Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994 Production Notes) 3,699 views
THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT is the story of three drag queens who leave Sydney and travel halfway across Australia to put on a show at a resort. Along the way their bus breaks down and they find themselves performing in unlikely places where the reactions range from hilarious to hostile to incredulous to accepting.
The idea for the film occurred to writer/director Stephan Elliott when he was walking along Oxford Street, Sydney's "gay strip," just after the annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. The wind was blowing a plume of feathers along the abandoned street, and to Elliott it looked like tumbleweed in an old western. His mind began to race with thoughts of how members of the tightly knit gay and transvestite community would cope in a largely alien environment.
"The basic comic premise is: three people, who may as well be martians, in the middle of this enormous country," says producer Al Clark.
And for Elliott it was an opportunity to revive a grand old film tradition. "The film was a great excuse to bring back the Hollywood musical. Today, drag queens are emblematic of all the style, the glitz, the glamour and the pain of those extravaganzas," says Elliott.
The combination of performance and glamour, underlined with real humanity, brings an entirely new dimension to the art of performance drag in THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT. "What this film does for the drag scene is what Sean Connery did for the secret service," says producer Michael Hamlyn. "It glamorizes it."
"It's more than dressing up in women's clothes or strict female impersonation," says Lizzy Gardiner, one of the film's wardrobe designers. "It's theater. Drag is our version of Kabuki."
And that no-holds-barred commitment brought an additional layer of excitement to the film. For the actors, drag was more than costuming. It became a liberating means of inner expression.
"It was such a release," recalls Hugo Weaving (Tick/Mitzi). "I realized that everyone has their own drag inside them and I wanted to get out there and find mine. It is such a liberating, therapeutic experience - and such fun."
"In life, I think the reason you act in a particular way is because of the way you see yourself," says Guy Pearce (Adam/Felicia). "When you see yourself looking totally different, it actually releases another side of you. I loved it."
Practically speaking, however, not everyone was as enthusiastic about the rigors of drag. "Playing Bernadette gave me an insight into what women put up with every day," says Terence Stamp (Bemadette), whose casting Elliott described as using "one of the most beautiful men in the world and transforming him into an attractive older woman."
"I wouldn't recommend the bras, the high heels, the make-up, the heavy earrings or trying to put on stockings with false nails," says Stamp in total deadpan. He has no intention of repeating the experience.
THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT was shot in 40 days in various locations in and around Sydney, Broken Hill, Coober Pedy, Kings Canyon and Alice Springs. In all, the cast and crew travelled 3,334 kilometers from the metropolitan heart of Sydney to the stark but beautiful desert of central Australia.
The production often took on the guise of a road-train forging its way through the outback, camping out in remote and primitive areas with communication virtually cut off except by radio.
There was a reason for such verisimilitude. "To make the film appropriately epic," says Al Clark, "we had to make the same journey that the characters do in the film. There was no sense of belonging, so instead there had to be a sense of mission."
The locations were chosen precisely for their remoteness, providing realistic problems for the cast and crew who had to contend with the dust, the heat and primitive road conditions which wreaked havoc on the equipment, wardrobe and make-up.
"Once we left Coober Pedy, that was it," says director of photography Brian Breheny. "We had to make sure that we had enough stock and stand-by equipment to last us until we got to Alice Springs."
The intense heat and rough conditions were ruinous to many of the 38 individual drag outfits that were designed for the film, including extravagant head-dresses and wigs. This kept the wardrobe and make-up departments in a constant state of fixing and patching up. Then, in the midst of the wilds, the production's stock of condoms disappeared, causing unforeseen problems in giving the three central characters convincing bosoms. (The condoms were blown up and allowed to settle for a day to give them a realistic pendulousness).
Freak weather conditions also plagued the production. "We had the annual rainfall of Coober Pedy in just one week and three years worth of rain in one day at Kings Canyon," says Michael Hamlyn.
As a result, Priscilla and other vehicles had to be dug out of thigh-high mud. Roads became impassible and the production was cut off for two days, requiring adjustments in the shooting schedule.
But Elliott took it all in stride. "I work better under pressure. I was exhausted by the end of the shoot, but the worse it got, the more challenging it became for me."
