STAGE MOTHER – Interview with director Thom Fitzgerald

STAGE MOTHER is a brand new comedy opening in Irish cinemas on July 24th, the film sees conservative, Texas church-choir director Maybelline (Jacki Weaver, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, ANIMAL KINGDOM) inheriting her recently deceased son’s drag club, and surprising her closed-minded husband, and everyone else she knows, by moving alone to San Francisco to save the club from bankruptcy. In this raucous, racy new environment, she begins to open up and find new meaning for her life, even becoming a mother-figure to the club’s flamboyant performers… until a surprise visit threatens to upend her new life.

Directed by Thom Fitzgerald (CLOUDBURST), STAGE MOTHER also stars A-listers Lucy Liu (ELEMENTARY) and Adrian Grenier (ENTOURAGE), with real-life drag superstar Jackie Beat as club hostess Dusty Muffin. and fast-rising star of the LGBTQ scene Mya Taylor (TANGERINE).

With your surname of Fitzgerald I have to ask, Is there an Irish connection in there somewhere?
Oh, yes. I am of Irish descent. My grandfather is from Tralee and my grandmother is from County Cavan. I’ve been to Tralee and I visited the church, in which my grandfather was baptised. I thought it was stunning. I couldn’t imagine how my grandfather could bear to leave. But I guess New York had its allures.

What was it about the script for ‘Stage Mother’ that appealed to you as a director?
I think of it as take on what they used to call “women’s pictures” from the mid 20th century about an older woman, often the mother coming to terms with herself or a loss. I had recently lost my brother when I read the script, he drank too much one night, just like Ricky in the movie. I saw my mother go through the process of learning about her son posthumously and I had never been to my brother’s condo until after he passed. So I really understood the idea of learning to love a person more fully, after passing.

The film is set in San Francisco but filmed in Nova Scotia, what challenges did you have to recreate the city?
Halifax and San Francisco have a great deal in common, in that they are Victorian era cities with beautiful ornate houses on hills overlooking the harbour. I was very lucky that a lot of our film is done in a studio, so that could have been anywhere. I mean, I did shoot in San Francisco, not a lot of the film but we made sure to capture the essence of the city. They really are spiritual sister cities in a lot of ways. Also because Halifax too is the biggest city for a day’s drive in any direction. This has always been a city where the gay people from miles and miles around flock to escape their small towns and live their lives.

Would there be a drag scene in Halifax?
Absolutely, yes, in the film you have Allister MacDonald as Joan, a stand out singer in the film. Allister is a local actor who already had a drag career in Halifax.

Did you get any opportunities to attend any drag shows in San Francisco for research?
I’ve been to San Francisco many times and seen lots of drag, But I’m aware that in recent times that they’re usually at bars more than clubs and Jackie Beat does a lot of performances there regularly, Jacki Weaver went along to Hamburger Mary’s to see Jackie Beat.

The world of drag is getting bigger as a result of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’, which is constantly in the top 10 shows on Netflix in Ireland. Was there any temptation for you to feature one of the RuPaul queens in the film?
Well, no, we reached out to a number of legendary drag queens, who graciously self-taped auditions for the film. What I found was that drag performance is an entirely different art form than screen acting. I know there, there are a number of famous queens who do both beautifully like Willam. But in this case, we really went for actors. Jackie Beat happens to have real background as a trade actor and improviser which is what made her audition stand out.

There’s some great drag names in the film from Pandora’s Box & Cherry Poppins to Tequila Mocking Bird & Joan Of Arkansas, did you have a lot of fun coming up with them?
Oh yes, Me and Brad came up with most of them, I think Dusty Muffin was the best I ever heard. I also asked Facebook friends for their input on drag names and I got hundreds of them.

Tell us about the casting of Jacki Weaver as the stage mother?
So Jackie and I met, she lives in LA, I live in Nova Scotia and we met in Manhattan to talk about the film, our brunch turned into a three-day drinking spree. She gave me a copy of her autobiography and pointed to the chapter, ‘The Smallest Fag Hag In Australia’ and I knew we’d work well together. She had appeared in ‘Priscilla Queen Of The Desert’ at the West End, so she knew so much about the drag scene and I knew she would be pretty great in this role.

Lucy Liu stars in the film, she shot it in Nova Scotia while also filming ‘Elementary’ in New York, how did that work out?
Yes, we’d hoped to do it during her hiatus from ‘Elementary’ but we had to push filming back by several weeks. So she ended up flying every Friday up to Nova Scotia and back to New York on Sunday. So she never missed a day of work on ‘Elementary’. I’m very grateful that she was so committed to it, she made it work despite the big odds. I knew she would be very very funny in the role. She had recently become a mom herself. So she understood what her character was going through,

What do you think of drag representation on TV at the moment with shows like ‘Drag Race’ & ‘AJ & The Queen’?
On this side of the pond Drag Race has been going on for a solid decade. It has been a juggernaut for a long time, especially among young people. There are college students now enjoying drag. It made it very very mainstream. Now we also have ‘Pose’, a pretty big hit on FX. It felt like it’s genuinely a time where you could get someone like Maybelline and the kind of viewers who would enjoy a movie about a Texas Baptist choir mistress who also is embracing the drag world.

Are you happy to see ‘Stage Mother’ getting a cinema release, after months of no new releases it will be one of the first new films in cinemas.
I only got to see ‘Stage Mother’ once with an audience, it was in Palm Springs in January and it was a great raucous crowd pleasing experience, so I was very happy with that experience, at least the once. There’s always been a little tinge of sadness to have a crowd pleasing film in a time when crowds really can’t go. I’m happy that people can now see it with a live audience, so long as everybody stays safe, that’s the most important thing.


STAGE MOTHER is at Irish cinemas from July 24th 2020