“It’s going to be like watching Drag Race all over again!”
The Vivienne’s brand new series couldn’t have come at a better time.
With the global coronavirus pandemic forcing the world to quarantine inside, fans are gagging for more fierce entertaintment on their screens, and we can assure you: The Vivienne Takes Hollywood will be your next binge watch.
The World of Wonder production, which premieres 9 April, follows the Drag Race UK winner as she prepares to film her debut music video with the help of industry icons such as Tony-winner Marissa Jaret Winokur, Mean Girls star Daniel Frenzese, choreographer Mark Kanemura, musician Chester Lockhart and Emmy-winning comedian Bruce Vilanch.
“I’m so proud and happy that it’s been able to come out at this time,” The Vivienne tells us over the phone. “What a silver lining for people to sit and be able to laugh with me on this crazy journey. It’s good content that people don’t have to pay for and I’m so happy that it’s come about that way. And the fact that the BBC have picked it up is absolutely insane for me.”
Ahead of its premiere this week, we caught up with the legendary performer to discuss the show’s crazy premise, why it was “the biggest Drag Race challenge of all” and how she thinks the coronavirus will affect the drag industry.
How’s self-isolating treating you?
It’s actually been quite nice, considering! I never get to be at home, I never get to spend time with my dog and David. David is always on the road with me but he’s always unpacking my case or sorting out flights, so it’s nice to just sit and pig out together. Do you know what though? I’ve lost five pounds in isolation! I think that’s not being on the road. When you’re on the road as a drag queen, the only thing is UberEats at the end of the night or McDonald’s, or meal deals in a train station where you pay £11 for sandwich. We’ve been having two meals a day and the weight is dropping off! Thank god!
McDonald’s is a bit of a trigger word for me at the moment.
[Laughs] Aren’t they all closed at the moment? Bloody hell, the world has gone mad.
Well, at least we have The Vivienne Takes Hollywood to look forward to…
Oh my god, I know! I’m so proud and happy that it’s been able to come out at this time. What a silver lining for people to sit and be able to laugh with me on this crazy journey. It’s good content that people don’t have to pay for and I’m so happy that it’s come about that way. And the fact that the BBC have picked it up is absolutely insane for me. To win Drag Race and have my own online web series… for that to air on a mainstream TV channel is bloody nuts.
I was howling at the first episode.
I haven’t seen it yet! I haven’t seen any of it.
I’m never going to be able to hear Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in the same way ever again.
Oh my god, don’t. It was crazy. Getting put into that situation, you kind of second guess yourself and you go, ‘I’m gonna look so stupid.’ But then you’ve got to go, ‘You know what? I’m here in Hollywood, doing this for the first time, just bloody go for it and have fun.’ I think after the first day of filming, I got into the mindset of, ‘Just have a ball.’ The times when you push yourself and you stop worrying about how you look and if you’re gonna look stupid, that’s when you really shine.
You definitely didn’t care… You straddled a piano and fell off! I can’t wait for the gifs.
[Laughs] And do you know what? For weeks afterwards I was like, ‘Why is my neck hurting?’ We had been in LA for 10 days, we went to Disney and Universal, so I was thinking to myself that I must’ve hurt it on a rollercoaster. It wasn’t until I was looking back at pictures on my phone and saw myself mid-air falling off a piano…
Within the first five minutes, you assure fans that The Vivienne Takes Hollywood will not be a replica of other shows with similar formats…
That was always a worry for me. After finding out that the prize for winning Drag Race was a show, you get filled with doubt like, ‘Am I worthy?’ I know I’m a great drag queen on stage and entertaining a live audience, but when I’m in front of a camera and expected to deliver brilliant content… it’s a completely different ball game.
How did you make sure the show had its own identity?
I think it was just having confidence in myself and believing that I what I do is different from what other people do. I think always staying true to myself, having fun and trying to not overproduce myself and go, ‘Do you know what? I made it this far just being The Vivienne. Just being The Vivienne will take me further as well, not trying to be anyone else, use other people’s jokes. Do what’s worked for me.’ It worked on Drag Race and it will work on this new show as well.
It feels like the maxi-challenges continue with this show because you have singing lessons, dancing lessons…
Yeah! Drag Race is a whole other monster, but having to do it in the real world was the biggest Drag Race challenge of all. Like you just said, it was all of the Drag Race challenges; the singing, the acting, the dancing, the comedy. It all had to come to fruition with one show of my own, which I had a massive creative input into. So yeah, it’s very daunting. It’s going to be like watching Drag Race all over again, and the judge’s critiques will come with the online comments!
What did the show teach you about yourself that you didn’t know before?
