Hooray for Connie-wood! Socialite Life Loves Love Connie!
RuPaul’s Drag Race season 11 has already served up some memorable moments and introduced us to some fierce queens, but in our opinion, Love Connie is the breakout star of the season, after getting physical with the queens in the “Galisthenics” mini-challenge on episode six.
Love Connie, the alter ego of actor John Cantwell, is the star of a new series on WOW Presents Plus. Connie-wood details the trials and tribulations of a Louisiana beauty pageant queen in search of stardom in Tinsel Town.
Socialite Life had the chance to chat with this fabulous queen, who you may also remember from her appearance in Alaska’s video for “This is My Hair” and the most memorable scene from Legally Blonde. We talk about the new series and Connie also shares her thoughts on other topics like aerobics, Divine and Showgirls. Get to know this funny, fabulous queen!
Socialite Life: Let’s talk about Connie-wood. Tell me what it’s about in a nutshell.
Love Connie: It’s about Connie, who comes from the bayous of Louisiana and her journey to Hollywood and she wants to make it big as a star in some capacity, so she’s just going to try everything and give everything a chance. It’s like a big ol’ Louisiana gumbo pot of Hollywood bullshit…and a stalker…and aerobics!
SL: I know you’re from the South and Connie is a southern belle. Is there a lot of you in the character on Connie-wood?
Connie: Oh yeah, like a whole lot. I think it’s the kind of Southern sincerity and awkwardness. If you think of drag or drag characters as an animated character, Connie would really be like Luanne from King of the Hill, Brittany Murphy voiced her. Brittany Murphy and Laura Dern – I would say those are the two women or actresses who had those characters who are kind of like Connie. They are women that get themselves in situations where they’re going to have to take some punches and some nasty stuff but, somehow, through their sexy awkwardness, the audience roots for them. It’s also like Toni Collette in Muriel’s Wedding – that type of character where you’re like, “No, girl! You’ve got it. Just don’t focus on the negative and then start fighting or crying and wanting to beat everybody down. Just focus on the positive, Connie. You’re going to get through this.” But sometimes she’s got to be bad, it’s just that country in us, you know.
SL: You’ve described the series as “John Waters–esque guerrilla filmmaking at his rawest.” What was your experience like putting the show together?
Connie: It’s been interesting because it’s a new world for me. I’m mostly a live performer and then I kind of cultivated a niche area of performing where my character doesn’t really talk in any of my live shows – I don’t think I’ve ever really spoken…there’s been some dialogue in some earlier stuff, but as far as my Love Connie shows, I just do comedy through dance and mime-type [stuff]. I love mimicking and I love mouthing words to the audience they will get, like if I say “bullshit,” the audience knows exactly that I just commented about what’s going on right now in Connie’s mind. I love communicating without having to use words. Conversely, on Drag Race, when [Vanjie] said, “Is this move going to make me look masculine?” and I said, “No, but your face does.” But in the moment, I’m good with a quip or a joke. I’m always that sassy gay guy at the party and if I have a couple of beers or something, it’s going to be heightened but if I have to sit down at a computer and try to write a joke and not be in the situation and try to make that situation up rather than just have it happen naturally, that is torture for me.
The fun thing about guerilla filmmaking like John Waters is that we have an idea about what we’re doing, and we have a script, but once you’re out on Hollywood Boulevard, let’s say, and you’re among all of the people, then the interaction happens and then the cameras roll and you’re in drag and a big wig. And as I tell everyone, well, now I’m more aware of what I look like in drag, but before when I wasn’t filming stuff and I wasn’t having to look at myself – it was just a live performance that is there for the time being and then it’s gone forever unless you make a tape of it. I’m thinking I look like Melanie Griffith in her heyday, like I am hot and I am pulling shit out and then I see what I look like and I’m like, “Oh my God! That’s why those people were screaming at me on the street! I look like the serial killer from Silence of the Lambs in go-go boots.”
And with a character like Divine, I urge everyone to watch Female Trouble starring Divine (and directed) by John Waters. It’s one of the greatest comedies of all time and it’s the greatest women’s movie starring a man in a dress. But there’s this great scene where Divine is feeling herself [her character] Dawn Davenport is really feeling herself – feeling her dress, her hair, her makeup, everything. And John Waters takes her to downtown Baltimore and lets her go on the sidewalk with a great song – and it’s just the greatest thing ever. So, when we’re doing stuff like that, I’m channeling all of that 70s outrageous craziness. I think that’s really coming through. And, like I say, there’s enough of me still in there, you know, just John Cantwell, what I’ve been through as an actor in different situations in Hollywood. It’s all in there. There’s truth in there and it touches on emotional levels that I think people will appreciate – I hope they’ll appreciate and enjoy. I’m not just trying to be like “Let’s read people” or “Let’s just have fun,” I want to create something with some substance.
