Making its Texas premiere at the Playhouse San Antonio 0n Saturday, April 15, is A Very Sordid Wedding, Del Shores’ sequel to his original play, film and television series Sordid Lives. This new comedy continues the saga of the iconic Texas-based characters from the original play, film and television series.
Writer/director Shores and producer/costar Emerson Collins were kind enough to participate in an advance interview to talk with me via phone about the production, the casting and the statement they hope to make with the new film.
The topics you address are more timely than ever, considering the current political climate. How are audiences responding?
Del Shores: With several bursts of applause! Really, it’s been great. Palm Springs was off the hook for us, because we had not yet seen it with an audience. Someone asked me the other day what the best thing about creating is and I said, “Watching your creation with the audience for the first time.” That was really a special night, because you just go to that place of “Will it work?” and there’s that moment when you breathe a sigh of relief and realize that it’s working because audiences are loving it. It feels good that we tapped into what’s going on right now, and honestly it feels like we got a little bit lucky, even if we didn’t get so lucky with the climate.
It’s almost like you had second sight…
DS: (Laughs) Well, I would’ve preferred it not to be so timely, to tell the truth.
Emerson Collins: Del and I had a radio show that focused on LGBT news, and we did story after story about the legislation happening all around the country in response to the Supreme Court marriage equality decision, and Del had to rewrite the script because he’d started on it long before that passed. Sadly, we also sort of knew that there would still be those gasps from bigots in state legislatures.
That’s part of why we’re excited to launch this Texas tour in San Antonio, considering what’s been happening with SB6 in the state capitol and the LGBT community. This is our contribution to that conversation, from San Antonio to Dallas, to Waco, to Austin. With all that is happening politically, it feels like a way we can contribute through what we do.
How did you end up shooting in Winnipeg?
EC: We were looking for the best opportunity to treat our investors’ money correctly. We really wanted to shoot the whole thing in Texas, but sadly, the way the film incentives work there, it just didn’t work with the budget.
We considered Atlanta, where we’d filmed before, and then a friend of Del’s suggested a company in Winnipeg, Buffalo Gal Pictures. They put together the entire crew and it saved us a ton of money, which you see so much of onscreen. We still did shoot three-and-a-half days in Dallas. We really wanted to celebrate the community there as well.
DS: The way the Winnipeg thing started was with Caroline Rhea, who plays Noleta. She’s Canadian, and she called me one day and said, “Why aren’t we considering Canada? There’s a huge incentive there.” I worked for three years on Queer as Folk up in Toronto, so I called one of my very best friends, Michael MacLennon, who was one of the executive producers with me on that show, and asked him, “Where’s the best place to shoot?” He said, “You have to talk to Buffalo Gal Pictures in Winnipeg.” At first I said, “Winnipeg? Why not one of the glamorous cities?” But we actually fell in love with the place and the people there.
The results definitely do show on the screen.
DS: Didn’t it have great production values for what we made it for? Our DP, Paul Suderman, was so good.
EC: WE shot 32 actors in 15 days, so it was a whirlwind of an adventure.
DS: 32 actors, and a bunch of them were in their 70s and 80s. We had one actor, Carole Cook, in her 90s! She was 92 when she shot the film and she she just slayed. She made some of those 60-year-olds look bad, because she knew all her lines and was just on point at all times.
I was struck by how candy-colored and bright the film is. What was the decision behind the color palette?
DS: There are two thoughts behind it. I think comedy works brighter onscreen and onstage. Every time I do standup, I say, “I want comedy lighting.” I also wanted the scene in the church to look really beautiful while you’re listening to the hate. Like when you were a child, the hope of Heaven, you know, would be lit like this movie. But there’s this dichotomy in that scene that I thought would be really interesting.
EC: Also, the palette reflects these larger-than-life personalities that everyone who grew up in the South knows, so it keeps it all in that same spirit.
DS: And the challenge, too, when you’re filming in two completely different locations with two different crews, is for it to actually match. We were very fortunate that our DP from Buffalo Gal Pictures was able to come down and work alongside with us to make sure that it happened.
How did you get that cast together?
DS: It was a lot of work to coordinate everyone. Emerson Collins is the man when it comes to that. He watches the scheduling very closely and actually does the breakdown before the AD becomes involved. As far as the cast goes, most of them wanted to recreate their characters. Those that did not, it was fine. We’d replaced cast members before, and the replacements worked out fine. It worked out really, really nicely with the replacement of the character of Sissy with Dale Dickey. She’s been getting crazy reviews with this movie.
