Hot Tea with Max

We aren’t in Kansas anymore, kittens. MAX, a “drag performer from Oz,” transported The Standard, East Village into a Technicolor dream last month for a very special edition of our weekly drag party, Miss Girl. Alongside our hostess, Rify Royalty, and a sublime lineup of local and visiting queens, the RuPaul’s Drag Race alum took narcbar on a journey through space and time, with her icy makeup, live musical performances and spectacular costume changes. Before taking the stage, Max cozied up with us in our Winter Garden to dish some Earl Grey tea about her inspirations, maintaining authenticity in her art, and her controversial elimination.

Well hello, Max! I want to make some sort of Wizard of Oz pun to welcome you, but is that still your thing?
Oh, yes. Oz will always be part of my identity. It’s a different realm, energy, and type of power, both the books and the movie. It’s constant inspiration.

Why that film in particular?
The colors, textures, sensations, lace front wigs -- everything from a lot of old films inspires me. I love how then, films had to physically create everything from nothing, not CGI or anything like that. 

How did those inspirations lead to drag for you?
Hmmm. I think it just sort of happened. Lucky for me that I studied theater and films. [That knowledge] came back to help me fill out and saturate my creative side more versus just putting makeup on.

When was first time you became Max?
When I was younger and playing with my sister I’d always make her be Aladdin and I’d be Jasmine -- or I would be Dorothy and she would be everybody else. Things just kind of grew from there. I performed in Rocky Horror in 2012 and I realized I could play in the in between, not just a character of one single gender or identity.

Your brand is so stamped and specific. How did you create your formula of a silver wig and frosty makeup?
A lot is from having to work with the canvas I have, because I am such a big Nordic guy. Just trying to dress up like a woman is not enough so I have to dress up like some sort of… ghost, demon or creature. It’s not that I have to be a mythical creature, it’s that I want to. I’d like to eventually evolve into a Guillermo del Toro creature -- the tall, the gray, the dead.

Well you’re definitely on that path. So how did Drag Race come about for you?
My significant other at the time and I were very committed to jumping up onto this platform, showing what I would bring to the show. Doing Drag Race was, in many ways, the reverse for me. Most girls come to the show with years of experience and exposure, whereas I went onto the show to gain experience and exposure. Truthfully, part of me wasn’t ready for it. It was a weird road and I’m still on it. It’s been a great schooling process.

Who did you get some schooling from on the show?
I had some friendships with the other girls but I don’t feel like our season is as tight as others. From Violet Chachki I’ve learned how to be fearless. [Miss] Fame and Katya also gave me some good schooling. Trixie Mattel was always very kind, respectful, and encouraging.

It was completely nuts to me because I was already getting eliminated and looked like a fool with the Sharon stuff.

Don’t you and Trixie have a history, both being from Wisconsin?
Yes! We’re both from the middle of nowhere. I remember when she was first dressing up and doing gigs in Milwaukee. It’s a crazy example of possibility and perseverance. Being together on the show was like a dream, and competing against her didn’t feel real. But then we both got eliminated so it didn’t matter!

Do you regret doing Sharon Needles for the Snatch Game episode?
Well I originally wanted to do Miranda Sings. But there may have been some intellectual property issues? And may have been too obscure. I thought Sharon would be good because [her character] is part of the family, so it was sort of a no brainer. But then became a too-much brainer? That challenge is so tricky, finding clever humor that is topical or lands. It’s really hard to do.

How did you feel about your elimination? Namely, how it was portrayed on television?
It was hard at the time. Afterwards I felt maybe [drag] wasn’t something I should be doing. It was completely nuts to me because I was already getting eliminated and looked like a fool with the Sharon stuff. And then I was ushered out of the show like that.

Dish it, mama.
So the theme was lace and leather, and I was in a very tight corset. We were all on stage and my critique was not good, so I started feeling a bit queasy. I asked a producer if we could take a break from filming and if I could sit down for a glass of water. Production told us we could request a break anytime we started feeling sick. So I sat down on the edge of the stage and unlocked my corset. Off camera, Ru and I had talked about A Star Is Born, so he told me to sing some Judy Garland to [help make me feel better. So, I sang part of “Swanee,” [from the movie] since in the film Judy Garland is sitting on edge of a stage singing, I thought it seemed appropriate. Ru sat there with a perfectly normal expression on her face, but production edited in her making some look of incredulity and confusion, and then added a clip of Ginger Minj commenting that I was singing for attention. So I was made to look like a total loony when that wasn’t the case. It was just wrong and unnecessary.

Do you think the show has snowballed in negative ways, and has become too produced?
I think it’s pretty wonderful that the show has grown so much because of the acknowledgement its received in the fashion and entertainment industries. They are seeing the power and creativity of drag, and to be so big and infiltrating is very exciting.  But it does seem to add difficulty to being authentic as an artist. There are kids that come up [in the drag scene] now just to do RuPaul’s Drag Race which is fine, but you need to be rounded in other ways. Don’t just come from staring in the mirror.  

What is important to you and your success?
I just want to make sure whatever I’m saying is an authentic message to myself, to my heart. Which is why sometimes I don’t say anything at all. There’s so much noise and I want to be sure I’m making the right kind of noise. But I shall keep trying. Optimism in the face of darkness!


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