Drag-queen-movie-turned-cult-classic Hurricane Bianca is getting a much-anticipated sequel.
Premiering next month, Hurricane Bianca: From Russia With Hate is the gag-worthy follow up film casting major shade on Russia by using everyone’s favorite Russian hooker spy, Katya Zamolodchikova among other All-Star Queens.
In it’s first installment, Hurricane Bianca told the story of Richard (Bianca Del Rio), a teacher who is outed and ultimately fired. With the guidance of a drag mother, Richard reinvents himself as Bianca Del Rio and serves a small-minded Texas town a lesson or two on ethics.
Now, Bianca finds herself behind the iron curtain serving lewks and hate.
The sequel, which premieres on May 14TH at The Castro Theater in San Francisco, is poised to give critics something to talk about, as to our heart’s delight is a star-studded affair with many familiar faces – Rachel Dratch among them.
Writer Derek Hartley has jumped on board the Bianca boat (aka a full service cruise tanker ship) working in tandem with creator and director Matt Kugelman to tackle some hilarious – but all to real – issues plaguing Russia and its queens. Hartley gave us some insight on how the film came together, what it’s like writing for Bianca, and how using some humor and hate will shed some light on that shady country.
Drag Star Diva: So where did the idea of taking Bianca to Russia come from?
Derek Hartley: Matt Kugelman, who wrote and directed the first movie, came up with the idea. I am pretty sure he saw Katya on Drag Race and thought, “Katya and Bianca. Two great tastes that taste great together!” Also at the end of the first movie, Richard is revealed to be Bianca. This is the dilemma of the drag sequel. You need a place where Richard has a reason to become Bianca again and Russia with its anti-gay laws is as good a place as any.
DSD: How did your involvement with the second film come about?
DH: I’ve known Matt Kugelman for about a decade now. I like to say I saved his life the night we met. I was standing on line outside Bowery Bar on a Tuesday night with my friend Johnny Lazy, who ironically enough the character Rex (played by Doug Plaut) is loosely based on. Matt was behind us and standing on those flimsy metal trap doors you see in the sidewalks of Manhattan and I told him it was dangerous and he should stand with us. That’s how we met.
Maybe a year or two later, he was doing a surprise birthday tribute video for Bianca (their birthdays are a day apart in June) and he asked me to be in it and I also wrote some jokes for Michael Lucas and the doctor. And I should come clean and mention one of the jokes I gave to the doctor I blatantly stole from Jack Plotnick and Richard Day from Girls Will Be Girls. I never dreamed the video from Bianca’s local birthday party would end up on YouTube with thousands of views, so all apologies and credit where credit is due.
When Matt was writing the first Hurricane Bianca, I was trying my hand at writing a dead end TV pilot and as writers often do, we swapped work and gave each other notes. So he had some sense of me as a writer from those things. Then in October 2016, a couple of weeks after the premiere of the first Hurricane Bianca, he texted me and said, “I have an idea for a sequel and I want you to write it.” I asked what the idea was and he said, “Bianca goes to Russia and Katya is there.” And I immediately texted back, “I’m in!” I got what he wanted to do instantly.
DSD: How did it go working with Matt on the script?
DH: It was all so fast Matt had written a one page outline of the story and he sent it to me. I added some flesh to it and sent it back. We went back and forth by email like that for a couple of days until the outline was maybe 5-6 pages long. After that I just went home and started writing. I finished the first draft about six weeks later, two days before Christmas 2016. We made a few changes since then but honestly if you read his initial outline and then the first draft of the script and then watched the movie, you would see how similar they are. I mean, I put some meat on the bones but all the bones were there.
Audiences really responded to the heart the first movie had and the message, so incorporating that in the second movie was important to Matt. The first movie highlighted employment discrimination and in the second one we really wanted to talk about how LGBT people are treated in Putin’s Russia. Then the election happened and suddenly Russia was a much bigger deal politically. There are a slew of coincidences like that which came together in the process of making the movie that will make Matt look like a prescient genius and maybe he is! Mostly though, the movie will feel very timely not just for the Russia stuff but also in connecting with the Drag Race world.
I’ve seen so many horror stories of screenwriters who write a script and then see the finished product and don’t recognize it at all. When I watched the finished film, I couldn’t believe how much of what I wrote was on the screen and also how much everyone brought to it. The actors and the production team really elevated and expanded every word I wrote. If you like the movie it is because of them and Matt. And if you hate it, I have to take the blame. They really exceeded my expectations.
DSD: Hurricane Bianca managed to land some pretty big names to join the cast. Was it just as easy the second time around?
