never a fear for me. My bigger fear was that it wouldnt be San Francisco enough because we couldnt afford to do the giant exterior shots or shut down a park for a day of shooting. A lot of the movie is shot with interior. For me, I dont think I could have had the career that I had in any other city in this country. I feel like this town and the artists here and the people who have worked on Midnight Mass, as well as the fans, are part of a community. I dont really see a difference between performers onstage and people in the audience. When we were budgeting the movie and looking at L.A. or New York and what things cost in other cities, we always knew we were going to shoot in San Francisco but I kept saying to the producers that we would find the extras and they would do in voluntarily. And they did! There were certain things that we got in San Francisco because of the community we created. There were lots of people working on the movie that had worked with and have worked with me for years and years. Now I cant imagine not making the movie in San Francisco.
And the cast is incredible. You knew Cassandra before shooting, but had you known everyone else?
I knew Cassandra and Mink Stole through doing Midnight Mass. They were two people who actually, before we even got financing, I asked to be in the movie and showed the screenplay. They became attached just by being their friend. Then Darren Stein, who is one of the producers, really helped put the whole project together as far as getting everything lined up with casting and crew. He knew Thomas Dekker, who at the time was on The Sarah Conner Chronicles. So I got to go to the set of The Sarah Conner Chronicles and see Thomas carrying a giant machine gun and I had lunch in Thomass trailer and gave him the pitch and presented the screenplay to him. Thomas showed me his DVD collection and I kept saying to him, I know we are just a little movie and you are a huge amount of talent, please read the screenplay because you are so much like the character in this movie! He really is this progressive, interesting artist who seeks out the avant garde. His favorite filmmaker is David Lynch and I am like, You would have so much fun in San Francisco! Thomas and I kind of connected. And Natasha Lyonne was a connection through the director of photography. Tom Richmond, who was our cinematographer, is this brilliant DP who shot Palindromes and House of 1000 Corpses and just shot Nick and Noras Infinite Playlist and has won an award at Sundance. I just feel so blessed to have someone as talented as Tom. Tom had shot a movie, The Slums of Beverly Hills, and I kept saying, Tom, I really love Natasha Lyonne! Do you think we can give her the screenplay? The secret was getting the screenplay into the actors hands directly because to their managers or their agents credit, I am the kind of filmmaker and I wrote the kind of screenplay that you dont want your client to work on. Here you have the star of The Sarah Connor Chronicles and the new Nightmare on Elm Street and here a first time director who has never really made a movie before and is best known for playing a drag character named after Jesus. Its risky! The best way to get talent is to speak to the actors directly whenever possible. So Natasha read the screenplay and called me a few days after she read it. We hit it off on the telephone.
Its definitely a risk to release an indie film. But you sold out at the Castro Theater and the reviews have been overwhelming. You must feel honored!
Im just so relieved because its your baby for so long and Ive been living and working and breathing on planet Evil and you are removed from your regular life to some degree. Any performance that I have done, Ive just cherished because you lose touch with reality while making a movie. Now that its finally coming out and its finally going to be seen by real people and real critics, one, I cannot believe how quickly we sold out the Castro Theater. I dont think the Film Society can believe it either. I think we set some sort of record for how quickly we sold at the Castro. That is really great and it feels like that is where the world premiere should be. You start questing that. Maybe we should have been at Sundance or maybe we should have been at this other film festival. Now that the show is happening and the venue is sold out and the San Francsico Chronicle gave the movie a good review and Cheryl Eddy from The Bay Guardian said she loved the movie, we are exactly where we need to be. Its just a really great feeling. I know right around the corner there is some horrible thing waiting, which I know is always the way with independent filmmaking, but Ive learned to take the good with the bad. Right now it feels really great.
Do you have any more showings scheduled after this?
Yes, we are going to Austin, Texas, on May 15th. We have been invited there by the Alamo Draft House, which Ive always wanted to go to. Its an incredible movie theater in Austin doing the most amazing things! This feels like a real honor. They have invited us to not only screen the movie but they are also flying me in to do a live show as Peaches with Mink Stole and Cassandra Peterson. We are going on a sort of a tour to cities around the country. We worked out a deal with Landmark Theaters for a midnight release schedule across the country and a lot of those markets we will be doing full realized Peaches Christ productions. Because its my movie and the kind of movie it is and its a movie about movie theaters, we just feel like doing very old fashioned. That was very important to me. I grew up loving things like William Castle who would travel around the country and show his movies with gimmicks. Of course it will also be available on demand eventually and DVD and hopefully television. There is someone repping the movie who is working out the distribution deals but the theatrical will be an old fashioned tour. We are putting the dates together right now.
Im sure the business side of you would prefer to have your film be an instant success and a blockbuster. But does the artist side of you want the movie to gradually gain cult appeal?
Its funny because I just was saying to someone else that people are already calling it a cult movie. You are right, its something that has to grow and fester and evolve to become a cult movie. You cant just call a movie a cult movie that no one has seen! That makes no sense. But I am also a real snob as to what is and what is not a cult movie because I have been in the business of screening and celebrating cult movies for so long. That would be the ultimate dream. I dont think that this is the kind of movie that is going to be an instant success. Its the kind of movie that will find its fans and it will speak to the fans and it will be something that they will care about, not something that was in theaters for two weeks that they saw and enjoyed and forgot about. I would much rather All About Evil have a slow and creeping infestation. That would be the ultimate compliment. The ultimate success would be years and years from now to go to someone elses midnight movie screening of All About Evil. That would be the ultimate goal medal.
More information on All About Evil can be found at the film's official site.