And of course the big miracle was Ms. Whoopi Goldberg, who doesn’t fly, so she was driven on a bus from New York to Winnipeg — 25 hours! She got off the bus, went into hair and make-up, got on the stage and we shot her out in five hours. She got back on the bus, went back to New York and was on The View Monday morning. We really have to give the president of her company, Tom Leonardis, credit for working with us and making it happen. So often actors say, “Oh, I really want to work with you,” and that’s what Whoopi, who’s a friend of Caroline Rhea, said to me. “I really want to do this movie.” But we never thought it would happen, with her extreme schedule and the fact that she doesn’t fly. Honestly, a lot of stars blow smoke up your ass. You say, “Here’s the offer. Will you do my little movie?” and they finally aren’t able to do it. But Whoopi and Tom did everything to make it happen rather than not make it happen.
EC: I can answer your question a lot more simply than he did. The answer is the writing. Del creates incredible characters that actors love to dive into. As a producer, you can say, “We’re doing a low-budget indie film. Can you find a hole in your schedule to do it?” When you can hand them a script with characters as rich as what he writes, they all want to make it happen. That’s how you get 32 people to work in the same two-week period. There’s a real attraction, particularly in the way he writes for women older than 40, that’s rich and nuanced and exciting. I mean, watch Bonnie Bedelia deliver that eight-minute sermon at the church.
You can tell in Whoopi’s performance that it was really important to her to play the role.
DS: I’m so glad you said that. We had the most lovely pre-shoot meeting on her bus, just me and Emerson and Whoopi. You know, no matter what you’ve done and who you’ve worked with, when you meet someone that iconic… I mean, she’s won every award available, but she’s so down-to-earth. She said, “I just want to deliver this message. I want to be part of what you do for the community.”
What makes these characters and their environment so memorable and lasting?
EC: Well, part of it is how specific these characters are. We hear from gay men continually that they had an Aunt LaVonda or wish they did, or how their mother went on a journey just like Latrelle had, or Aunt Sissy, that chain-smoking extended family member that everyone has. There’s something about the specificity of these characters that makes them universally appealing.
DS: I agree with Emerson. The letters and comments I’ve gotten from people over the years — even those who don’t live in Texas — can identify with the characters in Sordid Lives. And people love the comedy. I never write a line and think, “People are going to repeat it over and over,” but I’ll be in a restaurant and hear people quote me. I’m still kind of shocked about that, how many people know these lines. That original movie, embodied by all those amazing actors, just really touched a nerve.
And offbeat touches like the two nurses and the elderly patient going outside of the hospital to smoke…
DS: That’s one of my favorite shots in the film! When we shot that scene, the crew could barely contain themselves. They were like, “You are one twisted fuck.” I just love how that nurse, as part of her job, turns off the oxygen tank, and then lights the cigarettes.
EC: I don’t know if you noticed, but they’re right under a no smoking sign, too.
What about the background characters? You have some great faces. Are they Winnipeg and Dallas natives?
EC: The extras coordinator in Winnipeg had an absolute blast, and we were blown away, particularly at the wedding and at the bar, at how much their locals look just like the people we grew up with in Texas.
DS: They give you a book to look through. I really wanted the county clerk to look a lot like Kim Davis. I showed a picture, the costumer found the jumpsuit, they got the hair just right…a few people pick up on it. The extras were amazing and were there to have fun. We like to create a set that is friendly. We don’t separate extras from the other performers. We’re all one family when we’re working together. Everyone contributes.
What will fans of the original find to enjoy about the sequel? And what about newcomers?
EC: It’s twofold. We wanted to make something that long-term fans would appreciate, but also craft a story that can find new audiences. You don’t have to have seen the original to appreciate the characters in the new film, and I really think Del struck a great balance in the script with jokes that reference the original movie that fans will really enjoy but won’t impact the ability of new audiences to comprehend. It’s a little bit of both.
DS: I wanted to give some nods to the original, but I also wanted — without it feeling completely preachy — to deliver a message. I wanted it to be funny along the way, so the amazing performance by Dale Dickey as the sidekick in that church scene, for example, added to the comedy. And Emerson — I love that audiences are discovering what an amazing actor he is. We’ve seen him in Southern Baptist Sissies and other specific roles, but never anything like this. I wanted you to fall in love with a serial killer!
As far as the church scene goes, if someone who lives their life strictly by the scriptures, I don’t think their hearts will be necessarily moved by Latrelle’s speech, but I hope that some are. I’m not looking to change the world, but I would like to change a part of it.
A Very Sordid Wedding screens Saturday, April 15, at 7:00 p.m., at the Playhouse San Antonio, 800 W. Ashby Place. Admission for screening only is $10; screening including Q&A with Shores and Collins is $20. Tickets can be obtained online or by calling (210) 733-7258.