SL: You come from a sketch comedy background. How has that and your previous training influenced you and the show?
Connie: The only thing I ever trained at doing was singing, I was a music major in college and that’s what brought me to New York, more like musical theater, Broadway aspirations. As far as the sketch comedy, I had seen this group called the Nellie Olesons, they were named after the little bitch on Little House on the Prairie, but they had a really John Waters mentality and they even did a spoof of Female Trouble with Taffy Davenport and once I saw that I was like, “I could totally do that,” but I was untrained and I didn’t have characters. The only character I brought to the group was Connie, but they thought I was funny and they were able to write for me. [It’s] kind of like a young beautiful actress like Sean Young or Kim Basinger, when they first come to Hollywood, they get a lot of things because they’re beautiful – they’re talented also – but it’s mostly because men who run Hollywood or ran it back in the day are so entranced by them – and men are weirdos – and they put them in movies. And, once they get older and they gave to audition for stuff – I think I read that Sean Young said, “I didn’t have to work as hard as I did when I was young, because you just got everything.” So, knowing that there’s more of a struggle I think grounds the comedy more. Okay… I just went off on a Sean Young tangent! What were we talking about?
SL: We were talking about your comedy experience and how it’s benefitted you as a performer…
Connie: I’m not trained in anything, but I was in New York and kind of getting my training on small New York stages, medium-sized New York stages, off-Broadway, off-off- and off-off-off Broadway– or just in a gay club, which has one of the hardest audiences to please, you know what I mean? And then being in really bad musicals, like really bad gay-centric musicals. I was in a musical one time about gay pirates…wow, what a novel idea…but the opening number was a song called “Salty Seamen”, get it? And I remember looking out at the audience and just seeing people laughing at us. Once you’ve been through all of that, Hollywood is not that big of a deal. It’s a crazy animal on another level. So, that has definitely made me a pretty competent performer, but I don’t pretend to think I can do something like other performers who have been trained with the Groundlings – improv scares the shit out of me. But, like I say, I can kind of hold my own because I’ve been around for a while.
SL: Let’s talk a little bit about your experience on Drag Race. When I was doing research on you, I read that you were actually an aerobics instructor. Is that true?
Connie: Yes, for 30 years, literally from the time I was in college. Because I’m from the South, and maybe you know as well as I do, when you start going to college, the weight just…it was like, mashed potatoes and gravy every day! Fried chicken, you know, all that good shit. And then, all of a sudden, it’s just like, “Oh my God. I’m going to have to join a gym.” And I took one aerobics class and the girl that was teaching the class and all of these other women…back then, guys didn’t really take aerobics classes because it was seen as kind of gay or feminine and the moves, because women were the teachers, were a little more feminine. But what you can’t deny is that shit kept you in rockin’ shape! [It was] even better than anything people are doing today. And, once they introduced step aerobics, I was the king of step aerobics. And also spinning, I freaking loved teaching cycle. You’re not going to get a better ass or better legs than by stepping. You’re just not. No one even does it anymore. They do other things but it’s not the same. It’s the beats per minute, keeping the beat and doing it over and over and over that gave you a rockin’ body. So, 30 years, and I just retired with zero fanfare last year. I loved working in the fitness industry. I have to say now that I don’t really do it anymore, I have not missed it one day!
SL: Well, what are you doing now to keep your girlish figure?
Connie: See, that’s another thing about drag that is kind of lovely – I think the joy I have brought to a lot of people, especially on a local, live performance, LA level is…I’m like any Southern woman, my weight fluctuates. In the winter, I’ll put on weight and when we get into the summertime, I’ll get my bikini body back. But I am a guy, and I stress eat and I’m single and I eat my feelings and I just freaking love to eat. But, to quote my mama, these days now that I don’t work out, I have to just quit eating – and that’s the only way. But I love not having to pad and people seem to respond well to Connie in cutoffs and little crop tops with my stomach hanging out, they just love it.
