By Diane Anderson-Minshall
Originally published on Advocate.com July 22 2011 2:05 PM ET
Anyone who fell in love with actress Skyler Cooper watching her on that seminal 2003 documentary about African-American lesbians, Butch Mystique, is bound to be surprised by her turn on this week’s episode of RuPaul’s Drag U. The Logo series, in which alums of RuPaul’s Drag Race do dragtastic makeovers of what the diva calls “biological women,” started off season 2 with a virgin theme but all eyes are episode 2, “Lesbians Gone Wild.”
Cooper, who starred in the TV series Don’t Go as well as two of last year’s critically acclaimed lesbian films — The Owls and Elena Undone — was joined by two other butchy gals, comic Julie Goldman and AJ from the Beaver Bunch as they endured bioqueen makeovers. The guest judge was none other than Glee’s Dot Jones (who plays fan favorite Coach Beiste).
“It was a slow process transforming us to our alter egos,” Cooper says about letting the show’s drag queens transform the masculine women into the feminine ideal. “So it is much like you see on TV. You work in one area then you move onto the next.”
The lesbian actress, who straddles gender lines and often plays male
roles (her role in Othello brought her early fame, and casting in B-Boy
Blues won her plenty of gay male fans), says something scared her right
“I’m sure you’ve seen the lab,” she laughs of the Drag U set.
“Well, all that pink made me a little nervous and intimidated. The only
thing I own that is pink is my tongue. When I walked through the door, I
really had no idea what the producers and drag professors would do with
Cooper says she did Drag U because “I wanted to see what
the feminine ‘character’ of Skyler Cooper could look like. I know she
lives in me, and I was willing to pay the price in order to see it. I
wanted to see visually, if she were put on stage or in a film, what she
would look like. I think that bill’s been paid. I was stunned!”
So was her drag mentor, the queen she calls “Gorgeous Ongina.”
“I was so happy to have Ongina — I love her style,” Cooper gushes. “All the ‘lady boys,’ as they call themselves, were gorgeous. I love Ongina shows. Besides, I don’t think I would have been able to press Raven. Um, she’s really tall.”
RuPaul had an impact too. “Seeing RuPaul for the first time was surreal,” Cooper admits. “He is a beautiful man/woman in person as well. Everyone on set was fabulous and supportive for my episode. It felt very brotherly and sisterly on set, with a twist.”
The actress stars in a new short film, Frederica, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, as well as Hooters, a documentary about the making of The Owls.
Cooper is currently in Los Angeles shooting a film called Halloween Party, and she’s fast at work on her new screenplay (her first behind-the-scenes job on a movie). She says Drag U did give her some takeaways.
“It validated what I felt all along: that whether you like the masculine or the feminine Skyler outer appearance, I am the same person on the inside,” she says. “I was always willing to bring out the more feminine side of myself as an actor for a part, but not for real life, as I did not really grow up using that side of myself. I will say this: When I looked in the mirror I did see someone different but yet the same. It's like the masculine Skyler took a backseat, but I knew she was there.”
A personal trainer in what little spare time she has, Cooper has been a body builder for nearly two decades. She says she identifies “as having two spirits in one body. So when I inhabit something that is completely opposite of the other I can really feel the shift. Internally, I straddle the line of masculine and feminine for most if not all of my life. But I’ve got to say feminine sex appeal is really powerful. I now see why for some women it can be intoxicating to know you don’t have to lift a finger to control someone.”