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  JERRY HALL
STEPHANIE SEYMORE
MARC JACOBS
  ASIA ARGENTO
DENNIS HOPPER
ABEL FERRARA
BRIAN WILSON
WILL OLDHAM
DJ SPOOKY

Alexis Arquette, 1999

WITH CHRIS LEE
PHOTOGRAPHED BY ANTHONY PEARSON


Alexis is not the Arquette who appears in the Scream movies, that's his brother David. And Alexis is not a woman, like his famous sisters Rosanna and Patricia, though occasionally he is seen in nightclubs and movies like Wigstock as his drag diva alter-ego, Eva Destruction. Alexis has appeared in roles both large and small in dozens of movies ranging from his debut in 1989's Last Exit to Brooklyn to well-received indies like Grief and mega-hits like Pulp Fiction. Most recently he appeared with Margot Kidder in Never Met Picasso as a frustrated painter, and with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore in The Wedding Singer as "a Boy George type guy." His latest film, I Think I Do, opens later this month, and Alexis is so busy with other new projects that he actually phoned me on a Sunday afternoon from a busy Hollywood set. Cool! And curiously enough, most people don't even know what he looks like.



CHRIS: You seem to have done a lot of what they call B-movies, a lot of "Future Camp." Is that what you enjoy or just what's come your way?
ALEXIS: I've been doing the horror genre a lot. I did Children of the Corn Part 5. And Jack Be Nimble, which was not really planned to be campy, although it's very Carrie-esque. But yeah, I'm definitely a fan of splatter. And I like horror better than ... well, I did a film called Clubland. I haven't seen it yet, but I'm hearing that it's like a rock n' roll Showgirls. It's basically just a vehicle for Glen Ballard — who produced Alanis Morissette, wrote all her music — it's a vehicle for all his bands, so it's sort of like "The Monkees."

CHRIS: There's something called Inside Out listed on your filmography, what's that?
ALEXIS: That's a short by Jason Gould.

CHRIS: Barbra Streisand's son?
ALEXIS: Yeah. It's very funny. It's all about growing up as a celebrity child. I don't have a big role, I play his best friend.

CHRIS: Is it supposed to be autobiographical?
ALEXIS: Well, there was a scene where I wanted to "act," as usual, [laughs] add a line and omit one and change it for another. The scene is in a thrift store and he's talking about his brother who was just arrested for streaking, and about someone doing an impersonation of his mother or someone like that. So I wanted to say, "You know, I was wondering about that, do you sing? Have you ever tried?" — because, you know, his mother's a great singer. And he was like, "No, no, we're not going to do that." I go "Why?" And he goes, "My Mom's not my mom in the movie." I'm like, "Really? Okay, your dad plays your dad in the movie and you keep referring to your mom as a superstar. Okay, your mom's not your mom. Who is your mom?" And he goes, "She's more like Donna Mills." I'm like "No. It ain't gonna play, baby."
I don't know why people don't just embrace the truth. Strength comes out of that. I mean, maybe he fears his mother. Of course, who wouldn't? But it was funny because I had just worked with James Brolin in Goodbye America, which was shot in the Philippines. It was when they were "falling in love." It was so hilarious.

CHRIS: Was Barbra hanging around then?
ALEXIS: No, she was in America. And they had just started, so there was this phone relationship. It was in his contract that all his phone calls would be paid for. That was okay ... until the phone bill came at the end of the movie. Fifteen thousand dollars. Is that possible? What, do you stay on the phone for like all night? He must be on the phone 24 hours with this woman. She ended up paying, which I thought was genius.

CHRIS: I kept seeing your name associated with different club events here in New York, and then I didn't see it anymore. What happened?
ALEXIS: I was living there for about eight months last year. I went there to be involved with theater and I got caught up with the club scene, which is what happens to everybody in New York. A lot of my friends worked in the clubs, so it was fun. But I didn't do a lot of performing, I only did about three or four shows, one of which was New Year's at Jackie 60. So God, it's been over a year now. I do miss New York and I wish I could live there, but you gotta come and suck off the nipple, the great nipple of Hollywood, that's what everyone does.