Neither rain, nor sleet, nor mud deterred Priscilla from reaching her destination intact. "The shoot had the energy of a rock-video," says Breheny. "Everyone was up. The music was pumping, the costumes outrageous, and the situations bizarre."
Says Stamp: "Stephan included a special fun clause in the contract negotiations, which he absolutely fulfilled. It was an incredibly fun film, with an extraordinarily talented group of people."
"This film felt as though it slotted into a dimension which had been prepared in advance. To complete the last shot of the film and turn around and see the full moon in Scorpio that had just risen - it was the perfect end to the movie."
By the end of shooting the ebullience level was so high that each and every male crew member donned drag and posed for the cast and crew shot.
A true photo finish.
"One of the most beautiful men in the world was transformed into an attractive older woman!", says Stephan Elliott in talking about his casting of Terence Stamp as the transsexual, Bernadette, the only pom in the cast.
Stamp has worked with some of the greatest directors in the world, including Peter Ustinov, William Wyler, Joseph Losey, Federico Fellini, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Peter Brook.
Some of Stamp's more recent films include "The Hit" (Stephen Frears), "Wall Street" (Oliver Stone), "The Sicilian" (Michael Cimino) and "Young Guns" (Graham Baker). He also starred in "Superman" and "Superman II" and has recently appeared with Kim Basinger in "The Real McCoy." He has worked with one of Spain's leading directors, Pilar Miro, playing the lead role in her film "Beltenepros - Prince Of Shadows."
Stamp is also the best-selling author of the 1993 novel "The Night," and three volumes of his autobiography ("Stamp Album," "Coming Attractions" and "Double Feature"), and he is about to launch the "Stamp Collection," a line of health snacks.
He says his role as the transsexual Bernadette in THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT was his most challenging and illuminating to date. "Normally when I am playing a role I respond in an intellectual way, but in playing Bernadette my responses were almost completely emotional."
Stamp does not, however, miss wearing a frock. "Women's apparel," he says, "has to do with being uncomfortable, and playing Bernadette gave me an insight into what women put up with every day. I wouldn't recommend the bras, the high heels, the make-up, the heavy earrings, or trying to put on stockings with false nails."
His cryptic reply to whether he would ever attempt drag again: "Within the confines of movie-making, I try not to step in the same river twice!"
"Because we had been building up to it for awhile, when I first put on the frock, high heels and full make-up I felt fantastic," says Hugo Weaving, who stars as Drag Queen Mitzi in THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT. "It was such a release. I realized that everyone had their own drag inside them, and I wanted to get out there and find mine."
Weaving was highly praised internationally for his starring role as a blind photographer in Jocelyn Moorhouse's film "Proof." "Proof caused an enormous stir in 1991 at the Cannes Film Festival, and Weaving won Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role from the 1991 Australian Film Awards. He took to his role as Mitzi with great enthusiasm. "I really enjoyed walking down the street in drag. I practiced the art of walking in heels for a couple of weeks before shooting started. I wandered around the house, doing the cooking and things like that -just to get used to them."
THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT is the second time Hugo Weaving has worked with director Stephan Elliott (they first met in 1986 when Weaving was acting in "The Right Hand Man" and Elliott was the production's tea boy!). Weaving starred in "Frauds," Elliott's first film as a director, with Phil Collins and Josephine Byrnes which was In Competition at the Cannes Film Festival 1993 (only one of 10 Australian films selected In Competition at the Festival in the past 20 years).
Hugo Weaving is also well known to television audiences, particularly through "Lust - Seven Deadly Sins" directed by Ken Cameron, "The Bangkok Hilton" with Nicole Kidman and "Dirtwater Dynasty." His theatrical credits run the gamut of classical and modern stage works, from Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" and "Julius Caesar" to Christopher Hampton's "Les Liaisons Dangereuses."
Looking back on the film now, Weaving says, "Drag has opened another area for me. I would love to do it again. It is a liberating, therapeutic experience - and such fun."
The part of Felicia, is certainly a departure for Guy Pearce, the Australian heartthrob known for his roles as Mike in the highly-acclaimed international television series, "Neighbours," which he joined when he was only 17, and David in the equally popular TV series, "Home and Away." He is also well known from the 1993 television series, "The Man From Snowy River."
