Frameline44: Behind Every Great Performance is a “Stage Mother”

by Kevin M. Thomas, @ReelKev

Sidney Lumet. Garry Marshall. George Cukor. Thom Fitzgerald.
These are names of actor’s directors…directors who have a strong connection to understand and to accommodate the actor – usually getting the best performances from their cast. Lumet and Cukor often directed actors to their award-winning performances. Marshall was often criticized for his goofs in movies where the background, costumes or props were inconsistent but he wouldn’t care as he’d edit together the best elements of the actors’ performances.


Now we have Thom Fitzgerald. By no means new to filmmaking having already won over 50 international film awards and has made several notable LGBT movies including “Cloudburst” starring Oscar Winners Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker.
Fitzgerald further establishes himself as the actor’s director with his latest film “Stage Mother,” which plays virtually Sunday, June 28 at 7pm as part of Frameline44’s Pride Showcase.


“Stage Mother” is the most exuberant, uplifting and spirited movie that it made me forget about the state of the world for 93 minutes. The best 93 minutes I’ve had since the pandemic set in.
Talking with the endearing Fitzgerald, I discovered that the future for “Stage Mother” will definitely go beyond the film festival circuit, which has been limited due to shelter-in-place. While the film received a standing ovation earlier this year at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, Fitzgerald and team may have missed other festivals due to COVID-19. But, it expects to be in theaters July 31 in Europe and August 21 in the US and Canada.


At the heart of “Stage Mother” is the Oscar worthy performance of Jacki Weaver, who plays a Southern Baptist mother who inherits a drag club in San Francisco.


“I met Jacki in New York and knew she would be ideal for the role from that meeting and the chapter in her book entitled ‘Smallest fag had in Australia’,” says Fitzgerald. 
He then says she brought a lot to the table as Fitzgerald likes to meet with his actors, discuss the roles and ask for their input and enjoy working on the creative process with them one-on-one. 


While Weaver is Australian and not really a method actor, her Southern accent remains on point throughout the movie and Fitzgerald could be partially credited for this. Usually, movies have a stand-in to help set the lighting and markers, but Fitzgerald thought that if Weaver did this herself, she would stay in character.
But for other elements and traits of the character, Weaver brought that herself. “Jacki is as warm and maternal as her character Maybelline,” he says, adding that she’s just a sweet, loving and funny person which comes through in her performance.


Fitzgerald also gets a wonderful performance out of drag legend Jackie Beat. “I was very impressed with the number of video auditions we received,” says Fitzgerald. “But there’s a difference between being a drag performer and screen acting,” he adds, “and Jackie has a background as a trained actor.”


Also impressive in the cast is Lucy Liu. The film is quite a change of pace for Liu who usually plays lawyers, doctors or ninjas. Fitzgerald had worked with her on “3 Needles” and because of her terrific sense of humor, he knew she would do well as the movie’s ditzy blonde.
One star we really don’t see except through the magic of filmmaking is the city of San Francisco. The City plays a major role in the film, but except for some establishing shots, it wasn’t filmed in the City itself.  Fitzgerald reminds us that “Tales of the City” wasn’t really filmed in San Francisco either.


“I really wanted to shoot in Halifax (Canada) as it reminds me a lot of San Francisco,” he says. “It’s got a lot of Victorian homes and there’s even some pink and purple houses on a hill overlooking beautiful bodies of water.” As someone who lives in Halifax and loves San Francisco, Fitzgerald says he “feels there’s a kinship between the two cities.”
To see the actor’s director at work, check out “Stage Mother” June 28. Watch at home and get tickets at https://frameline.org/festival/film-guide/stage-mother

#Frameline44 #GayFilmFestival #JackiWeaver #LGBTFilmFest

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