CHRIS: You did some film work while in New York though, including Brian Sloan's film I Think I Do, which he described to me as "one wedding, no funerals."
ALEXIS: [laughs] Yeah, well that's a very clippy kind of answer, but I would say it's a story about unrequited love, and it's very much a slapstick or screwball comedy. It's kind of got all those '30s elements of misunderstandings, gossip. It's this mosaic of all these characters who were all college friends that grew up together and have all these secrets from each other. It's interesting because you know how people change after college, and they try to act differently and they want you to believe certain things about them. I'm pretty proud of that movie. It makes me laugh. There's things I would have done differently. But you always have regrets. And especially on a low budget movie, it's a difficult experience, it's very trying on the body and the mind. There's a point where you rebel against the people you're working with. You get very angry and you start saying things like, "I don't care anymore." But out of that grows, "You know what, I have to do this right because that's my face on screen." You have to take responsibility for that.

CHRIS: When has been your most rebellious moment?
ALEXIS: Goodbye America. They had us working for hours and hours and hours like dogs.

CHRIS: In the Philippines, right?
ALEXIS: Yeah, it was hellacious. They'd call us to set at 7:00 in the evening and we wouldn't work until like, 5:30 in the morning. So we'd just be sitting there. So finally, we were shooting near our hotel, and I just walked off set and didn't tell anybody and went back to my hotel room. I don't really throw tantrums. I guess I throw a tantrum every now and then. One time I threw a little tantrum on this movie called TV Cowboy. There's a scene where the other actor and I are having ... I'm drunk and he's trying to wake me up in the shower, and we slip and fall and it's supposed to be funny, but we fall in the tub and we end up kind of having this little moment. And I was like, "We're not doing this too many times," and we ended up doing the thing and there was a sound blanket in there and something showed, so the whole shot was ruined.

CHRIS: I think the first time I became aware of you was in, embarrassingly enough, Threesome, and I say embarrassingly because I've seen you in much better films than that.
ALEXIS: Oh yeah, definitely.

CHRIS: But how did you feel about Threesome — you played a great character but you end up the butt of all the jokes.
ALEXIS: Oh yeah, I'm the openly gay one. What that film says is, "If you want to be gay and you want to be respected, stay in the closet. Don't let your love be known, don't let your desires be known to anyone. Don't let anyone know you love Stephen Baldwin. But if you're going to be openly gay, you're going to have to be a mincing, obnoxious queen." That's how I was directed, and I fought him all the way. And the director himself is gay. I don't know if he wants to admit that, but I will, freely, and it's weird that a gay person would carry on the stereotypes.

CHRIS: I was just reading an interview with Guinevere Turner where she talked about being openly gay in film and how a lot of filmmakers, when casting a lesbian character, will think of her because they want to "get the real one." Have you run into this a lot yourself?
ALEXIS: Oh yeah, my agents — I want to fire them right now, I want to fire them this moment, because all they ever do is send me up for gay roles or drag queen roles. And it's like, okay, that's fine, they know I can do that. But before they knew that A) I was gay, and B) that I had done drag stage work, I was getting the normal auditions. People only know what they know and they only believe what they see. They're very limited, most people in this town. It's amazing how uncreative so many people in the film business are. They're people who should be CPAs. All of them should just go away. So often I'm labeled the "outsider" or the "bad boy" because I speak my mind. You know, I'll walk in and say, "Who wrote this shit?" I do speak my mind. Luckily, I came out when I was very young so I don't have to worry about that burden anymore or have fear of that. And coming out was just the sort of thing like — I have sex with men. That's it. Can we get past that?
Like right now, I have been seeing, for about two years, a woman. And people don't understand that it's my own personal life. People see me out with her at a premiere, they think, "Oh, you're trying to pretend like you're straight now?" They don't get it. They'll never get it. It's frustrating because you can never get past it, you're always this person who's thought of as one thing and not as an actor, which is upsetting to me because I feel that I've proven myself as being able to do the work, but you can never get past the label.