I porked out at 220 pounds about two years ago and I mean, God, just scroll down on that Instagram and see some of those pictures. I’m a little horrified at myself that I let myself go but with drag…ladies can always wear something – if that’s like, “I can just show off my shoulders today or just my collarbone or just my legs and put some heels on” and, honestly, I would rather dress in women’s clothes because of that reason. You can always find something flattering to wear, you know what I mean? And I love that – it’s really my favorite thing about drag. I actually do like makeup and I love women’s fashions. I don’t shop, I hate shopping. I literally wear my other gay male friends’ hand-me-downs – who are ten pounds heavier than me. I’ve been lucky my entire life to have fashionista friends whose weights also fluctuate! And they don’t wear the half of the stuff because they gain weight like I do and I’m always ten pounds behind them, so I’m like, “Yeah! Bring me over bags, honey!”
SL: So, what was your overall experience on Drag Race like?
Connie: It was a lot like a live show. It was almost like we did it in two takes or something. But I was prepared, you know? We had talked about it and I went in knowing what I had to do – and that was make an entrance. I was very conscious because you don’t have any music to go by because it messes with the audio, so that was the only thing I was kind of freaked out by. I just wanted to be edited like I looked like I knew how to dance. Because it’s horrifying to see something like, “Oh my God! The choreography is off the rhythm!” They did a great job. They have the best editors over there at World of Wonder. And the girls were fun. They seemed to want to do it and show off and it really kind of turned into a gay melee of joy. We all just seemed to just kind of have the best time and I think it really showed on the episode and even the people’s response, like all of the messages I’m getting on social media and everything. It’s just aerobics…gyms, studios, they need to bring it back and get back into retro aerobics, because it just brings people joy. The proof is in the pudding. We would not be having this conversation had it not been for 80s aerobics.
SL: Maybe you should make a workout video!
Connie: You know that was kind of one of the original ideas for the Connie-wood series. In one of my paranoid states about “What are we doing? I don’t write! I have no idea what we’re doing!” I was just going, “Guys, it’s just a workout show! We’re just going to workout. That’s all we’re going to do. Just shoot me working out.” And, of course, those elements are in there…but I think maybe one day we’ll piece all of the workout clips together and make a workout video. But, yeah, it would be fun to do. We should totally do that. I think I’m going to continue spoofing that on the show because it’s fun. It’s dance and it’s also working out and you can do it at home while you’re watching on the web.
SL: Aside from Connie-wood, what are your future plans?
Connie: Well I guess…I mean, I don’t even know what the response is to the series is yet, it’s all kind of new for me and we’re still shooting. We still have two more episodes to shoot and they’re kind of ambitious. I’m working on a Showgirls spoof and then I’m working on Connie as a babysitter in peril, kind of like a Halloween slasher film. Those are all parts of my life – like, if you see my live shows I am always referencing Nomi Malone in Showgirls because she is a very Connie type of character, even though Connie would have never eaten doggie chow. That was just bullshit. Chauvinist Joe Eszterhas bullshit – because everyone knows ramen noodles are cheap and delicious, so why would you eat dog food when there’s ramen and Vienna sausages and Saltine crackers? Give me a break, c’mon! Give us girls more credit than that. We know how to put a meal together and survive! Or, as my mother says, we just quit eating. But I love those tropes – women in peril, girls wanting to be taken seriously but having to kick ass against the male patriarch society but I’m also I have a male gaze, I’m a guy so there’s still questionable things I do, but I still try to represent a positive image for women.
I’m going to continue to do my live shows at the Cavern Club in Silver Lake and the Los Angeles area. I’m going to send Connie to a Turkish prison – or it actually might be an old nemesis of hers…has staged something to where Connie gets sent to a Turkish prison – but it’s a Turkish prison for dancers who wear lingerie and have to put on shows and it’s something I had an idea for ten years ago that was a sequel to my very first show, so I’m probably going to be bringing Kelly Mantle back into the fold who’s another Southern-raised drag queen in LA who I love dearly and my cat, Vicki, will be in it. So yeah, more Connie craziness. I will also be at Drag Con in May. But, I have to tell you that none of those big offers for live performances have come in yet, but I’m here, so feel free to share my phone number with anybody like that. She’s available.
SL: I saw that you were interviewed for the upcoming documentary Goddess: The Rise and Fall of Showgirls (which you really should back on Kickstarter). If there was a remake of Showgirls, who would you want to play?
Connie: Well, Nomi…but Connie is really very Penny, kind of that underdog. I’m hoping that someone will call and let Connie play Nomi Malone. I know all the choreography and I’m a dynamic character and that’s what Nomi is – she is dynamic and all thrust and Connie has thrust!
You can catch new episodes of Connie-wood every Tuesday on WOW Presents Plus. Keep up with all things Connie by following her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook!