On Sordid Lives: The Series

Serving as a prequel to the independent film Sordid Lives, the series features Rue McClanahan (The Golden Girls, Mama’s Family, Maude), Olivia Newton-John (Grease), and Caroline Rhea (Sabrina, the Teenage Witch).

Having watched the series, I found it wonderful, beautiful, and easy to relate to, even though I have not seen the original film.

According to the NewNextNow article, “The To-Die-For Cast of “Sordid Lives: The Series”“:

Olivia Newton-John, Rue McClanahan, Bonnie Bedelia, Caroline Rhea, and
Leslie Jordan: they’re just the most well-known of what is one of the best casts ever assembled for a television series.

The first season of the 12-episode series also includes cameos by Margaret Cho, Carson Kressley, Dirty Sexy Money’s Candis Cayne, All My Children’s
Bobbie Eakes, and Georgette Jones, the daughter of Tammy Wynette.

But Sordid Lives: The Series, the project in question, isn’t appearing on one of the broadcast networks, or even a major cable network with the accompanying deep financial pockets. Instead, it’s the latest offering from the GLBT television network Logo (which owns AfterElton.com).

“It was a dream cast,” Del Shores, the series’ creator, as well as its writer, director, and one of its producers tells AfterElton.com. “It was an amazing experience many times over.”

The series is a prequel to Shores’ 1999 movie of the same name, which starred many of the same actors. It tells the very campy story of the loves and lives of one very Southern Texan family.

In addition to featuring gay icons like Olivia Newton-John and Golden Girl Rue McClanahan in the cast, Sordid Lives includes gay male characters such as Leslie Jordan’s Brother Boy, a Tammy Wynette impersonator, and Jason Dottley’s Ty Williamson, a young actor coming to terms with his being gay.

Shores credits Stan Brooks and Damian Ganczewski of Once Upon a Time Films
for making the series a reality. But the idea for the series came from Dottley, who also happens to be Shores’ husband, when Dottley pointed out that the movie had gained a cult following over the years.

“And so I took it to Logo,” Shores says, adding that he was quickly told, “You know we’re new. We don’t have this kind of budget. I don’t think that we are going to be able to afford this show.”

Shores got creative, offering to write and direct all the episodes himself over a very short time-span. “We shot for 36 days in Shreveport, Louisiana,” he says. “It was fast and furious.”

How did Shores manage to land such big names for such a modest project?
Newton-John was a longtime friend, but most were reprising their roles from the
movie, eager for a chance to play such over-the-top characters, often against
type. After all, Hollywood
isn’t known for writing juicy roles for women, especially women of a certain
age.

“I just ask for things that I probably shouldn’t get,” Shores explains with
a laugh. “I mean, come on, Rue McClanahan?” On a more serious note, he says,
“I’ve found over the years that if you give actors really good material, they
will many times take a pay cut for you.”

Sure enough, Bonnie Bedelia was attracted by the opportunity to play a comic role. “Not many people ask Bonnie to do comedy,” Shores says. “And so she just couldn’t believe that she was gonna get to play this outlandish, funny woman, and she was very flattered that I thought of her for the role. And she said, ‘I’ll do your movie if it doesn’t cost me money!’”

Meanwhile, Shores says he wrote the role of Peggy, which is new to the series, specifically with McClanahan in mind.

“I had a list of one: Rue McClanahan,” he says. “I called her manager and I told her it was Logo, and she knew of Logo. I had already written all twelve episodes, and Rue read them in a day and said yes the next day. She couldn’t believe that there was a role where a 70-year old woman was having sex and in love! She said, ‘I never thought I was going to get to play a woman in love again.’”

“And I thought, well, this truly is gay heaven,” Shores says with a laugh.

Comedian Caroline Rhea replaced Delta Burke, who played the same role in the movie, but who had a scheduling problem when it came time to film the series.

“I was devastated that Delta wasn’t able to do it, but as soon as Caroline stepped on the stage and became Noleta, I never saw anybody else in that role,” Shores says. “She’s just so great.”

Newton-John’s southern accent in the series is a surprising contrast to her familiar, and oft-imitated Australian accent.

“Because she’s musical, she’s a really good mimic,” Shores explains. “She worked really hard. What happened was Ann Walker, who plays LaVonda, tape-recorded all of her lines in a southern accent and then Olivia listened to them. Learned the accent that way. She did that for the movie and for the series.”

