There’s a twist in Courtney Act’s new celebrity interview show, which is part of Ten’s Pilot Showcase. Before teasing out the guest’s life journey, the host with the most dresses them in drag.
Your show Courtney’s Closet is a part of Ten’s Pilot Showcase. Give me the elevator pitch that got you that slot. The idea came from when I was in Alice Springs and doing The Project. I was in drag, it was forty-something degrees, I was standing in some animal park, it was hot and it was sweaty and there was a delay on the autocue. It was all very challenging. And then on the plane on the way back, Hunter [Smith]the producer and writer on The Project, was like, hey, I’ve got this idea for a show. And I was like, no, that’ll never work, I’ve tried that before, does not work. I do not like that idea. And then a few days later, he was like, so I mentioned it to people and they really liked the idea… and I was like, no … I’ve tried putting people in drag before, it does not work, it’s really awkward. And then he was like, Ten really like it and they’re bringing it to pilot, and I was like, oh fineI’ll have to make it good.
Making it good is frequently the hard bit. How did you go about that? What I did not realize was, the other times I’d tried it, it was a Christmas special, with music numbers and guests and things, and I put Jonnie Peacock, the Paralympian, in drag. At the beginning of the show, it was happening in a dressing room, someone else was doing it and there was the big reveal at the end. I did not love it. But the thing is, this show is an interview show. The whole show is about this one thing. The idea is that I talk to my guests, to really draw out maybe the childhood inspirations that they never got to carry through as an adult, or the things that they loved. You know, Luke (McGregor, subject of the pilot episode) has an economics degree, he likes Ghostbusters, he loves all of these things. And I was like, I want the drag that I create to really reflect who the person is.
So despite being forced to do the show, you eventually got into it. I came round, and I’m glad that I did because… I guess as a drag performer in the corporate world, I’ll often have different gigs where you’ll have, like, a straight person’s version of what a drag queen looks like or does. So it was really important to me that this was an authentic representation of drag and of the queer side of life. I did not want a makeup mirror with a feather boa dangled over it – I was really focused on having a lot of queer people involved in the creative process, making sure it was really authentic.
Do you feel that bringing someone into the drag context is a good way of penetrating to the depths of a person? I think it does reveal stuff. The thing that’s wonderful about drag is that I know we traditionally think about a man dressing up as a woman – that would be the most reductive description of drag. But for me, I’m not dressing up as a woman, I’m, I guess, dressing up as a drag queen. In the beginning, I started dressing up because it was a way to express femininity that I was not able to express in other places. And not just femininity: I’ve dressed up as all sorts of things, like Pinocchio, the Riddler – my best friend, Vanity, dresses up as all these childhood things like She-Ra and Barbie. It’s like Halloween every night of the year, but Halloween with femininity rather than horror. So I think that Luke, talking about all his inspirations and then putting on an outfit and seeing himself in the mirror, I know he felt sort of powerful. He said “I feel like I could go and fight crime”. It was really fun to see his confidence, what happened to him when he saw something different looking back in the mirror.
So it really opens a person up. Yeah, and I think there’s something fun about that. This show isn’t like, everybody should be a drag queen; it’s more sharing the joy of what I know from doing drag, with somebody else. It’s like, literally, come walk a mile in my shoes. And through that experience come to understand what I love about this.
Do you feel that now – or for the past 10 years, probably – that drag has entered the mainstream, or entered more people’s awareness? Yeah, I guess that one story we’ve seen for the last few hundred years, the – no offense if you are one – the straight white man narrative…