DH: Fortunately, I didn’t have to do any of that. A lot of people wanted to do the movie, but the biggest issue was juggling all of the various schedules. The drag stars are all touring, the celebrity actors work all the time. It really came down to who could commit to the time to do it. I have to hand it to the production team. They really worked a miracle in getting everyone together in a very short amount of time.
DSD: Was it difficult to write for Bianca, considering that she has such a well-defined brand of drag?
DH:Bianca in the first film is a different character than what people saw on TV. Matt worked on the first movie for six years and virtually all of that was before Drag Race. So movie Bianca is different in some ways than people who only know her from Drag Race would expect. In the sequel, we really wanted to strike a balance between the Bianca of the first movie and some of those expectations that came out of Drag Race. I think the idea with the sequel was to honor what people like about the first movie and also provide some fan service for those who love Drag Race.
For me, it was easy writing for Bianca. I think I identify more with Bianca personally and I am kind of a notorious hag IRL. So the insults come easy to me. Plus with my radio show I have experienced the kind of middling gay fame Bianca’s character gets in the movies. So I exorcise some of those demons in the script. I have known Bianca professionally for almost a decade and watch Drag Race. It gave me a good sense (I hope) of what the audience wants and expects.
Bianca was also easier to write for in the sense that I know Roy (Bianca Del Rio) and I know he can take a punch. Some of the roles weren’t cast so I couldn’t rely on jokes about someone’s looks, for instance, because we didn’t know what they would look like. And also you don’t want to write something that a star reads and thinks, “I don’t want to waste my afternoon having an actor hurl personal insults at me.” But as long as a line is funny, Roy can take it. When I watched the finished movie, I felt bad about how many nasty digs are directed at Richard. But they’re funny and Roy hasn’t blocked me on Facebook or anything so I think it’s all good. Most of the meanest stuff is directed toward Russia for reasons well known to them.
DSD: We are dying to know what it was like to write for the heavy-hitters like Rachel Dratch, Wanda Sykes and the rest of the all-star cast.
DH: I just really wanted to write funny things for them and especially for Dratch. I think Rachel Dratch is just a genius and it was wish fulfillment for me as a fan of hers to dress her up in outrageous outfits and put her in crazy situations. Matt and I met her for lunch before filming to go over the script and I was really open to whatever changes she wanted but she was down for it all. She suggested we add more up-to-the-minute Russia references because the story after the election kept evolving and as you can see in the teaser trailer we did. It was a great note.
Most of the other guest stars I didn’t write their roles with them specifically in mind, although I think we were all hoping Wanda Sykes would be in because we love her and she’s so funny. Janeane Garofalo came in sort of at the last minute and I can’t sing her praises enough. She made everything hilarious and I was on the set for part of her scenes and she was amazing in every single take. As a writer you just want to do the best work you can and then you turn it over to the director and production team and the actors and see where they take it. I really love what they did with it.
DSD: Who else will be making an appearance in the film?
DH: In the trailer you see Wanda Sykes, Janeane Garofalo, Dot-Marie Jones, Lecy Goranson and Heather McDonald plus the drag stars Shangela, Katya, Mrs. Kasha Davis, Darienne Lake. That’s a huge cast. Matthew Camp also has a small role which I am so happy about because before Drag Race he and Bianca worked together at various local gigs around New York so I thought that was a fun full circle for them. Cheyenne Jackson and Kristen Johnson play an hilarious Russian couple. They aren’t in the trailer but they are a hoot in their scenes.
There are a slew of other cameos and I really want to keep them as a surprise. My friend Mike says “No one is coming to see your drag queen movie for the shocking twists and turns” but still, there are a couple of cameos and moments in the movie that especially for Drag Race fans, they will need to collect their wigs from the rafters after the screening. There’s real power in a good wig under wig reveal, you know? Plus some people from the first movie not in the trailer also make appearances. I think everyone will be pleased with the various cameos whether they are diehard Drag Race fans or devoted to the first Hurricane Bianca. We strike a good balance I think.
DSD: In our humble opinion, a Russian drag film would be all wrong without Katya. How did her casting happen, and was it at all difficult?
DH: Matt Kugelman worked with the producers on all the casting. I didn’t have anything to do with that. But I will agree that doing a drag queen movie set in Russia without colluding with Katya would have been an international incident. I was on set a little when Katya was filming and she was her usual madcap self. I can’t get enough of her calling Bianca “bee-anchor.” It kills. Plus when she connected who I was with one of her favorite YouTube clips she literally collapsed on the floor. If you haven’t heard Lady Bunny and Bianca on my show together. Do it now! Katya told me she watches it practically every day.
