No drag queens? No Stephan? “No way.”
Stephan Elliott had to fight to preserve Priscilla's spirit on I Will Survive, but he may well become it's secret weapon.
When Stephan Elliott was first approached to use Priscilla The Musical as a backdrop for a TV talent series, nobody had gambled on him as being a judge.
But the man who created a hit movie in 1994 wasn’t having it any other way. Priscilla is his baby and negotiations would be an all or nothing contract.
“Part of the deal for this was one was to absolutely make sure that I came on the road. Trust me, they would have loved to have done the show without me. But it didn’t work that way,” he says.
“I made it a prerequisite and said ‘I have to be one of the judges.’ And they said ‘Oh!’
“I said ‘It’s an end of story, guys. It’s a given.’
“I get to watch the old girl most of the time and make sure nobody sends it off the rails.”
At this rate he could turn out to be the show’s secret weapon.
Accompanying a Priscilla bus through the Australian outback once more was an act of love, and perhaps even a chance to relive what was a manic film shoot all those years ago.
Elliott admits to having had years of love / hate with the project that made him famous. Priscilla Queen of the Desert remains one of Australia’s most successful films, and was a cultural phenomenon breaking down barriers for the gay community. It changed the way Australians viewed drag queens forever.
“It was a silly script we wrote in 14 days. I got my mates together and we had $11.55 cents to make the film on, a costume budget of $3000 which went on to win a Oscar against a film that had a costume budget of $19m. It was a perfect moment in time. We just set out to have a good time,” says Elliott.
“That magic made its way onto film. I’ve never had that opportunity again and I’ve now realised I never will.
“A few years ago I thought ‘Is this ever going to go away?’ and I’ve now realised ‘No, it isn’t.’ Embrace it and start having fun with it again and that’s exactly what I’m doing now.”
It’s just as well Elliott was there to protect his baby from what could have been. He concedes I Will Survive very nearly didn’t have any drag in it at all.
“In the lead-up to the show there were some very funny conversations, including ‘Let’s not do drag at all, it will scare everybody off!” he laughs.
“I took a deep breath and said ‘Don’t worry, we get out there, we put the dresses on just once and watch the reaction.’
“And sure enough word spread around on the bush telegraph. In our second town we had 500-600 people turning up with sometimes entire families dressed in drag.
“It’s not threatening, it’s not sexual, it’s funny. The second everyone realised it was funny they relaxed.”
So is there room for sexual politics in a PG rated TV show? Elliott says the original movie was never about sexual politics, and audiences at the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Film Festival were divided over his ignoring HIV issues and male kisses. He wanted a movie that would cross over, pardon the pun.
“If you throw it down people’s throats it can become very confronting. If you’re clever about it, the message gets through,” he says.
“We touch on marriage equality and all sorts of issues but not by shoving it down people’s throats. It just gets talked about and I think that’s a much better way of getting things across.”
Hosted by Hugh Sheridan, the TEN series sees 14 men trying to become “triple threat” singer / dancer / actors, trained in the role of ‘Tick’ originally played by Hugo Weaving. Mentoring them are Magda Szubanski, Rachael Taylor, Kelly Rowland, Toni Colette, Rachel Griffiths and Asher Keddie with Jason Donovan also judging.
The winner lands $250,000 and a chance to showcase their talents on Broadway. Originally the prize included a performance as Tick with the Broadway cast, but the show has closed before the production was able to finish shooting. It is still playing in Brazil and a US national tour gets underway next year.
At the time of our interview Elliott still hadn’t seen the finished product.
“The honest truth is ‘Will we survive the edit?’ At the end of the day that’s really what it boils down to,” he says.
“It’s all there but it’s a question of how bold TEN want to be with the edit. And at that point that’s pretty much when all of us get cut out.
“Trust me if I see the first cut and I don’t like it, I’m goin’ in swingin’.
“My gut tells me that they know what’s there. But at the end of the day there’s a lot of money at stake so who knows with these things?”
I Will Survive airs 7:30pm Tuesday and Wednesday on TEN.