Actor Barry Bostwick’s 45-year career has spanned theatre, film and television. He was the first to play T-Bird Danny Zuko in Broadway’s Grease and earned a Tony Award nomination in the process. He next starred on the big screen in the 1975 cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show as Brad Majors, a naïve young man who with his fiancée Janet (an early performance by Susan Sarandon) crosses paths with a transsexual Transylvanian played by Tim Curry. Hundreds of movies and roles later, Bostwick is still going strong with recurring roles on TV’s Scandal, Cougar Town and Research.
He also steals the show in the delightful short film Dragula, which will premiere at this month’s Newport Beach Film Festival. As the title character, Bostwick appears in full drag, sings, dances and serves as mentor to an insecure teenager, Charlie (cute newcomer August Roads), struggling to find himself. Other big-name cast members are Cheyenne Jackson, Missi Pyle and Carmen Electra. The 69-year old Bostwick, a native of northern California, recently spoke with me from an appearance he was making on the east coast.
CC: Thanks so much for your time. Where are you now?
BB: I’m in Charlotte, North Carolina at the Mad Monster Convention with other cast members from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s coming up on its 40th anniversary so they flew me here along with Little Nell (Columbia in the film) from Australia and Patricia Quinn (Magenta) from England. It’s been great.
CC: How did you get involved with Dragula?
BB: (Producer and choreographer) Adam Shankman called me. I had done the Rocky Horror episode of Glee with him. I had fun with that and he thought of me for this. Adam is so talented, lively and fun to be around. (Dragula) is probably the last time anyone will want to see me in drag (laughter). It’s also the last time I will wear high heels. We couldn’t find a pair that fit me right, not even in the hooker shops on Hollywood Boulevard. Did my song (in the film) come out good?
CC: It’s great! You still have a great voice and you’ve still got legs.
BB: (Laughs) Well, thank you.
CC: Who is Dragula, exactly?
BB: He’s a guy who has been (performing in drag) his whole life and is still enthusiastic about his work but has kind of settled. He’s a very positive role model that I wanted to play. That’s really why I got involved. And I like that there’s no sexual tension between the kid and I. It’s much more universal, a bigger picture.
CC: How long did it take to make you up and shoot your part?
BB: I think I was only there two days and the makeup took the first 2 ½ hours. The makeup guy worked on the RuPaul show so he really knew his stuff. The wig I wore was huge! The costume was thrown together the night before, but by people who know how to throw things together.
CC: You have had a long and storied career. What do you consider some of the highlights so far?
BB: The original Danny Zuko in Grease was the first big hit I was in. It was really the first reflection of the time period (the 1950’s) and became the longest-running show on Broadway at the time. Probably Rocky Horror. It was groundbreaking in its gender-bending. The George Washington miniseries (1984), which confused people who only knew me as Brad Majors. And playing the mayor of Spin City for six years (1996-2002) and working with Michael (J. Fox) and Charlie (Sheen).
CC: Movie-going gay men of my age may have first noticed you in 1982’s Megaforce. Any thoughts you’d like to share about that?
BB: Because of that costume? (Laughter) It was gold lame’ or something. It’s funny, people at this convention come up to me either because of Rocky Horror or Megaforce. There’s even a big poster of Megaforce behind me. It was a long, big, jokey movie and I loved doing it. I wore a headband because (director) Hal Needham’s wife saw me in The Pirates of Penzance at the Ahmanson and I wore a headband that I tossed into the audience each night. She recommended me for the part of Ace Hunter.
CC: How do you feel about the Rocky Horror phenomenon nearly 40 years after the film premiered?
BB: I have such love for that movie, the people involved with it and the fans. I love the multi-generational aspect of it. Ten-year old kids come up to me and say “I just watched (Rocky Horror)” and I think, “My god, it’s on its third generation now!” I’m very proud of that movie and what it’s done in the gay community. It’s been life-saving in many aspects. (Bostwick contributed an interview to a new documentary, Rocky Horror Saved My Life, which will be released later this year.) Fans of the movie are so appreciative, so generous and so brave.
CC: That’s wonderful. Anything else you would like to share with our readers?
BB: Let’s see. I have a film coming out this summer, The Scorpion King: The Lost Throne. I hope to keep working because it gets me out of the house for a few hours each day. I love my life and my avocation in life is as a potter. I have a studio at home and make these little Buddhas you can buy in Malibu and Topanga Canyon. It’s my little escape from Hollywood.
The 2014 Newport Beach Film Festival, celebrating “15 Years Under the Influence,” will run April 24th-May 1st. Full details and ticket sales can be found online here. In addition to Dragula, a number of LGBT-themed short films will be screened:
- Gaysian. An attractive, young, single gay man in Toronto encounters discrimination as a result of his Asian heritage.
- Next Door Letters. Inspired by a true story, in which a prank two girls play on a friend proves a critical turning point in one of their lives.
- Out. In less than 20 minutes, a down-on-his-luck everyman faces the prospect of losing his mother, his home and his closest personal secret.
- Spooners. While shopping for a new mattress for himself and his husband, a man is forced to come out in a spectacular way at their local mattress showroom.
- Alfredo’s Fire. A writer ignites troubling questions about the clash between faith and sexuality when he sets himself on fire in St. Peter’s Square.
- A Last Farewell. In the wake of his husband’s death, an aging author must renew ties with his estranged daughter in order to find peace and move on.
- Performing Girl. An autobiographical exploration of the life of queer, transgender, Sri Lankan-American actor-writer-director-comic D’lo Sri. That’s a lot of hyphens!
Interview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.