“Every time I turn on my TV, it’s one of the first suggested movies that pop up. I’m looking at my TV right now. It’s next to ‘Austin Powers’ and ‘Parks & Recreation.’ To see my movie even close to those is crazy.”
We’re on the phone with Trixie Mattel and she’s talking about “Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts,” the documentary about her life that’s made it to Netflix after premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2019 and making rounds in international film festivals. “It’s very exciting. It’s crazy watching it be so popular on Netflix. Let’s just say that I still think being a drag queen is a little weird for some people and I don’t think people in the industry with tons of money saw a movie about a drag queen being so popular,” she said. “Apparently, it is very popular in the Philippines. That’s great.”
The last time she watched “Moving Parts” was at the Frameline Film Festival in San Francisco, Mattel said. “I watched it in full drag in the back of the theater, in the dark, drinking wine by myself.”
Larger than life
As one of the world’s most successful drag queens, Mattel is larger than life. She’s the autoharp-playing lovechild of Dolly Parton and Malibu Barbie—blonde, big-haired, hourglass-figured and heavily made-up (a signature look that’s become iconic), brandishing a dark sense of humor, the most contagious cackle and the gift of music.
That’s the Mattel people most often see—on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 7, “RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars” Season 3 which she won, in episodes of “UNHhhh,” the web series which she co-hosts with her close friend and fellow “Drag Race” alumnus Katya Zamolodchikova, at Drag Con, and in live shows and concerts.
But while that fabulous, funny, famous Mattel is present in “Moving Parts,” the 90-minute documentary takes you deeper into her life and into the life of Brian Michael Firkus, the man under all that makeup, giving you access to parts of her that no meet-and-greet pass could.
“Because of the way my career works, most of what people see is the best. The best angle, best lighting, the best day at work. Everyone sees the edited version of everything and this movie is completely different,” Mattel said. “People think they know drag because they watch TV. This is what happens when the episode of ‘Drag Race’ ends and all the drag queens go home. This is what it’s really like to be a drag queen.”
Nick Zeig-Owens, who shot and directed the film, followed Trixie/Brian around for seven months.
“Nick slept on my couch and like, lived in my house. We’re talking over 100 hours of footage. I’m used to being on camera. But that’s different than cameras all the time. After the first six hours, I was like, ‘Oh, he’s really not leaving.’ You don’t really understand what that’s like until it’s happening. It’s pretty intense.”
That kind of access was necessary to produce a documentary that was authentic, even if it got uncomfortable at times. “I got kind of used to it until moments like . . . the day I might win ‘Drag Race.’ ‘Oh god, I wish I could just be alone right now.’ Or the day Katya walked off-set . . . Oh my god, of all the moments that you do not want a camera around. But I also really respected the process and I never asked the cameras to be turned off and never asked them to leave.”
Mattel added, “It’s not my job to tell them in the moment what to film and what not to film. That’s why the movie is good. This is not like the Justin Bieber experience, it’s not a video about how great I am. It’s just really the other 23 hours of the day when you’re not a celebrity and not all good things are happening.”
“Moving Parts” is an emotional ride—you hear about Firkus’ difficult childhood in Milwaukee, you witness Mattel’s friendship with Katya unravel as the latter struggles with sobriety, you get a glimpse of Firkus’s complicated but loving relationship with his mother, you see Mattel, raw, real, unfiltered, showing a kind of vulnerability celebrities usually wouldn’t willingly let you see. And accompanying you through the joys and pains is Mattel’s music—folk-country songs that can break your heart and make it whole again.
Mattel said, “This movie is so intimate and so deep under the makeup and under the wig . . . like wow, this is a deep cut into a person. For that reason, it’s not my favorite movie to watch. It’s a little like looking at your front-facing camera on your phone, you know. But I’m very proud of it.”
