The list of iconic credits that Lea DeLaria has impacted the world of show business with is not only impressive, but historical. You may recognise her as Big Boo – a blunt, strong-willed butch character that occasionally exposes an underlying caring nature from the hit Netflix show, Orange Is The New Black, soon to be releasing it’s sixth season. As the first openly gay comedian to appear on a late-night talk show in 1993 on The Arsenio Hall Show, her devotion to the LGBTQIA community was embraced by Australians, most recently at the Sydney Mardi Gras where her well-deserved throne sat upon the Netflix float with other OITNB cast members. Not to mention she’s a prestigious jazz musician with a booming voice full of heart, a hilarious on-the-spot comic, and a self-professed “Lord of the Lesbians.”
Oh, and her body doesn’t understand what it means to look 60, which she’s turning this week (whatever her secret is, I know my folks would love to find out).
Returning in Melbourne this June, DeLaria is performing an exclusive show, filled with music, fiery opinions, as well as hilarity, which we couldn’t hold back when we were lucky enough to have the chance to chat with her.
You have a show coming up in June in Melbourne, what’s your impression of the city? Do you have a favourite area? Somewhere you’d like to visit?
I’ve only been in Melbourne once before and I was only there for a day and I had a show, so what my impression was was that I wanted to see more of Melbourne; I thought it was a brilliant, interesting place and reminded me quite a bit of San Francisco. It’s such a great artistic kind of community; I love that there were statues on buildings, and lovely sort of art-festivaley kind of look to the entire city. So, I’m really excited to be able to come to Melbourne, and I’ll actually be here a couple of days before the show so that’ll be really fun…and of course, excited to see Magda [Szubanski]! Very excited to see Magda.
Absolutely love Magda!
Always happy to see Magda.
So across your elaborate career, do you have a proudest achievement?
Ooh, proudest achievement…I have a couple! I think my proudest achievement is that I’ve been able to get to where I am today without ever once having been in the closet.
If you weren’t performing or acting, what would you be doing?
Um, I guess singing is part of that, huh? Probably I’d be a hooker. That’s probably a thing I’d be well suited to. It’s probably the only other skill that I have.
(laughing) Well, hey, that’s not a bad skill to have! But speaking of your acting skills; Big Boo didn’t actually start off as a significant character on Orange Is The New Black, so what was the audition process like for you?
Not only did it not start out as a significant character, but she’s definitely one of the standout weird characters. I mean, everyone remembers her, you know what I mean? But not only that, she wasn’t actually even in the show. They wrote that part for me, and they wrote the part for me once they saw me audition. I auditioned for two other roles, and then when they were like, oh, there’s no part for her, Jenji [Jenji Kohan – the show’s creator] said, well, that’s crazy because this is taking place in a woman’s prison so there really should be a part for her.
I was wondering that, because I watched another interview with you and you said that Big Boo is actually based on a real life prisoner, so is Big Boo a real person out there today?
Well, no, it’s just the name – there was a Big Boo in that prison. It’s a completely different person than the Big Boo that they wrote for me. Everyone in there is real.
Ah, I see! So what’s the funniest moment that’s happened on the set?
I guess I am most fond of…there’s been a couple of really hilarious things, but I think the one I am most fond of is the bed bug episode of season 3 when everybody is walking around in underwear or in blue numbers or blue paper things, and when I got to my trailer, I walked in and they had the big paper thing there. And I was like, why am I wearing a paper thing and not underwear? And they said, we didn’t know if you’d be comfortable blah blah blah and I said, comfortable? I’m fucking Big Boo! Big Boo would wear anything, she doesn’t care. So that’s why I put on a sports bra and the biggest pair of granny panties we could find, and I actually hung my tag on the back of my underwear, like a tail – like a little bunny tail, then I wore my prison boots. And I was the only one who chose to wear that sort of look. So when I walked out to do the scene with Natasha on set, she lost it. So I started pulling my underpants, like, up really high – I was giving myself the most horrifying camel toe you would ever want to see and she just lost it. Every time she would get her grip, I’d just pull them up even higher, it was crazy. That was really fun.
Do you have a favourite episode of the show?
Well I’m going to have to go with Big Boo’s backstory, aren’t I! 100% I’m sorry for being predictable, but I have to say that is my favourite episode.
(laughing) Yeah, fair call! You mentioned you were auditioning for two other roles, what were they?
The first role was the part played by Cathy Curtin, it was one of the guards [Wanda]. They really liked me, and they were like, this role isn’t big enough. So then I read for the part of Anita DeMarco who was the woman who gave Piper the tour when she first got there [the prison]. And they decided I was too young. And then they originally didn’t cast me; they said, there really isn’t a part for you and I had pretty much a meltdown over that. I quit show business because of it and at the time I was living in both New York and London. So I packed everything up from my place in New York and just moved into the house where I lived with my girlfriend in London. But basically, I got off the plane and there were thousands of phone calls from my manager waiting on my phone machine saying, now you’ve got to turn around and come right back because they wrote a part for you. So, there it is, that’s the story.
That’s incredible! So talking about your standup, what’s a topic that you’d love to bring or that you’re looking forward to trying out?
I can’t wait to talk about the current American administration, cause, y’know, I know you hate it as much as I do.
I suppose that answer can be applied to the next question, really; what is frustrating you most right now?
Well, you know, it’s hard not to be frustrated by all this horrifying conservatism, in fact, Nazism that’s going on everywhere. It’s honestly nuts in America; it’s like these rich, pissy old white men are like, we’re not going to let you take over the world, we’re going to keep our power at all costs. So yeah, that’s frustrating.
With your standup do you have a lot of responses to political issues or is it more so a segment where you talk about your life and funny mishaps?
I do all of that. My standup is very improvisational; I basically start talking and I’m just funny, so I just start talking and there I go.
(laughing) Perfect! So what can we expect from your Melbourne show this June?
Everything that I do – it’s going to be what I’ve been doing for 35 years…actually 36 now, as I started in April of 1982. It’s very loud, very wild – crazy standup, in your face, people who have seen me in Melbourne before, those people know what I’m talking about. Nutty comedy; very politically active; very queer – pro queer orientated. And then, of course, with that, music. So, you know, it kind of splits between the two, back and forth. So come see my show! It’s going to be a really great show.
Lea DeLaria Live On Stage
Elisabeth Murdoch Hall, Melbourne Recital Centre
Corner of Southbank Boulevard and Sturt Street
Thursday 7th June 2018
Tickets can be purchased here
Feature Image Credit: Kharen Hill