“Tribeca said, ‘Heavy is the head that wears the tiara.’ I think that’s kind of a good way of putting it.”
No one seems to have benefitted from the meteoric rise and mainstream embrace of drag quite like country music star, comedian, and RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 3 winner Trixie Mattel. From breaking boundaries in historically conservative spaces with her #1 folk album One Stone to the move with UNHhhh co-host Katya from web to television on VICELAND‘s The Trixie & Katya Show, Brian Firkus (creator of the Trixie Mattel character) took the reins of this cultural phenomenon and guided them straight to the top.
Going into Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts, many viewers will be familiar with Firkus’s journey. Some will have sent their share of UNHhhh memes, changed their Twitter name to “STREAM ONE STONE ON ITUNES/SPOTIFY” or a heavily-quoted obscenity about a rake, or worn an IQ Kitty costume to RuPaul’s DragCon. Some will have expressed their sympathy online over the hiatus of Brian McCook (creator of the Katya character), his departure from of The Trixie & Katya Show, and the subsequent return of UNHhhh. Some will go into the Tribeca and Hot Docs screenings this month with no knowledge of the Trixie character beyond her few months on VH1.
Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts isn’t about spilling all of the behind-the-scenes ~truth tea~ on the lower points of Firkus’s life any more than it’s about highlighting all of the high ones, no matter what the intention was going into filming. Rather, it’s about striking a balance between the two even at their most extreme. In Firkus’s own words, “It’s a lot of what happens in the other 23 hours in a day of being a drag queen.” After the jump, we sat down with the drag superstar to talk through the ethos and takeaways of Moving Parts, the launch of his upcoming cosmetics line at RuPaul’s DragCon LA, and [REDACTED].
You just moved! How’s it feel to be a homeowner?
It’s quiet! And it’s being decorated, so I haven’t moved in.
So you don’t know how it feels to be a homeowner quite yet.
Well, a lady comes to your house with a giant stack of papers and you sign all of them. The first time I signed, I wrote down the wrong year, so I had to do every single one again. It’s cool. I own a home. Someone explained to me that when you’re renting, you give someone else your money. Buy a house, you’re slowly paying it off. It’s not far from here, it’s at [REDACTED] and [REDACTED]. I could get in drag and walk here to film. Which I won’t.
What was your takeaway after watching Moving Parts for the first time?
When I watch the film, I feel like people will get what they get out of me in general. My shows are all comedy, but my music’s not comedy. All of my comedy is kinda depressing. None of my jokes or music are about me being a winner or a model citizen or a good person. I don’t think this film paints a picture so much as it exposes the ups and downs behind me. The movie’s called Moving Parts and the song of the same name that I played all year on tour is about maturity, learning to take the good and the bad.
Even though it’s only for a few minutes, it’s feels like the most you’ve ever publicly delved into your past.
Yeah. The movie’s not really about my past, which we like. I like that it’s more of a snapshot of this window in my life. I think people are going to go into it thinking it’s like, “Well, I grew up…” like when you interview your mom and stuff.
There were no other talking head moments, besides your own.
It’s very in the moment. He was with me for nine months total, I think. For a lot of it, he was just with me all day, following me everywhere for nine months. It was January to when Katya and I did our panel at DragCon NYC. That was the last thing he shot.
That was just a little snippet moment at the end, the epilogue.
That’s the other thing. The Katya parts got so dark because it was so sad and weird that, thankfully, it’s resolved by the end. I think that’ll make the person leave and not want to kill themselves because it shows, “Oh good, the ebb and flow of an interpersonal relationship.” Most people, their friendships go up and down. There’s no right way to act because there’s no answer. That day, when they came to set, they were just coming to get B-footage of me on the job. They did not know that was going to happen.
You’re referring to the last day of filming with her on The Trixie & Katya Show?
Yeah. They were just coming to shoot B-roll and then it obviously took such a turn. We were all just like, we just came here to get some fun B-roll and now it’s like, it actually shaped so much of the next few months of the film.
