The Aussie star of RuPaul’s Drag Race deals the dirt on reality TV ahead of her Edinburgh Debut.
“OHMYGOD. She looks like a Disney Princess,” says a friend when I text a photo of me alongside Courtney Act.
Act, one of the stars of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, looks improbably beautiful in the flesh, with cascading pink curls and impossibly long legs. For her first visit to Edinburgh she will be performing The Girl From Oz, her own funny kooky take on the Australian songbook.
“I have been living in the US for the last seven years and it took around that long to realise how different Australians are,” she says. “People don’t realise how much of pop culture, which they assume to be American, actually comes from Australia. The show is a bit of a love letter to Australia, because I miss it.”
From the moment she flies onstage in red glitter roller boots, Act delivers a high-energy celebration of all things Oz – from Xanadu to Kylie to Arthur’s Theme, co written by Peter Allen. There are heaps of cheeky references to Drag Idol – a huge crowd pleaser for fans of the show, which has a cult following in the UK and around the world.
She says Drag Race, which thrives on backstage drama, was vastly different from her experience in Australian Idol. “It was a shock. They can take things from a lot of different conversations and slice them together. You get these Frankensentences. It’s reality TV, not reality.”
Despite the way it appeared, she, Bianca Del Rio and Adore Delano are friends in real life. “It’s fun because it amuses people – but everyone knows it is a joke because we love each other.” And despite some public Twitter spats with RuPaul, she is eternally thankful of the show: “I am so grateful. I get to travel around the world doing my show. In some ways, I feel guilty when I do festivals. Other acts have to slog and work so hard to build their audience,” she says. “Drag Idol has taken my show to a whole new level, and with cabaret shows it’s great because it brings a whole new audience.”
Courtney grew up in Brisbane, singing and dancing as a boy called Shane Jenek. It was only when she came to Sydney as an 18 year old that she began to perform as a girl. She is inspired not so much by the mainstream as by leftfield artists like Meow Meow. “You watch her and you don’t really know what’s going on. But you know she’s a master of it.”
She entered Australian Idol as a boy – and was rejected – then came back as Courtney and passed the audition. It was the start of realising she could be a serious artist and perform in drag. “When I started, I felt so much shame about doing drag,” she says. But after the audition? “That was when I started thinking about it as a valid form of expression. Drag isn’t just a job, it is a form of my gender expression.”
When it comes to love, Courtney has had relationships as Courtney, and dated men who are gay, straight, bisexual and pansexual. “I grew up with the idea of gender being binary, but in the last year and a half I have got so much more used to the idea that boys don’t have to be boys and girls don’t have to be girls,” she says. “I used to struggle with wearing the colour pink. I didn’t even think I could put pink paint in my bedroom. But now I have realised that dating a man who is comfortable with my femininity helps me feel more comfortable with myself.”
She’s a queen of social media, always happy to pose for selfies. A video of herself at a pro Trump rally got two and a half million views. “There is a conservative uprising – because I think in some ways history shows us things get more progressive. People get more paranoid and someone like Donald Trump learns how to play that in in their favour, but artists are by their nature progressive.”
She is hugely excited about the Fringe. “When I posted that I was coming to Edinburgh I got a huge response. It excited me to see how much people love the festival – there seems to be something really unusual about it.”
WORDS: Claire Smith
WHERE & WHEN
Courtney Act: The Girl From Oz, Underbelly’s Circus Hub, 13-26 August (not 14, 16, 21), 6pm
From £15 Tel 0131 226 0000