Hi all! My new blog, Kindly Póg Mo Thóin, is up and running. Come on by! Here's one of my first posts:
Take a gander at what John Travolta had to say about playing a woman, Edna Turnblad, in the new movie version of Hairspray (based on the stage musical, which was based on the original film):
He had to spend up to five hours a day encased in a
full body suit weighing more than 30lb with five separate gel-filled
silicone prosthetic appliances for parts of Edna's face. But it had its
"I'm happy to be a man, but I miss being groped," he
says, laughing. "Everybody tried to grope me all day. Suddenly having
breasts and a big bottom gained me so much attention. Men and women
wanted to feel my breasts and feel my bum. I must be a slut because I
didn't care. Men were flirting with me and I was being given power I
never had before. I found it fascinating. Women have power I didn't
know they had."
Gosh! Being groped is actually empowering! Who knew?
All this time I thought the power belonged to the groper, the person
who was invading your space and putting his hands on your body, whether
you wanted him to or not. Turns out that gropers are actually powerless
at the sight of breasts and a big bottom! Ladies, stop complaining --
you really enjoy lording it over those helpless, helpless men!
Jesus. Gosh, John, did you ever think that maybe the
reason you're enjoying getting groped is that you're on a movie set,
you know the groping's all in good fun, and everyone else knows this is
a woman-suit, and everyone knows that not only can you not actually
feel the groping, but that you're a big star with a lot of power
already, and you can take off the prosthetics at the end of the day and
go back to being John Travolta?
Not exactly getting your tits squeezed by some
asshole on the train, when you can't get away. Not exactly getting your
ass goosed by your boss and having to take it because you need the job.
As offensive as *that* is, and oh, it is -- there's more. Check out the male anxiety on display here:
When you've been a sexy teen idol, a tough action
star, danced with Diana, Princess of Wales and been nominated for two
Oscars, you think long and hard when someone asks you to put on a dress
and portray an outsized, overly protective mother.
"When they asked me to be Edna Turnblad I said, 'Gee,
32 years as a leading man… why me? What makes you think I'd be the
And let's talk about what John thought about being
the "perfect woman." Edna Turnblad is a lower-middle-class housewife
who takes in laundry and is married to a man who owns a joke shop. She
wears housedresses, and doesn't go out of the house much. Both Divine
and Harvey Fierstein, who originated the Edna role on Broadway, played
Edna as a frumpy woman who'd given up on trying to be pretty and didn't
quite believe her husband found her beautiful. Part of her anxiety
about Tracy getting on the Corny Collins Show was that Tracy would be
laughed at for trying to fit in because she was fat. In other words,
Edna was projecting her own anxieties about being fat and feeling
worthless onto her daughter, who -- unlike her mother -- didn't have a
demoralizing inner critic. And part of the fun of both the original
movie and the stage version was seeing Edna's rejecting the voice of
that inner critic and following her daughter's lead into fabulousness.
Indeed, Edna's transformation from "greasy Gorgon"
to Edna! Turnblad! Diva! Extraordinaire! occurs in the stage musical
during "Big, Blonde and Beautiful," with Motormouth Maybelle (played in
the original movie by Ruth Brown, and in the new movie by Queen
Latifah, which tells you a little about how glammed-up the new movie
is. Motormouth Maybelle is supposed to be a woman who's not innately
glamorous but has made herself that way).
Oh, but Travolta was having none of that. No frumpiness for him!
He was so determined to create the Edna he wanted
that he rejected several versions of the fat suit designed for him
until he was given one he considered made her suitably curvaceous and
"It wasn't real to me to make her like a
refrigerator," he says. "I said, 'Make her as big as you want as long
as you give her a waist and make her pretty because it will be more
interesting, more appealing and more entertaining.' I wanted people to
enjoy looking at her, because if she's grotesque, it's not fun."
"My challenge was making sure I was convincing as a
woman, so I drew on a library of memories of watching great female
performances in the theatre and on film and in my family, and I used
role models like Sophia Loren, Anita Ekberg, Elizabeth Taylor… these
women with voluptuous shapes."
Yeah, who wants to see a frumpy Edna Turnblad? Too
bad nobody saw the original movie or the stage version, both of which
featured a frumpy Edna Turnblad. And why the voluptuous shape (from
Having grown up the youngest of six children in a
bohemian working-class family in Englewood, N.J., he modeled his idea
of a watchable woman on his “very sexy mother” (Helen Travolta was a
high school drama teacher and sometime actress) and on the bombshells
in the European movies they enjoyed: Ms. Loren, Anna Magnani, Anita Ekberg.
“I’m not as beautiful as any of those people,” he said, “but I’m not
unpleasant to look at, and I thought: ‘This is my library. Not grandmas
or Aunt Bee from Mayberry, but the kind of person a blue-collar woman
would aspire to be if she had money. What if that kind of woman had
gone to flesh?’ ”
Divine (post-Mr. Pinky makeover) and Ruth Brown in
the original movie: glammed-up versions of
not-terribly-good-looking-to-start-with blue-collar women in the early
60s. Real-looking, in other words, which was part of what was wonderful
about that movie and the stage version: these were not "Hollywood fat"
or "Hollywood ugly" people who removed the glasses and shook out their
hair and were gorgeous! but people who looked like they belonged in
1960s Baltimore and were maybe beaten down by life and by their
circumstances (or their inner critics), but embraced glamour to the
best of their abilities and budgets. The results were not sleek, or
perfect, but a little outrageous and even a bit tacky. But that was
part of the realness of the movie. Now you've got gorgeous Queen Latifah and
John Travolta in pretty drag running around a blue-collar 1962
Travolta, though -- he can play a woman, he can even
play a fat woman, but godDAMNit, she's got to be a pretty, voluptuous
fat woman. Not a "refrigerator."
And campiness? None of that!
“Playing a woman attracted me,” Mr. Travolta said.
“Playing a drag queen did not. The vaudeville idea of a man in a dress
is a joke that works better onstage than it does on film, and I didn’t
want any winking or camping. I didn’t want it to be ‘John Travolta
plays Edna.’ That’s not interesting. It had to be something I could go
all the way with, disappear in, like I did in the Bill Clinton
role in ‘Primary Colors’ or in ‘Saturday Night Fever.’ ” And here he
got up and instantly incarnated those characters with a quick
redeployment of his weight and posture.
Because, you see, camp might be fun, it might be in the spirit of a
John Waters movie, and it might win you a Tony, but it doesn't pay off
at the Oscars:
There was no film precedent for this approach to Edna. Though Dustin Hoffman in “Tootsie” and Robin Williams in “Mrs. Doubtfire”
did well donning drag, they were playing explicitly male characters who
for plot reasons needed to dress as women. Edna is something much
rarer: a female character whose DNA, as the stage director Jack O’Brien
put it, requires that she be played by a male — the cosmic opposite of
Peter Pan. Divine, whose real name was Harris Glenn Milstead, didn’t so
much act Edna as perform a variation on his usual camp persona. What
Mr. Travolta wanted was a seamless transformation; it was not lost on
him that the last time such a cross-gender feat had been seriously
tried — in “The Year of Living Dangerously” — it had won Linda Hunt an Oscar.