Pearce, an extremely versatile actor, has starred in three other films: "My Forgotten Man," in which he played Errol Flynn as a young man in his native Australia; the contemporary rock drama, "Heaven Tonight" directed by Pino Amenta, in which Pearce stared alongside John Waters as a young rock musician and in which he performed all his own music; and the psychological thriller, "Hunting."
Pearce's theatre credits include "Grease," "I Hate Hamlet" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
"Adam is a loud, over-the-top scene queen," he says about his role in THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT. "His outfits make a real statement. He is fashion conscious and totally focused on his image."
Pearce adds, "This film was such a liberating experience. In life, I think the reason why you act in a particular way is because of the way you see yourself. So when you see yourself looking totally different, it actually releases another side of you. I loved it."
Bill Hunter is one of Australia's best-loved actors, and he has received numerous awards for his work.
He won the Australian Film Institute Award for Best Actor for his performance in "Newsfront," directed by Phillip Noyce; the Penguin Award for Best Actor for his performance in the television feature "The Dismissal"; the Australian Film Institute Award for Best Actor in a Television Feature for his performance in "Police State," directed by Chris Noonan; and the Australian Film Institute Nomination for Best Performance by a Supporting Actor for his performance in Gillian Armstrong's "The Last Days Of Chez Nous."
Hunter has starred in Peter Weir's "Gallipoli," Phillip Noyce's "Heatwave," "The Hit," directed by Stephen Frears, "Ricky & Pete," directed by Nadia Tass, John Dingwall's "The Custodian," "Strictly Ballroom," directed by Baz Luhrmann and Paul J. Hogan's "Muriel's Wedding." His selected television credits include "1915," "Scales of Justice," "A Fortunate Life," "The Leaving of Liverpool," directed by Michael Jenkins, and "Stark," directed by Nadia Tass.
"Bob is vulnerable, perhaps gullible, but he is a good bloke and pretty footloose and fancy free." Hunter says now about his role. Terence Stamp, who as Bernadette becomes romantically involved with the character Bob, continues, "It wasn't hard to fall in love with Bill Hunter, because really I was already in love with him. He is a very endearing guy."
Bill Hunter says of THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT, "I think this movie has a lot to say about social attitudes and mores, about sexism and intolerance."
Stephan Elliott is a huge talent whose first film, "Frauds," was shown In Competition at the Cannes Film Festival 1993 and this, only his second film, was selected for a Special Midnight Screening for Cannes 1994.
It was his work as an assistant director that introduced him to Latent Image Productions, where he directed two shorts in three days - "Fast" and "The Agreement" -as his calling card.
Both of Elliott's feature films were subsequently produced by Latent Image: "Frauds" by Andrena Finlay and Stuart Quin and THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT by Al Clark and Michael Hamlyn. Rebel Penfold-Russell was the executive producer of both films.
"I wrote the film as a comedy," Elliott says about THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT. "It was simply to entertain. I chose to write a film where in the first half you laugh at the characters, and in the second you laugh with them."
Al Clark, producer of THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT with Michael Hamlyn, has dubbed the film "Florence of Arabia." He was intrigued by Stephan Elliott's concept for the film right from the start. "The basic comic premise of the movie is three people, who may as well be martians, standing in the middle of this enormous country - where, in fact, they are martians."
"After all," he continues, "you rarely come across anything original these days. At our level the film business is propelled by original ideas, and, with a budget like ours, all we had going for us initially was originality."
Al Clark has been involved with a great deal of originality through the years. He began his professional life in London as a journalist on "Time Out," London's definitive guide to England's capitol. For a number of years he was Head of Production for The Virgin Group's very active and innovative film division before leaving England in 1987 to become Head of Film Production and Development for Beyond International Group in Sydney. From 1990 to the present he has been an independent film producer in Sydney.
Clark's film credits are numerous. As a co-producer he was involved with "Nineteen Eighty-Four," directed by Michael Radford (1984) and "Aria," directed by ten well-known directors, including Robert Altman, Bruce Beresford, Jean-Luc Godard and Derek Jarman (1987). He was executive producer of "Secret Places," directed by Zelda Barron (1984), "Absolute Beginners," directed by Julien Temple (1985), "Captive," directed by Paul Mayersberg (1986), Ken Russell's "Gothic" (1986) and "The Crossing," directed by George Ogilvie (1990).