It helped that her boyfriend David Silver is the documentary’s executive producer, she said. “There was a certain amount of trust because I knew that the person on the other side of the camera had my best interests in mind. He wasn’t interested in making me look better than I am or worse than I am. He was making me look like who I really am and honestly, who better to do that than someone you trust? I can’t imagine doing the process with two strangers.”
The result is a documentary that’s not just for fans of “Drag Race,” drag or Mattel. It’s an inspiring story, a moving story about being human, about friendship, family, dreams, fame and the hard work that goes along with it.
Mattel cried the first time she watched it. “People watch this movie and they’re like, holy sh*t, you really do everything. And it didn’t even occur to me until I watched the movie. This movie just made me feel like I did something with my life.”
Mattel has been doing a lot with her life. RuPaul has told her that she’s been doing things no drag queen has done, not even RuPaul. It’s true. And it’s hard to believe that “Moving Parts” was shot just two years ago—she’s done even more since then. Mattel said, “Oh, my God. David and I were just talking about it. It feels like it’s so long ago, but I know that calendar-wise, it’s not.”
In one scene in “Moving Parts,” Trixie said, “If in a year, nobody gives a sh*t about me. I’ll just sell all these dresses, take the money and run.” She’s going to have to hold on to those dresses because people just can’t get enough of her.
Since the documentary came out, Mattel has released the acoustic soundtrack, has gone on tour, made appearances at DragCon (her booth’s lines are always the longest) and launched her makeup brand Trixie Cosmetics.
Her third album, “Barbara,” came out in February. (And no shade thrown here but Mattel’s albums aren’t your typical drag queen dance albums—she’s a gifted singer/songwriter who also plays the guitar and clarinet.) Mattel and Zamolodchikova are closer than ever and are releasing a book in July called “Trixie and Katya’s Guide to Modern Womanhood.” Their hilarious web series “UNHhhh” continues to be crazy popular on YouTube, as is their Netflix web series “I Like to Watch” where they react to scenes from Netflix shows.
Mattel said, “We love it. We love making ‘UNHhhh’ but “I Like to Watch” is the most fun I’ve ever had at work. We’re like screaming-crying-laughing.”
There will be more episodes, she promised. “Netflix and me and Katya, we’re figuring out a way to do it remotely . . . we’re all obsessed . . . The people at Netflix love it so we’re going to make a million more.”
Getting things done
Mattel is supposed to be on her “Grown Up” tour but she’s rescheduled all the dates because of the pandemic. The quarantine hasn’t stopped her from getting things done though. “Just like in the movie, I will find a way to work. I’ll find a way to find something to do to keep myself busy and to create something. Luckily, because I do live music, I play my guitar, I don’t need to leave the house to entertain people.”
She’s raised over $10,000 for charity while cooped up in her home in Los Angeles. She’s organized her lipstick and nail polish drawers. And she continues to run Trixie Cosmetics. “We’re still making makeup products. Nobody in my company has been let go. We’re all still working full time,” Mattel said.
She’s also been spending time with her fans. Mattel’s fans have a close bond with her. In a scene from “Moving Parts,” Mattel is at home, going through gifts from fans. She opened a letter and read it. “Six months ago, I decided I wanted to end my life. I would have died on my bedroom floor. You saved me.”
At a meet-and-greet, another fan said, “I think Trixie means a lot to us all for different reasons. She’s helped me gain a lot of self-confidence.”
Mattel spends Tuesdays on Twitch, playing games and chatting with fans. Then she has Full Coverage Fridays where she has a live sing along with them. “I didn’t realize how much I love streaming. I love getting in drag, turning on the lights in my house, hitting live, chatting with my fans and playing. I want to keep streaming even after the quarantine. It’s so intimate and it shakes the system . . . you don’t have to have money, you don’t have to offer me anything. You just have to participate. Streaming, because it’s live, the audience and the performer are making something together. It’s collaborative and I love that. I want to keep streaming even when we go back to normal, I want to keep doing concerts online. I love it.”
“Moving Parts” is now streaming on Netflix.