With Swan song, Todd Stephens paid tribute to a muse from his childhood in Sandusky, Ohio, who continues to inspire him to this day.
In a conversation with film stars Udo Kier and Linda Evans at Deadline’s South by Southwest virtual studio, the writer / director provided a glimpse into the life of hairstylist Pat Pitsenbarger.
“When I was little… I saw this wonderful stylish little man, dressed in bright colors, walking around the city center, who looked very different from everyone,” recalls Stephens. “When I was growing up, it was pretty conservative in Sandusky, and everyone looked a bit alike. But here’s this guy who… wore a soft velvet hat and feather boa, and smoked the long brown cigarette More.
Having become “obsessed” with the mysterious Pat over the years, Stephens met him most closely at the age of 17, when we first walked into the local gay bar, The Universal Fruit and Nut Company. “[When] I had the courage to go … I saw something sparkling and shimmering on the dance floor, and I turned around, and there was the same man, wearing that outrageous pantsuit. It was Pat, “said the director.” I like to say that he gave me the courage to be me and to be different, because I felt like I never fit in no more. So he was kind of like my spirit animal.
Unfortunately, Stephens never got to know Pitsenbarger well. Shortly after his aforementioned meeting, he moved to New York City. “But I always knew I wanted to make a movie about him,” he said, and he did.
Also starring Jennifer Coolidge and Michael Urie, Stephens’ fourth feature film picks up with Pat (Kier) at a time when he gave up life, as a retiree confined to a small town nursing home. Afterward, he is called upon to style the final hairstyle of his longtime client, recently deceased Rita Parker Sloan (Evans), and he confronts the ghosts of his past, as he embarks on a remarkable journey through Sandusky.
Coming out of Bacurau and The painted bird– “two great movies” in which he had been tasked with playing “the bad guy” – Kier could not have been approached with a more different type of character than Pat. Naturally, then, he was immediately compelled by the script in front of him. “For me it was pretty amazing. I like movies like that. I mean, sometimes you also like movies where you have a trailer, and people are leading you every moment, where you go, ”the actor admitted. “But this movie was a low budget movie, and everyone was very normal. I had a great time with the actors.
When Evans read the script for Swan song, she too felt the special nature of the project. “When I spoke to Todd it was a done deal. Because of his passion for it, I knew he was going to make a little gem out of it, ”she said. “Todd wrote such a powerful script that had so much heart in it.”
Perhaps best known for her turn as Dynastyby Krystle Carrington, which earned him a Golden Globe and five total nominations, Evans hadn’t performed much in the years leading up to this project, so there was a bit of reluctance to return to the screen. But like Kier, she immediately fell in love with Stephens’ hometown when she first ventured there, which only added to the quality of her experience.
“You know, you hope there are places like this in the world where you show up and everyone is real, and everyone cares. It’s like going back in time. 50 or something, “Evans said.” It was just real and lovely. I just automatically liked Sandusky.
As Kier prepared for his portrayal of Pat, he kept in mind a motto he had taken from his collaborations with Lars von Tier: “Don’t act. “
“So I didn’t act. I was living it, “the actor explained.” While I was there I became the person, [or] as close as I could get to the information.
Although mostly light and full of comedic moments, Swan song had a bittersweet concern at its center, for Stephens. Examining the experience of a character lost in a world he no longer recognizes, the film was intended as a “love letter” to the gay culture of the rapidly disappearing past in America.
The unfortunate realization that Stephens has had in recent years is that, as the LGBTQ + community has become an increasingly accepted place in society, the places that once served as the only safe spaces for it continue to shrink. “I felt, as a 17 year old kid who found himself, that this [Universal Fruit and Nut] bar, and this community saved my life. Going there was like coming home and meeting a whole new family, so it was really important to me, ”he said. “What’s interesting is that Pat’s generation built this bar, literally. For me, they built the gay community, and were my ancestors and my ancestors… But now a lot of gay bars, I think the younger generation doesn’t need them as much.
“Since it was more acceptable to hold your boyfriend’s hand in McDonald’s, we don’t need the fruits and nuts as much anymore, I guess,” the director added. ” But we ? I was really trying to ask this question.
Swan song premieres at South by Southwest today at 10:00 a.m. PT. Check out our conversation with the director of the photo and the stars above.
The Deadline Studio is sponsored by Acast.