When I call Bianca Del Rio for our interview just before the Easter weekend, she has only just arrived back in her New York City apartment after a weekend of shows in the Southern United States. “I don’t mind going city to city”, she tells me, “but every now and again I forget where I’m at – but I can’t complain!” Ever since she shot to fame as one of the most entertaining contestants on hit reality TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race’s sixth season, she’s been travelling all over America, performing in bars and having the very strange experience of hearing her audiences beg her to insult them.
It might be bizarre for her, but it’s easy to see why it happens. She’s a drag insult comic, whose aesthetic is self-described as a cross between Joan Crawford and Bozo the Clown. She’s foul-mouthed, effortlessly witty but never unnecessarily cruel, with a cutting remark or withering comeback only a brief spin of her “Rolodex of hate” away. I’ll admit that as I dialled, the terror that I was going to find myself on the receiving end of her masterful shade-throwing skills was ever-present. I needn’t have worried; our hour-long conversation was hilarious, entertaining, and insightful – there’s much more to this queen than a razor-sharp tongue.
When I ask what three words she feels best describe her, after a short pause and a fair few “ummmm”s, Bianca replies with “boisterous”, “seasoned” and “fearless”, before adding “not much scares me.” Anybody who’s watched any of the latest season of RuPaul’s Drag Race would be hard-pressed to disagree with any of that. Bianca Del Rio, real name Roy Haylock, has been performing in drag for 18 years, ever since she donned her first wig for a performance of the play Pageant in her hometown of New Orleans. Following Hurricane Katrina, she uprooted to New York City, where she already enjoyed a reasonable amount of fame long before Drag Race was even a twinkle in RuPaul’s eye, balancing a daytime existence as a drapers’ assistant for a Broadway costume shop with a night-time double life as drag’s Queen of Mean.
That being said, she tells me that there’s less of a distinction between her life as Roy Haylock and her life as Bianca Del Rio than you might think – “There’s not much difference as far as the thought process goes, but obviously the visuals are completely different. I’ve always said that if I don’t wear a wig I’m called a hateful gay man. If I wear a wig and makeup, they call me hysterical. For me, it’s just the packaging to get away with murder.” She says that some people who know her better as Bianca have been surprised that, on the show, in addition to some very zingy one-liners and a lot of bitchiness, they’ve shown a nicer side of her. “I say ‘Well, that’s how I really am, you’re just not home with me all the time!’ I can’t be a total bitch and a cunt every day – I do it on stage, that’s my shtick, but I’m pretty normal most of the time.”
This season of RuPaul’s Drag Race has been filled with Bianca’s catty putdowns, and in the companion show, Untucked, we’ve seen her rub several people up the wrong way – most notably this season’s most polarising figure, Laganja Estranja. Laganja’s final episode was dominated by her melodramatic breakdown in the Untucked Lounge after Bianca called her out for lying about her relationship with her parents. But Bianca’s motivations may not have been as clear-cut as everyone thought. “I was annoyed because of the behaviour I saw while I was there. I was annoyed because she lied. I was annoyed because she cried every five seconds. I might have lost patience with her, and I was thinking far worse things, trust me”, she chuckles. “There were days, very long hours, of this passive aggressive bullshit, and I wasn’t just annoyed because she was doing it, I was annoyed because that was not going to help her in the competition. Now, I wanted a healthy competition – I wanted every bitch in there to bring their A-Game, because that makes it a much better show. Shake that fucking bullshit off and deal with what’s in front of you.”
She also had her spats with kabuki queen Gia Gunn –the Werk Room clearly was not big enough for two bitches. But, she tells me, there’s no lasting animosity there. “I was in San Antonio recently with Gia, and we had gone to lunch together, and she referred to me as her friend. And I said ‘You know what’s funny, Gia? I don’t think of you as my friend, but NOW we can become friends.’ When we were there, we were in the competition, and you have the task at hand. That situation brings out the really good in people or the really bad in people.”
There have been plenty of times this season where we’ve seen the competition genuinely bringing out the best in the queens – Bianca’s friendships with both Adore Delano and Trinity K. Bonet being the best examples. There’s a real sense of sisterhood this time around – true, there’s still the expected amount of rivalry and bitchiness, but unlike seasons past, it hasn’t been allowed to dominate the show. Does Bianca feel like she was painted by the show’s editors as the nasty one? Absolutely not. She’s the first one to point out that the editing can’t make you say something you didn’t say. “It’s a tense situation, and everything I said, I said. No lies. But it’s foolish for people to think that there’s any angst or hate there.”
She’s cool and collected when we discuss the show, and her thoughts on the recent transphobia brouhaha and subsequent removal of the “You’ve got She-Mail” segment are pragmatic, albeit with a small hint of her usual snark. “Well, I have a sense of humour. It didn’t offend me but it doesn’t really bother me that it’s been taken out.”
She didn’t drink any alcohol at all whilst she was in the competition, because, she says, she didn’t need it. As soon as filming was done, she made sure to remedy that. “On the plane back to New York, I made my peace with everything I did and said. I asked the stewardess for a bottle of white wine. She brought me this tiny little bottle. I looked at her and asked for 3 more. I drank all of it and said to myself ‘What’s done is done’. I have no regrets.”
Unsurprisingly, Bianca Del Rio has found herself in the Top 4, competing for the crown of America’s Next Drag Superstar against Aussie legend Courtney Act, the effortlessly charismatic Adore Delano and one of the show’s most glamorous big girls of any season, Darienne Lake. She’s easily this Drag Race fan’s choice for winner, but Bianca herself finds it odd when people pick a favourite at the expense of even liking any of the other competing queens. “Everybody has a type, everybody has a favourite – there’s people that LOVE Adore, there’s people that just LOVE Courtney, and they have to pick teams. The thing that I find funny is that I love Adore and I think Courtney is amazing – we don’t hate each other so why the fuck should anybody else have to?”
She’s been working on raising the funds for a feature film, Hurricane Bianca, best described as a drag queen revenge comedy, since before she ever considered applying for RuPaul’s Drag Race. They’d been hoping to start filming this summer, but “this latest endeavour”, as Bianca keeps referring to her time on the show, has pushed everything a little further back. It’s still happening, but probably not until next year now. Her duties are also bringing her to the UK this summer, with shows in Glasgow and London already announced and working the fandom into a frenzy. She’s never been before, and my description of English and Scottish drunk boys makes her chuckle – “I’m from New Orleans, it sounds like I’ll be right at home.”
Travelling all around the world, planning a movie, remaining flawless – how is Bianca Del Rio holding up? “Everybody’s like ‘Oh, you must be tired.’ I always say ‘No – I’m grateful.’ I’m getting to have a blast and see these audiences that are a hoot and beyond supportive, so I’m a lucky fag…if I’m allowed to say fag? Is that the only word we have left?!”
I explain to her the word ‘fag’ has another meaning in British English. “Oh good, well then I am lit. Lit like a fag, and full of cancer! Can you breathe me?!”
Massive thanks to Jeff Dorta at Project Publicity.
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