For those who’ve known the talents of Lea Delaria as the pre-eminent, self-proclaimed “big dyke” comedienne performer for years, it came as no surprise that casting her as Big Boo on the hit series ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK exposed her to a whole new audience, one that has embraced her. Whether it be in her standup, her cabaret, or her theater performances (she killed it as Hildy Esterhazy in the 1998 Broadway revival of “On The Town”), Delaria completely goes for broke.
When word came down that she’d be recording an album of David Bowie covers, who knew this would yield a masterwork? “House of David” is a true artifact of genius. By pulling these compositions through her respectful yet daring translations, we get a sometimes powerhouse, sometimes gentle collection of unique jazz stylings that would cause the Space Oddity himself to smile, as well as raise an eyebrow.
We talked with Delaria about “House of David,” and a host of other topics including Big Boo, her soap opera days, and her multi-level connection to David Bowie.
What do you think David Bowie means to the generation that came up actually hearing him in the seventies and eighties, as opposed to those who just see his entire body of work as iconic?
Those of us that were around and saw him when he first started, had our lives touched and changed my him. I was a teenager in a small town in the Midwest America. I knew that I was gay but never really seen anything gay and then there was David Bowie. Basically taught me to be comfortable in my own skin and be who I am, no apologies.
How did you come to pick the songs for the album? Does each one have a specific significance to you?
No, I just picked the tunes of his that I really liked. It was harder to cut tracks than pick tracks. He’s been recording music for over forty years, so I was spoiled for choice.
Which song was the hardest for you to interpret, or find a tempo & style that really worked?
None of them really. He’s so good at what he does and my producer Matt Pierson is so good at what he does. Myself and the two people I arranged with, Janette Mason and Kevin Hayes, are also very good at what we do. So all this goodness just combined together and spontaneously combusted into House of David.
Were you surprised at the support you received when you decided to crowdfund the project?
More than anything I was surprised when official David Bowie started following me. And very pleased by the support of my fans.
You spoke some in the liner notes about how Bowie came into your life. This may be more philosophical, but do you connect to David Bowie through musical expression, gender identity, or is it a combination of the two?
I think I may have answered this one already but most definitely both.
If you could hand this album to David Bowie in person, what would you say to him?
I’m not worthy! In fact I would be on my hands and knees bowing to him.
Quick backtrack: Was playing Hildy in On the Town as much fun as it looked? It also looked like really hard work.
It was both hard work and fun. Nothing makes me happier than being down stage center building a D sharp. And of course on the town started the lifelong love affair that I’ve had with Jesse Tyler Ferguson. On after that show they put JTF and I in so many shows together that people around here started calling us The Lunts.
Orange is the New Black gave you access to a whole new audience with your character Carrie “Big Boo” Black. She’s multi-layered, which as you’ve stated, isn’t often the case for the roles you’re offered. Are you surprised at the reaction people have had to Big Boo?
I truly believe that the world just had not met the right big butch bull dyke. Now they have.
What is it like being directed by Andrew McCarthy? I bet many people ask you what he’s like, just because his roles in 80s movies were such a part of a certain generation’s cinematic memories.
Oh God, I love McCarthy! He understands comedy. He directs very quickly, so were usually out by 5 o’clock, which is a godsend in my business.
How much of your father’s work influences your jazz, and specifically, this House of David album?
My father was small combo jazz guy. So my music, which is more contemporary, always cost him concern. He was very proud of me until the day he died, but I will never forget him saying to me about my first album. ” What have you done to Cool!”
Tell me your five favorite David Bowie visual moments, whether on TV shows or in music videos.
- The Saturday Night Live where he sang “TVC15” with Joey Arias on one side. Bowie was wearing a skirt and Joey Arias and the other guy was dressed like Pagliacci clown
- Dancing with Mick Jagger
- The cover of Changes One
- The Hunger
- And of course his crotch in Labyrinth
What was your greatest experience while you were playing Delphina (and then Delbert Fina) on One Life To Live?
Oh that has to be that moment where I basically had a scene with myself. Awesome.
What did it mean to you to receive the Equality Illinois Freedom Award earlier this year?
That actually meant a whole lot to me because it’s my home state. Illinois always been a little more liberal than the rest of the states around her. Especially that nasty red Missouri
What fuels this drive you have? You always seem to be working on one aspect or another in your career.
Definitely sex. The more I put myself out there, the more I get laid.
Check out Lea Delaria’s album “House of David” everywhere.