By all accounts, the making of Hollywood’s first mainstream drag-queen movie — Universal’s To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar, starring Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes, and John Leguizamo — hasn’t been much of a coming-out party. Things started out on a high-camp note: When the actors arrived in New York City to shoot the opening scenes of the film, about three cross-country-trekking drag queens stranded in a small town, they seemed at ease parading around in ermine and satin. But by the time the production moved to Loma, Neb. (pop. 23), the logistics of making a movie in the middle of nowhere at the height of the summer in five-inch heels had kicked in, and Wong Foo soon fell behind schedule. ”We were definitely subject to a learning curve,” says Marvin Levy, a spokesman for Amblin Entertainment, the film’s production company. ”But we decided not to cut corners.”
Among the difficulties: swarms of flies that, according to one crew member, made ”the sugar bowl at the lunch table look like a plate of raisins,” and swarms of tourists, who flocked to Loma to watch Hollywood in action. But these were petty inconveniences compared with the Herculean task of transforming Swayze, Snipes, and Leguizamo into women. The first hurdle? Their clothes. Says costume designer Marlene Stewart, ”They don’t make gorgeous clothes in size 18.” As a result, the guys were custom-fit from top to bottom and subjected to corseting, pinching, and padding. ”(They quickly) learned the correlation between beauty and pain,” says Stewart. By October, Leguizamo admits, the dressing-up was getting ”a bit old.” The actor also started referring to his high heels as ”instruments of torture.” As for Swayze, says one set extra, ”he had to have a special corset because he’s so broad, and it takes forever to get that thing on.”
But clothes don’t make the (wo)man. You need makeup, too. And not just for the face, but also on arms, legs, necks, and chests to hide muscles and veins. This usually took the better part of every morning, and no one on the production anticipated that after lunch, the actors would have to shave and reapply their makeup because their beards were showing through.
The makeup was a factor in prolonging the shoot, Levy admits. But the most stress-filled aspect of the production might have been its race against director Beeban Kidron‘s prenatal clock. By the time production began in July, Kidron was five months pregnant, and the production delays posed the possibility that she’d deliver before the film wrapped. (Wong Foo was scheduled to finish shooting on Oct. 28, and at press time, the baby still hadn’t arrived.)
And speaking of nonarrivals, on Oct. 10, six reels of the film were lost in transit at Newark Airport. Five days later they were recovered by motorists on the New Jersey Turnpike, much to Universal’s relief.
Levy admits it’s all been a bit of a drag, though compared with doing postproduction on Jurassic Park via satellite (Steven Spielberg was in Poland directing Schindler’s List), he says, Wong Foo was ”easy.” In fact, the release of the film has been moved up to the spring.