“It was a big ‘Eff You’ to Ron DeSantis”: ‘Big Easy Queens’ Director Erynn Dalton and Star Eric Swanson On Their Queer Film Noir
When Erynn Dalton and Eric Swanson, also known as the drag performer and cabaret singer Miss Bouvèé, first met, they instantly knew they had to work together. Swanson wanted to bring this character to life and Dalton wanted to help make that vision a reality. So with a microbudget, ten days, and a lot of hairspray, they made Big Easy Queens.
Read the full synopsis below:
Deep in the steamy underworld of New Orleans, Mob Queen of the Quarter Minnie Bouvèé has arch-nemesis Poodles Makenzie’s crew brutally slaughtered. As she braces for the blowback, she begins to notice an unexpected creepy masked figure stalking her, leaving behind bouquets of gardenias and terrifying notes. Is this Poodles’ revenge, or the work of Minnie’s estranged sister who stole her man years ago and has suddenly reappeared in her life?
Dread Central spoke with Dalton and Swanson about bringing Miss Bouvèé to the big screen, why we need films like this, and more.
Dread Central: Well, I’m so excited to chat with both of you about Big Easy Queens. I mean, drag queen, horror, amazing, one-liners, gore, what is not to love about this movie? How do the two of you come together to make Big Easy Queens?
Erynn Dalton: So I have a horror theater in town, so we do live horror shows down here in South Florida. Eric approached me because I was doing a show during the spooky season a couple of years ago, and Eric was also going to be doing a show renting out the space. We were just trying to coordinate what was going to happen and how we were going to work together to make sure our shows didn’t run over each other. And just in conversation, we realized we both have very strong ties to Michigan.
I started talking about the fact that I’d done a feature before, and Eric was like, “It’s so funny you say that because I was just talking to my writer about tMiss Bouvèé doing a film.’ And I was like, “That’s so cool. Well, if you need help or advice or anything, I’ve kind of navigated that already.” That’s how it happened on my end.
But then Eric has a whole other sly backstory to this that I was not aware of.
Eric Swanson: Miss Bouvèé exists outside of the film realm and I was a full-time cabaret performer, and still am. And Miss Bouvèé is the one who does all that. My writer [Robert Leleux] had interviewed the day before this meeting of me and Erynn to write a script for a film on a network that he didn’t get. He sort of stormed out of our office and he said, ‘Miss Bouvèé could do a movie.’ And I just thought he was ludicrous. He spent a great deal of time convincing me.
Then the next day I had this meeting where I met Erin and she says, “Oh, I direct features and I love this.” She was passionate about Miss Bouvèé getting in a film and we’d kind of crossed paths and all these signs came up, the Michigan connection and theatrical connection. There were just too many things to walk away from. I’m a huge believer in signs. It was the path of least resistance, and here we are, a year later. A year ago today we were filming for Big Easy Queens. It’s insane how quickly this film has made it through the process, funding, filming, and now here it is on the festival circuit.
DC: That’s so exciting. We need more unapologetically queer, campy movies, horror movies especially. I mean, what is horror if not queer and campy no matter what. And I love that Big Easy Queens just leans into that full force. So I wanted to hear more about crafting the script and crafting the dialogue. The dialogue feels very Southern Belle.
ES: Oh, I’m so glad to hear that. And Robert will be so thrilled to hear that. He’s a huge fan of film noir and that pacing, very sort of Dick Tracy
ED: A hundred percent Tennessee Williams.
DC: I was waiting for A Street Card Named Desire quotes at the point from Mimi Bouvèé-Truve.
ES: We gave him the inch, he took the mile with that. And the number one question we get asked is how much of it is improvised. And the truth is 98% of what you see is actually written. We just didn’t have the time. I mean, we were there for 10 days. We didn’t have time and money to fool around.
