Family matters

Chris Azzopardi
By | 2017-08-07T09:00:00-04:00 August 7th, 2017|Entertainment|

When Saint Clair Shores native Chris Pudlo scored his series-debut on Logo’s “Sordid Lives,” it didn’t immediately sink in that he’d work with a menagerie of acting icons. Or get an ass spanking by one.
Back in January, when most of the play-turned-series was shot, the out 26-year-old was hanging with costume designer and co-star Craig Taggart, watching – like any good gay – “Golden Girls” one night. The next afternoon, while shooting in Shreveport, La., the former local quoted a Blanche zinger to Rue McClanahan, who played the sex-crazed hornball then and was cast as the matriarch, Peggy Ingram, in the July 23 Logo channel debut “Sordid Lives: The Series.”
“I said that?” he recalls her saying. “Wow, I still wish I looked that way.”
He assured her she does, but she wouldn’t have it: “You’re a liar, liar, liar, pants on fire! Put out that fire!”
Then, she slapped his butt.
Pudlo didn’t share a scene with the veteran actress in the Southern soap, a Del Shores-written and directed film prequel that’s equally trailer-trash family saga and coming-out tale. But interacting with her – even being centimeters away from her – was an experience worth reliving. McClanahan, who told us she’d be up for a second dose, shared the sentiment about the series. So long as a certain someone wouldn’t be too close to her.
“Everybody was great to work with, everybody was – no, there was one that wasn’t,” she laughs, tight-lipped about whom it was. Then realizing: “Gee, that indites everybody, doesn’t it?”
Instead of bluntly revealing the culprit with whom she had an on-set squabble, she ran through the cast list, naming a slew of pleasant co-stars, like Caroline Rhea, Olivia Newton-John, Beth Grant and Leslie Jordan – but not enough to, by process of elimination, pin the arch rival.
“It wasn’t me,” claims Rosemary Alexander, who reprises her stage and film role. And she’s right; she was one of the actors McClanahan mentioned. Alexander, who grew up on the east side of Detroit and attended Michigan State University, plays Dr. Eve Bolinger, whose goal is to de-gay Peggy’s cross-dressing third child “Brother Boy,” who resides in a mental institution, played by “Will & Grace” alum Leslie Jordan. To win him over, her therapeutic tip involves masturbation. Lots of it.
“I have to separate myself from Dr. Eve and say I wouldn’t take Dr. Eve’s advice on anything, in any way,” she laughs. “She’s so misguided, bless her heart.”
She pauses briefly. “Not that I don’t recommend masturbation, but purely for your own pleasure.”

Executive producer Damian Ganczewski wasn’t exaggerating one smidgen when he gushed over McClanahan, saying that she “says what she thinks.”
And though we’ve given up figuring out who the troublemaker is, Ganczewski only offers kudos to the entire cast: “We were very fortunate, but they all loved the material; they loved Del.”
Even with a crunched production schedule, which had the cast shooting 12 episodes in 35 days. Seven episodes would’ve been typical, McClanahan told us. Shooting stretched from the early morning to the late evening, and by the time it got to be 8-ish, Alexander and Jordan, who share many scenes together, would forget lines – and begin getting goofy.
“It’s the best job in the world to be Leslie’s audience from two feet away,” Alexander says, as she names off his umpteen glowing qualities. “When we were filming the movie, we did a take and I did something that I’d never done before, I kind of mocked him. And then, the next take, I didn’t do it and he said, ‘Oh, Rosemary – do that! Mock me! That’s really funny.’ And it turned out to be one of my best laughs.”
Many of the actors, including Bonnie Bedelia as Latrelle Williamson, Beth Grant as Sissy Hicky, and Newton-John as Bitsy Mae Harling, resurrect their film and/or theater roles for the series (Delta Burke, who had to attend to family matters, was replaced by Rhea, who played Noleta). For “Sordid Lives” vet Alexander, working as a recurring character was easier then the short stints she’s had on “Chicago Hope” and “Dharma & Greg.”
“You’re trying to jump on a train that’s going 90-miles-an-hour,” she says of guest spots. “It’s very daunting and, of course, every day you’re there you get more comfortable and it gets easier. So doing a series – and ‘Sordid Lives’ especially, because we did the play for 14 months here in L.A. and then a couple of years ago we did the revival and we toured it around the country, and then we filmed the movie – we’re a family.
“We all know each other really, really well, and we’re real comfortable. It’s just about the greatest fun I’ve ever had, honestly.”

Chris Pudlo always wanted to play crazy. And he modeled mental patient, Conroy, after a friend of his growing up who was autistic and constantly rubbing his eyes and giggling. Shores allowed Pudlo, who’s honed his imitation knack through small self-projects (which can be seen on YouTube), to add his own spices to the character. And he did.
“I do really good impressions,” Pudlo says, “so he (Shores) thought he would write a character that mimics everybody in the mental home, most especially Leslie Jordan. And so I asked him, ‘Well, what if every time I do that, I burst into laughter, like ’cause I think it’s so hysterical that I mimic everybody?’ And he liked the idea, so I just used people from life and just kept adding on to it.”
McClanahan gradually got acquainted with Peggy. “I don’t think I’ve ever played a character like Peggy in my life,” she says. “And I wasn’t sure how to exactly characterize her, but I just took it easy and slowly and got to get to know her. We didn’t have time to rehearse, so it all had to be done by the seat of your pants.”
But how could she pass up a Del Shores script? She couldn’t: “The situations and the characters and the language: Everything about the script was so funny.”
Pudlo, who spent 18 years in Michigan before moving to California to pursue acting, was already familiar with Shores before filming “Sordid Lives”; they met in 2002 while working on the revival of another Shores play, “Southern Baptist Sissies.” Even with a smaller role on “Sordid Lives,” sharing a set with the likes of Jordan, Newton-John and McClanahan made him happier than a pup with two peters.
“It hits me more now,” he says, “like when I know that the show’s coming out and actually looking at the IMDB of the cast and I’m like, ‘Wow, I was working with all those people.'”
Working – and getting spanked.

‘Sordid Lives: The Series’
10 p.m. July 23

About the Author:

Chris Azzopardi
As editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBTQ wire service, Chris Azzopardi has interviewed a multitude of superstars, including Cher, Meryl Streep, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé. His work has also appeared in GQ, Vanity Fair and Billboard. Reach him via Twitter @chrisazzopardi.