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Drew Droege On Being A Male Actress, Impersonating Betty White, And Why You Need To Watch ‘Heathers’

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The next time the encyclopedia is updated, expect to see a photo of Drew Droege beside the word “ubiquitous.” The comic actor is literally everywhere. One minute you’ll find yourself obsessed with his eccentric take on fashion icon/actress Chloe Sevingy and the next you’ll be dazzled by his singular, alcohol-infused renditions of past events on Comedy Central’s Drunken History (he’ll soon make his third appearance on the hit series). Both Los Angeles and New York audiences have applauded his acclaimed, self-penned Bright Colors and Bold Patterns (recently filmed to be screened in a cinema near you), or fearlessly slipping into the sensible slippers of beloved Betty White in the recurring Los Angeles stage production of The Golden Girls, where Droege holds his own opposite fellow comedy heavyweights Jackie Beat, Sherry Vine, and Sam Pancake. Beginning May 10, Droege will again tread the boards in a West Coast revival of drag legend Charles Busch’s zany spoof of melodramas, Die, Mommie Die.

Droege recently chatted with Flagrant about his myriad upcoming projects, how Chloe Sevingy feels about his impersonation, and what makes him laugh.

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Droege in a 2017 production of Die, Mommie Die

You’ll star as Angela Arden in Die, Mommie Die, which opens May 10 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in L.A. It’s your second time doing this show. What do you enjoy about playing Angela?

She’s an unapologetically horrible person. She gets to have sex and drink and smoke and cuss out her daughter and maybe murder someone. I think that Charles Busch combined a lot of the best qualities of the women he’d written earlier into Angela. Angela is fascinating because she gets to be the femme fatale and the victim. I’m so excited to do it again.

The play is a send-up of classic movie melodramas. What is the appeal for modern theater audiences and how do they tend to respond?

They were great last year. We were doing it at the Celebration Theatre, which is only 50 seats. Ryan Bergman, the director, had us play it like we were at a coliseum. Doing it now at the Kirk Douglas, which is a 300 seat theater, is what our production was wanting all along. Audiences were wonderful. We did have one audience of college kids who weren’t told the play is camp, so they were fighting laughter not knowing they could laugh. We thought, We are bombing tonight. My friends were there as well and heard a couple of the guys talking and one asked, “Am I terrible person? I think this is funny.” There were afraid they’d insult us by laughing. I can’t imagine seeing that play and not knowing it’s a comedy. The great thing is the original play with Charles premiered in L.A. in 1999 and many people had seen that production so they were excited to see our take on it.

Charles Busch, who wrote the play and originated Angela, considers himself a male actress. You frequently play female characters. Do you describe yourself the same way?

I love that. I would call it that, as well. I’ve seen Charles on stage many times and he plays every moment as so real. I have a different take on Angela. He’s heartbreaking at times and sweet and then in the next moment he’s filthy and ridiculous. I love that he respects his characters this way. He’s an actor as opposed to a comedian or a drag queen. He really understands these women that he plays and he’s never making fun of them. He makes fun of the genres and the way the stories are told, but never the people, who are really real. What makes camp really work is when you invest in it, instead of “wink, wink.” It wears thin very quickly.

Obviously, you’ve played a number of male characters, too. Do you approach your female characters differently than male characters?

I really don’t. I always say that gender is not the joke. I look at them and wonder what I can bring to them. I try not to overthink playing women, rather than what really drives this person. Seeing The Kids in the Hall [the Canadian comedy series that ran from 1988-95] was the first time I saw men playing women. I thought they were phenomenal. They weren’t a joke. I love to get into the shoes of the character and put on the wig. All of that stuff gives me what I need physically as an actor. All of the work during rehearsal is emotionally about who the person is.

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Droege in a publicity photo for Bright Colors, Bold Patterns

You both wrote and starred in Bright Colors and Bold Patterns which ran for many months off-Broadway where it received terrific reviews. You just filmed it. When and where can people see it?

We did it for Broadway HD. We don’t know yet but we’re told it will be this summer. They filmed two performances with four cameras so there’s a lot of stuff to edit.

Where do you find your inspiration as a writer?

I just stay open to things. Bright Colors came when I received an invitation to a wedding which asked guests not to wear bright colors or bold patterns. I thought that is such a title. It was to a straight wedding, but at the same time gay marriage was being legalized and I was seeing there was such a push toward this heteronormative culture. I wanted to write about that. I stay open to what I have a strong opinion about. If I’m at Starbucks and some horrible person – horrible people are funny – I get feedback on characters that say he or she isn’t likable. I say, “Exactly! That’s my point.” That’s where the best comedy comes from in my mind. I don’t want to like the person. You might like the actor, but it’s fun to be a nightmare. You see some horrible person in line I try to write that down because it’s always fodder for comedy. It’s someone we all know or have dealt with.

