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Doing Bette Davis Proud in Hush Up Sweet Charlotte

Doing Bette Davis Proud in Hush Up Sweet Charlotte


RuPaul’s Drag Race helped pave the way for Billy Clift’s drag send-up of the Bette Davis classic.

Photo: Mink Stole and Matthew Martin

Filmmaker Billy Clift and drag diva Matthew Martin have a thing for Bette Davis. After collaborating on Baby Jane? -- the hilarious 2010 drag spoof of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? -- they've reteamed for Hush Up Sweet Charlotte, a send-up of the 1964 Bette Davis thriller Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte.

Martin once again plays the title role created by Davis, starring opposite Jeffery Roberson (a.k.a. Varla Jean Merman), who plays the too-sweet cousin who arrives to help save the crumbling family manor -- a role created by Olivia de Havilland.

Funding and marketing a small independent film is no easy task, especially when the leading ladies are men. But Clift got lucky this time. "Thank God for Here TV (which is owned by the same company as The Advocate)," he says. "RuPaul's Drag Race proved that there's a good market for guys performing in drag."

Hush Up tips its hat to Drag Race with cameo appearances by past contestants Honey Mahogany and Raja, and the show's pit crew hunk Miles Davis Moody. Adding to the movie's underground film street cred is John Waters alum Mink Stole as the white-trash housekeeper Velma (a role that earned Agnes Moorehead an Oscar nod).

"It's definitely a send-up of the original film, but we don't play it as camp as we did in Baby Jane?" says Clift. "The actors play it more straight and I was able to take more liberties with the story than I did with Baby Jane? which is more precious to fans."


Photo: Jeffery Roberson (Varla Jean Merman)

"It's a fun ride, and the performances are off the charts," he says. "Varla Jean Merman is phenomenal, Mink Stole really studied Agnes Moorehead, who just went off in her own world in the film, and Matthew Martin is just brilliant. He might even be better in this than he was in Baby Jane? You really care about him, which is important."

Martin has been doing impersonations since he was a child, entertaining his large extended family with impressions of teachers and friends. And he's been impersonating Bette Davis since he was 10 years old.

"For as long as I can remember I've loved old films and movie stars," he said. "At age 10, I was compelled to put a tape recorder up to the TV when All About Eve was on so I could recite it."

His love of all things Bette Davis included performing in stage productions of Baby Jane? in 1992 and Hush Up Sweet Charlotte in 1994 and 2005 -- when he first starred opposite Roberson. "Nobody can tell me that destiny is not at work," he says. "There were many moments shooting scenes with Jeffery when it felt as if we'd just done it the night before onstage."

There's also an unspoken chemistry between the film's director and star. "Billy and I are very simpatico," says Martin. "We've never had to discuss our take on what we wanted with Baby Jane? or Hush Up. Billy just knows. We speak the same language. And I'm very grateful to him for all the behind-the-scenes legwork he's done to make it all happen."


Photo: Varla Jean Merman, David Millbern, Matthew Martin

Upcoming screenings of Hush Up Sweet Charlotte are:

The Palm Springs LBGTQ Film Festival at Camelot Theatres, Saturday, September 19 at 8 p.m.

Chicago LGBTQ International Film Festival at Landmark Theatre, Thursday, September 24 at 9:15 p.m.

Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival at the Three Dollar Bill Cinema, Friday, October 16 (time TBA).

San Francisco Red Carpet Premiere at the Castro Theatre, Wednesday, October 28 at 7:30 p.m.

Watch the trailer below.

HUSH UP SWEET CHARLOTTE - TRAILER from Billy Clift on Vimeo.

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