Jinkx Monsoon on Her DOCTOR WHO Villain, Stage Career, Queer Characters, and More

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RuPaul's Drag Race Alum Jinkx Monsoon is having a great year. He is currently playing Aubrey (the human) in the Off Broadway production Little shop of horrors. In June, he returns to the Broadway stage Chicago to repeat it break record performance as matron Mama Morton. In addition, next February he will make his Carnegie Hall debut as a headliner.

If that wasn't enough, he also found time to go toe-to-toe with Ncuti Gatwa's Fifteenth Doctor in “The Devil's Chord,” now available on Disney+ internationally and BBC iPlayer in the UK. We sat down to discuss Jinkx's villainous turn as the Master Doctor Who and his iconic stage work.

Nerdist: How does it feel to get on stage The Beatles?

Jinx Monsoon: (laughs) Well, it's all perspective, right? But honestly, everything about this episode, I don't know how to sum it up better than to say that it was a character that every actor dreams of playing and should be lucky enough to play in their lifetime. When you get to play a God, like an all-powerful being, you can create the rules for that character. And what I love about Maestro specifically is that they don't operate according to human standards for gender presentation or identity. I love how it's not a big deal for the Master. Because they are too powerful to care about little things like gender constructs.

Yes. I like how they casually dismiss it when the character, at first, misleads them.

Jinkx Monsoon's villainous character, Master, leans over a piano in the Doctor Who episode
BBC Studios/Bad Wolf Studios/Disney+

Monsoon: Yes. Yes. And they know they are more powerful. So it's exciting to play someone who essentially belongs to a marginalized community but isn't marginalized. They are the most powerful thing there is.

You're playing the first villain we've seen in this new era who exists as a real threat to Ncuti's Doctor. Your doctor scares you.

Monsoon: It's exciting because this character is not only powerful but also nuanced. And part of the general story. So that character carries a lot of weight, and to be trusted as a trans female performer, as a drag performer, it was a great honor and privilege to be able to act alongside Ncuti and play someone who is on the same level as he That was exciting. And we both bring such fresh perspectives, I think.

We don't see a lot of characters like Maestro. And when we do see them, they're not always flattering and they're not always played by the right performer and Ncuti is bringing such a fresh new perspective to the Doctor. I [Russell T Davies] he's really leaning into this season with the inherent quirkiness he's always been a part of Doctor Who. Because Russell has always been a part of it Doctor Who.

Yes. It's complicated to talk about queer coding, a lot of people think that's inherently problematic, which I don't think it is, especially when you look back at the history of the Hays Code. It prevented most screen representations of queerness, so many queer filmmakers hid their representation in monsters. So this seemed like a good extension of that. Queer actors playing these characters, chewing scenery and breaking the fourth wall like this is a celebration of this history.

Monsoon: I absolutely agree with you. I think it's all context because it depends on whose hands this character is in. I think we can see historically harmful depictions of queer and trans people as villains. But since then, we've seen a lot of progress and we've seen queer actors and characters take center stage in a lot of things that I didn't think we'd see in my lifetime.

With the privilege of so much more representation these days, we can go back to, okay, let's play any character because we can do the context, right? Where that character can be a villain and objectively evil, but we can love them for how weird they are. And it's just honoring what I think drag queens have always done.

I mean, I based my drag character on the larger-than-life female villains I was obsessed with, who were probably coded for queer because they couldn't make a drag queen or a trans woman like that character. A cis woman was the only acceptable person to play this character. I've been thinking about this a lot recently with Audrey [in Little Shop of Horrors] because I just think there are parts of Audrey where I am, that feels so familiar to me that it makes me wonder if some aspects of her were based on a trans woman or a drag queen the author knew.

And so to think about the fact that I've derived my drag character from these larger-than-life villains, and then that character was written with me in mind, I have to go back to where it all started , the Disney villains. .

Literally one of my next questions was, “Do you think having a trans female actor playing Audrey really elevates the nuance of that character?” when i saw [Michaela Jaé Rodriguez] playing Audrey a few years ago, that destroyed me.

