The title didn’t roll off the tongue, but the sweet story about three drag performers who get stranded in a small Nebraska town, where some minds don’t want to be opened, still charms and remains perfectly relevant.
“From the first time I heard about [the movie], I knew I wanted to be in it,” Swayze, who played the matriarchal Vida Boheme, wrote in his 2009 memoir, The Time of My Life. “It would be an amazing challenge to transform myself into a convincing woman, and playing a man in drag would really stretch me.”
It was 1995 and, multiple sources told Yahoo! Entertainment 20 years later, an array of Hollywood leading men—from Mel Gibson and Robert Downey Jr. to John Cusack and Willem Dafoe—agreed to screen-test in drag for the part of Vida, which was cast after John Leguizamo and Wesley Snipes had signed on.
“I just took Patrick Swayze’s life growing up in redneck Texas, having a mother as a choreographer, and trying to find out who I was,” Swayze later told The Advocate. “I just took that life and changed it to a boy who has had feminine tendencies all his life and discovered that is who he is. I found Vida very easy to identify with.”
He wrote in his book that he modeled Vida after Lauren Bacall, Demi Moore, Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and his choreographer mother, Patsy. And the co-stars hung out with actual drag queens, of course.
“Spending time with these men was incredibly eye-opening,” Swayze wrote. “Not only did they have an amazing sense of humor, they also had amazing courage. It takes cojones to be exactly who you are, especially when it’s so different from what society has dictated for you.”
Meanwhile, he was in the makeup chair by 4 a.m. every morning and needed a shave five times a day to combat stubble.
And Jennifer Grey need not feel bad. Tensions ran high between Swayze and Leguizamo, both of whom wrote about their rocky relationship on set, including a fight that broke out when Swayze lost it over the comedian’s tendency to improvise. “Finally, completely fed up, I snapped, ‘Oh, God! Would you just shut the f–k up for once?'” Swayze wrote.
“Patrick swings. And I swing. Both of us in Frederick’s of Hollywood,” Leguizamo wrote in Pimps, Hos, Playa Hatas, and All the Rest of My Hollywood Friends. “I’m in hot pants. He’s in f–k-me pumps.… They break it up before we can start pulling each other’s hair and scratching each other’s eyes out.”