Katya was very professional and so fun and Katya surprised all of us with what a natural she was in that fight scene. The producer Ash Christian thought after reading the first draft there should be more action in the movie, so Katya got a fight scene and so did Rachel and Roy. My two favorite parts of the movie are the fight scenes and the end credits. Stay through the end, people! It’s worth it!
DSD: Considering the popularity of the first film, was there any added pressure in writing a sequel?
DH: Honestly, I wrote the movie with only one fan in mind: Matt Kugelman. This is his movie. I watched him put together the first one and this project and his long friendship with Bianca mean a lot to him. I just wanted to write something he would be proud of. I think if you asked Bianca she would say the same thing. Matt is such a good person you just want to do your best work for him. I think if you spent a few minutes on the set you would see how everyone responds to him and to Bianca. They are both so talented and so professional. It makes everyone want to up their game and come to play.
That being said, I see the comments online. Some fans are very devoted to the first movie, watching it over and over again, especially on Netflix. I wanted to make sure that even as the sequel builds on the first movie and adds characters and new situations, that what people love about the first movie be part of the second movie. For me the chemistry between Bianca and Debbie (Rachel Dratch) is off the charts good so I wanted to put the two of them together, squaring off, as much as possible.
I think of From Russia With Hate like Aliens. The first Alien movie was a haunted house story and the second was more of an action picture, but they are clearly in the same universe. If you loved the first movie, you are going to see your love reflected back in the sequel.
There are also tons of easter eggs and deep cut references. You will want to own the movie on DVD so you can pause it and read things on the screen. There’s a lot packed in there. For instance, Debbie had sex with an underage student in the first movie and you see her arrested on TV in the sequel and I wrote the chyron at the bottom of the local newscast: She Gave An “A” To His “D.” I’m so proud of that line, I hope they include it in my NY Times obituary. But things like that go by in an instant, so get the movie on digital or DVD so you don’t miss anything.
DSD: A highlight of the first film was Alyssa Edward’s character Ambrosia Salad. We have to ask: Will Alyssa be reprising this role at all?
DH: I refuse to answer on the grounds that I might incriminate myself. But I love Alyssa and Ambrosia Salad. [You can’t blame a girl for trying.]
DSD: We only hope this is the start of a Bianca franchise. Are there any foreseen storylines that we have look forward to?
DH: Matt and I have definitely been kicking around some ideas for future movies. The will is there! The real issue is how popular and busy everyone is. Bianca is touring all the time and carving out a month in the middle of that to shoot a movie is a lot. Shangela is bigger than ever now. She was really generous with her time on this movie but she is also busy traveling the world getting paid! There is a reason you don’t see a lot of small budget drag queen sequels. Just corralling the cast is 95% of the work. But we have ideas and I think the trailer #1 trending on YouTube around the world says the audience wants more. And I hope Matt gets to work with the cinematographer Jih-E Peng again. Her work is beautiful and I hope you’ll see more of it in the future.
DSD: When and where does Hurricane Bianca: From Russia With Hate premiere?
DH: There will be a premiere at The Castro in San Francisco on May 14th and two showings in New York City on May 15th plus screenings in Atlanta, Columbus, Chicago, San Antonio, Austin, Seattle, Rochester and more. They keep rolling out cities where you’ll be able to see the movie. And I highly recommend you see the movie with an audience. I’ll be at the SF and NYC premieres and I can’t wait to hear the screams. Because there will be screaming.
DSD: Will the film be on a screening tour?
DH: Keep checking hurricanebianca.com for upcoming screenings and showtimes. But seriously, support Wolfe Video and independent LGBT artists and buy the movie on digital or DVD. If it isn’t playing in your town, host a screening party at home with your friends. The more that movies like this are a hit, the more it opens doors for other LGBT themed films. Just look at how many doors RuPaul has opened for other drag performers. I hope the success of From Russia With Hate, especially in the wake of the big success of Love, Simon makes Hollywood say, “Hey! We need more gay movies!” Twenty Gay Teen is gonna be our year!
DSD: Finally, has anyone sent a screening invite to Vladimir Putin, or any Russian official for that matter?
DH: Matt and I have been joking about dying mysteriously of polonium poisoning when the movie comes out. But joke not a joke. Putin is a dangerous figure and the plight of the LGBT community in Russia and former Soviet bloc countries, like Ukraine, is real. I have seen (and translated!) the many comments online in Russian about the movie so I get the concerns Russians may have.
We don’t pull any punches when it relates to Russia and how they treat gay people. Yes the movie is filled with some terrible old stereotypes about life in Russia but I hope that LGBT people and their allies there see that in our own outrageous drag comedy way, we are trying to show them support. There are artists in Russia like Pussy Riot who are doing brave and powerful work, I hope they see this movie as standing in solidarity with them. And maybe delivers a few laughs as well.