Bianca Del Rio is a big time winner. Back in her hometown of New Orleans she won Big Easy Entertainment Awards for Costume Design six times, and then went on to win Gay Entertainer of the year for 3 consecutive years before she left for the bright heady lights of New York where she delighted viewers and judges alike whilst winning the 6th Season of RuPaul’s Drag Race on Logo TV.
The multi-faceted Bianca (aka Roy Haylock) is fabulously funny and totally fierce with her unfettered and ferocious humour that she fires rapidly without ever seeming to stop to take a breath, or let her latest victim recover. Always kitted out in some stunning creation she has designed, and immaculately coiffured, with her big eyes exaggerated by her make-up, Bianca describes herself simply as a ‘clown in a dress’ but she is in fact so much more than that.
Over a cocktail or two Roger Walker-Dack catches up with Bianca Del Rio.
TGUK: How and why did you first make the transition from costume designing to performing?
BDR: It was a gradual evolution and it just kind of happened. I had been doing costume design for a very long time in New Orleans, my hometown, and I was actually doing the costumes and make up for a new play. It had six guys in drag, and they wanted someone else to play a small role that they hadn’t cast yet, and so I agreed to do it. I had always been an extrovert so the move into the spotlight just kind of worked out, and I very quickly discovered that I really loved it.
Then up until I did ‘Drag Race’ I continued to combine both, doing costumes by day and drag by night, which became my life for almost twenty years. It worked out well because both careers balanced each other out, as you never know if the Broadway Show who have been designing for will finish, or if the bar in which you’ve been performing will close. It was a very nice fusion for a very long time, however since I won the competition I have been so busy performing that the design part has had to go.
TGUK: Was it a deliberate choice not to lip sync, or sing or dance as Drag performers are expected to do?
BDR: At the beginning I did do all that but then over the years I just became the one who would ‘Host’ everything. I was the talking one. It wasn’t until I moved to NY (post Hurricane Katrina) and someone said ‘Oh you’re a comedian’ that I had even thought of it in those terms. I simply didn’t crave to dance or lip sync and even though I could put over a ballad, it’s just not my favourite thing to do. My performance became all about audience participation and talking to people and that worked out well as they always needed a host, and I just got the job by default.
TGUK: You were already an established performer with a big following in NY when you auditioned for RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 6. What motivated you to try out for this?
BDR: Originally I had wanted to quit drag by the time I was 40, which is this year. By then I would have been performing for 20 years, which I thought was long enough. However Drag Race is HUGE, and I knew quite a few people who had been in the business for some years who had already appeared on it. Even though they did not win, just the exposure on the show alone opened doors for them to get their music produced and their own shows mounted, and they all got a real boost to their careers with bigger and better bookings. And so I thought if this is the result, what would I have to lose, so why not try it?
It was my very first audition and I didn’t tell a soul I was going to do it, but something clicked and I was picked. It all happened very fast. It’s a rigorous process getting on to the show and then after that there is all the filming and all the things we were expected to do in between takes, and then even more time just having to wait for it to ‘air.’ It’s one big roller-coaster, but I kept thinking, even if I do not win I would gain a golden ticket that could lead on to other things, and who knew what else could come out of it?
TGUK: Asides from winning, is there one particular highlight that remains with you from the programme?
BDR: We filmed it a while ago and it happened so quickly. I was unaware of what I did and what I said, and what I didn’t do and what I didn’t say. None of it came to me until I actually watched the programme much later on. What you end up watching is a 14-hour-day of filming cut down to just 45 minutes of screen time. So it was interesting to re-watch it, as up until then it had just been this blur. A good one not a like a drunken blur (laughs). I didn’t realise though at all how impactful it would this be on me until after the fact.
TGUK: The NY Times called you the ‘Joan Rivers in drag’ and in my book, compliments don’t come much higher than that. When you appeared on her TV Show In Her Bed with Joan you were fearless and so funny and it looked like Joan had met her match. Tell us about that experience.
BDR: I had never heard about the show prior to being invited to go on it. I got a call from my manager who said do you want to do this? And I went “YES! I don’t know what it is, but YES!” I flew to LA as the show is shot in her daughter Melissa’s home, and the day we were filming Joan was doing three other episodes back to back. I love Joan immensely but I was very concerned as I didn’t want to seem to be just like a big clingy fan or at the other extreme, appear too disinterested or aloof. So before I went on I was debating with myself about how to act, what to say or should I bitch or not? However the moment I stepped into the room with her she was so welcoming, so gracious and immediately it just seemed like I was talking to an old friend of mine.
There are very few things that I get that excited about or even anxious, but I ADORED this woman. We were scheduled to shoot just 20 minutes, but we ended up with a glorious hour of us just cackling and laughing together. In my head I’m thinking this is unbelievable, as this is THE Joan Rivers and she is laughing at something I have said. It was just truly one of the biggest highlights of my life. It’s so sad that she is not here with us still.
TGUK: It strikes us watching that you were totally fearless appearing with this demi-god of comedy, were you?
BDR: For me it was just going ‘into the zone.’ There is nothing better than going to lunch with a bunch of friends and talking my head off, and so what I was saying to Joan was exactly what I would say to my friends. That’s how my brain works and that’s essentially how I approach doing my act too. Very few things scare me and in regards to what I do, it is a fearless thing. You take risks and sometimes it works well, and sometimes it doesn’t! (laughs)
TGUK: Do you ever self-censor or think you have ever gone to far when you are on stage and being ferocious? Are there any topics off-limits to you?