How would you describe the film’s tone?
On a micro-level, it’s just about one person’s thing that they’re bringing. Their art, I guess, their commitment to their work, my commitment to my work. On a macro-level, it’s sort-of a snapshot of the golden age of drag. This is the first movie where it’s behind-the-scenes with drag queens on red carpets and stuff. I do like that it’s about both.
I don’t know what the tone is, really, I don’t want to say its sad.
I don’t think it’s sad, but people are going to see a different side of you than they’re used to seeing in say, Drag Race or UNHhhh.
Oh yeah. It’s me sitting in my garage, going through fan gifts. You know what I mean? At no points in this movie do I look glamorous or edited. It’s a lot of what happens in the other 23 hours in a day of being a drag queen. It’s not all champagne and runways.
Not that this is a film where we’re trying to tell people how awful it is, because it’s not awful. There’s a lot of high points in the film. There’s parts in the film where it’s like, extreme highs, where it’s really cool. And there’s parts of it where you really feel like a fly on the wall in some really uncomfortable situations.
Was it intentional for it to be so tonally different from everything else you’ve done from kickoff?
Well, what’s funny is, it’s my film, but I didn’t make it. I didn’t film it, I didn’t edit it, I didn’t do color or lights or sound or any of it. They have all this footage and then they look and go, like, “What’s the real story of this? What’s the takeaway of this calendar year?” When you talk about everything I did last year, it sounds like a year of all highs. But when you actually open up the hood and see everything that went into it, it’s like, wow, there’s a lot of… not sad, but stillness and uncomfortable moments.
You’d already finished shooting All Stars 3, so the Drag Race moments are a lot of just sitting around and waiting to see how everyone’s finally reacting.
Oh my god, yeah. A lot of it is just you seeing how much goes into it. You see me in my garage, packing bags, going through fan gifts, having all the conversations about how I never really won anything. Tribeca said, “Heavy is the head that wears the tiara.” I think that’s kind of a good way of putting it.
The film has a sense of humor to it, but it really is about how a lot of your dreams come true and there are so many things attached to that that you don’t think about. There’s a lot of things that happened last year that I didn’t expect to happen that made everything, in some ways, hard to enjoy.
Does it feel like a rebrand?
Not really. It feels like the photo before I put it through Facetune. It feels like seeing a drag queen step out of the shower after being in drag. There’s this whole underbelly to this body of work I’ve created, there’s so much that goes into it. I’m a real person doing all this stuff and I’m not even flattering in a lot of it. There’s definitely a lot of highly-tense moments where I’m watching it back like, “oh my god.” There’s stuff that I didn’t see coming. Obviously, my personal relationships with people I worked with changed a lot last year. For a lot of the film, a lot of things are just up in the air and there’s not really any resolution, you know?
“RuPaul told me twice that I wasn’t America’s Next Drag Superstar and that never really bothered me.”
What was it like having your boyfriend, David Silver, as your producer?
Originally, I don’t like to work with anybody that I have a relationship with, but my manager at the time and David both came to me separately and said, “You should do a film about this section of your life because so many things are happening.” There was The Trixie & Katya Show, Drag Race, my album, so many things were happening. David went to school with Nick [Zeig-Owens], who is a great filmmaker and is the perfect guy to just follow you on your shoulder and get all this.
It was cool. Believe me, there was a lot of tension behind-the-scenes and I didn’t always love that there was a camera right there, watching all of it. There was a lot of stuff where I just wanted to be like, “Please leave.” But I talked to Jinkx Monsoon before this project and the main thing she told me is, “Just don’t uninvite the cameras. Let them be there and get all of it.” I didn’t always feel like doing stuff. I did the score for the film. So like, having to play all of the music that’s in the film was a little stressful because I’ve never made music for a film before.
Oh wow, I didn’t know that.
Yeah, the guitar playing and stuff was all me. So we’d watch the clips and sort of, like, digest what we think it’s about. Then I’d sort of like, write chunks of music to go with it.
