The Queerty Interview
Academy Award winner Olympia Dukakis has long been a favorite among gay audiences. Not only has she starred in films and miniseries we love (Steel Magnolias, Moonstruck, Tales of the City), she’s stood up to religious organizations on our behalf, and she’s not afraid to butch it up onscreen. On top of that, she’s a no-nonsense woman who says it like she sees it.
In Big Driver, she plays Doreen, a character in a series of mystery books who’s very much alive in the mind of the writer, played by Maria Bello. Based on a Stephen King short story, the movie takes a very dark turn when the writer is brutally assaulted by a serial killer and decides to take matters into her own hands, with much encouragement and (sometimes awkward) comic relief from Doreen.
Queerty spoke to Dukakis about the film, her first exposure to the gay community, women in Hollywood, and her transgender awakening.
Of all the roles you’ve played, you’ve said that Anna Madrigal from Tales of the City is among your favorites. What is it about her that meant so much to you?
She fought so hard and paid such a price to be authentic. She struggled for that and she arrived. We all strive to do that. And sometimes in doing that there are prices to pay. I had a very interesting conversation at the time. I told the producers that I’d read about these [gender reassignment] operations. There were only two biographies out at the time. But I said, “I’ve got to talk to somebody who’s been through this experience. I feel so distanced from it.” So, while we were in San Francisco, they introduced me to a woman who had been a man and who was a gender therapist — she was actually a therapist counseling people with these issues. She came to my apartment. She was, like, six-three with enormous hands, a soft voice, and a lovely figure. She walked in, we sat down to have coffee, and I said, “Tell me, what was it that was so important to you” — this is how naïve and uninformed I was — “that made it possible for you to go through this transition which is really physically difficult and painful?” And she said to me, “All my life I yearned for the friendship of women.” I don’t know what the hell I expected but I did not expect that. She wanted to connect with women because that’s what she was. She wanted to be true to who she was, and she had been denied that intimacy of friendship. I just started to cry. She put my head in such a different space, a place that I understood and knew as a human being. I didn’t have to go through what she was going through. She helped me see that. And it made doing that film so personal.