Tribeca: Trixie Mattel on Showing the "Grittier" Side of Drag in 'Moving Parts' Doc

Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival
Trixie Mattel

The 'RuPaul's Drag Race' alum opens up to The Hollywood Reporter about allowing cameras to capture all angles of her meteoric rise to fame — including "the good, the bad and the ugly."

One of today's most celebrated drag performers, Trixie Mattel has captured an international fan base who can’t get enough of her Barbie-meets-Dolly Parton aesthetic and equally sparkly personality. But, according to the 29-year-old Milwaukee native — known back home and out of drag as Brian Firkus — her life isn't all glitz and glam, as seen in the new documentary Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts.

The film, directed by Nick Zeig-Owens and produced by World of Wonder, premiered Thursday night at the Tribeca Film Festival to a crowd of die-hard Trixie Mattel fans — many of whom showed up to the screening in T-shirts bearing images of her heavily painted face, or dressed in iterations of costumes made famous by Mattel on TV. Though she walked the red carpet in a body-hugging magenta gown paired with a sky-high blonde wig, Mattel told The Hollywood Reporter that she is looking forward to showing a more stripped-down version of herself with this project. 

"When I signed on to do this film, I honestly thought it would be a highlight reel of how amazing and gorgeous I am," Mattel said with a laugh. "But once the cameras started rolling, things got heavier than I expected. But that's real life. And I decided that nothing would be off-limits. This film really is about the grittier side of drag."

While Moving Parts follows Mattel's thrilling acceleration to new levels of fame after winning RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars 3 last year, the doc also explores the performer's vulnerable side. Not only does Mattel reflect on her unexpected fallout with close friend and web series co-star Katya Zamolodchikova, but she shares stories of the childhood abuse she endured at the hands of her now-deceased stepfather.

Below, Mattel talks more with THR about Moving Parts, this new chapter in her career and what happens when the makeup is wiped off and she's back to being Brian.

At what point in filming did you realize this film would be a more raw portrayal of drag culture?

The opening scene is just me. It's raining outside at night and I'm opening boxes of wigs. There's no fantasy lighting, there's no glimmer glass, there's no HD-softening powder. It got very real very quick.

Moving Parts shows your friend and fellow Drag Race season seven alum, Katya, having a breakdown on the set of The Trixie & Katya Show — which led to her stint in rehab and a rocky patch in your friendship. Was it tough filming that?

On the set of The Trixie & Katya Show, the cameras were there to catch B-footage of me on the job and, instead, that whole thing took another turn as we all will see in the film. And, so, there's a lot of things that we just thought would be fun. But, just like in true drag fashion, nothing is easy and nothing is simple. Everything is going wrong and there's visible bobby pins and you're falling down the stairs. Like I said, this is the gritty side of drag. It's very real, very raw. [Moving Parts] really got it all — the good, the bad and the ugly.

What will fans learn about you and drag culture that they wouldn't understand from simply watching RuPaul's Drag Race?

This film will turn people on to how serious I take this. The other 23 hours of the day, I'm not just picking my nose and waiting to get in drag. There's a whole pulley system of smoke and mirrors that has to be operated all day. As a drag queen, you're a miniature business — and you're not a real celebrity. I can’t be like, "Get my people!" I am my people, unfortunately.

For LGBTQ youth who watch this film, what do you hope their main takeaway is from hearing you open up about the abuse you experienced as a child?

Honestly, this sounds bad — but everybody's a victim and things have happened to everyone. So, bitch, you ain't special. The world isn't going to break because something bad happened to you. Pick up a wig and make it happen. Move forward. Whatever happened in the past, I think it's your decision whether or not you play it over and over again. Move forward. Be your own success story! Be somebody who when you bring up what happened to you, people are like, "Really? You seem normal." I'm like, "Yeah, I know." Because normal is the fact that everybody's had something bad happen to them. Look at me, I was hit by a car on the way here and I look great. [Laughs.]

When you watched Moving Parts in its entirety for the first time, which parts were your favorite to relive?

How much time do you have? Because, like I said, when I decided to do the documentary, I thought it would just be a music video of my life with jump cuts of me posing, showing the best parts of my career for an hour. And when I watched the film, I realized it was all that and more. The great parts make me like, "Whoa, this is the coolest moment of my life." The part in the film when I win Drag Race, it happened so fast. When I watch it back on film, I think to myself, "This is the coolest thing." I feel like I could die now. That's how cool it was.

And what about the toughest parts?

The sad parts were so sad. There were moments that happened that I wish would never happen again, moments that I wish I could just forget about. But guess what, Mary? Someone was filming and now we're going to watch it tonight. When I watch the film, it just makes me feel — just like my song, "Moving Parts," in the film — I think happiness is about learning to accept and expect bad things to happen. Because in this film, every time something good happens, something bad happens. Like every other day. Every other day in this snapshot of drag was like the best or worst day of my life.

The film also heavily features your career as a folk-country musician. As someone who performs that genre of music in drag, how are you hoping to move the dial when it comes to country and folk fans being more accepting of LGBTQ artists?

Folk music to me is very emotionally intelligent. It’s for everyone. Folk music is for everyone and so are folk people, I believe. It's storytelling. I'm a drag queen, but I'm doing a type of music that unifies everyone. If you have ears, you love James Taylor and you love Johnny Cash. You can't help it. And I think when you actually make a Venn diagram of drag queens and country musicians, you're like, "Oh, there's a lot of common ground here." We all like a modest heel. And let's be real, all men in country music wear heels, too. Also, look at Dolly Parton. She counts as a drag queen, right?