So you’re going for that Best Original Score award.
Yeah, now that Shallow’s gone, the rest of us can finally get something.
Where do you think your career would be right now if you hadn’t done All Stars?
I think the same. I really do. I was already doing stuff. The Trixie & Katya Show and UNHhhh and the music I recorded was all stuff I was doing anyway. I’ve always been sort of doing stuff. RuPaul told me twice that I wasn’t America’s Next Drag Superstar and that never really bothered me because I was like, “Ok, but I am. I’m gonna. So…” But it was nice, it was my first time on VH1 so obviously, a lot of people hadn’t watched Season 7 and for a lot of people, it was their first time being exposed to me and what I do.
Do you feel like, now that you’ve made rich kid money, your mindset has shifted from being a poor kid?
No, I’m poor forever, I’ll be poor forever. But I think it’s good! Rich people who get fierce with their richness don’t feel rich anymore. Rich to me is like, “I paid the bill.”
Bad things happen to everyone, I’m not special.
That was a moment in the film, when you paid your mother’s electric bill.
I paid my mom’s light bill! And she always does this thing where she waits until it’s like, a year overdue and is embarrassed to ask and it’s like, well now it’s twice as much as it would normally be. But I felt rich before Drag Race. I felt rich when I was making $75 to lip-sync and I could pay all my bills.
You’ve said before that you’d still be doing this even if drag hadn’t gone mainstream, but do you think you would’ve tried marrying drag with country music if it was still “underground”?
No, I think doing Drag Race gave me a lot of confidence. I wasn’t that confident. I was sort of throwing darts before Drag Race. There was something really educational in seeing what people responded to about me because it told me a little bit more about what I’m really doing and forced me to ask, “What do people get out of this?” Well, they like my sense of humor, they like the way I do my Barbie looks. With music, I was doing stand-up, so the music was just a way in. Like, think of Adam Sandler and Sarah Silverman. There’s a way to play music in my comedy shows. There’s a way to marry that together and I’d never even thought of that or considered it.
Trixie, to me, was more of a lip-sync girl before Drag Race. I’d always worked in clubs, so my acts were all lip-syncs and club appropriate. I don’t really do clubs anymore, so Drag Race just really gave me the confidence to take the character back to the drawing board a little bit and reshape it. I used to do more Malibu Barbie and more comedy, but then I switched to Coachella/Woodstock Barbie and started introducing music. That really changed the way I dressed, the way I looked, the way my act is, and the way people see me.
You really went through a full style shift once the album came out.
Yeah! I was like, if I’m going to be showing people that this is the music I want to play, I sort of have to become a Grand Ole Opry Barbie. See, the great thing about being Trixie and being based on a teenage fashion doll is that, just like dolls, drag queens are whatever we’re dressed as. So if I start wearing cowboy boots and circle skirts, people will be like, “Oh, that makes sense because that’s what she’s doing, that’s why she’s dressed like that, great.” So when I did the album last year and went from country to a more folk sound, so everything got more fringe and hippies and bell bottoms.
What’s coming up with music next?
Now I’m into like, sort-of 60s pop music, swingin’ mod, so we’re doing stuff that’s a little more electric guitar. I don’t play a lot of electric guitar because I grew up playing guitar alone and it’s not really fun to be shredding in the woods. Nothing bad’s been happening to me, so my music’s a lot less depressing. I’m playing more plugged in sounds, more crunch, more upbeat stuff.
Do you feel like your style’s going to change?
Yeah, I go through decades and vibes. Right now I’m into more 60s fashion, so I’ve been doing a lot of mini dresses, boots, bubble cuts, and big jewelry. I’m also really into stand-up now compared to three years ago, so I want to do more looks that are more fun to look at.
You make a comment in the film that you’re not a “sad person”, but you’ve objectively been through hell in a lot of ways, arguably far worse than a lot of sad people. Do you think sadness is a perception thing, a product of someone’s experiences, both, neither, a combination?