Given that there were so many big names involved, were there any conflicting egos on the set? In other press interviews, McClanahan has said yes. “Almost all the people are wonderful to work with,” she told the Gay & Lesbian Times. “There’s one person that isn’t awfully popular, but I won’t get into that right now. But most everyone is professional and cooperative. There aren’t any prima donnas. Well, except that one person.”

“That has gotten blown out of proportion in such a weird way,” Shores says. “There was one isolated incident with Rue McClanahan and one other actor.”

As for the cameos by Cho, Cayne, and Kressley, Shores says he thought it would be an interesting gimmick to have familiar faces for some of the show’s many therapists.

“But I gotta tell you,” he says, “of all the people, I was little bit intimidated with Margaret Cho. She’s just such a gay icon and I’ve been such a big fan of hers for many years. But she stepped on the set and she’s real people and sweet and very directable and just really had a great experience.”

Meanwhile, because much of the plot revolves around Leslie Jordan’s idol-worship of Tammy Wynette, Shores thought to ask Wynette’s daughter to play Tammy in a dream sequence.

“When I talked to Georgette about playing her mom, I said, ‘Have you seen the movie?’” Shores says. “She said, ‘Have I seen the movie? My sisters and I watch it all the time! We love the movie because it always reminds us of how loyal Mom’s gay fans were, and are still.’ And so she didn’t hesitate at all.”

But despite the presence of all these famous actresses, not to mention gay talent both behind and in front of the camera, the shoot wasn’t exclusively a gay and female-centered affair.

“The crew was real, real straight,” Shores says. “I made it real clear with our production company down there that I didn’t want any level of homophobia at all. And then we started shooting with Leslie Jordan and the crew fell in love with him. The day after Leslie left, all the straight boys on the crew were going, ‘I miss Brother Boy! I want Brother Boy!’”

In addition to directing big stars like Olivia Newton-John and Rue McClanahan, Shores was directing his husband, Dottley.

“It wasn’t hard at all,” Shores says. “We both have respect for each other as artists, and he really, really listens to me as a director. Not always in real life!”

Additionally, according to the Culture Map Dallas article, “Texas-born director returns to sordid roots with Dallas film premiere“:

There’s a lot going on in Winters, Texas. In this Southern-fried hamlet based on writer/director Del Shores’ own hometown, LaVonda (Ann Walker) and her friend, Noleta (Caroline Rhea), are looking for love in all the wrong places. Brother Boy (American Horror Story’s Leslie Jordan) is bringing his drag act to the big city with the help of a bisexual serial killer. And Latrelle (Bonnie Bedelia)’s gay son is headed back to town, while the new fire-and-brimstone preacher is readying an anti-equality rally. Oh, and it all takes place over a dizzy few days leading up to the titular surprise wedding.

A sequel to Shores’ play-turned-film-turned-TV series Sordid LivesA Very Sordid Wedding arrives 21 years after the original, which debuted in Los Angeles in 1996 and ran for 13 sold-out months. It received 13 Critic’s Choice honors and 14 Drama-Logue Theatre Awards.

Following up on that success, three years later, Shores wrote and directed the film adaption of Sordid Lives, which starred Beau Bridges, Delta Burke, Olivia Newton-John, Bonnie Bedelia, Leslie Jordan, and Beth Grant, along with most of the cast from the play. Taking in nearly $2 million in its eight-theatre limited release, the movie became a cult phenomenon and won six Best Feature and 13 Audience Awards at various film festivals. Then, in 2008, Sordid Lives: The Series, a 12-episode TV series prequel to the Sordid Lives film, premiered on MTV’s LOGO network.

Although fans have been clamoring for a Sordid sequel for years, Shores never felt the time was quite right — until the political climate gave him a burst of inspiration.

“After the [2008 Logo series of Sordid], I said I was done with it, but the fans kept dogging me,” says Shores. “With the backdrop of so much happening in the LGBTQ community, it felt like a hot topic to me. I wrote a draft and it took us a lot longer to raise the money than I thought, but miraculously, the Supreme Court decision [in favor of marriage equality] came in, and it unlocked the whole script. What happens when equality comes storming into Winters, Texas?”

