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Look out for more coverage of
Hairspray in our magazines

THE MOVIE: Hairspray

John Travolta as Edna Turnblad In John Travolta’s Hairspray, he portrays loving wife and mother Edna Turnblad. In the tradition of John Water’s original film, in which Divine played the role, there are no apologies made that a man is depicting a female character. Travolta’s co-star, and fellow Grease franchise alumni, Michelle Pfeiffer, had just gone through the hell of doing prosthetic make up for Stardust, in which she portrays a 5,000 year old witch, but she was told by the producers of Hairspray not to warn the actor of how tedious the process was, so we asked him about it.

Q: Since Michelle didn’t alert you, were you aware how difficult the make up process would be?:
A: Robin Williams [Mrs Doubtfire] and Martin Lawrence [Big Momma’s House] said it was hell on wheels. But I was encouraged that the evolution had happened and it was much easier. I’m not so sure that’s true.

Q: Career-wise did you worry about playing a woman?:
A: No. I’m the first guy who’s really played an actual woman on screen, but I don’t think I’m the first guy who’s acted as a woman, there’s Robin and there’s Dustin Hoffman [in Tootsie] and Tony Curtis [in Some Like it Hot], this has been a done thing. The only real difference is I’m actually playing a woman versus drag.

Q: What about dancing in those high heels?:
A: That was tough. They kept bringing me these skinny high heels. I said, ‘When I was growing up and I saw girls in the chorus they had a thicker heel on; it was like a dance shoe.’ And I kept on telling them to find these shoes, because I knew they existed, and finally they brought out a shoe, and I said, ‘Okay, that’s the shoe, make it in many colors.’

Q: What was your first reaction when you saw yourself in full make-up?:
A: I saw a screen test, and I was very excited because when I came out I didn’t recognize me at all, I didn’t see me in it. ‘

Q: Do you think Edna was attractive?:
A: I felt she just had to be pleasant to look at. I said, ‘Imagine Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Anita Ekbert gone-to-flesh,’ meaning I wanted (her) to be appealing, because film is different than stage, you can dress a guy on stage and you can do that joke where they’re like a refrigerator, but I don’t think that works as well at this level. I think I had to be watch-able.

Q: What was your favorite costume for Edna?:
A: I liked the polka dot dress, because it reminded me of the images I have of those screen people in the Fifties. It defined something for me.

Q: Do you feel as a result of playing a woman you’re enlightened, do you feel you’ve experienced life on the other side?:
A: I do, and I’ll tell you why. I was so flirted with and so groped I was convinced that I’d have been a slut. I would have said, ‘Go ahead, touch me, go ahead, I don’t care.’ I got in that getup and everybody was feeling me, and I didn’t mind it as it wasn’t me, but I thought, ‘Do they remember I’m under here?’ And then I’d take it off and there was a coolness about it, it was like, ‘Oh, him. I liked that other person.’

Written by Judy Sloane. Back to top

Visit the official Hairspray site
Images above © New Line Cinema
Feature © 2007 Visual Imagination.
Not for reproduction.

Film Review, #686, August 2007 cover

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