BDR: There is NOTHING off-limits to me; I just go for whatever I want. I mean, just consider the source. Here I am, a man in a wig in a bar at 1 am, so what the f**k can I say that can be so f**king offensive? Also everybody has something to say about everything. It’s not that people have more of an opinion nowadays, it’s just that now we hear more of it because of social media. Thank God I am at the age that I am where it doesn’t bother me at all. Friends call me and say “do you see what they wrote online about what you said”, and I reply “frankly I don’t give a s**t.” I simply cannot care what some faceless person who has never met me has to type about me.
TGUK: Despite being fierce on stage, you have a reputation for your loyalty, support and genuine admiration for other performers.
BDR: I think it is really very important. There have been some pretty amazing people who gave me advice and talked to me and helped me out. Now I want to be able to give back to others. You simply do not need to do any of this alone.
TGUK: You are known too as someone who has the same persona on and off the stage.
BDR: That is partly true. However when you put the wig on you can get away with murder. When I wear the wig they call me funny, but if I don’t wear the wig I’m just called a hateful fag!
TGUK: Are there other doors besides Joan River’s that have opened up for you since your win?
BDR: I’m now doing my own show The Roladex Of Hate that I am getting to travel the world with now. There is talk of me writing a book, which I am excited about. All of these doors have been there because this one TV show has opened them and it has changed my life. As I’m now 39 I’m able to sit back and really appreciate it a lot more than I would have before. I mean people don’t come to discover you in a bar, and now that I am out there being treated respectfully by so many people that are rooting for me, feels almost insane. The support I get from people, it’s quite nothing less than dazzling.
TGUK: How was your first experience of London when you performed there last year?
BDR: It was great. It was raining naturally. London is a lot like New York… so is San Francisco, but that is like New York on weed! (laughs). I loved London as it was beautiful and I was so very happy there. English people really appreciated me because they love dark humour. What I didn’t get though was the fact they do not like ice! They don’t put ice in any drink and that’s crazy. In a London bar I get this drink and there is no f**king ice, and I’m screaming “what am I going to do with that?” I need ice.
TGUK: And the men?
BDR: I LOVE that English accent.
TGUK: No more details? No stories of any romance?
BDR: Oh God no! I don’t get that close. I keep it simple! (Laughs)
TGUK: What are you looking forward too when you’re back here touring again this year?
BDR: I’ve been travelling since February of last year, and it’s been intense. At the beginning I didn’t have any chance to do much beyond work because of my manic schedule. Now that it will be my second and third time around I will be getting an extra day here and there in some of the cities which is really going to be nice. I want to see it ALL as I haven’t seen anything yet. I went to Buckingham Palace last time for one hot minute but she didn’t answer obviously, but at least I got to visit.
TGUK: Tell me about your upcoming movie.
BDR: We are planning to shoot HURRICANE BIANCA in July, which I am very excited about. In parts of the US you can still be legally fired from your job just for being gay. I play a schoolteacher from New York who loses his job in a small redneck town in Texas after he has been outed. In order to get revenge on the people who did him wrong, I return as Bianca Del Rio a new teacher at school to wreak havoc. It’s one person’s journey to find himself while pretending to be someone else. It’s a very serious subject, but it’s all done in a very funny and touching way.
It’s being made by my dear friend MATT KUGELMAN who wrote this for me and we have been wanting to do it for some time, but the really great thing is after Drag Race we were able to get funding for the movie to finally start. The only bad thing is that I’ll be wearing full drag when we are shooting in the fiercest of summer, but it will be great fun nevertheless.
TGUK: And what about THIS IS DRAG documentary that you made for OUT TV in Canada?
BDR: It’s so funny. I was in Toronto for World Pride with Adore Delano for a week packed full of performances and things that we had to do, and this crew asked if they could tag along and film us. We said “sure” thinking we would just be a part of a programme, but then when the ‘trailer’ was released we discovered that it was just about us. So I have no idea what this documentary is going to be about (roaring with laughter) because it was all a blur when we were there as we were working so much. When I texted Adore and asked her “do you remember doing this?” she replied “not at all”. So I said “good, I’m not the only one”! It was a relief. It had been one really long hectic week so I’m interested in seeing this myself. Actually Toronto is also where Adore and I filmed the advert for Starbucks.
TGUK: We told THEGAYUK readers that we were going to meet with you and asked them if there was anything they would like us to ask you, and we chose just two from the pile that was submitted. The first one is, who would play you in a movie?
BDR: Can’t I do it? Really? (laughs) I guess then we would have to go with Meryl Streep because she is in everything anyway. She would be the most convincing Bianca, and she is good in wigs!
TGUK: The second question was, do you have enough money to put your dogs through college?
BDR: (roaring with laughter) On Drag Race I used to say that I had only entered the competition to raise enough money to put my dogs through college because they are my children. So yes, the world had been very good to me, so I think they can even go to Harvard now.
TGUK: You have a ‘milestone’ birthday this June when you become 40, how do you plan to celebrate?
BDR: I am taking a whole week off for a vacation, and I’m going to Puerto Vallarta in Mexico. I have travelled all around the world now but I have never ever had a real vacation. I’m going to pack one tiny little piece of carry-on luggage with not a single wig in sight. You cannot believe how much s**t I usually have to travel with, so I cannot wait.
TGUK: And what’s the future for Bianca after this?
BDR: I can’t quit now, so world domination continue as I’m enjoying it more now than ever.
TGUK: One of the things that radiates from you both on and off the stage is how very happy you really are.
BDR: I’m not curing cancer, it’s just drag and it’s really not that serious. You’ve got to appreciate life and you’ve got to keep moving, and I love it all. When anyone doesn’t get that and tells me on any given day that I don’t look happy I just tell them. ‘You’d be as bitter as I am if you had your d*** in pantyhose too’.