We had this window and we worked within it. And we really honored the words that Robert gave us and the concepts. Erynn gave us little leeways in how we delivered things and character interpretations of course. But literally 98% of what you see is actually written in that script. It was exactly what Robert intended for us to say, and I’m so grateful for him.
DC: It’s literally a movie of femme fatales who just hate each other and then love each other. It’s great.
DC: Erynn, directing a film about queerness and about drag queens, how did you approach this subject matter and work with all of these performers?
ED: It wasn’t hard to do because every character and every actor, they were already very established in what they were creating. Miss Bouvèé had her character, Varla Jean came on as both Amos and Arlene. I don’t know if you realize those were the same two actors. And Varla Jean has a huge following. They were just all so talented. It was very easy to come at it from a very kind of authentic place. This is who they are, and they just fit their characters so well. It was really my job to honor their talents and make sure I steered them into a screen performance and not a stage performance. I mean, it’s very theatrical, and I really wanted Minnie Bouvèé to stay very grounded. She’s kind of the grounding force of the film, and the other ones kind of do their craziness.
As far as just motivation for doing this, we were going through here in Florida, the whole DeSantis regime while the laws were being passed, the Don’t Say Gay laws, the anti-drag laws. When we do our festival circuit, we usually like to bring our live performers, all of them sing. They’re all amazing performers. And when we were going to premiere here at Popcorn Frights, I spoke with Igor and Marc and said, we’d love to do the live performance, but drag shows are outlawed right now for venues that have anyone under the age of 18. Igor Shytenberg from Popcorn Frights said, “Fuck ‘em. We don’t care. We’re doing it.” And God love him. Amazing. I love him.
DC: They’re such a good festival.
ED: That just pushed all of us to really get the film done as well and as quickly as we could. We felt like it was a big “Eff You” to Ron DeSantis. We made this here in your state. Dude,
DC: Eric, are you based in New Orleans still?
ES: No, I actually live in Fort Lauderdale. And I moved here during COVID in October, 2020. And sort of the height of the pandemic, because we could work safely, we could work outside venues and things like that. I just missed the stage so much. Once those [anti-drag] laws came into place, there was some regret about moving here. But then I just realized, I remember the moment looking around in one of my cabaret spaces and just thinking how lucky I was to live in this queer space of people who were spending and coming as tourists in the face of adversity like Ron DeSantis.
Somebody said to me, they said, “The important thing to know is that he is temporary and he will expire eventually, and we want the queer spaces to survive.” That really helped motivate me for this film. I mean, our producers, all of them except one couple are from Fort Lauderdale and they live in this area.
Most of them are queer. It’s almost all queer produced. So all of us kind of felt this deep motivation to do this work that could show we are still here, we are still queer, and we are still doing amazing things artistically. Even in the face of this kind of adversity, we are still doing what we are called and have the right to do. In June, I lost a ton of work because none of the Pride events would hire drag queens and I sing live. So Tampa and Fort Lauderdale, Stonewall Pride, none of these prides would touch us because the penalty for getting a ticket was that your permits were revoked immediately and they didn’t really know where this was going to land.
And it was a double-edged sword, right? I don’t want to end pride for my queer brothers and sisters and everything in between, and gentle thems, I want to go to Pride myself. So it was this weird time. Then they struck down the band and we finished the film and premiered August 11th. And so it was just this beautiful queer stars lining. I could walk out in front of the theater on this major street in my full drag and just wave and feel incredibly proud. We weathered the storm and got to do this premiere. It was a magical moment that I’ll never, ever take for granted.
DC: Eric, super fast. Have you ever seen the movie Goregasm? Either of you?
ED: No, but I love that.
ES: I’m intrigued.
DC: Okay, look it up and please don’t judge me for bringing this up, but it was made in New Orleans. It stars drag queens, and there’s really weird gender stuff going on with a murderer named the Cock Face Killer. It’s very low budget. It’s not very good. Please don’t think less of me for suggesting it.
ES: I love it. I love it. I will look it up.
Big Easy Queens is currently playing on the festival circuit.