Pride

How Trixie Mattel Opened Herself Up For an 'Artistic Biopsy' in New 'Moving Parts' Documentary

Trixie Mattel
Jenny Regan

Trixie Mattel photographed on April 26, 2019. 

At the premiere of her new documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival, Trixie Mattel stood as a glowing example of the endless possibilities for a drag queen in the modern era. Dressed in a pink, old-Hollywood-style gown to present the new film, the queen radiated the celebrity status that she has grown over the last four years.

But as she sits down at a vanity in the Billboard offices the day after the screening, Mattel says that she doesn’t feel that status. “You tour the world, you're on TV multiple times a week, you have a big album and a big single... but you're also not a real celebrity,” she says. “You don't have people, or a team, it's just you. It's just you in your garage.”

That is a fact stated time and time again throughout the new documentary Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts. The film, which is directed by Nick Zeig-Owens and described by Mattel as a "clean-cut artistic biopsy," takes a sobering look at the busiest year in the life of the drag superstar -- she had her own television show with fellow star Katya Zamolodchikova, wrote and released a successful folk album, went on a world tour, and won season three of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars. “It was Amy Schumer's 2015, but for drag queens,” she cracks.

But while the film takes time to address each of the stellar accomplishments throughout her whirlwind year, it also focuses its sights on the man behind all of the “clown makeup,” Brian Firkus. Throughout the documentary, fans are given an unfiltered look at the moments in between the star’s major breakthroughs, be they for better or worse.

Mattel says that audiences expecting to see something akin to Justin Bieber: Never Say Never or Katy Perry: Part of Me should be warned that this is not “one of those” documentaries. “For me, this is one of the most honest gestures a drag queen has ever done,” she remarks. “Drag is all about the facade, and it's all about the creation, and this is really all about the man behind the curtain.”

The process of filming the documentary began when Mattel realized that she was on the verge of a breakthrough year. Wanting to create a record of her celebrity moment, the star decided that the best thing to do was to film a documentary. “I'm a drag queen, so when I heard they were going to film me, I was like, ‘Great, it will be this music video for how c---y and fierce I am,’” she says. “Instead, it's more like Drugs, Inc.”

Lisa Predko
Trixie Mattel

It’s fitting that the film is titled after Mattel’s “Moving Parts,” an emotionally confounding track about learning to accept both good and bad things as a part of the greater whole. Some scenes in the film are lighthearted and fun, showing the writing and recording process of Mattel’s album One Stone , winning Drag Race and meeting fans backstage at shows.

But other parts of the film illustrate a much darker side of the drag queen that her fans have yet to see. In one section of the film, Mattel details being abused by her stepfather, to the point where she had to go live with her grandparents to get away from him.

“There's a reason I never bring that stuff up, it's because I don't like talking about it… I don't identify with the storyline that, ‘I wear wigs because bad things happened to me,’” she says. “I was so comfortable [with Nick Zieg-Owens] that I didn't think about it.”

One storyline throughout the film that will shock fans tracks the deteriorating friendship between Mattel and her co-star, Katya. What initially starts with the two friends laughing and joking together, as fans are used to seeing, quickly devolves into a bitter falling out, with scenes showing the co-star walking off the set of their Viceland show and sending hurtful, angry messages to Mattel about her performance on All Stars 3.

While the two ultimately patched up their relationship -- Katya sought treatment for her drug abuse, and the two became friends again shortly afterward -- Mattel is still visibly uncomfortable talking about what happened to their relationship. “Imagine the worst fallout you've ever had with a friend being filmed and shown in front of thousands of people,” she says.

But the star says that she wanted the film to be honest, and to exclude her volatile relationship with Katya would have been the antithesis of what she wanted to accomplish. “We watched it together, and Brian [McCook, Katya’s birth name] and I were obviously very uncomfortable. But we were also like ,‘That is how it was, though,’” she says. “At no point in this film do I think it's gratuitous or exploitative, and that was extremely important to me.”

Honesty is one of the most potent throughlines of Mattel’s career -- whether it’s in her music, her comedy, or in the new film, the star draws her audience in by keeping things truthful, even when undercutting matters with silly jokes. “At all times, I am doing something stupid that's motivated by truth,” Mattel says. “That's why it works…  it's always my job to get an audience teetering on the feeling of ‘Should I be laughing or crying at this point?’”

The star accomplished her goal -- during the film's premiere, the audience fluctuated through a vast range of emotions, from crying with laughter to stunned silence. Mattel wouldn’t know, though, since she was busy changing in her hotel room for a performance after the film’s screening. “That’s how famous drag queens are, we get to walk back to our hotel rooms and change, alone,” she jokes.

But even if she had been there, the star says that she still would be jealous of her fans getting to see it for the first time. “I will never see the movie the way they see the movie,” she says. “That's why I will never understand what goes into a fan letter. I'll never get the fan gifts, I will never be in the seat of somebody who knows nothing about me experiencing what I do for the first time. And that’s everything to me.”