Traci Lords on “Swedish Dicks,” Keanu Reeves, and Gays

Also: "We the Animals" is an arty coming-of-age story; married stars populate "Pretty Woman."

Traci Lords is everywhere! A onetime porn actor who went on to study at the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute, Traci has made films (including Cry-Baby), done TV work, created music, and collaborated with Pinup Girl Clothing for her Couture For Every Body line. Even better, she’s currently co-starring in Swedish Dicks on Pop TV, and told me about all of the above.

Hi, Traci. You’re on TV!

Season 2 premiered in July. It’s a comedy about two Swedish detectives, with these great actors that are a lot of fun to be with. Peter Stormare and Johan Glans play these Swedish detectives who come to L.A. to fight crime and they open a detective agency. I’m a PI [private investigator], and I fancy myself the best in town. We’re rivals. It’s a romp that’s kind of Fargo meets John Waters. There have been so many love letters to L.A., with beautiful cinematography. You think about L.A. Confidential and what have you, and this is sort of the opposite. It shows the underbelly of L.A. This whole other quirky, weird take on L.A., which adds to the landscape of the show.

Did you do scenes with Keanu Reeves?

Yeah, I had fun working with him. He’s in and out of the show. I think he did three this season. He’s really good in it.

Would you say the business has been good to you in the last bunch of years?

The business has been amazing to me for the last 30 years. I have no complaints. I’ve been doing really good stuff and have tremendous experiences and the opportunity to do a lot of different things. It’s been a great creative process. I’ve gotten to wear a lot of hats. I did an amazing, fun comedy film that’s on the film festival circuit. It’s been really sort of like frosting.

Do you credit yourself for reinventing yourself or did people help you do that?

I don’t particularly see it as reinventing myself. We all have different phases of our lives, and mine is my career. It’s gone in all different directions. That’s a human thing. We always try to learn new things. It’s incredible—the business has taken me all over the world.

Do you feel that under Trump, we are living in a puritanical, hypocritical country?

I feel there’s a lot of negative energy on this planet right now and it’s not a Republican thing, it’s not a Democratic thing, it’s an American thing. I think the truth will always come out. I tend to be an optimist and think this is a terrible moment in history and it will pass. I want to believe that, I need to believe that. It’s a really dark, dark time right now.

Are you the kind of person who’s in touch with her feelings and says so or are you passive-aggressive?


A little psychoanalysis here. I’m one of those people who don’t always articulate what I’m feeling right away in a situation. Do you connect with your emotions and state them right off the bat?

I don’t think so. I play those roles. Jane in Swedish Dicks is very much like that. She’s funny and off the cuff, that’s part of her comedy. Part of what makes her so fun to watch is that she’ll tell it like it is. I’m honest, but I‘m not an unkind person. I don’t say things to be unkind. At the same time, I’m not a doormat, not someone who lets people walk over me or backs down when I think something is wrong. I wouldn’t say I’m any one thing, I’m many things. I’m complicated. People are, especially women.

Sean tSabhasaigh/Getty
John Waters and Traci Lords at the 9th Annual Johnny Ramone Tribute at Hollywood Forever on August 18, 2013.

So true. You have a big LGBTQ fan base.

They certainly have my support and love. One of the most iconic roles I ever played was because of John Waters. It was just the 30th anniversary of Hairspray. I wasn’t in it, but it’s my favorite John Waters movie.

Cry-Baby is quite old, too.

It started a lot of careers, it did some great stuff. It was Johnny Depp’s first leading role in a film. He had that James Dean thing going on, and he was so great in that movie. It’s so diverse. Kids are discovering it. I’m going to Camp John Waters at Club Getaway.

I hate camping. I hate the outdoors and insects.

Me too! Who wants to be in the middle of the woods?

But it’ll be great with John. That’s the only way I’d consider it. [She wholeheartedly agrees.] Is there anything you’d like to do in acting that you haven’t done?

Absolutely. I feel like I’m just now hitting it. I’m ready now. I have the work behind me to play the really good roles—the D.A., the judge, some powerful CEOs. That’s next. I’m ready for my Fargo roles now. Who doesn’t like to play the delicious bad guy? I love that, and the world needs to laugh right now, but I also want to play some delicious roles. I’m getting ready to do The Tale of Two Sisters, a 1940s film noir short about twin sisters, one more famous than the other. There’s murder and intrigue. I play both roles.

Amazing! Sounds a little like What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? And I hear you’re working with singer Adam Barta.

We’ve been writing together and we’re looking to create some stuff, but we haven’t recorded anything yet. I’m looking to create a lot of different things and see what sticks.

Three Identical Strangers

A beautiful if challenging art film, Jeremy Zagar’s We the Animals—based on the novel by Justin Torres—is a visceral coming of age story about three young brothers in upstate New York, all getting mixed signals from their volatile parents. The film eschews narrative for mood and incident, as the boys cluster together (“Body heat, body heat”) and try to make sense out of their alternately warring and loving ma (Sheila Vand) and pa (Raúl Castillo).

