trixie mattel cements her legacy with a new documentary
‘Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts’ shows Brian Firkus going through personal and professional challenges as the beloved drag alter-ego.
Images courtesy of the artist.
“The more you get to fabricate your life and how you live, the more happy you are,” says Brian Firkus in the documentary Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts, while wearing a 10-pound wig, a double-D silicone breastplate and a face full of his signature cartoonish makeup. Firkus seems content, but the artists's meteoric rise as the man behind the beloved, bouffant Barbie-on-steroids drag queen Trixie Mattel hasn’t been without its challenges.
Throughout the course of Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts, which premiered at Tribeca Film Festival in April, we see the 29-year-old navigate multiple personal and professional challenges. This includes the simultaneous breakdown of his friendship with Brian Joseph McCook, (aka fellow drag queen Katya Zamolodchikova), and their talk show, The Trixie & Katya Show, following McCook’s struggles with mental health and addiction. On top of that, there's family financial troubles, and the pressures of his mounting fame, as he tours Europe and wins the reality TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars.
“That was a really busy year,” Firkus says, on the phone from Los Angeles. “What’s funny is that I kept thinking last year, ‘This is going to be the year that I’ll probably never match,’ but this year has been even crazier.” As a drag queen, comedian, musician, and TV personality, Firkus has never been one to rest on his laurels. Last week he followed up his successful country-folk albums Two Birds and One Stone with a power-pop song called “Yellow Cloud,” and this week he adds cosmetics mogul to his list of accomplishments, with the launch of Trixie Cosmetics at RuPaul’s DragCon on Friday.
To say Firkus is busy, then, is an understatement of colossal proportions, not unlike Trixie’s snatched waist and eye-poppingly padded hips. But the performer's relentless drive and dedication to his craft is what garnered him millions of fans around the world, and drew director Nicholas Zeig-Owens to propose the documentary. In a Q&A after a screening of the film at Tribeca, Zeig-Owens said that he was intrigued by how Firkus constantly puts his body on the line in a really public way.
“Being a performer is very vulnerable, but being a performer who gets to go from Clark Kent to Superman, from Brian to Trixie, you’re so empowered that you only feel powerful, so you forget that you’re vulnerable,” Firkus says. Firkus adds that he hadn’t thought about this until he watched the documentary. “I didn’t even realise in the moment how impressive or scary some of these things were, because I was just in it, juggling it. Like when I see myself soundchecking, hanging from the ceiling, I’m like, ‘you are nuts!’ But in the moment I’m just so focused. You can’t take time to think about how big some of these opportunities are, or they get scary.”
One of the big moments in the film is when Trixie is crowned the winner of Drag Race, and we get to see Firkus’s real reaction – something audiences often aren’t privy to, as networks pre-record multiple endings to ensure nobody knows who’s going to win, not even the contestants. In the documentary, we see Firkus perched on a chair at a viewing party, anxiously waiting, then gasping and beaming as he’s announced the winner. Then he immediately goes back to his dressing room. He says, “Not until watching it back was I like, ‘This is crazy! This is something that will define my sense of self forever.’” Except, not entirely.
From the moment Trixie first strutted into the workroom on RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2015, she already seemed like a winner. “I dreamed of winning Drag Race when I was 21 and working in the clubs. Then by the time it happened, I had fleshed out so much as a confident performer, it was sort of another day on the job, you know?” he continues. “I’ve spent the last few years without a tiara, working to be one of the biggest drag stars. So I’m happy I won, but I also feel like I’m proof that you don’t have to win anything. You don’t have to wait for anybody to give you a crown, to be the queen.”
People love Trixie because she’s so honest and relatable. Beneath that helmet of hair is a heart of gold. Firkus doesn’t take anything he’s earned for granted, and he’s philosophical about the fickle nature of fame and fortune. At one point in the documentary, he says, “If, in a year, nobody gives a shit about me, I’ll just sell all these dresses and go live in the woods and write music.” And you believe him.
“We’re live performers, we live gig to gig, so we’re all about six months away from eating cat food in the car,” Firkus says. “So I always say, if this did go away, I’ve already had more than my fair share. Like, all my dreams I’ve ever had have come true. And I’m not even 30 yet! Not that I didn’t dream big, but where I come from – I was so poor, and lived so deep in the country, with such a deeply oppressive upbringing, it didn’t make any sense to come out of the equation the way I have, but it feels so great.”
This is probably why Trixie gets inundated with fan mail — the documentary shows Firkus reading stacks of letters, many from depressed young members of the LGBTQIA community saying that he’s saved their lives. “I really resonate with people who have depression, but I’m not depressed,” Firkus says in the film. The emotional weight of their words becomes too much at one point, and he has to put down the letters.
Trixie’s resonance is due to Firkus’s honest approach. He says that instead of writing jokes and songs to comfort people, he writes from the heart, and lets “people find comfort in it however they want.” “None of my music or my jokes or my looks, I’ve never done them because an audience would like it. I do it because when I ring that bell it rings correctly in my body. It feels right to me.”
Even though he could now afford to hire more help, Firkus continues to do the bulk of his work himself. “I’m still the one carrying my suitcases around the world, and I’m still the one doing my own hair and makeup. That’s part of my art, you know. I like doing my own stuff.”
DIY is in his DNA, and even though nowadays he’s lunching with Oprah and various Hollywood types, he hasn’t lost sight of that, and he never feels less-than because of it. “I was just at a luncheon thing with Oprah and Alicia Keys and Selena Gomez and Eva Longoria, and I was like, ‘You know what? No! RuPaul etc did not build this up for us new drag queens who are in the industry [to feel like we don’t belong] – we need to accept it,” he says firmly. “That’s why, no matter what I go to, I never have imposter syndrome. I go to whatever cool Hollywood event, I walk right in there, and I’m like, ‘I belong here! I got up this morning and got ready for longer than anybody else here. I fucking belong here.’”
The documentary shows just how much Firkus has done to get to where he is, and it cements his legacy. Looking back on the time the film documented, Firkus feels proud. “It sounds kinda sad, but I think, as gay people, we don’t always have kids, so we’re like, ‘How do we have a legacy? What does it mean if we die? Have we been here? Have we done anything?’ And I think that this film made me feel like I did something with my life. I’m not going to have chubby kids around me holding my hand when I die. I’m going to have moments in my career where I influence culture that I’m going to be really proud of.”
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This article originally appeared on i-D US.