Monsoon: Yes. I think with good writing, you can put anyone in the role and if the story is universal, then the demographic of the person doesn't matter as much. I think that's a sign of good writing. We've seen Audrey played in so many ways now. Specifically, this production has been running for five years and has featured a wide range of Audreys.

I think bringing a fresh perspective to the characters is how we reinvigorate the narrative. That's how these stories survive for so long. That is why Small Shop is still relevant today.

If the actor and director do the job they're there to do, it doesn't matter that Corbin Bleu is mixed race and I'm trans female. We are all Seymours and Audreys like the Seymours and Audreys that came before us. We just have a different perspective.

Jinkx Monsoon as Mestre sings on top of a white piano in a purple dress in Doctor Who
BBC Studios/Bad Wolf Studios/Disney+

This is also the magic of live theater. You have a text that exists as a written script, but then who you bring to it, who you collaborate with, how you direct it, how you produce it all creates a completely different experience. And it's different every time you do it.

Monsoon: Well, and I'll be honest, it's not like I set out to play Audrey as a feminine trans woman. I set out to play Audrey and really took my understanding of the character from the text, which is different from the movie I grew up with. The original show has a different text than the Ellen Green movie that is ingrained in my psyche because it's iconic and incredible. Her introduction of Audrey definitely makes me feel like Audrey was based on someone much larger than life or people who can manage to be larger than life.

And then that informed my Audrey, and then I thought, well, what if Audrey was trans female? She would be living on Skid Row in the 60s. And we know that trans people have existed and we know that they existed in the 60s and their lives wouldn't have been easy, though.

The Master Doctor Who character is in the room wearing a blue suit
BBC Studios/Bad Wolf Studios/Disney+

And that's what we see in Audrey. So I guess in the end what I wanted to do was not necessarily play Audrey as trans, but show you the what if, as if Audrey were trans. The story works either way. If you see me playing Audrey as if she's just a performer playing a cis female character, it works. But if you're reading the nuance of who I am as a performer, it still works. And that's the beauty of the production, the beauty of the writing. And when you gain the confidence and respect to bring that to the character, that's what you can bring to the stage.

Yes, there's a lot of conversation these days about whether trans actors should only play trans roles or cis roles as well. And I feel very kind: if not what you said too, this is the wrong conversation to be having about it. As a trans performer, I feel like why do we have to define the character in the text as one or the other? Why can't an actor take the role and play it? I think defining a character as trans or cis doesn't really seem to make much sense in the context of just being a character.

Monsoon: And if her gender journey is the story, fine.

Yes.

Monsoon: My first suggestion lately when people come to me asking, would it be appropriate to ask a trans person to play this character because this is a cisgender character? What is appropriate? The first thing I say is, “Have you thought about changing the gender of the character?” Because if you want that performer, what if the character is more like the performer?

I really believe that context is everything. Because as I said, there are actions that we have seen throughout history that have been harmful to the community, and there have been actions that have been celebratory. And it doesn't matter the gender of the character. It doesn't matter if the character was the hero or the villain. What matters is the authenticity the performer was allowed to bring to the character, I think.

Jinkx Monsoon as the Master mocks a man
BBC Studios/Bad Wolf Studios/Disney+

Okay, absolutely. My last question for you before I let you go. So you're playing with Audrey right now. You will return to Matron Mama Morton [in Chicago] soon Next year you will headline Carnegie Hall. So what's left on your music bucket list?

Monsoon: Well, I would really love to create a role, and as exciting as it would be to create a role in a new musical, I've had a lot of fun reprising classic roles. And so there's a part of me that would really, really like to originate another classic female role from a beloved musical and see what perspective I could bring to it and I'm open-minded to what that could be. Of course, my dream rule is Mrs. Lovett, but they did, so we'll see. That's whatever, whatever.

But I also like to say that I'm having a lot of fun with what I'm doing. So my wish list has been fulfilled and I'm not upset at the same time. I don't feel inhibited by that. I definitely have more things to do and more places to go, but I'm in no rush because I really like where I am. And I just hope I can keep doing more of this work because I feel really energized and alive. I really love my life and I love the work that allows me to do now.



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