Stephan Elliott: The New Adventures of Old Coward

Out filmmaker Stephan Elliott of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert fame returns with a revamp of Noël Coward's Easy Virtue.

BY Brandon Voss

May 20 2009 12:00 AM ET

Did Jessica's boyfriend, Justin Timberlake, really fume over her love scenes when he'd visit the set?
That's all fabricated. Justin did come on set a couple of times, the poor little mite, with a horde of helicopters and paparazzi chasing him. Sometimes it gets a little hairy on set when you're trying to shoot a 1924 comedy and there's a seven-foot telescopic lens creeping up.

They portray rivals, but word has it that there was some tension between Jessica and Kristin Scott Thomas during filming.
Oh, I encouraged it. We had no rehearsal time, so there were very brief introductions and we had to start shooting immediately. They didn't know each other, and they were a bit frosty. They were really smart about it: They were very respectful of each other, but they deliberately went their separate ways in the evenings and didn't become friends. It was a good thing for the film.

I hear that you directed Kristin to play her character, Mrs. Whittaker, like a Disney witch. Did you have the gay audience in mind when bringing this delicious villainess to life?
I can't say I do anything specifically for the gay audience, but my camp side does come out every now and then — big surprise! With anything I do, there will always be a gay sensibility. Kristin was uncomfortable at first with how far I made her go, and it was fun to watch. I just kept pushing and pushing her, and at one point she turned around and screamed, "I'll never work again after this! I'm finished!" I said, "Honey, just give me another 20%, please." She screamed, "I can't get any bigger!" And I said, "You just did. Action!"

Priscilla made you a star in 1994 and certainly raised expectations for your career. Do you still feel pigeonholed as a gay director who can only make gay movies?
Totally. I built the big stiletto and I couldn't get from under its shadow. You don't know how difficult that is. All I ever get is "It's not Priscilla, it's not Priscilla," and that's another reason I pulled out of the industry. I just couldn't top it, couldn't deal with the weight of it anymore, and it was stopping me from growing. But Richard O'Brien, who wrote The Rocky Horror Show, gave me a slap across the face one day and said, "Steph, no matter how big their resumés, very few directors have a Priscilla. So stop hating it and start looking at it as a gift." That really resonated with me. Then the accident pushed me further, and that's when I agreed to co-write the book for the Priscilla stage musical.

A huge hit in Australia, Priscilla Queen of the Desert — the Musical recently opened on London's West End. Are audiences reacting the way you'd expected?
The film did really good business when it first came out, but its DVD life gets bigger every year. There's a big difference between seeing a movie like Priscilla at home and physically going out and paying one of the most expensive ticket prices in town to see a gay show. I didn't think it was ever going to work, but I could not be more thrilled to have been wrong, because it's going through the fucking roof. It's totally and utterly infectious, and there's nothing more fabulous than watching the audience's reaction. We've had people up dancing within the first five minutes. It's like being in mosh pit at a concert. So once they're through the door, people absolutely love it.

Is America ready for the return of Priscilla?
Oh, yeah, we're on a roll now. A lot of producers and investors are flying in to see it now, and they're loving it. We're going to Toronto with it next, and we'll bring it to Broadway when the timing's right.

Tags: Film

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