Sissies Willam Belli, Matthew Scott Montgomery, Luke Stratte McClure & Emerson Collins
Religion and homosexuality have always had a tough relationship and leave it to Del Shores to address the issue head-on in the film version of his renowned play, Southern Baptist Sissies.
Like the play, which has been staged countless times since Shores wrote it in 2000, the film takes a look at four young boys – all Southern Baptists – and their journeys into adulthood and sexuality, with their parents, God and the Church watching closely over them to stop any missteps. While Sissies is filled with great laughs and musical performances, there’s a heavy dramatic message here, too, that unfortunately still applies in 2014.
TheBacklot checked in with Shores to talk about making the film (including Willam Belli’s joining the cast) as well as getting some scoop on his gone-but-not-forgotten series, Sordid Lives, which, we found out, may not be gone after all!
TheBacklot: Having seen the stage version several times during that initial LA run, what were unexpected challenges in adapting Sissies to the screen?
Del Shores: I really worked the actors the same as I do when I’m directing a play. They had to be almost overly prepared to make the demands of a 10-day shoot. We never went into overtime once because my actors were so amazingly talented, professional and completely prepared. I think one of the biggest challenges was to just be aware of adjusting the performances when we were shooting the more intimate scenes in close-ups. I was really worried that the performances would not match, but each actor understood just what we needed and thankfully it all worked.
Were there changes you had to make just for the sake of where we are today as opposed to 2000 when the play premiered? Or was it more just for the sake of film over stage?
DS: The script changes were so minimal. I updated the haters in Benny’s rant. So Palin, Bachman, Bryan Fischer, etc. replaced Trent Lott, Jerry Falwell, etc. Pat Robertson and Pat Buchanan got to keep their spots. I also desperately wanted to work with Ann Walker again, so I made Benny’s mother his grandmother and sent his mom to prison. It worked. And in Andrew’s monologue, N’Sync replaced The Brat Pack.
Funny that as much as times have changed, they’ve also stayed the same. Do you see SBS as more relevant today than when it was first produced on stage?
DS: Unfortunately, yes, there is still so much hate being spewed in the name of the Lord; the play/film feels more current than it did in 2000.
You have some hold-overs in the cast like Leslie Jordan, Rosemary Alexander, Newell Alexander, Ann Walker, Dale Dickey but also new actors in the mix. Emerson Collins does such a good job as Mark but how tough was it to cast that role? Was there one role that was harder to cast than others?
DS: Emerson has worked with me since 2006 when he played Benny in the revival of Sissies in LA and the national tour. He has produced with me everything – stage, film, TV – since then and also played Max in Sordid Lives: The Series. I originally was going to use him as Benny again, then one day in a producer’s meeting, it just hit me – Emerson IS Mark. He accepted that day.
I then cast Matthew Scott-Montogomery and Luke Stratte-McClure in my last play Yellow and they are two of the best young actors I’ve ever worked with. Those were easy to cast. Most difficult was the male stripper. There were just so many go-go boys that I love.
How did Willam Belli come to the film?
DS: Both Emerson and I thought of him separately on the same night. The next day I called Emerson and said “I have an idea for Benny.” He said, “Me too. Let me go first.” We had both had thought of Willam. I knew Willam outside of his drag fame, as he had taken a scene study workshop from me. I was blown away then and am thrilled others are seeing what a great actor he is with his beautiful performance as Benny. This was a dream cast. Not an asshole in the bunch.
Leslie Jordan (here with Belli) reprises his role as Peanut in the film version.
The stage version took on such a life of its own and has been produced by so many theater companies. Did you ever see that coming?
DS: Without sounding arrogant, I’ve come to expect my plays to be produced. Like you have fans, you also have fans of your plays at theatres. These same theatres and some new ones produce my work over and over. I’m very fortunate that with my seven plays, they are always running somewhere.
I know you probably have a thousand ideas in your head but what’s next now the SBS is behind you? More films? Stage/ TV series?
DS: Sissies is opening in ten more cities and we are hoping for more. I love this film and am so happy that it had such a great festival run and now is getting a theatrical release. My movie Blues For Willadean just came out on DVD (stars Beth Grant, Octavia Spencer, Dale Dickey, David Steen and Debby Holiday). And, I continue to do standup, which I love. I’m on an Atlantis Cruise next week. My life doesn’t suck. My new standup DVD will be out soon called Del Shores: Naked. Sordid. Reality.
And, okay, I think this is a scoop. It’s been announced on Facebook, but not in press. I’m busy writing two more Sordid Lives films. A Very Sordid Wedding and Merry Sordid Christmas. The rights were returned to me, so I thought – give them what they want. And I am loving returning to the characters. We plan to grab the cast one last time, film both at the same time and call it a day with that franchise.
For more on Southern Baptist Sissies and when it will be in your area, check out its Facebook page.