You appear in the much-anticipated series adaptation of Heathers, which will finally premiere July 10. How did you feel about it being postponed after the tragic Parkland High School shooting?  

I’m happy they took a moment. It was a good gesture on Paramount’s part to make a statement. The show is so dark and is so much in line with what’s happening in the world. We knew when making it that it was going to piss off a lot of stupid people and a lot of people wouldn’t see the satire in it. People associate Heathers with Mean Girls, but they’re nothing alike except that they’re about high school kids being mean to one another. Mean Girls is hilarious, but Heathers is jarring. There are long stretches where they don’t go for laughs. It’s a really upsetting film. When the Parkland stuff was happening there were a lot of conservative websites using our show against these kids. They were basically saying this is what’s wrong with identity politics. They said something like “Thank God for Heathers to make a comment about how stupid these kids are.” I was very proud of Paramount to say, “Wait a minute. You’re not allowed to say that and for the record we are absolutely on the side of these kids.” I’m very excited for people to see it and we’re aware there are people who won’t like it or respond to it.

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The three faces of Rose Nylund

In the L.A. stage adaptation of The Golden Girls (titled The Golden Girlz to avoid legal action), you slip into the intimidating sensible slippers of Betty White when you play Rose Nylund. Working on this show with costars Sam Pancake, Sherry Vine and Jackie Beat has got to be tough because they’re all so committed to their characters. What are the future plans for the show? 

I love doing that. We’ve done the show so much that we now just look forward to hanging out with each other. We kind of know what the others are going to do character-wise. It was a challenge finding out how I’d play Rose. When I told everyone I was doing Golden Girlz, they assumed I’d be Dorothy. I’m tall, I’m a bitch, I have a deep voice. It makes sense, plus I love Bea Arthur and would love to play Dorothy. But when Jackie Beat is involved she has to be Dorothy. It was Jackie’s idea for me to be Rose. When the four of us are together, I kind of am Rose in a way. When we first started doing it I thought I wasn’t funny in the show. I was watching the show and I realized that the other three characters make the jokes, but Rose is the joke. She doesn’t say funny things, but she has a two or three minute St. Olaf monologue that goes nowhere and the other three will pick it apart and get the laugh. That’s how the show is constructed. Betty White does such a great job of just being real that you remember that she was hilarious on the Golden Girls.

I’ve seen you out in public getting recognized by fans. What do they say to you?

[Laughs] They usually think I’m Chris Lillie from Summer Heights High. When they know who I am, they’re usually really nice. They usually say they recognize me from the Chloe videos or they recognize my voice.

You’re probably most well-known for your irreverent impersonation of Chloe Sevigny. I have to wonder if there’s ever been a cease-and-desist order.

Oh, no. With Chloe, it’s such a bizarre-alternate universe version. I make it a point that I never go after the actual person. I think that’s why it confuses her. She says, “I’m not like this.” I have zero interest in bringing her down. I’ve been asked to do things that I think are in bad taste and that might make her really uncomfortable. I never want to do that. It’s not because I’m such a good person, but it’s so not my brand. One time someone asked me to ambush her on the red carpet for one of her film premieres and I said, “That would be terrible. This is her night.” She’s not a villain. She’s an actress. She’s said wildly different things about me, from she thinks I’m making fun of her to “it’s great!” It’s just complicated. I’ve never had anybody claim to be me and put on a wig and act like an idiot so I get it.

Who or what is making you laugh right now?

I find Cardi B to be despicable. I liked her music until I saw her being interviewed and I thought This is an alien and I want nothing to do with her. I’m also kind of fascinated. I shouldn’t say “despicable.” It’s too strong a word. I’m fascinated by her. Why do I have such a strong reaction? Someone like that is more interesting to parody than someone like Trump, who is just awful. Also, the thing that’s really in my brain right now is the idea of cults. I just watched Wild Wild Country on Netflix. Also there are acting teachers in L.A. who are getting busted for leading these insane classes and actors just blindly following these teachers who tell them what to do. That’s the next thing I’m planning to write and I don’t even know what it is yet.

Die, Mommie Die will be performed May 10-20 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Los Angeles. For tickets go here.

 

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