CHRIS: Does your last name end up being a label as well? Whenever I read anything about you or your siblings, writers always have to work the word "quirky" in there. Quirky and zany and ...
ALEXIS: Offbeat! [laughs] You know, we're not quirky, we're not zany. They're quirky, they're zany. We're normal. We're the most normal people you'll ever meet. We're way more normal than most of Hollywood. We have our shit together. Hollywood's fucked-up. We're not in therapy. We deal with our problems in our family, we confront each other, we don't live in denial.
The people in this town are completely in their own heads. Most of them don't even have any contact with their families, and if they do it's this sort of insulting "I'm better than you now because I made it in Hollywood" thing. Most people in Hollywood are ashamed of their families, I think it's ridiculous. It's the mentality like, "Mom, just drop me off down the block, I don't want anybody to see me." It's like, fuck these people. They have no real lives. They're living their lives in their offices with their cell phones as if they have some meaning in their lives, but their lives have no meaning. That's why they're so angry. That's why they're so depressed. That's why most of these suits that you see out of these studios and these agents, they're all on heroin. It's all the "normal" people that are fucking junked out. Drugs, cocaine, heroin, it's rampant in this community, and of course they're the ones in the Brooks Brothers suits and they call us "quirky." Meanwhile, we're all sober. We've all got our shit together as far as a family unit.

CHRIS: Had you wanted to be an actor from a very young age?
ALEXIS: No, actually I went to art school to be a painter. And then I went with my sister Patricia to New York when they were trying to talk her into doing Last Exit to Brooklyn. She was like, "I don't know, I'm pregnant." This was when she was 19. And they wanted her — "We'll get a nurse on set every day, blah blah blah." She just took me with her because she thought it would be fun. I'd never been to New York, I was 17. And they asked me if I wanted to read for a role because they knew that I'd done a drag thing at one of my friend's clubs. I ended up getting the job, basically through my sister. If it wasn't for her I wouldn't have been in New York.
But nobody gives you a job, you've got to earn it on your own. I would never want anyone to think that there's some kind of cachet to my name. People don't recognize me anyway, you'd be surprised. There are casting directors who have seen everything I've ever done, and when I walk into the room, if they're not told it's me, they don't know who the fuck I am. I've been told I'm kind of chameleon-like, I do change my hair color and the way I look a lot.

CHRIS: I saw stills from I Think I Do where you have a goatee and I didn't believe it was you.
ALEXIS: Haha! Right now I look like a total freak. I have bleached-out eyebrows for this job. I look so weird. That's another thing, you look weird for jobs sometimes, and you go around and people on the street are staring at you. It's like whatever, I'm working, I'm getting paid for this, who cares. Lately, I've been wearing things that are really stupid and not cool or trendy at all, like stupid clothes that are just dumb. I've been trying to just have fun with what I wear because the funny thing is, people on the street will be so judgmental of you, and people in nightclubs, these tattooed, pierced people that think they're so fucking cool.
I've hosted the Fetish Ball for about four years here in L.A., and usually at the end, after a couple of costume changes, I come out with a cape or something, and I talk about how freaky they all think they are, how special and different and how they all ran away from their conservative families to get tattooed and pierced to be genius and different. And then I'll drop my cape, I'll be totally naked except for my dick pushed back like a, you know what I mean, between my legs. I'll be butt naked up there on stage and I'll say, "But amongst you, I am the freak." Because you know what I mean, I am the total virgin skin, there's nothing, no tatts, no pierces. And it amazes me always, how people judge you just on what you wear. In a way it's a good buffer, a good way to keep people out of your life who are just completely shallow and meaningless, people who care about things like clothing.

CHRIS: We're about the same age, and I remember being a teenager when your sister Rosanna was suddenly everywhere, and I wondered how that was for you. I still love Desperately Seeking Susan.
ALEXIS: Yeah, it was weird, it was weird meeting Madonna on the "Material Girl" video set. I was like 13 or 14. I still have a Polaroid of Patricia and myself sitting with Madonna in back of us, with her hands on our heads like as if she's the Pope. And Rosanna was really sweet, she would drag us to concerts all the time, and all her friends were rock stars, she was with Peter Gabriel for a long time.
She got me my first job ever, in fact, which was the Tubes' video "She's A Beauty," where I play this little kid who's on a ride with all these women and whatnot. That was the first time that I'd ever seen somebody doing like, cocaine. There was this woman who was dressed like a mermaid, doing blow with the makeup artist. And I had no idea. And then one of the dancers had this huge package, and was like hitting on me — meanwhile, I'm 12 years old. He kept giving me this look, like he wants to do me, and I was scared shitless. Of course, now I think back, I should have gone for it. [laughs] I was a very sexual child. So to be around that world, that rock n' roll world, really stimulated me in a big way. After that video came out, I'd go to clubs and people were like, "Oh my god, you're in that video — are you Rosanna Arquette's brother?" You know, when you're young you're like, so proud, but then it becomes obnoxious — to the point where you know people are only talking to you for that reason. I mean, I would not want to be Christopher Ciccone, if you know what I'm saying. Because you have no identity of your own, you're merely "the brother of." And inherently you're competitive, even if you don't want to be. But if I go up for a part and I don't get it, I'd rather my brother get it than some stranger.

