From tonight’s premier episode, twelve Aussie blokes will don sequined frocks and heels and hit seven outback towns, retracing the famous tyre-tracks of the original Priscilla, Queen of the Desert bus as they compete to gain a huge cash prize and a brand new Broadway career.
The Ten talent show’s title I Will Survive applies more to judge Stephan Elliott than it would to most people. Priscilla was the second film he directed, and catapulted him to unexpected stardom. One of the most internationally successful films of all time proved to be a hard act to follow for the hardworking filmmaker, and it was almost his final curtain call after a horrific skiing accident in 2004 (an emergency medical team told him he only had minutes to live, and his recovery took four years of painful struggle).
To be joined by Hugh Sheridan, Jason Donovan and in various episodes Toni Collette, Rachael Taylor, Asher Keddie, Rachel Griffiths and Magda Szubanski, Elliot tells Same Same the Priscilla bus is Finally ready to roll again…
Same Same: Hi Stephan! It sounds busy where you are.
Stephan Elliot: Yes I’m at the gym, on the Stairmaster! I’m stepping as we speak!
Oh! How funny. I’m eating cake.
Fun! Why not!!
So what was it like going from being a film director to a judge on a TV talent show? It’s like nothing you’ve ever done before.
It’s different, yes. As a filmmaker, I normally plan things two to three years in advance. But on this show, stuff happens in a wink. I found it quite confronting. I would say “should we sit down and plan this?” and they’d say “no, this is reality television – live the moment, just go for it.” So that’s gone against every discipline I’ve ever had in my life.
Part of my job is also building trust with my actors, but inevitably we have to start letting them go. Which I found very, very, very difficult.
You’ve got lots of help along the way though. It’s an all-star cast of judges.
Yes, the girls have been fantastic. It was a good idea to have a different female judge every week. That means only Jason and I have all the baggage to deal with – we know what’s happened and we know what’s coming, and we’re getting spectacular girls in who’re not worried about what’s happened, they’re just looking at what’s there in front of them. That fresh set of eyes has been really helpful.
“So many people came out of the woodwork that were in the original film.”
Among the contestants, did you genuinely find some amazing talent?
Oh God yeah. The thing that’s different about this show is that there was talk in the beginning about doing a country-wide search, but we thought “no, that’s been done to death.” We’re trying to find a professional, so let’s start at a very high level. So instead of just doing that open casting, we chose twelve very skilled people. Which is terrifying, because it meant that even at the start with the first few numbers, they were so good. They could all sing, they could all dance, they could all act. I thought “how are we going to start picking these guys off?”
We were starting at 9 out of 10. All of them are professionals and just got better and better.
But for some of them it was their first time in heels?
Yes! There’s a couple of dads in there, and episode one [tonight] shows Brendan meeting his wife and kids in drag. He’d never done it before – and the kids are in tears, it was all very funny. One of them said “we like our own daddy, we don’t like scary daddy.”
And how did it all go down in Coober Pedy when you arrived? How did the locals react?
Well when we went out there last time, twenty years ago, no one really knew what we were doing. So for me it was going back out there again, and I was getting ready and wondering “are they going to be hostile?” But you forget that Priscilla made such an impact – not just to this country, but to the world… and to these towns.
From a television perspective, I was actually hoping we’d have a little bit of aggro to give me something to bitch about. So I was fascinated to see how we’d be taken, but the doors flew open. I’ve never seen such… they loved it.
And so many people came out of the woodwork that were in the original film. Many of them were extras or helped in some way. All of them said the same thing – that the film really did change their lives in a lot of ways.