Listen up you riffraff: the Church of Rocky Horror is in session and Barry Bostwick is presiding at the pulpit. Forty-eight years ago, the actor partnered with Susan Sarandon to play innocent idiots in love, Brad Majors and Janet Weiss, whose PG-rated romance is tested after an R-rated late-night visit to a mysterious mansion populated by groupies, bikers and one very memorable "sweet transvestite" mad scientist, played to perfection by Tim Curry.
Bostwick still has major affection for The Rocky Horror Picture Show nearly five decades later. That's why he's currently touring the country as part of a 48th anniversary Rocky Horror road show that's visiting such hot spots as New Haven, Conn., New Orleans and a Halloween show in Washington, D.C.
"From the moment that we all enter the theater, it becomes something spiritual," the eternally youthful 78-year-old actor tells Yahoo Entertainment. "I like to tell the audience that I'm the preacher for the Church of Rocky Horror and can I get an amen? Then I say, 'Can I hear a gay man?' We just have a very good time."
Of course, everyone from the nation's capital to Transexual, Transylvania, knows the Rocky Horror story by now. Released to critical and commercial indifference in 1975, the movie version of Richard O'Brien's cult musical comedy quickly formed its own cult on the second-run circuit. Within a few years, The Rocky Horror Picture Show wasn't just a movie — it was a whole scene, one where audience members could freely dress up, act up and shed their inhibitions (and maybe a few choice articles of clothing) while singing, dancing and talking back to the action unfolding onscreen.
Small wonder that Rocky Horror screenings have historically been havens for drag performers as well as the drag-curious. But that safe haven has been threatened in several states recently — including Florida and Tennessee — amid the passage of "anti-drag" bills that place restrictions on "adult cabaret performances" in public spaces where children might be present. (Both the Florida and Tennessee laws have been challenged in court.)
Bostwick says that he participated in several Rocky Horror Picture Show performances in Florida in September that went off without a hitch.
"It hasn't affected us — either that or they haven't caught us yet," says the actor, noting that he makes a point of staying apolitical. "We did a show in The Villages, which is a big retirement center with a thousand people with walkers. When you tell them, 'OK, let's do the "Time Warp,"' half of them can't get out of their seats! But so many of those people were also original Rocky Horror fans. They're your grandparents who still have fun with the movie.
"Also, Rocky Horror isn't really a drag show — it's a musical comedy," he adds. "I mean, are they now saying that you can't put on a production of La Cage aux Folles in any of these states? I hope we get past the point where it's something special and not just accepted. The only thing that affects us is when we sell out a theater, there are still more people who want to come in. After 48 years, Rocky Horror is just pure entertainment for all ages."
Not for nothing, but Bostwick is a proud part of Rocky Horror's drag legacy. In one of the film's final musical numbers, Brad dons a bustier and fishnets and kicks up his high heels like an old-school chorus girl. And if we may be frank (n-furter), he looks darn good. "Thank you — I'll tell my wife you said that," the actor says, grinning at the compliment. "I don't get into the drag outfit much anymore. I wouldn't fit into that bustier and I would never attempt those 4-inch heels again!"
Congratulations on 48 years of The Rocky Horror Picture Show!
That's right! Who thought we'd still be alive 48 years later? I didn't think I'd get out of the ’70s alive and healthy. People ask me about my favorite memories from the shoot, and I've forgotten most of them. Go read all the books that have been written about Rocky Horror instead! There's so many books, term papers and masters theses about its social implication. I get halfway through those articles and I just think, "Jesus is that our movie? I thought we were just doing sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll!"
It's definitely become this bigger thing over the years.
Totally a bigger thing. But one of the good things is that it's created a very safe space for people to act up, act out and perhaps explore who they are or want to be. We have created this space to learn how to embrace our differences, and that's been a real benefit beyond getting drunk or stoned on a Saturday night and throwing hot dogs at the screen. By the way, they don't allow food in the theaters anymore. I think theater owners have caught onto the rat problem caused by The Rocky Horror Picture Show by throwing rice and food. I think they're still finding pieces of toast underneath the seats in New York theaters from 1975.
When you're doing these road show screenings of Rocky Horror, do you stay and watch the entire movie with the audience every night?
Sometimes I do, unless we have to wake up at 3:30 the next morning to get to another town. I do meet-and-greets beforehand, and then I'll usually watch through "Dammit Janet" or maybe up until Frank-N-Furter's appearance before slipping out quietly. But in every town that we visit, we pick up the local Rocky Horror cast and they're the real stars of the show. I just go out and do some opening stuff, and when we're through, I say, "Does anybody want to see a movie?" And the audience goes, "Yeah, we want to see the movie! We've had enough of you, Bostwick!"
So how well can you 'Time Warp'? Brad doesn't do the steps in the movie, but I thought you might have learned the moves.
I never did it in the movie, so if somebody says to me, "Show me how to do the 'Time Warp,'" I go, "I don't know ... but I could do the Madison!" Just like Brad says in the movie. I've certainly seen tens of thousands of people doing the "Time Warp." But if somebody asks me to [explain it], I always say, "It's just a jump to the right. Oh no, it's a step to the right!" So I don't know how to do it.
