Hedwig is really being targeted to gay audiences and I’m not gay, but I am ecstatic about this film. And I know I’m not the only one. How do you explain Hedwig’s crossover appeal to heteros? ^ Well, you know from the beginning it was never one core audience. In fact we had to fight just as much for a gay audience as a straight audience, because people can be just as boring in all walks of life. We seem to attract the interesting people. Fine Line’s strategy is that with a limited budget situation you kind of have to go after certain segments first and then the word of mouth kind of let that happen later. In this case it was easier to target the gay and college audiences first and let the fine caliber people in other groups figure it out. And let the press kind of help us out. In our case we never had a natural home team. ^ It was like we had to create it, and it turned out to be people of quite a diverse group. Everyone seemed to relate to this sense of the origin of love. You know, what is my other half? That’s a pretty big group, pretty much everyone I’ve ever known has thought about who is my other half.
That’s interesting because the film kind of begins with that. And saying that from the beginning makes it resonate across the board. ^ Yeah, I think making Hedwig more specific in her bizarreness makes you trust that she might exist. It actually appears to be broader the more specific you get. Just like your mom is really specific. Only your mom wears the clothes, say or your crazy Aunt Hedwig.
Do you have any plans in the future for a Hedwig tour or even like action figures as they’ve done with Spinal Tap? ^ I haven’t really been thinking of merchandising (Laughs) We’re just trying to get it out first, but I would love for there to be a McDonald’s “Unhappy Meal” with Hedwig’s face on it. You know a doll with a detachable penis, whatever, a number of wigs. But those are for down the line and for better heads than mine when it comes to spreading the power of good.
That’s hysterical did you have any desire to return to the world of sitcoms, and if you did is there any particular show. ^ You know, not as an actor. I look at shows like Candy from Strangers, and The Simpson’s and I think I’d like to actually produce a show like that some day, but obviously in a venue where it would be less network interference. Something like Comedy Central where there’s some leeway. I love for example, what Amy Sidharis did with her show and I’d like to try something really crazy on TV some day, but not so much as an actor, more as a writer.
Do you have any desire to direct other films? ^ Oh yeah, I’m working on a children’s film right now with a co-writer. It promises to be just as bizarre, but definitely for kids in kind of the old fashioned stories like Roald Dahl and J.M. Barry.
For a first time director the choices, the cinematography, the shot selection, the pacing — it hits on all marks nonstop. Which is why I think it’s across the board received good reviews from critics. How do you explain the ease with which you sat in the director’s chair and made it work, and acting in a wig no less! ^ I think it was just a combination of certain events. We had Mike and Loopna and Newline giving us a free hand. We had Christine Veschon who specializes in the low budget exciting art film watching our back. I think it was a combination of Steven and I knowing the character of the story so well saved us a lot of time in the detail, we just knew the world. And really I have to say there were three directors on this. There was Frank DeMarco the DP, Andrew Marcus the editor, and me. They were doing a lot of my job when I was in a wig. You know they would help to set up the shot it was a real team there. It’s impossible to think of it without them the way that it turned out.
If you ever did go on tour do you have any band that you would consider to open for you? ^ Oh wow. Well I think some other people might actually be doing Hedwig in concert. We’ve had dozens of Hedwigs in the world, it’s kind of like Menudo or something. Eventually you’re replaced. Menudo or the Ramones you just change your last name to Ramone and you are a Ramone. I’ve actually enjoyed doing a couple of songs as myself lately, but I think I’m giving the performing a break for a couple of years.
What was it like working with producer Christine Vachon? She’s somewhat of a legend in the independent film world, and everything that she really gets involved with turns to gold. ^ And even if it doesn’t turn to gold it gets made, and that’s the unbelievable thing about her. Almost everything I’ve ever heard her talk about or her people, they get it made. The only ones that don’t are due to personages like Robert Maplethorpe, Halston, you know people that exist or estates that exist. I was so impressed with her work with Todd Haynes that I actually went to Sundance in ’92 specifically to meet Todd and Christine however I could. I just loved the way they did stuff and how they did it, and what they did. She reminds me, I don’t quite remember, but I think I handed her a head shot, which is ver uncool at Sundance, and said “I’d love to work with you”. I was psyched. I met Todd soon after and became friends, and now Christine, Todd and Julianne Moore are sort of reteaming to make a new film that’s sort of a Douglas sure fire melodrama with USA. You’ll find her one moment recreating Auschwitz, and the next getting thirty wigs shipped to Toronto for me while producing Robin Williams in a tiny independent film. I can’t think of anyone else who could get Robin Williams to do it. A One-Hour Photo, you know where he’s on one of those photo booths all day.
You brought up film festivals. Hedwig has had an amazing run and is continuing to have a run at festivals. Opening at Sundance, playing at Seattle, I believe it’s opening Philadelphia, and Outfest here in Los Angeles. So can you talk about some of your experiences on the Film Festival circuit? ^ It’s been a hoot, especially Berlin, which, of course, I was very nervous about. At first they were rather reticent, you know, not sure what to make of it. Plus the subtitles are difficult when you’re singing, but by the end we won over their hearts. We won the Teddy award there and we performed in this old communist party movie theater from the sixties. It was sort of a showplace theater. It was crazy, because at an earlier show someone called out, “Whoever’s sitting in Eric Honnicker’s seat gets free tickets to Hedwig,” so Berliners who aren’t known to be laughing at jokes about Nazi’s and communists, were starting to get in on the fun, that it was also serious underneath. It was very moving to be accepted there. There’s actually a transsexual city council member from East Germany who said to me, “Thank you for telling my story.” It certainly wasn’t universal enough that that’s what she thought. It was very intense. ^ Probably our best screenings were at the Castro in San Francisco. They had screenings one for the international festival, one for the gay festival. That place is just unbelievable, because you’ve got the giant church-like organ that rises out of the stage, someone plays it before the show. People passing beach balls, it was like a rock concert. It was amazing.
Get more Hed in part three of GET HED: A JOHN CAMERON MITCHELL INTERVIEW>>>
Posted on July 18, 2001 in Interviews by Chris Gore
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