I don’t know, I mean, I’m pretty bouncy as a person. I experience something and I move on. I’ve very pragmatic and big-picture. Anything that’s happened to me, I’m more focused on not being the type of person that gets ruined because something bad happened to them. Bad things happen to everyone, I’m not special. That’s the thing about being a victim. Whatever it is, it’s in the past and you’re the one who chooses to play it over and over again. I don’t think like that.
It’s tough to hear you talk about the abuse you went though. Does that stuff ever impact you on the day-to-day?
Well, I never really talk about it because to me, it’s over and I’m very proud of being a grown-up adult who’s not really affected by it. I think of it as like, the further I get from it, sometimes I have moments where I just think, “I can’t believe that was normal to me.” If somebody told me that was happening to them, I would like, freak out.
What’s it like to talk about it, being in the retrospect?
I think back and it was just not normal. It’s taught me, I guess, that I reflect. People can really get used to some bad shit. If you’re in the bathtub and they slowly raise the temperature of the water, you won’t realize you’re boiling.
What was the hardest experience to work through while you were filming Moving Parts?
The hardest thing was that it was just kind of embarrassing to have my relationship with Brian in this like, “Who knows?” space. I really thought I was there to make like, a commercial for myself and instead of having a year that was forecast to be perfect, it was like, “Jokes on you, bitch, nothing’s ever perfect.”
There’s this scene where I come home from filming something after I left a bunch of washed costumes out to dry… and it rains. It rains in L.A. and all of my costumes are out there, sopping wet. So I guess, the hardest thing was how it went from something that I largely thought was gonna be a fun sneak peek in my life. I thought it was gonna be like the Justin Bieber doc.
It’s not anybody’s place to experience this in real time with me and it’s not my obligation to comment on it.
Trixie Mattel: Five Foot Two?
The original marketing name was Six Foot Two, but then we thought it was too gimmicky. But based on what the film winded up being about, Moving Parts wound up being a great title because that song is just about how there’s no warning for how good or bad things are going to get or how they’ll change at any moment.
The grown up thing you can do is just take both. So last year, the best and worst things were happening at the same time. My first world tour, I won Drag Race, my album went to #1, I was on red carpets, and at the same time, I was having horrible problems behind the scenes with so many other things. Or it was like, you want to win Drag Race, but when you see yourself winning, you envision yourself winning in a way where people unanimously want to award you, not in a way that becomes controversial to some people.
A lot of the bad stuff that went down with Katya, a lot of it was stuff you couldn’t or didn’t want to address publicly.
When Katya went into her hiatus, I saw all these drag queens stepping in front of the camera being like, “I openly support you. I get it. Someone called me fat once on Twitter.” Like, people were trying to send messages of support but in the way where they remind people that they, too, have been hurt. There are shots of me in interviews where the reporter is like, “Well, you’ve gotta talk about mental health. What do you guys all think, do you wanna comment about that?” I know what they’re doing. They’re asking ME, indirectly, to comment and it’s NOT my place to sound off on what was going on.
Last year, the hardest thing was being in the dark. We didn’t talk. I didn’t know anything that was going on. I didn’t know how awful or well she was doing. And more importantly, it was never my place to say. Our friendship is really so good now. Had we both been open about that stuff, I think it would’ve been bad. It’s not anybody’s place to experience this in real time with me and it’s not my obligation to comment on it.
At the time, I was like, “Let’s talk about Drag Race!” You’re on a red carpet, talking about this TV show that you think you might win, and everyone’s like, “Great job on All Stars, how’s your friend?” You know? I found everything to be so comically opportunistic that it was never tempting for me to make it my moment. And even at the worst parts of the film, I have enough respect for Brian to be like, “I’m not going to comment on her situation for you. She’s not even commenting on it.”
The important thing is that now we’re right back where we left off.
Has he seen any of Moving Parts?
Brian saw an earlier cut . We both saw the same cut for the first time and David and Nick were both like, “We just really want her to see it and be comfortable with the story it tells.” Honestly, it very much doesn’t glamorize anything that happens. There was very little, if anything, that was edited out to like, “save face” for either of us.
