Sordid Lives creator Del Shores wants the dating world to know that it is hard out there for a “minor gay celebrity” in his 50s

By : Jeremy Williams
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Few filmmakers write LGBT stories with equal parts humor and heart and even fewer are able to take that story to cult status, but one who seems to do it with ease is Del Shores, writer/director of the successful 2000 cult film Sordid Lives. Shores is heading to The Cuban Club in Ybor with his one man show, SINgularly SORDID, where he talks about politics, religion and returning to the dating world after getting divorced in his 50s. Tinder and Grindr and Scruff, oh my! Shores was gracious enough to speak with Watermark ahead of his Tampa Bay show about Oscar diversity, election coverage and a much talked about sequel in the Sordid franchise.

SINgularlySORDID is your one man show that you are bringing to Tampa. What can we expect to see from you?
I always consider myself a storyteller or a humorist: I observe, I sometimes steal from my own life and other people’s lives and talk about it on stage. This piece has become very personal, because I have gone through a divorce in my 50s and getting back into the dating scene has been crazy, so a lot of that is the SINgularly Sordid part of this. I just tell tales about Leslie Jordan and Dolly Parton and people I have had encounters with, good and bad. I love politics and controversy. My dad was a Southern Baptist preacher, so we’ll cover religion.

You and your ex-husband got married in 2003. How has it been getting back into the dating scene considering how much it has changed with online dating and hookup apps?
When I first came out, because I came out late in life, in my slut days we had the AOL chat rooms, so one of the differences is dial-up. You know the biggest change is since all these apps were invented, I have achieved a certain amount of fame, especially in the gay community, so it’s really difficult for me to go on these apps without being recognized. Sometimes you just want to be anonymous, and that’s not going to happen. I have had some interesting and funny encounters that I share in my show. There’s a lot to figure out with them, too.Do you put a face picture up?And if I put up a body picture, I have to starve myself first. You can only suck in so far, and I had Leslie Jordan as my profile consultant, because he is wickedly honest.

Does he give you a lot of feedback on what to say and what not you say and post?
Yes. When I first got back into it, I called him and said to him “I just don’t know what to do,” and he went into research mode, and the advice he gave me was very loving and very harsh at the same time. I’m not going to give it all away now; you have to come see the show. The show does become a bit self-deprecating, and I enjoy doing that. It’s fun.

You are a very political person. What your take on the elections so far?
It’s just a shit storm isn’t it? I am obsessed. It’s just one thing after another, and now with Scalia dying, it’s become an even bigger deal, which I have not stopped celebrating by the way. I mean, I’m so sorry for his family, but I’m sure Jesus needed him more than we did. I can’t believe that Trump is doing what he is doing; it is total insanity. And with the Democrats, I’m a bit surprised that Bernie is rising the way he is, but we’ll have to play that out. I’m on the Hillary train right now, but we’ll see what happens.

Ian McKellen recently said in an interview that the Academy, which is being criticized for not having any people of color nominated in any of the acting categories this year, also disregards LGBT actors and generally will only nominate gay characters if played by a straight actor. What has your experience been in Hollywood with your films, especially during award season?
It feels like it has to be a tragic story – Philadelphia and Boys Don’t Crycome to mind – for us to be noticed. I’m also wondering if, in the mainstream especially, if it’s not similar to what is going on with the cry for diversity in film from other groups. Who are we giving the opportunity to tell our stories to the degree that they are able to be Oscar worthy performances? Are we there yet or getting there. The one thing I think that is a positive of this is that it has created a dialogue, and I think dialogue always creates change. We’ve already seen some change in the voting bygetting rid of some of this, what feels like, dead wood: these old, white men who have been there for years doing nothing but voting. So we’ll see; it will be very interesting to see next year.

Was there anyone in particular that you feel got overlooked?
I’ve seen all the nomination pictures now, and most of the performances, and I feel like Idris Elba from Beasts of No Nation was overlooked. I hope that we do start getting a lot more opportunities,because that will make way for more awards. Part of it is also that sometimes the film is too small and there’s no way you can get a campaign for it. There has to be that swell again like with Boys Don’t Cry,with Hilary Swank so winning a lot of festival and critic awards.

Is the ease of access to movies, LGBT films especially, online and the need to be seen in film festivals not so great anymore one of the reasons for the oversight?
I guess that could be part of it. The gay and lesbian film festivals are still great to get seen in and with some of my films we have been played and awarded by many of them but to get the attention of this town and of the Academy, you have to be able to get into the big ones: Sundance, South by Southwest, Toronto, the big film festivals. I always encourage our community to keep supporting though, because it can certainly give life to a movie. I can trace every bit of success from Sordid Lives back to film festivals.

Sordid Lives is by far your most famous play and film. Was that born out of personal experience?
It really was. Latrelle and Ty, that was really me coming out to my mother,and so I always say that that was the heart and soul of that piece. Sordid Lives had a crazy evolution. When I was still closeted and married to a woman, I wrote a short story called Nicotine Fit, and it was about my Aunt Sissy, and I was inspired by the fact that she had tried to quit smoking, so I always try to raise the stakes in my writing.And I thought what would keep her from keeping to this quest to quit smoking: Well let’s make her sister die a scandalous death, and so that started it. In that story,Latrelle was confronted about her homosexual son, so I think subconsciously I was channeling myself and then I put it away. Then after I started going to therapy and came out, I went back to it and started writing all of Ty’s monologues. They were just my therapy sessions, but all the characters are based on my relatives and friends. My friendship with Leslie Jordan is where I came up with Brother Boy. I didn’t actually have a crazy uncle obsessed with Tammy Wynette. I was the one obsessed with Tammy Wynette. I did go to a therapist once that I found in an ad that said “go from gay to straight, make the journey,” and I lasted about two sessions. Part of the therapy was masturbation exercises, so I took all that to an extreme and ludicrous level with Dr. Eve.

What is it about Sordid Lives that made it able to cross over from small cult film to a more mainstream following?
I believe the gay community embraced it and felt it was safe enough to share with their straight family, and they see it and say,“oh that’s my mother, that’s my aunt,” They recognize some family. Even with those Republican family members, there is enough that they recognize that they can get past the gay stuff. I can’t tell you the amount of letters I have gotten of people saying they shared Sordid Lives with their family as a coming out event. [Laughs] I think that’s a little twisted, but I’ll take it. That’s what I think, and I have so many female fans, because they just love these older women, and there are not a lot of writers out there who write older women characters like I do.

Everyone really loves these characters, so it’s no surprise that you are working on a sequel to Sordid Livesand it is called A Very Sordid Wedding. What can you tell us about it?
Well what I can say is we have advanced these characters to 2015, right after the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage. It is what happens in rural America when equality comes roaring in. You learn how some characters have evolved, how some have not. We just catch up with them. We have Whoopi Goldberg in the cast. We are hoping to have everything ready to start filming it in April and May.

So over the last several decades you have worked with some big name stars. Who were the best and worst of the bunch to work with?
That is a wicked question, but of course I’ll answer it. I have so many favorites that it’s hard to pick. I love the entire Sordid Lives cast: Leslie Jordan makes me laugh. Delta Burke, Rue McClanahan, I’ve been very lucky. I mean for Christ’s sake, I got to work with Olivia Newton-John. Here is an unusual one: I got to direct some PSA’s for The Trevor Project one year, and Felicity Huffman was absolutely the most gracious, kind, sweet person I got to work with for about 30 minutes. The worst is Judge Reinhold. I had to work with him twice, and he is just such an asshole. That’s probably why he doesn’t work anymore.

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