And then you have to do the pelvic thrusts! It's always a little disconcerting when I'm front of youngsters and their mother says, "Look at my little daughter. Isn't she cute?" And the daughter will be dressed up like Columbia and she'll know every step. I'll do [the "Time Warp"] with her and we'll start singing the song. But when it's time for the pelvic thrusts, I go, "I can't do this — I'll be arrested!" I'm glad the kids know how to do it, but I'm not going to join in!
I remember when I did the Hannah Montana movie, they had this whole "Hoedown Throwdown" sequence. They wanted everyone in the cast to do it for the credits, but it was too difficult. It was this complicated country western line dance, and I had a hell of a hard time just getting 10 bars of it out without looking like a fool. One of the great things about the "Time Warp" is that it's so simple. It's like early rock and roll: Three chords and seven steps repeated.
Brad gets a lot of abuse from the Rocky Horror audience, especially in the early part of the movie. Do you ever want to stick up for him?
No, no — I love it. I've embraced the names that they call me, so much so that I think I can now run for governor of Florida. Sometimes I'll get a pair of underwear and write on them, "I put on the underwear, but you are the a**hole." And then I'll give them to somebody in the audience. I don't take any of this too seriously other than how the movie has become seen, heard and experienced in the community. Because everyone has a Rocky Horror story. Even if they put off by it and walked out, they have a story.
One of the things I like about Brad is that he's the movie's straight arrow, but he's also a pretty tolerant guy. Maybe we should all aspire to be more like Brad.
There's a little bit of Brad in all of us in a way. He loses his bravado halfway through the movie as he gets more and more confused about who he is, what he is and why he's with Janet. Some people tell me that Brad is their favorite character, but I tell them, "Are you mental?" I mean, who doesn't want to strut around in high heels like Frank-N-Furter for one night at least! It is funny that when we do the costume contents, Brad never wins. Nine times out of ten, it's a Frank-N-Furter. Three weeks ago, a couple cosplaying as Brad and Janet came in third. But Brad has never placed, even though he's been played by a plethora of men, women and large animals.
Tim Curry has had health troubles in recent years, but he's back on the convention circuit these days. Are you happy to see him out there interacting with fans?
Oh, absolutely. And the fans are so happy to see him and support him in his struggles. He and Susan just did New York Comic Con. I was supposed to be there, but I'm on this tour and wasn't able to go. But I did appear with Susan a few months ago in Chicago. She's just getting into doing these events. I think she's really loving the whole Rocky Horror rebirth, particularly in Halloween season. And Tim is enjoying it, too. I think it's just difficult for him, because he's in a wheelchair and has to have full-time care. But I'm glad he's doing it and that he's starting to get back into doing voice work.
There was a period where Susan didn't talk much about Rocky Horror, but you've always seemed happy to promote it.
I don't think she ever disliked it — she was just busy getting Academy Awards! We all thought it was this one-off fun thing we did in the ’70s and then we went off and did other things. But people started taking a real interest in it again, and we all started doing conventions. So I think Susan has always loved the movie, she just didn't always have time for it.
I've always loved Meat Loaf's number in the movie. We lost him last year — do you have any favorite memories of him from the set?
Oh man, Meat was a powerhouse. I've never seen an actor/singer give as much as he did. That goes back to his Broadway experience: We all started out on Broadway in the early ’70s. He was a great actor, and I think that's why he could transfer that talent into his singing voice. And he had that incredibly high voice that was so unusual — it was kind of like Freddie Mercury. But consequently, towards the end of his life, his voice was just kind of used up and he had so many ailments. But he could still sing up until the end.
I did want to ask you about another of your cult movies: Megaforce was a mega-bomb when it was released in 1982, but it's acquired quite the fan base since. Are you delighted by that comeback?
Well, yeah! Megaforce was this cheesy, funny takeoff of G.I. Joe and stuff like that — movies that are known for their equipment. We were writing the script in the car on the way to set every day and a lot of lines we just made up on the spot! We're actually making a documentary about the movie now, and we're billing it as The Documentary Nobody Asked For. We've interviewed everyone involved with the movie who is still alive and the first question they ask all of us: "Why the hell are you doing this?"
But we're doing it for a very interesting reason: The man who had the concept for the documentary [Bob Lindenmayer] is a big collector and owns three or four of the movie's vehicles. He saw Megaforce when he was 12, and it affected him so much because he needed a hero in his life. So the documentary is really about him finding me and me realizing how I affected him when he was a child. It's very funny, and it's very moving. We have a Facebook page that I encourage people to go to and join the cult. I've got a couple of cults! The Rocky Horror cult, the Megaforce cult, the Hannah Montana cult...
Are the South Park guys, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, in the documentary? They've talked about how Megaforce inspired Team America: World Police.
They aren't, but I'll bring that up to the producers. We've interviewed everyone else, and I know they love the movie. If you know them, get ahold of them for me.
Last question: Did you get to keep Brad's well-hung Medusa statue?
No, we got nothing from the Rocky Horror set. They wouldn't even let us take a costume piece home. That statue is probably in the trash somewhere. It would have been fun to bring that back on the plane. Or at least I would have grabbed the most salient part of it.