Shot mostly in Winnipeg, Canada (aside from a few crucial scenes at the Oak Lawn drag bar the Rose Room and the Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams store in Knox-Henderson), Wedding brings most of the ensemble cast back for their original roles, with some new faces peppered in. The film’s producer Emerson Collins, a longtime collaborator with Shores, did double duty in the role of Billy Joe, the serial killer with a heart of gold. Collins managed to pull off the hat trick of playing one of the more layered characters while making sure the film went off without a hitch, including a superstar cameo from Whoopi Goldberg, who performs the movie’s wedding ceremony.

“She loved the series and wanted to be in the movie, but as the pessimistic producer, I told Del to write one scene that can be done in one day,” recalls Collins. “Her people said she could do it this one Friday evening when she was off from The View, so I built the entire shoot schedule of 24 actors around the idea that Whoopi would be in the film. She doesn’t fly, so she got on her bus Thursday night and pulled into our base camp at 4 pm Friday afternoon. She was brilliant, and by 9:30 pm she was back on the bus and on the way out!”

The support of stars like Goldberg has helped Sordid get more exposure, the ultimate goal of its director and producer. With strong box office performances in supportive communities like Fort Lauderdale and Palm Springs, and sellout festival screenings, like the April 21 opening of the 47th annual USA Film Festival at Dallas’ Texas Theatre, the film’s built-in audience is turning up in droves. But both Shores and Collins want those who might not normally embrace the story to connect with Wedding’s larger message. According to the duo, there’s plenty of people in the buckle of the Bible Belt who could use a little of the movie’s saucy sermonizing.

“I loved watching it with the audience in Palm Springs because there were eruptions, but we’re going into Texas right now,” says Shores. “ I have family members who haven’t seen my work for a long time, and I reached out and said, ‘I want you to see this movie,’ and every one of them agreed, so I’m hopeful.”

“I’m more excited about Dallas personally than Palm Springs, because that’s where my family is,” agrees Collins.  “[The location] the Rose Room was my first safe place to be myself coming out of my conservative religious upbringing. Wedding is our way to contribute to the conversation, and to bring it home is super exciting.”

Finally, according to the Baylor Lariat article, “Baylor alum releases ‘Sordid’ sequel“:

On Monday, Baylor alumnus and previous entertainment editor of the Baylor Lariat, Del Shores, released his most recent play, movie and TV series “A Very Sordid Wedding.”

Shores is an award-winning writer and director of “Blues For Willadean,” “Southern Baptist Sissies,” “Queer as Folk,” and “Sordid Lives.” “A Very Sordid Wedding” is the sequel to Shores’ series “Sordid Lives.”

“Not a day [went] by where someone didn’t write me asking me for more ‘Sordid Lives,’ I wanted to contrast affirming churches and organizations like Faith In America with the hypocritical bigotry that is still being spewed,” said the writer, director and producer, Del Shores.

“A Very Sordid Wedding” brings back characters from the prequel, “Sordid Lives.” Shot in Winters, Texas, just a few weeks after the Supreme Court on same-sex marriage, citizens of the city are not ready to accept the ruling. “A Very Sordid Wedding” premiered on March 10 in Palm Springs, Calif. at Camelot Theaters, where “Sordid Lives” showed for 96 weeks. “A Very Sordid Wedding” began showing at the Waco Hippodrome Theatre on Monday.

“The film received the highest per-screen box office gross, a stellar $40,000, of any specialty film in the country,” said public relations associate Brian Geldin. “‘A Very Sordid Wedding’ is now making its way in limited release via The Film Collaborative in Waco, Austin and Dallas.”

“A Very Sordid Wedding” makes its way through Texas while the Texas Legislature battles over Senate Bill 6, also known as the bathroom bill Geldin said. The bathroom bill is promoted as keeping bathrooms women and men, rather than allowing transgender people the right to choose.

The 32-person cast consists of Bonnie Bedelia from “Parenthood,” Caroline Rhea from Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Leslie Jordan from “Will and Grace,” Carole Cook from “Sixteen Candles” and Alec Mapa from “Ugly Betty.”

The Hollywood Reporter said “A Very Sordid Wedding” “offers some undeniably entertaining moments and its talented ensemble, clearly encouraged to pull out all the stops, and delivers their comic shtick with admirable gusto.”

“Sordid Lives” dealt with coming out in a conservative and southern environment, while “A Very Sordid Wedding” explores the questions that occur during the acceptance and rejection of gay marriage in conservative families. Shores uses comedy to approach the heavy topics and shows a “very real process of acceptance,” Geldin said.

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