Al Clark is also founder and editor of five editions of "The Film Yearbook" annual from 1982-1986 and author of the book "Raymond Chandler in Hollywood," published in 1982.
"What this film has done for the drag scene is what Sean Connery did for the secret service. It has glamorized it," says producer Michael Hamlyn about THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT, which is the first film for his Specific Films production company, set up in partnership with PolyGram to produce comedy feature films. Hamlyn has six projects currently in development. He also heads Midnight Films Inc. in the United States.
Michael Hamlyn is well-known and much-awarded for his music video productions with Midnight Films, The Rolling Stones, U2, INXS, Bruce Springsteen, Midnight Oil, The Kinks and Sade. He was awarded MTV Viewers Video of the Year Award in 1987 for "U2 With or Without You." And in 1988 he received eight awards, including Video of the Year from MTV for "INXS Need You Tonite," and, in 1989, he received a Grammy Award for "U2 Where The Streets Have No Name." He also produced Phil Joanou's highly-praised "U2 Rattle And Hum" from U2's 1988 World Tour.
Also as a producer, Michael Hamlyn has been responsible for "The Secret Policeman's Other Ball" and "It's All True," both directed by Julien Temple, "The Magnificent One," directed by Sandy Johnson, Terry Winsor's "Party Party" and "White City," directed by Richard Lowenstein. He served as executive producer on "Private Investigations," directed by Nigel Dick.
Rebel Penfold-Russell, executive producer of THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT set up Latent Image Productions in 1982. Within the company, she has directed three shorts: "A Pocketful of Minties" (1988), "The Promise" (1990) and "The Resting Place" (1992). As a producer she was responsible for "Unfinished Business," directed by Bob Ellis, which received five Australian Film Institute Award nominations in 1986, including Best Film. This is the second film on which she has acted as executive producer, the first being Stephan Elliott's "Frauds."
In 1993 Rebel Penfold-Russell directed a children's series called "House of Fun." She is also well-known as an actor, notably for her appearances in the BBC Television Series "Shoestring," and the U.S. stage production of "Barnum."
BRIAN J. BREHENY
Director of Photography
"Brian is part artist, part artisan - and this film needed both," says THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT producer Al Clark. "He saw the landscape as strange and surreal, rather like the people travelling through it, dazzled and intimidated by their surroundings. He brought it to life and made it look both like Australia and the moon."
Brian Breheny graduated from Melbourne's Phillip Institute in Fine Art and went straight into film as a camera assistant and clapper loader, most notably for "The Man From Snowy River," directed by George Miller (1982), "Dead Calm" second unit directed by Dr. George Miller (1987) and "Minnamurra," directed by Ian Barry (1988). In 1988, he became camera operator for Steve Feke on "Keys of Freedom," and, in 1993, director of photography for "The Roly Poly Man," directed by Bill Young.
As camera assistant he also worked in television productions: "Lancaster Miller Affair," directed by Henri Safran (1985) and "Army Wives," directed by Denny Lawrence. He has also directed music videos, including "Bob the Kelpie" for ABC Records and commercials, including "Jeans West."
In describing THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT, Breheny says, "It is about putting an unnatural force into a natural environment. It is about people finding themselves, and it is about men in dresses."
"Drag is our version of Kabuki," says Lizzy Gardiner, costume designer with Tim Chappel on THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT. "It is the last question: What is there left to do other than dress men up in women's costumes?"
Gardiner is a well-known Australian costume designer in both feature films and television, but this was the most enjoyable work she has done to date. This can be seen in the absolutely fabulous concoctions that appear in the film. Director of photography Brian Breheny says, "The costumes were so vibrant and so good, my job was made easy for me. I was there to document that and make them work on screen."
Lizzy Gardiner's feature credits include wardrobe supervisor on "Jilted" (1987) and "Weekend With Kate" (1989), wardrobe designer on "Devils Hill" (1987) and wardrobe coordinator on "Kokoda Crescent" (1988). Gardiner was the costume designer on the television series "E Street" from 1989-1992 and has been involved with numerous commercials, including "Pepsi," "Hanes," etc. Her music video work includes "Melissa Radio-Freedom," "Euphoria" and "Endrenalin."
