Drag legend Coco Peru has never performed in Atlanta, but that all changes at two appearances this week, beginning Wednesday with director Jim Fall and a retrospective Out On Film screening of their gay comedy “Trick.”
Peru credits the 1999 comedy (trailer above) and instant gay classic for changing her life – literally. “I wouldn’t be living in Los Angeles if it weren’t for it,” Peru says. “I was living in New York before.”
At the time, she was performing here and there and developing a reputation, but it wasn’t always easy to promote her shows pre Internet and social media. She played gigs around the country with only the help of press and flyers, in the hope people would come out. “Trick,” which is screening as a retrospective to honor Out On Film’s 25th anniversary, changed that.
In the film, Gabriel (Christian Campbell) a writer of Broadway musicals, meets stripper Mark (John Paul Pitoc), and there is an instant attraction. The two look for a place to spend some time alone that night. It never quite works, however, and along the way Gabriel encounters a jealous drag queen (Coco Peru) in a gay dance club. Peru has a monologue that has become legendary, capped with the infamous “It Burns” line, referencing a certain fluid that has gotten in her eye.
How Peru came to be part of the film and how that scene came about are ironic, the drag queen says, laughing that director Jim Fall is a Coco groupie. They met because he was dating the guy who did Peru’s lighting.
“Jim wrote me into the script, and I wrote the monologue,” Peru says. Producers told Fall to lose the monologue, but as Peru was helping the director to audition actors, they realized they had comic gold and kept her in. When the scene was shot, on film, the stock was running out. She had three chances to get it right and wasn’t really pleased with any take.
“I was a nervous wreck – there was so much pressure,” Peru admits. “I thought I had lost my only chance to be good in a movie.”
That part lead to a bigger screen role in “Girls Will Be Girls.” “Girls” happened by mistake,” Peru admits.
“I did a benefit with (“Girls” co-star) Jack Plotnick, and people thought we were funny together,” she says. “I said, ‘Why don’t we turn this into a movie.’ We did and wrote Varla [Jean Merman] into it. It didn’t do well in theaters but became a thing. Now there are staged readings; it’s been done as a play. People all over have seen it. ”
A “Girls” sequel scheduled for 2013 is being filmed with the entire cast returning, and Peru would love to come back to Atlanta for that and bring her co-stars.
The decision to become Coco Peru was an easy one for the performer, known sans drag as Clinton Leupp.
“When I made the decision to do drag, I joke that it was a spiritual experience,” Peru says. “I have never felt that focused.”
Peru credits her longevity in the business to being organized and professional, and that should come in handy this week, as she won’t get much free time while in Atlanta. The Wednesday Out On Film appearance is followed by a Thursday one-queen-show performance at Mixx. She hopes to at least partake in some fried food while in town, just not so much that she won’t be able to get in her dress.
“Trick” screens Wednesday, Oct. 10 at 9:10 p.m. at Midtown Art Cinema as part of Out On Film. Coco Peru answers questions with director Jim Fall after the screening, then performs Thursday at Mixx Atlanta at 8 p.m. Check out Wednesday’s full movie lineup beginning on page 42 of the online Out On Film guide.
Columnist Jim Farmer is festival director for Out On Film