A Very Sordid Interview

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 When I first watched Sordid Lives, I knew someone had to be watching my life over my shoulder. The storylines were too real. The characters were too real. I see reflections of so many people in my life growing up, from immediate family, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, second cousins, third cousins, great aunts great uncles, neighbors, school teachers, classmates—if you grew up in Texas, you can relate to many of the characters in any of the Sordid Lives stories. 

Now Del Shores has released A Very Sordid Wedding, the outrageously funny sequel to his play, movie and TV series Sordid Lives. The film brings back an all-star ensemble cast of characters, rooted in the Southern Baptist world of Winters, Texas, in the weeks following the U.S. Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage equality ruling where not everyone there is ready to accept it.

When I finally had the opportunity to interview Del Shores, I had to share the story of the time I showed Sordid Lives to my parents. It was on the way to one of our family reunions (where many of the Sordid relatives awaited our arrival). I popped the DVD in my laptop and we watched the movie (matching characters to relatives) on the tiny work table in the La Quinta hotel off I-35 near Waco, Texas. 

"This is so weird and creepy. This is crazy. First of all, I went to Baylor, and I worked at that La Quinta when I was a Freshman, right by the Denny's," exclaims Del. "Second, I went back to Waco recently and we played "A Very Sordid Wedding" the Hippodrome and sold out 200 seats on Monday night. It was my greatest—how do you say 'Fuck You' nicely—to Baylor."

No shit! This is the man who had been looking over my shoulder my whole life. Del grew up in Zapata, TX, about 160 miles from my home town in Corpus Christi. 

Del: Hold on, I'm in Houston, just getting off the train at George Bush Airport. Wait, Is it George W. No, it's just Bush—who would have thought the Bush's would be better than Trump, right?

I'm sorry, I got so excited that you stayed at La Quinta, I don't want to discount the fact that you showed the movie to your parents. One of the greatest gifts for me is to hear stories about people who are comfortable enough with this gay-ish movie and they were able to related to it in way that they were able to show it to their folks. I think it opened a lot of hearts up. That wasn't my intention when I wrote it, but it's certainly been the stories that I've been told that makes me feel good.

Russ: What inspired Sordid Lives to begin with?

Del: Sordid Lives has been an amazing journey for me. It started in 1996 with the play and 'Ty'. It was loosely based on my mom and our relationship and my therapy sessions and coming out. Now I've become this activist and this loud, not very politically-correct gay man who screams loudly watching us obtain gay marriage state by state.

Russ: Bring me up to date with Sordid Lives

Del: The series was an amazing creative experience for me that got mired in lawsuits. I had a bad taste in my mouth. But as the journey continued, it wasn't a bad taste for Sordid Lives, it was just angry at the situation. So many fans kept saying we want another one, we want another series. Of course, the series was not available to me because of bankruptcies so I didn't have the rights anymore.

Russ: Now you have A Very Sordid Wedding. How did that come about?

Del: I was able to get the rights to another movie. I kept asking myself, and audiences kept asking me—what happened to the characters? I decided I needed to catch us up. I made Ty and his husband these activists that go state by state and get married in every state that they could as part of Ty's job and publicity. I wanted to explore these characters and what happens when equality comes rushing into Winters, TX, to rural Texas. I made a couple of calls to the courthouse there after the Supreme Court decision—which altered the script!

By the way, we crowdfunded the movie and that was such a gift because it took us so long to raise the money, I was able to re-write and advance the story by one year to accommodate the Supreme Court decision and it just played beautifully into the story. 

Russ: That's certainly a twist when you start writing a story based on current day events and then an epic change like marriage equality happens. How did you adapt?

Del: We saw some politicians and Christians (not all of them) say gay marriage was so threatening to them. The Kim Davises of the world–don't get me started on the Huckabees—Pat Robertson, just hating in the name of the Lord.

I wanted to explore what happened to people like my mom and my Aunt Sissy who are confronted with a gay son or a gay nephew and how they really did research on my behalf. There was an evolution going on. I wanted to celebrate that there was progress being made within those pews. It was a wonderful and complicated journey for my characters. Some evolved and some didn't. It was fodder for a lot of writing. The whole time I had to put my fear on the back burner, I say it all the time—the gays are more judgemental than the Christians—and I know that they were going to judge this work.

Russ: How has your mom handled the popularity of these shows?

Del: I lost my mom after the movie came out. Latrelle has been my fantasy of what my mom would have become. Bonnie Bedelia embodies my mother. It's scary. Every time I return to the franchise and Bonnie steps into those heels my mother is back. My mother was such a mouth. As we say in the south "I got it honestly." One of the last things she said to me was "I want you to know that you're going to continue to have trouble with some of these family members about this 'gay thing' but you keep going because I'm with you."

And she is with me. That crazy that I inhabit that I write. I go into those characters minds and souls and hearts and I feel them as I write them. When the characters of Latrelle and Sissy hijack that anti-equality revival it stabs you in the heart its so touching. Latrelle is standing there fighting for her son who is standing there watching her. It's a beautiful collaboration between Bonnie and Dale Dickey who stepped in to play Sissy. They are both so brilliant. The whole cast slayed. 

Russ: You have so much of the original cast. 

Del: We lost Juanita. I think I killed her by taking her to Winnipeg. She was like family to me. I swear Sarah Hunley died because of the election of Donald Trump. She started drinking. She called it early on. She just could not live to see him elected.

We were in Ft. Lauderdale when we had a Q&A when someone asked "Are there going to be more?" I said no, this is it. This is the last chapter. There was a groan over the audience and Ann Walker, who plays LaVonda, grabbed the mic and said “Honey, we're dropping like flies!"

It really truly is an amazing ending to the franchise. The fans are really loving it.

Russ White