We chat with the Supermodel of the World and all-star diva, who headlines the Houston Black Tie Dinner this month. You better work!
Like the fabulous child of a triumphal Amazon and the world’s fiercest drag diva, RuPaul burst on the national scene in 1992 with his sly “Supermodel” single and video, which at once tweaked and celebrated the cultures of fashion and celebrity. Check out the video on YouTube (“You Better Work”). Fifteen years on, it remains an extraordinary pop moment: a glamorous six-foot-four black drag performer an out/proud gay man claiming his place on the American stage on his terms. (“You better work!” was the catchphrase in the clubs and beyond that year.) Since then, RuPaul has continued to delight: a “Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart” duet remake with Elton John, a VH1 talk show, a turn as a wised-up high school counselor in the Brady Bunch Movie.
In the manner of all successful stars, RuPaul has reinvented his public persona over and over. Now he has retooled again, with the release of the movie Starrbooty, an affectionate homage to the blaxploitation movies of the ’70s. Written and produced by RuPaul, credited as R.A. Charles (the future star was born RuPaul Andre Charles), Starrbooty revisits a character RuPaul invented in the ’80s while living and performing in Atlanta for a trio of low-budget, now-cult movies. Mike Ruiz, the model/photographer who appeared in the 1997 Latin Boys Go to Hell, makes his directorial debut, and adult-video celeb Michael Lucas and the great Lady Bunny have cameos (“ moi as a depraved, lusty lesbian,” Bunny reports on her blog).
Starrbooty has been making the festival rounds and was just released on DVD. Advocate film critic Kyle Buchanan gave a thumb up after a screening at Outfest in July: “ The real story here is that RuPaul has made a come back in the best way possible: in the outrageously subversive spirit of John Waters.” That’s high praise indeed.
RuPaul headlines the Houston Black Tie Dinner on November 10 at the Hyatt Regency. Our Michael Rowell recently caught the diva on the run for a few questions.— Tim Brookover
Michael Rowell: What was it like working with hunky director Mike Ruiz on the set of Starrbooty ?
RuPaul: Well, you know, hard for me to think of him as a hunk. We tackle and cut up and have fun. We’re buddies. He’s so smart, funny, and creative. That always floats my boat.
Everybody knows you’re fabulous, but there are those of us who happen to know you’re not just another pretty face. Along that vein… What do you like in a 2008 presidential candidate?
Someone who can be straight up and not double talk. Someone who’s not into playing the game… After being so hoodwinked for so long, I want someone who’s honest. No double talk.
Back to being fabulous. What does it take to be so fiercely fabulous?
I mean, it’s all perception. I’m in show biz. The business is perception, playing into peoples’ fantasies. I consider myself fabulous for different reasons. I love my creativity, my being interested in the universe, pop culture, and music. Other people might think it’s the glitter and glam and all that, but it’s what’s below the surface.
Where do you buy your shoes?
You’d be surprised at how many women born as women ask that question… I will have them made. But sometimes I buy them at certain stores in big cities like New York.
What was the impetus for resurrecting Starrbooty?
Well, because, there isn’t a lot of this thing in pop culture today. The closest things lately have been Borat and the Jackass movies. I loved Starrbooty and felt it was time to bring it back. Our culture has become so self-righteous, it’s not any fun. And Starrbooty is irreverent and fun. Plus it was entertainment for me—something to keep myself interested.
Is there a secret to your staying power through the years and being a cultural icon for so long?
I think there are different levels of iconicity. I took a few years off, and now I’m back. Sometimes you’re hot. Sometimes you’re not. The biggest challenge is staying interested enough to get out of bed. So there’s no secret—just staying engaged.
Over the years a lot of people have assigned significance to the idea behind RuPaul. What’s your idea behind you?
There are different levels of me. There’s me the man who’s lived on this planet for a number of years. And me the invention of someone else’s imagination, and my own. It’s all about perception. I’m a person excited about possibilities. I’m a spiritual being having human experience.
What would be your advice to an aspiring drag queen?
I stopped giving advice years ago, because I don’t want to hinder someone else’s experience. It’s all in the process of getting there. My only advice is “know thyself.” What makes you unique? It’s all about unfolding the riddle of who you are.
Michael Rowell previewed QFest in the September OutSmart.
RuPaul is the headliner at the Houston Black Tie Dinner on November 10 at the Hyatt Regency. Individual tickets begin at $205; tables for 10 begin at $3,000. Proceeds from the dinner and a silent auction benefit seven community organizations. Tickets: www.houstonblacktiedinner.org. OutSmart is a media sponsor of the event.