Fans first met Juanita, Brother Boy, Latrelle, Sissy, and the gang in Del Shores’ play-turned-movie Sordid Lives in 2001. Since then, the cult favorite has spawned a short-lived TV series (Sordid Lives: The Series) and now, 17 years later, a movie sequel in A Very Sordid Wedding.
The limited-release film is set in the small town of Winters, Texas in 2015, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling, and deals with the ensuing responses to the decision from various members of the community. EW caught up with writer-director Shores to discuss returning to his Sordid world, and whether gay representation in pop culture has really gotten better.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Since Sordid Lives, you also made a TV show with these characters. What made you want to return again?
SHORES: I love these characters, and people wanted to know where they ended up, with what was going on with the LGBTQ community and our progress that was being made, yet so much hatred is being spewed from pulpits and politicians’ podiums. Advancing it all the way to 2015, just made so much sense. and I was able to return to my characters and see how they have evolved or how they haven’t, given the circumstances of their lives and the circumstances of what’s going on in the country.
You touch on real issues in the movie. Were you afraid of losing the Sordid tone?
Oddly enough I’ve never been worried about the tone as long I stay true to the characters. When I wrote Southern Baptist Sissies that was the first time that I really ventured out into pure drama with themes where there was not one laugh sometimes. But I’ve always gravitated organically to blending tones and usually get good reviews about that. That’s what life is about.
The series has such a following, were you thinking of just giving fans what they want? Or were you focused on what you wanted for the characters?
I do know my fans and characters and what they expect. Let’s take the character of Brother Boy. You can’t have Leslie Jordan not perform Tammy Wynette. I added Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton and just had such a blast. I knew the fans would love that. So it’s a combo in writing. I immerse myself into this world. I literally re-write for every single character so that I can get inside their head and kind of breath them throughout the script.
You jumped so many mediums with Sordid — was there anyone or any series you looked at as a model for how to do this?
As a kid I was always inspired by the comedy of Carol Burnett. I loved Dick Clair and Jenna McMahon’s Mama’s Family. I like that tone but in that, but I didn’t have to go to that well. All I had to do was go to my mother’s family. I often say I’m really not a writer, I’m just a thief. I would literally go back in my head to the town I grew up in and then returned to every single summer. I just became an observer of behavior and dialogue. I had that ability to remember verbatim things that they said. That was truly my inspiration.
Do you think you would return to Sordid down the line?
Never say never. I did feel like in telling this story that it was the last chapter for Sordid Lives and for the Sordid characters. We lost the amazing Sarah Hunley after we shot. And Rue McClanahan. My actors, they’re getting up there… I guess I could always do Sordid Lives the early days. They were asking this question at a Q&A. But I think it’s the end. I do. We need to move on to some other stories.
Gay rights have really progressed since the original film and Queer as Folk, which you wrote for. Is representation better?
I think so. We don’t really have that show anymore. Queer as Folk is gay gay gay gay gay. But you and I could sit here and probably list 15 shows with gay characters — and very good gay characters. I love that, that we don’t have to have our own show. At the same time, my movie’s the only one so far that has really captured what happened after that Supreme Court decision. Because I saw what happens when equality comes roaring into these rural areas, where these religious bigots are still fighting and screaming even louder because we now have laws that protect us.
Where would you fit Sordid in terms of gay representation?
Sordid is rather unique. That’s why so many gay fans are comfortable to share Sordid Lives with their families. It’s not really a gay story. It’s just much more a family story that happens to have gay members, which most people do. When the original movie came out, it was never my intention to have people come out to their families by showing Sordid Lives to them, which I always thought was a little bit odd. [But] they saw people in that. Suddenly it gave them the bravery to come out… I can’t think of any other show. I guess Modern Family in a way if you have to. There you have family members happen to be gay and the show is not really gay. That could be a possibility.
Having worked in television and film, do you feel like one medium is more progressive than the other in terms of representation?
That is a really great question. We’ve seen it in both mediums, but I do feel like TV paved the way. I really feel that Queer as Folk preceded it all. You suddenly had gay characters who weren’t just the clown. They were actually people with relationships, with children, with problems, who actually have sex.
What makes a film or show something that culturally moves the bar?
If you don’t care about [the characters] you’re not gonna think about it the next day. With Sordid, that’s why: People genuinely care.