Born and raised in Brighton, filmmaker Jamie Patterson certainly hasn’t let budgetary restrictions slow him down: at the age of 33, he has already made 15 feature films. Most of his output has been in horror, but he is drawn to other genres as well. Tucked is 12th film, the first to have UK distribution. A gently charming comedy-drama about an unlikely friendship between two drag artists, the film resists being put into boxes. But it is connecting strongly with viewers. When it world premiered at Outfest 2018, Tucked won both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize.
“It was daunting to show the film at Outfest,” Patterson says. “Before that, only four people had seen it, and now there was an audience of 750. What if they don’t get the jokes? What if the pacing’s off? All of these things were going through my head. Then we won both top awards!”
“No film had ever won both of those awards before,” chimes in Derren Nesbitt, the veteran actor who plays the lead role in Tucked. “And this little British film did it! After the screening the judges, who were all Hollywood people, were saying it was going to be in the Oscars. I think you don’t have to spend a great deal on a film, you don’t need millions, the banking of Paramount or the blackmail of Warner Bros. It’s the content that matters. I never thought of this as anything other than a great story.”
Patterson got the idea for the film four or five years ago, in the wee hours of a night out at a legendary Brighton drag bar. “I’d had a few drinks, got up and sang Maggie May, had this incredible night,” he says. “It was hosted by this incredible drag queen who must have been around 60-odd, maybe a bit older, who was taking the mickey out of the crowd and telling rude jokes. It was a very dated act, like I hadn’t seen in awhile, but it was still funny and entertaining. We were about 20 vodka-cranberries in, she was singing I Dreamed a Dream, and I started crying. She looked at me at the end of the song and took off her wig, and it really connected to me! I just wanted to know more about her. At the end, she was packing up her keyboard and I was thinking, ‘Where are you going now? I want to know more about your friends, your family.’ And that’s how the movie opens.”
The film centres on 74-year-old Jackie (Nesbitt), who has just learned that he has terminal cancer when he takes 21-year-old performer Faith (played by Rogue One’s Jordan Stephens) under his wing. Generations apart, they have very different styles of drag: Jackie is a straight man who cross-dresses, Faith is non-binary and resolutely queer. This confuses pretty much everyone they meet throughout the story, often hilariously.
Blurring these lines was Patterson’s point. “I wanted it to be clear that we were talking about gender, sexuality and toxic masculinity,” he says, “but we wanted to make sure that the movie wasn’t about any of that: it’s about an unlikely friendship. There’s a scene where Faith says, ‘I’m not a guy or a girl,’ and Jackie says, ‘Okay, no problem.’ We wanted to bring up the subject and allow people to talk about it without being definitive about it or putting labels on it. The club owner assumes that Jackie is gay because he likes to wear dresses and makeup. But that’s not always true. Just because you have a penis, you’re not necessarily a guy. It’s not that black and white anymore.”
Patterson traces his interest in this world to his childhood, when his mother ran a karaoke bar with nights hosted by drag acts. Now he was interested in exploring how drag has changed. “Comedy always evolves over time; the world moves on,” he says. “Jokes that were once okay might not be now, but they may still make people laugh. A lot of the jokes that Jackie makes are sexist, but it was important to keep it authentic. It was important that his was an act that was dying out. Now it’s dancers and singers and incredible performances, with detail in the dresses, makeup and the look. Back then for some acts it was about putting on a wig and getting into a dress that didn’t really fit. That was it, and it was fun. And even the younger drag artists want to give people a good time.”
Of course, this is what Patterson wants to do with his film. He shot the movie in just 10 days, completely on location to give it authenticity, asking Nesbitt (whose filmography includes classics like Victim, The Blue Max and Where Eagles Dare) to walk down the street in thigh-high, white nine-inch heels. Twice. So he’s happy that audiences are responding to the film’s charm, and he’s hopeful that they will think about the things the story touches on.
“This is a conversation,” Patterson says. “It’s about trying to understand where we are now. We’re in a great place with a film like Tucked getting a theatrical release in the same week as John Wick Chapter 3! It’s giving people a chance to ask questions and to see characters like Jackie and Faith on the big screen. There are a lot of amazing movies focussing on LGBTQ issues, but most rarely get seen. They’re on Netflix and get a couple of decent reviews, but no one watches them. So with this we’re hoping that people laugh, they cry and maybe they’ll sit back and listen a little bit, take something out of the movie without us forcing it down their throats. And tell their friends about it.”
Read our Film Review Tucked
All pictures reproduced courtesy of Jamie Patterson