Mitchell certainly is going out with a bang, though. He wrote the screenplay, directed the movie, and is the larger-than-life star of the movies, although he admits it was hard wearing all three hats on the movie set, especially given the size of Hedwig’s wigs. A big part of directing the movie was his desire to maintain control over his vision of Hedwig.
“Directing a film is something I always wanted to do and this just seemed the perfect opportunity,” Mitchell says. “I had ideas for the movie that, if it were another director, what am I going to do? Force the ideas on him? The director has to be the dictator, has to have the final say. And two people can’t do that, it’s just not possible, so that didn’t seem to make sense. And I was bored with just acting. And now I’m acting less and directing more.”
Up next for Mitchell is a children’s story he is co-writing with someone and plans to direct that he describes as a “dark children’s story, a modern Willie Wonka.” But, lest you think he’s gone soft, the project after that is yet another new direction.
“All I know is it’s a funny movie that has explicit sex,” he says. “That’s all I know, and it will probably only ever be distributed on video and DVD because of the content.”
Mitchell is not concerned about putting his wig in a box and facing new artistic challenges.
“I’m totally not nervous about it,” he says. “I’m happy. I’m rested. We learned a lot. Some things could have been better, but I’m proud of it. I like mixing completely new genres every time I try something, so I won’t do another drag musical. I won’t do another children’s film after this one, probably. And the following film will be my erotic, emotional story, and that will be it for that.”
Mitchell says Hedwig gave him the rare opportunity to both be a rock star and to take more risks as an actor.
“I didn’t want to be a real rock star, because I couldn’t do it. I don’t have the stamina for touring and all of that. And it’s a little lonely, as was Hedwig to an extent,” he says. “I really wanted to get to a point where I could be as free and improvisational and rock and roll as people I have seen onstage. I tended to be a very controlled actor before then, with instincts that I couldn’t develop that were more ‘say what you want, sing what you want,’ which are inherent in rock and roll. But even the Squeezebox gigs were a little controlled, and it was only by doing a long run that I had a really good time doing it.”
Hedwig marked the first time that Mitchell ever did drag, but he says it forever changed his outlook on life and who he is as a person.
“I was always kind of scared of drag, I think. But I found that I became a better person,” he says. “I became very comfortable with the fullness of my femininity and masculinity and rock and roll and power. It kind of made me more masculine and more feminine having done it, because the idea is really both. Gay people have a gift, for whatever reason, they can key into the opposite energy, which ultimately doesn’t become opposite, it becomes complementary. Hedwig was important to do, for me, as person as well as an artist.”
In addition to the movie -- which opens on July 20 in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, before opening in additional cities– the movie also boasts a new hard-rocking soundtrack.
“With the cast recording, we didn’t really get to control who the mixer was, which is a huge thing, so I think Stephen found it a little glossier than he might have liked,” he says. “And Bob Mould, from Husker Du and Sugar, who’s a gay punk rock icon did a lot of guitars on the soundtrack, so there’s more heft to them. So, the soundtrack is the album Stephen always wanted to make, plus it’s got bonus songs and Tommy’s hits that aren’t in the movie, like his number one single, and extra things.”
As for the songs, Trask has delivered a tour de force palate through which Mitchell weaves his compelling story. From the opening song, “Tear Me Down,” a rolling rock and roll song that deftly weaves metaphors between the Berlin Wall and gender identity, to “Sugar Daddy,” a hoot of dishy double entendre fun, to “Wig In A Box,” which perfectly moves from drag ballad to rock anthem, Trask has turned out the perfect score. Most musicals have high points that buoy “the other songs,” but there is no filler to be had in Hedwig. Trask, who is currently producing Nancy Boy’s next album, is definitely someone to watch for in the future. Of course, we get to enjoy him on the Hedwig sountrack later this month.
Like Hedwig will later this month, Mitchell first came out in San Francisco.
“I went to this dirty bookstore and some guy invited me to a Solstice Party, which are traditional things that still happen,” he says. “There was one last night. All orgies and sex and drugs, and I really didn’t want to go there, but we went out. He was an auto mechanic and I was in love, and I disappeared for a weekend. I was staying at my brother’s frat at USF, and I came back and he said, ‘Where the hell were you?’ And I had changed. I went back to school at Northwestern in Chicago and was out.”
Mitchell is really hopeful that Hedwig will speak to gay youth, because he thinks it has messages that would have affected him positively when he was growing up.
“I want Hedwig to reach all kinds of people, but I want it to reach people like me when I was in my teens most of all,” he says. “Those are the letters and comments that mean the most to me. I get kids coming up to me now saying, ‘I’ve really loved this album for a few years, but I never got to see the show, and I’m really excited to see it.’ We have this great opportunity to bring it to the strip malls where Hedwig could do some good, I think.”
Mitchell also believes that gay youth get to take a lot of things for granted that weren’t possible when he was growing up, like being out in high school and having a boyfriend. He thinks it’s great that they can be taken for granted, because it shows how much progress has occurred in just one generation. But he’s wary of the trap of people taking too much about being gay for granted.
“So much of gay culture can be as boring as straight culture. We’re caught up in the same damn music, chiseled bodies … and then you’re just a straight person. If you want to just be a straight person, fine, but don’t call yourself a rebel. Don’t think of yourself as special because you’re gay. It’s what you choose to do with it. If you’re special, if you’re an outsider, try something that scares you. For me, I got really bored doing the kind of acting and sitcoms I was doing, and I did something that scared the shit out of me, doing drag and doing rock, and it made my life better.”