CHRIS: Have you ever been up for the same part?
ALEXIS: Oh yeah, I've been up for the same things as my brother. But David's in a different league now. He gets offers. He can pick and choose. But people can say really obnoxious things, they come up to you, "Why aren't you doing as well as your brother?" You get that a lot. The thing is, big budget movies are great, everyone wants to get paid big money, but not everyone has the same goals in this world. Just because you're an actor doesn't mean you want to be known by everyone who walks the planet.
People always think that you audition, you want the job, you do anything for the job — I could care less. I've gone through years of just doing films in obscurity. I'm not like somebody who's chasing fame in a great way, I just like to work. But there's nothing worse than working for some director who thinks they've done you some sort of a favor. They feel that for all actors.

CHRIS: So what is your goal?
ALEXIS: I enjoy being a character actor, I enjoy being different in everything. I want a private life, I want to be able to go to 7-11 and not get into a fight with a guy because he saw me in a movie, or not have people hitting on me simply because they saw me in a movie. You want to be wanted for who you are, not what you've done or who you've become, and it's hard. And I'm sure some people think, "God, if I was famous or if I was an actor, I'd get laid all the time, boy would I use that." And I mean, I've had that opportunity and it really doesn't make you feel good. In the long run they might as well be screwing some magazine interview.

CHRIS: Didn't you do an episode of Roseanne?
ALEXIS: That was towards the end of the whole thing, when the two gay guys get married or whatever. I was really upset with that one because, I mean, Laurie Metcalf is a friend of mine. So when I got to the set I thought it would be really fun, you know, I could work with her. Of course, Roseanne cut every little moment I had, so basically I was a featured extra. It's like, God forbid anyone's funnier than her. I've heard good things about her, but to me she's a fat bitch. When I say fat bitch, I mean that in a literal sense.

CHRIS: And you were in a dress again for that, right?
ALEXIS: Yeah. It was a waste of time.
CHRIS: Now how did Wigstock affect your life, because I always find it interesting when someone plays themselves in a movie.
ALEXIS: Well, I was playing my character, which is not myself, you know what I mean? There were scenes which sort of upset me, where they filmed us in the shower. I didn't expect that, nobody knew, I didn't know they were going to film us as not in character. I didn't like the whole documentary of watching them "become." That bores me, that's a straight sensibility. People who are like, "Oh, I want to see it go from a man to a woman." Big fucking deal. I don't want that. If I'm playing a character I want them to be immersed completely in the "illusion." I want them to really believe the character. Nobody wants to see Lily Tomlin get into her drag as a guy.
Drag can do a lot of things for people, it can make them look at their ideas of femininity, masculinity. People always say, "Men and women are different." We are so not different. Women are just as sexual as men. This idea that women are less sexual, it's bull. Women learn to be chased, men learn to be fuckin' horndogs. It's a learned experience. Men always are stumped when I say, "Well, why do you have nipples?" They can't believe that they've never considered that before — it's because you were born a woman and you became a man. They don't get it. So much of their life and their identity is built up in their masculinity that if you take that away for a second they don't exist, they don't know who they are. People don't realize that, and drag is one way of throwing all that up in the air and making fun of it. Our ideas of sexuality are all learned, they're all in our heads, they have nothing to do with emotions or reality or, you know, love, which is what we're all looking for.

CHRIS: Everyone I've told about talking to you mentions your lips. People really seem to like them.
ALEXIS: Really? Give them my number. I don't know. Even my brother the other day looked at me and was like, "Are your lips getting bigger?" Listen, I wish that my lips could get me a little more work. I'm trying to work this waif thing for as long as it lasts. I know that thin lips are coming back.  

© index magazinegelatin1
Alexis Arquette by Anthony Pearson, 1999
Copyright © 2008 index Magazine and index Worldwide. All rights reserved.
All photos by index photographers: Leeta Harding, Richard Kern, David Ortega, Ryan McGinley, Terry Richardson, and Juergen Teller