Beyond the bright lights

Jamie Patterson on drag, gender, family and Tucked

by Jennie Kermode

Jamie Patterson at work
Jamie Patterson at work

Derren Nesbitt stars as an ageing drag queen recently diagnosed with cancer who takes Jordan Stephens’ young non-binary performer under his wing in Jamie Patterson’s Tucked, a small film with a big heart which has secured a cinema release after charming audiences at festivals around the world. The now very much in-demand director kindly took time out to talk to me whilst in transit, hiding in a station concourse Paperchase so we could hear each other speak. I asked if he was excited about all the positive attention the film has received so far.

Tucked
Tucked

“Yes!” he exclaims. “It’s been mad. It’s been one of those films. It was my tenth film as a writer/director and it just seemed to connect with an audience in a way that none of my other movies have. I don’t know what that is – if it’s timing or if it’s that it’s touching subject matters that have become quite relevant now. Audiences who have watched it everywhere from Germany to Los Angeles to the UK, it seems to have connected, it’s just been amazing. It’s quite overwhelming really. For me as a director, it’s changed my life. It’s incredible to see how it’s going to come out theatrically. We’re going to be playing potentially up to 200 screens in the UK and it’s mind-blowing but absolutely so exciting.”

There are lots of different themes in the film, both comic and tragic, giving it naturally widespread audience appeal – but which ideas did Jamie begin with?

“The script has been around for nearly seven years. It came from a night out in Brighton where I went to a drag pub that was doing a karaoke night, believe it or not, and it was two o’clock in the morning, I was there with a girl I was seeing at the time, there was about six of us in the pub and it was hosted by this amazing drag queen... I got up and sang Maggie May and it was a really, really fun night. At the end of the night, about four o’clock in the morning, the drag queen as packing up and putting her keyboard away and heading home, and I was just fascinated by who that person is and where they’re going. Where are they going now?

“That’s kind of how Tucked opens. It’s this very dated act with rude jokes, bad lip-sync karaoke or whatever, it’s certainly very non-PC. And it’s like, Who is that person? I didn’t have anything apart from that opening scene and then everything else came quite naturally. I’m a writer born and raised and I know that city like the back of my hand. I know characters like Jackie and Daryl and Faith. I’ve met versions of them throughout my life. I started putting them into the film and it took shape very quickly. I ended up writing the first draft in about three weeks. we only changed little bits and bobs before we had a shooting script.”

Onstage as Jackie
Onstage as Jackie

Did he do much research into the drag community when he was fleshing it out?

“No, not really. I’d seen a lot of drag performers over the years but no. I think I was actually perhaps a bit naive going into it. I just wrote naturally, what came to me. This is a movie about human beings and we’re dealing with subject matter about family and friendship and losing loved ones and dealing with those struggles, and I wanted it to be quite organic in the way that I put it together.

“I decided not to do lots of research. There were films like Flawless, which is a movie with Robert De Niro and Philip Seymour Hoffman back in ’99. I always remember that movie – it had an effect on me – but I didn’t over-research. I just hoped that my natural instincts would work.

“I used to live in Spain when I was younger and there were acts like Jackie who used to perform in the Costa del Sol. There was a karaoke bar that my mother used to work in when I was about seven or eight years old. Being in that bar and hearing those jokes which were way to inappropriate for a seven-year-old to hear, but finding it hilarious and hearing that crowd react to that performance. I suppose those are the things that, as a writer, stick with you for years.”

There have been a lot of changes in the drag scene in recent years. Society has also been getting more accepting – or at last more aware – of non-binary people. Was he interested in looking at what all the change would mean to two people trying to relate to each other across generations?

“Oh, 100%. For me what was really interesting was, firstly, the generation thing... It’s the idea of someone coming to the end of their career in the drag scene and someone starting their career, and the difference in the world that we live in: what is considered PC, what you can do, what you can’t do now. Could two people from such different generations still be friends?”

Scrubbing up well
Scrubbing up well

He’s interested, he says, in toxic masculinity and how gender is defined, along with the idea that everybody has to fit into a neat category.

“I wanted to cover that but without going into too much detail about it, just mentioning it. The character of Jackie isn’t necessarily over-opinionated on where things are now and what makes a man a man, but then there’s a scene where they go and buy some drugs and there’s a character called Daryl in it who’s very much like, you know, ‘If you’ve got a penis you’re a man, if you’ve got a vagina you’re a woman. It’s very simple.’ It isn’t that simple but it’s people’s ignorance, I guess, of not wanting to understand and listen to other opinions, you know? Life isn’t black and white and I wanted the film to reflect that.”

The film also has a lot to say about what it means to have family, especially for people who don’t have good relationships with their birth families.

“Even though it deals with a lot of heavy stuff, I wanted this to be quite an uplifting movie. Family isn’t necessarily what you’re born and bred with. People find it in friendships and they find it at all different times in their life, so here’s this 74 year old character who has an unlikely friendship with a 21-year-old who kind of is like his son and vice versa. I thought that was really important to get that message across: to never give up because you can find family in the most unlikely of places and it can be through friends and it doesn’t always have to be, you know, perfect, but it’s there and that opportunity and that hope is always there.

“I wanted it to be a movie where people left with a smile on their face and that feeling that it’s never too late for anything. There’s always chance, there’s always opportunity, it’s always available out there. It might come in the most unlikely ways, but never give up on it.”

Coming up: Jamie Patterson on working with Derren Nesbitt, Jordan Stephens and Steve Oram to bring Tucked to life.

Tucked is in UK cinemas from Friday 17 May.

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