The first day we sat down to film I had a little wobbler in my dressing room with my husband David. I was like, ‘Oh my god, what’s it going to be like? Is it gonna be crap?’ After the first day, seeing World of Wonder’s reactions from it really put me at ease. The second day I just went into it with the mindset of, ‘Whatever you throw at me, I’m going to do it.’ You know, I can sit down in front of Lady Gaga’s dancer, Mark, and not only him, but my husband! I can do anything in front of anyone but as soon as I start doing things in front of David I get really nervous! Does that make sense? You can sing in a nightclub but as soon as your mum’s there… more pressure. But on the second day after hearing the great feedback I was just like, ‘Fuck it, what have I got to do? Fall off that? Yeah. Fuck it, why not?’
What I love about the show is that it’s completely self-aware. In the opening moments you turn to the camera and say, ‘Do you want more? I’ll give you more! Do you want me to cry?’
[Laughs] Yeah, that’s the theme we wanted throughout the whole show. People always go to Hollywood to become this big star in their head and they’ll always be like, ‘I can fake cry if you want! Do you need me to cry? Do you need me to do this? I’ll do anything to become a star!’ The show is taking the piss out of the Hollywood machine. People move to Hollywood and think they’ll become a star overnight, and it’s so much more than that. I think we nailed that storyline.
Chad Michaels makes an appearance later down the line. Why was she the right Drag Race queen to do this with?
Chad has always been my inspiration, he was the first performer I saw on YouTube and I thought it was the real Cher! He solidified my wanting to get into drag and has just been the sweetest mentor and friend. He’s also the most professional drag queen, he takes it so seriously and has such a passion for the craft. He also performed at my wedding and he’s become this amazing friend. As friendly as we get, I still see Chad as such a huge icon. Just having him there on the ride, and having him want to take part in one of my projects is absolutely mindblowing.
So that does that mean you’ll take it easy on Chad for that much rumoured Drag Race winner’s season?
[Laughs] Oh my god, imagine that? How good would a UK vs US season be? Or the whole world? Thailand, Canada, Australia, everywhere. A global Drag Race would be amazing.
C’mon The Vivienne, giving me that headline!
[Laughs] The rabid fans are gonna love it.
By the end of The Vivienne Takes Hollywood, we’ll have your debut song and video. What can you tell me about that?
People who have heard the song have said, ‘If you heard it without knowing who it was from, you wouldn’t say it was a typical drag queen song.’ I’m not singing about hair, high heels and makeup. It’s a throwback to Pete Burns and Dead or Alive in the 80s. It’s got that vibe to it. I’m so happy that people have liked the song. I was supposed to release it last week but we’re going to postpone it with everything that is going on. I hope everyone’s going to like it.
The song is perfect for right now as we’re seeing a bit of an 80s revival thanks to The Weeknd and Dua Lipa.
I know! Everyone’s doing an 80s remix. I did this song months ago, so to see this 80s revival I’m kind of like, ‘Ooh! Perfect!’
We need to start a campaign: #GETTHEVIVIENNETONUMBERONE!
[Laughs] Do you know what, that’s another thing. A lot of drag queens come off Drag Race and release a single straightaway. I never went onto Drag Race to become a recording artist. I’m under no illusion, I know I’m probably not going to chart or anything like that. It’s just great for me to have content out there for people to enjoy and have fun with.
So, onto Miss Corona. What kind of impact do you think the pandemic is having on the drag community at the moment?
My god, it’s bloody huge. Not just the drag community, but the whole world. I think drag queens are really feeling it because a lot of drag queens aren’t maybe declaring money, or they’re down as self-employed. It’s been like that for years, so to not have a safety net from the government or having any kind of financial stability, it’s really taking its toil. Luckily, I’m financially stable at the minute and I can get through this, put out free content out to people. I’ve had fans messaging me to ask if they can send me money, asking if they can tip me on PayPal. I responded to it online just saying, ‘Look guys, I’m so touched by the gesture. It’s such a lovely thing for you to offer, but please think about yourselves at the minute. Put food in your fridge, keep the money for yourselves because no one knows what’s going to happen.’ But it’s completely different for local queens that haven’t got financial stability, so if people are okay and want to tip their local queens, then I think that’s an amazing thing to do. Drag queens put their hearts and souls into their work every night of the week to make sure that the public are alright, so I think it’s lovely that the public are wanting to support them with their digital shows. It’s heartwarming to see.
The digital shows have had such an amazing reception, do you think they’ll live on post-corona?
Hopefully! It would be a lovely thing to see because the drag scene has always been a dog eat dog world. Gigs have always been like gold dust, so you’ll see queens in cities that have had their residencies for like 20 plus years, so it’s harder for younger queens to get into the business. So to have this online platform to go, ‘Do you know what? I don’t need a bar. I don’t need a gig. I can do it from my living room and still put out great content.’ That will also give them an opportunity for promoters and clubs to see them perform online and then go, ‘Oh, they’re really good, let’s give them a spot in the bar.’ So I think it’s going to have a knock on effect, bring in more working opportunities for everyone.
That’s true. I never thought about that.
Me neither until just then! [Laughs]
The Vivienne Takes Hollywood premieres 9 April on WOW Presents Plus and BBC Three, and will air in weekly instalments.