Jonah (Evan Rosado), the youngest, has to deal with moments of abandonment by pa, which contrast with ma’s desire to make sure he never grows up, and that has him fleeing into escapism, sometimes expressed via animated sequences. [SPOILER ALERT] When Jonah’s sensitivity leads to him want to kiss a boy, it all becomes queer, I mean clear. This film isn’t for everyone, but its power is in its artistic flourishes and individual vision.

Beep Beep, Toot Toot

Matthew Murphy
Andy Karl and Samantha Barks in Pretty Woman.

After seeing Pretty Woman: The Musical, I visited backstage with my old friends Andy Karl and Orfeh, the husband and wife who are stellar in the show. (He’s Edward, the rich corporate raider whose heart has broken down, and she’s Kit, the sassy mentor to the streetwalker that he makes over and falls for.) Neither Edward nor Vivian (the pretty woman played by Samantha Barks) kisses anyone on the mouth—both for fear of intimacy—but they eventually learn how to do so, while singing Bryan Adams songs.

Andy and Orfeh have amassed so many credits, I always call them “the Lunt and Fontanne of musical theater.” They’ve previously shared the same Broadway stage in two other musical adaptations of movies— Saturday Night Fever (1999) and Legally Blonde (2007)—and though they don’t have scenes together in Pretty Woman, they do come together for the curtain call. People following this musical from its inception told me that they brought back a cut song—“Freedom”—for Andy when he came into the show, and also that a pony riding bit (you have to see it) was Andy’s idea.

Matthew Murphy
Orfeh in Pretty Woman.

The resulting Pretty Woman: The Musical is a slick Cinderella story that’s a little bit like Annie with hookers, and there’s also a hint of My Fair Lady there. In fact, I almost expected Vivian to sing “I Could Have Danced All Night” after she’s all gussied up and brought to a gala. Someday, I might mount a Broadway musical about a sex worker who’s actually fine with what they do. In the meantime, people—like Vivian—want the fairy tale.

The Boys in the Band

Joan Marcus
From left: Paul Whitty, Marilu Henner, and Sawyer Nunes in Gettin’ the Band Back Together.

Gettin’ the Band Back Together inauspiciously starts with producer-book co-writer Ken Davenport warming up the audience with a speech where he says the show was created based on real-life interviews. (I guess sort of like A Chorus Line, except that’s a Pulitzer-winning musical that endures.) The night I attended, Davenport remembered being in a band and asked if anyone in the audience had been too. And as he blabbed, I prayed this kind of speech doesn’t start a trend. (Imagine a producer-co-writer taking the stage to say, “Welcome to The Band’s Visit! Anyone here ever find themselves stranded in a town in Israel?”) At least Davenport’s alleged audience interaction led to a payoff, which I won’t reveal here.

But let me reveal that the show is a sort of Full Monty meets School of Rock/Rock of Ages hybrid that’s about a stockbroker named Mitch (Mitchell Jarvis) who’s turned 40, lost his job, and is wondering if he should have pursued his old rock and roll dreams after all. Moving back in with mom (a likeable Marilu Henner) in New Jersey, he realizes that his old nemesis, Tygen (Brandon Williams), is going to foreclose on their house—yes, his old nemesis happens to own all the real estate in town—prompting a repeat of the county’s Battle of the Bands, whereby both guys will go at each other, mic in hand.

The nemesis also happens to be dating single mom Dani (Kelli Barrett), who is Mitch’s old high school crush, and one he starts to obsess on again! Are you gagging? Throw in an Indian American dermatologist with an arranged bride; an aspiring-actor cop who’s falling for the lady cop he works with; some cougar action involving mom and Mitch’s best friend; a faux-hip-hop white kid (“We’s in jail”); and an Orthodox Jewish wedding, and you’ve got a show that doesn’t lack for amiability, but which is too often bland, has some jokes that don’t land, and boasts a rap version of “Hava Nagila” that is possibly the worst number ever on a Broadway stage. (I’ll defend the “Garlic” song from Dance of the Vampires to my death.)

Act Two becomes more aggressively silly and therefore more enjoyable (Ryan Duncan is fun as an angsty lounge singer, and so is Rob Marnell as Aerosmith’s blithe Joe Perry) and they even mock the plot’s predictability for a second before returning to that predictability. What’s more, there’s a drag moment and an all too quick same-sex smooch. But generally, this show—directed by John Rando and choreographed by Chris Bailey—belongs in certain parts of New Jersey. At least I got some Rice Krispies treats from Marilu Henner when she came down the aisle to hand them out during intermission. Yes, they make her do that!

Michael Musto is the long running, award-winning entertainment journalist and TV commentator.