‘Lypsinka’s not part of my private life. Ordinarily you would find me a rather shy, retiring, demure person
who lives very privately.’ John Epperson/lynslnka
ou put a man in a dress — a quiet. perfectly polite human being — and the next thing you know. he’s the greatest show-off in the world.’ Film director Stephan Elliott is describing the consequences of asking a movie legend. an Australian soap star and a respected film actor to drop their trousers and step into the world of drag.
Written and directed by Elliott, The Adventures Of Priscilla: Queen Of The Desert will go down in history for transforming one of the world’s most beautiful men into a middle- aged transsexual caked with make-up. Sixties god Terence Stamp donned a dress and a set of breasts made from water-filled condoms for his portrayal of Bernadette. Cannes audiences were entranced by his performance — Elliott is looking forward to the film’s reception at the opening night of the Drambuie Edinburgh Film Festival.
Stamp was not alone in what proved for him a journey into the unknown. Neither of his co- stars. Guy Pearce or Hugo Weaving, had dressed in drag before — they found it a liberating experience. Before shooting began, Elliott forced them to sample Sydney nightlife dressed in women’s clothes. The macho star of Neighbours and Home And Amt); Pearce became positively obnoxious when he realised no one recognised him. Weaving was intent on discovering his new alter-ego: ‘Once you put those dresses on him. he wouldn’t take them off,’ remembers Elliott.
The 30-year-old director has been fascinated with drag for years. ‘I have a love of the bizarre and I find drag very surrealist and funny,’ he explains. ‘l’ve hung out with drag queens for a few years.’ But it was his desire to make a musical that motivated him to put drag on the big screen. ‘l’m constantly told there’s no reason for musicals any more.’ he laments. ‘Kids will never buy the fact that someone can
and be damned
Drag queens are hot stuff at this year’s Festival, from New York’s ﬁnest to Liverpool’s loveliest. Kathleen Morgan lifts the skirts on a phenomenon set to make audiences go weak at the knees.
spontaneously break into song. One day l was watching a drag show and I thought: “This is it — this is my excuse.” ’
Set largely in the Australian outback, Priscilla is a road movie with stilettos — a journey into hostile terrain for a band of social outcasts who lunge from one remote venue to another. Determined not to attract an exclusively gay audience. Elliott injected the film with the prejudices drag queens and transsexuals face, before peeling away his characters’ masks to reveal their true identities.
‘I thought if I did a sympathetic ﬁlm with sympathetic characters I would lose three- quarters of my audience — it would be a gay movie that gets stuck in an art house,’ he says. ‘I made a conscious decision to incorporate those prejudices. For the first third of the film. we’re laughing at a freak show. Then the film gets tougher, there’s a gay bashing scene and very slowly I turn the audience round to begin to like the characters.’
Stamp’s character. Bernadette. heads an impressive parade of drag artists invading a festival-intoxicated Edinburgh. Behind her wiggles New York’s most glamorous karaoke act Lypsinka and the outrageous compere of Channel 4’s Viva Cabaret, Lily Savage.
Taking time out from movie-making and modelling. Lypsinka - alias John Epperson — is ready to unleash her perfectly choreographed act on Scottish audiences for the first time. A bizarre cocktail of Lucille Ball, Joan Collins and Judy Garland. she mouths her way through great movie songs and dialogue, weaving a fantasy around her spectators without uttering a word.
Fresh from the set of Hollywood director Paul Schradcr’s latest television movie Witch/amt, 39-year-old Epperson is looking forward to his Scottish debut at the Fringe. But after a muted London reception earlier this year, he appears slightly anxious. ‘In New York, audiences scream at every blink ofan eyelash,’ he explains. ‘lt should be laugh-a-minute stuff, but the London audiences were very reserved. A lot of them had never seen lipsyncing before.’
Like Hugo Weaving, he speaks of the liberating effect of drag. He has a faltering confidence in John Epperson the actor — although he’s working on that one — but as Lypsinka, he knows he’s dynamite. He is careful
to differentiate between the two: ‘Lypsinka’s not part of my private life. Ordinarily you would find me a rather shy, retiring. demure person who lives very privately.’
From modelling in Vogue to her work with Schrader. director of American Gigolo and Cat People. Lypsinka’s success is rooted in Epperson’s childhood fantasies. Brought up in smalltown Mississippi, he devoured a diet of television and movies before moving to nearby Jackson to study. There he discovered gay culture and witnessed his first drag act. ‘At first, drag was frightening. but as I became more sophisticated, l began looking at it as an absurd, ridiculous form of theatre.’ He resolved to develop his own act after moving to New York, where drag lost its stigma and became art. The rest is history.
‘I couldn’t go on stage as Paul doing comedy. I’d have nothing to say and I’d be a bit boring to look at.’ Paul U’Grady/llly Savage
10 The List 12—18 August 1994