Tim Chappel is a leading drag costume designer and performer. He has been stage costume designer on various tours: "Hawaiian Dance Troop European Tour" (1988), "Krystle Kweens in Berlin" (1992) and "Teen Queens, Baby It's You" (1993), (tour and music video of the same name). He art directed Boys in Black's music video "More Than a Woman" in 1992, and was the assistant designer on the television series "E Street" in 1992.
"There are no limitations in drag," Tim says. "Lizzy and I went out of our way to be as original and as crazy as possible."
Make-Up & Hair Artists
"You are always told to pull back, but Stephan just kept saying 'more, more, more - go completely over the top.' So we did," says Cassie Hanlon, one of Australia's most experienced make-up artists.
Beginning as assistant make-up artist in features in 1984 on "Bliss," "Mad Max, Beyond Thunderdome" and "Burke & Wills" in 1985, she graduated to full make-up artist on "The Punisher" in 1988, adding hair/make-up artist by 1992 for "The Custodian" and hair/make-up artist for Ray Liotta for "Penal Colony" in 1993.
In television she has been hair/make-up artist on "Heroes" (1988), "Home & Away" (1989), assistant make-up artist for "Last Flight Out" (1989) and hair/make-up artist for "Heroes II The Return" in 1991.
Strykermeyer (known as Stryker) was the executive drag consultant on the film and is considered to be one of Australia's most talented Drag Artistes. "I am in awe of Stryker's talent," says Guy Pearce (Adam/Felicia). "I sat there and he created art on my face. It was like wearing a picture. He is a true genius."
Stryker has lived and breathed drag and androgyny for the past 12 years, Sydney and Perth being his main performing arenas. He was the founding member of The Scary Fairies Show, a ground-breaking drag act, which ran for four years at various venues around Australia, and he is a Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras performer and adviser.
Angela Conte began as make-up assistant in 1986 on features "Ground Zero" and "The Lighthorsemen." She was make-up artist on "Young Einstein" in 1987 and second make-up artist on "Deadly" and "Over the Hill" in 1990 and 1991; she has been make-up artist for Masayo Kato on three films: "Crime Broker" and "Jailbirds Run," both in 1992, and "Seventh Floor" in 1993. Conte was hair/make-up supervisor on the television series "Home and Away" in 1990.
Owen Paterson, production designer on THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT, explains, "There was a large crossover between wardrobe and the art department. The wardrobe is so spectacular, and in juxtaposition the art department was really quite straight. We provided the environmental element, with these bizarre characters travelling through."
Paterson has been nominated twice for his production design by the Australian Film Institute: in 1984 for Best Achievement in Production Design for "Bliss" and in 1987 for Best Achievement in Production Design for "The Place at the Coast." He was also production designer on the film "Travelling North" in 1986.
In television, his credits include production designer on "Riddle of the Stinson" (1987), "Shout, The Story of Johnny O'Keefe" (1985) and art director/designer on "Bellamy" (1980-1981) and "Falcon Island" (1979).
"Instructions for Preparing Terence Stamp's Boobs" as directed by Lizzy Gardiner (Costume Designer) and Cassie Hanlon (Make-up Artist)
6 Party Balloons in White
6 Bulldog Clips
- Fill all 6 balloons full of water. Fill so they are stretched, then put a bulldog clip over the top and leave in a kitchen or bathroom overnight. They will probably leak a little.
- Next day, empty balloons until they are small and saggy and fit easily into the palm of your hand. Tie a knot in the top of the balloon (still with water inside). They should have a strange texture, not unlike an old lady's boobs.
- Terence will choose which balloons are the best and will fit them in his bra.
- Terence's Bra: Ideally you need either an 18B or 16B bra (18 is better, but it is difficult to find a B Cup Bra) with long shoulder straps. Let the straps down as far as they will go, otherwise the breasts will be too high like the spring chickens! Try to get a bra without any seams over the breast area.
- Good luck. No one is to hug Mr. Stamp when he has his bra on as it will burst. This is highly amusing, but not the look you're after.