It’s a little rough. It’s not Housewives where there’s a cliffhanger commercial break and they come back and it wasn’t as bad as you thought. It’s like… bad, and then it gets worse and worse and weirder. As a viewer, you’re like, “Well, what would I do if I was there?” There’s no right answer. Like, it’s just like collapsing. It’s this huge opportunity for both of us and the school play paper trees are just collapsing behind us.
Have you guys talked about how you’re gonna deal with people’s response to the film?
We haven’t really talked about it, we both have very similar discomfort with parts of it. She was surprised that it was so much about her. In that year of my life, we didn’t go into it expecting it to be what it’s about. The camera people came in to watch us do what we do best and it took such a turn. In the film, you can see how we swap out a co-host for the show. The important thing is that now we’re right back where we left off and it’s something we can joke about and be comfortable with.
I think anybody’s who’s gay and has had a friendship fall out or issues with substance abuse, maybe you need to see it. For me, I focus on the parts I’m uncomfortable with. Like, “If I was a kid, if I was a gay teen…”, not that I’m trying to help anybody or anything, but if you had a serious problem with depression or a friendship falling out, seeing this may make you feel like “okay, good, I’m not the only person.” We’ve never been candid or secretive on-camera on UNHhhh or any of our shows. We talk about everything, the worst things our bodies have done, the worst things we’ve done to people. We never paint the picture that we are the heroes in any situation. This movie is the exact same way.
Do you feel like filming a documentary came easier after filming UNHhhh and being a reality TV star?
It was weird at first. One of the opening shots is just me in the studio playing my harp and I remember thinking “Is it going to be like this all the time?”
But you’ve done Drag Race. You’ve been filmed for long periods of time before.
Yeah, but that’s like, on a set and you’re filming ten other people. This is you in a cab with me, in a shower with me, backstage with me. Everywhere. I never once asked them to leave the room or stop filming. You got the best and worst of it. But there really were some moments where I’m watching it back, like, this is magical.
You don’t even realize how cool some of this is while it’s happening until you see it back. The way the film ends with me doing that stage stunt, I remember being so terrified in the moment that I didn’t think about how cool that was. Or winning Drag Race, watching it in the bar vs. watching me watching it, you realize how magical it is.
You really did get the best, like, “Live Crowning Reaction” video out of it.
You could see on my face that I really couldn’t believe it. But that’s what’s funny, last year, I had so many ups and downs that by the time I won Drag Race, I had so many other things on my plate and so many other things to be celebrating. Like, I won Drag Race and the next day my album came out, so I just had to switch to that. Watching it back was very illuminating… and uncomfortable.
Do you identify as a reality TV star?
I identify as a meat popsicle. I don’t know, I just hang out. I just do whatever I want to do. I know that sounds kinda vague but it’s not like I was like “I’m gonna be a TV actor comedian musician!” I’m just gonna do what I like and that’s what I like. This year, I’m opening my cosmetics company because I love cosmetics and I worked in it for five years.
What’s coming up with the cosmetics company?
We launch Trixie Cosmetics at DragCon LA, actually. We’re launching our first lipstick shade called “Stacy” which is like a hot candy pink and then we’re launching five glitters and a DragCon LA-exclusive teal glitter with the letters “L” and “A” in it which is great if your name’s Al. And I’m launching my first collaborative product! Farrah Moan, who’s one of my favorite drag queens, and I formulated a highlighter together. This summer, we launch in stores with our first full Summer collection, so I’m dying. And if no one buys it, it’s just ALL my money. You’ll come over to my house and my TV stand will just be stacks of Farrah highlighters and my couch will be a pile of lipsticks.
One last thing: can you talk about [REDACTED] yet?
Oh yeah, sure! Actually, wait, no. Not yet.
Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts premieres on April 26th at Tribeca Film Festival and will be screening through May 5th. Click here to get your tickets and click here to get tickets to the film’s screening at Hot Docs Film Festival.