Olivia Newton-John, Rue McClanahan, Bonnie Bedelia, Caroline Rhea, and
Leslie Jordan: they’re just the most well-known of what is one of the best casts ever assembled for a television series.
The first season of the 12-episode series also includes cameos by Margaret
Cho, Carson Kressley, Dirty Sexy Money’s
Candis Cayne, All My Children’s
Bobbie Eakes, and Georgette Jones, the daughter of Tammy Wynette.
But Sordid Lives: The Series, the
project in question, isn’t appearing on one of the broadcast networks, or even
a major cable network with the accompanying deep financial pockets. Instead,
it’s the latest offering from the GLBT television network Logo (which owns
“It was a dream cast,” Del Shores, the series’ creator, as well as its
writer, director, and one of its producers tells AfterElton.com. “It was an amazing experience many
Photo credit: Rosemary Alexander
The series is a prequel to Shores’ 1999 movie of the same name, which
starred many of the same actors. It tells the very campy story of the loves and
lives of one very Southern Texan family.
In addition to featuring gay icons like Olivia Newton-John and Golden Girl Rue McClanahan in the cast, Sordid Lives includes gay male
characters such as Leslie Jordan’s Brother Boy, a Tammy Wynette impersonator,
and Jason Dottley’s Ty Williamson, a young actor coming to terms with his being
Leslie Jordan (left) & Jason Dottley
Shores credits Stan Brooks and Damian Ganczewski of Once Upon a Time Films
for making the series a reality. But the idea for the series came from Dottley,
who also happens to be Shores’ husband, when Dottley pointed out that the movie
had gained a cult following over the years.
“And so I took it to Logo,” Shores says, adding that he was quickly told,
“You know we’re new. We don’t have this kind of budget. I don’t think that we
are going to be able to afford this show.”
Shores got creative, offering to write and direct all the episodes himself
over a very short time-span. “We shot for 36 days in Shreveport, Louisiana,”
he says. “It was fast and furious.”
Next Page! Olivia Newton-John with a Southern accent?!
How did Shores manage to land such big names for such a modest project?
Newton-John was a longtime friend, but most were reprising their roles from the
movie, eager for a chance to play such over-the-top characters, often against
type. After all, Hollywood
isn’t known for writing juicy roles for women, especially women of a certain
“I just ask for things that I probably shouldn’t get,” Shores explains with
a laugh. “I mean, come on, Rue McClanahan?” On a more serious note, he says,
“I’ve found over the years that if you give actors really good material, they
will many times take a pay cut for you.”
Olivia Newton-John (left) & Rue McClanahan
Sure enough, Bonnie Bedelia was attracted by the opportunity to play a comic
role. “Not many people ask Bonnie to do comedy,” Shores says. “And so she just
couldn’t believe that she was gonna get to play this outlandish, funny woman,
and she was very flattered that I thought of her for the role. And she said,
‘I’ll do your movie if it doesn’t cost me money!’”
Meanwhile, Shores says he wrote the role of Peggy, which is new to the
series, specifically with McClanahan in mind.
“I had a list of one: Rue McClanahan,” he says. “I called her manager and I
told her it was Logo, and she knew of Logo. I had already written all twelve
episodes, and Rue read them in a day and said yes the next day. She couldn’t
believe that there was a role where a 70-year old woman was having sex and in
love! She said, ‘I never thought I was going to get to play a woman in love
“And I thought, well, this truly is gay heaven,” Shores says with a laugh.
Comedian Caroline Rhea replaced Delta Burke, who played the same role in the
movie, but who had a scheduling problem when it came time to film the series.
“I was devastated that Delta wasn’t able to do it, but as soon as Caroline
stepped on the stage and became Noleta, I never saw anybody else in that role,”
Shores says. “She’s just so great.”
Caroline Rhea (left) & Beth Grant
Newton-John’s southern accent in the series is a surprising contrast to her
familiar, and oft-imitated Australian accent.
“Because she’s musical, she’s a really good mimic,” Shores explains. “She
worked really hard. What happened was Ann Walker, who plays LaVonda, tape-recorded
all of her lines in a southern accent and then Olivia listened to them. Learned
the accent that way. She did that for the movie and for the series.”
Next Page! Cat fight on the set? Rue McClanahan says maybe!
Given that there were so many big names involved, were there any conflicting
egos on the set? In other press interviews, McClanahan has said yes. “Almost
all the people are wonderful to work with,” she told the Gay & Lesbian Times. “There’s one person that isn’t awfully
popular, but I won’t get into that right now. But most everyone is professional and cooperative. There aren’t any prima
donnas. Well, except that one person.”
“That has gotten blown out of proportion in such a weird way,” Shores says.
“There was one isolated incident with Rue McClanahan and one other actor.”
As for the cameos by Cho, Cayne, and Kressley, Shores says he thought it
would be an interesting gimmick to have familiar faces for some of the show’s
“But I gotta tell you,” he says, “of all the people, I was little bit
intimidated with Margaret Cho. She’s just such a gay icon and I’ve been such a
big fan of hers for many years. But she stepped on the set and she’s real
people and sweet and very directable and just really had a great experience.”
Meanwhile, because much of the plot revolves around Leslie Jordan’s
idol-worship of Tammy Wynette, Shores thought to ask Wynette’s daughter to play
Tammy in a dream sequence.
“When I talked to Georgette about playing her mom, I said, ‘Have you seen
the movie?’” Shores says. “She said, ‘Have I seen the movie? My sisters and I watch it all the time! We love the
movie because it always reminds us of how loyal Mom’s gay fans were, and are
still.’ And so she didn’t hesitate at all.”
Leslie Jordan (left) & Georgette Jones
Unless otherwise noted, all photos courtesy Logo
But despite the presence of all these famous actresses, not to mention gay
talent both behind and in front of the camera, the shoot wasn’t exclusively a
gay and female-centered affair.
“The crew was real, real straight,” Shores says. “I made it real
clear with our production company down there that I didn’t want any level of
homophobia at all. And then we started shooting with Leslie Jordan and the crew
fell in love with him. The day after Leslie left, all the straight boys on the
crew were going, ‘I miss Brother Boy! I want Brother Boy!’”
In addition to directing big stars like Olivia Newton-John and Rue
McClanahan, Shores was directing his husband, Dottley.
“It wasn’t hard at all,” Shores says. “We both have respect for each other
as artists, and he really, really listens to me as a director. Not always in