RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Jinkx Monsoon is having a heck of a year. She’s currently playing Aubrey (the human one) in the Off Broadway production of Little Shop of Horrors. In Jun, she returns to the Broadway stage of Chicago to reprise her record-breaking performance as Matron Mama Morton. Plus, next February she’ll make her Carnegie Hall debut as a headliner.

Spoiler Alert

If that wasn’t enough, she also found time to go toe to toe with Ncuti Gatwa’s Fifteenth Doctor in “The Devil’s Chord,” now available on Disney+ internationally and on BBC iPlayer in the UK. We sat down to discuss Jinkx’s villainous turn as Maestro on Doctor Who and her iconic stage work.

Nerdist: What does it feel like to get to upstage The Beatles?

Jinkx Monsoon: (laughs) Well, it’s all perspective, right? But honestly just everything about this episode, I don’t know how to sum it up better than just saying it was a character that every actor dreams of playing and should be so lucky to get to play in their lifetime. When you get to play a God, like an all-powerful being, you get to create the rules for this character. And what I love about Maestro is specifically they don’t operate by human standards for gender presentation or identity.  I love how not a big deal that is for Maestro. Because they’re too powerful to worry about petty things like gender constructs.

Yeah. I like how they kind of just casually dismiss it when the character, in the beginning, misgenders them.

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Monsoon: Yeah. Yeah. And they know they’re more powerful. So it’s exciting to play someone who essentially belongs to a marginalized community but is not marginalized themselves. They’re the most powerful thing there.

You’re playing the first villain we’ve seen in this new era that exists as a true threat to Ncuti’s Doctor. His Doctor is scared of you.

Monsoon: It’s exciting because this character is not only powerful but nuanced. And a part of the overarching story. So this character carries a lot of weight, and to be trusted with that as a trans feminine performer, as a drag performer, it was just a huge honor and privilege to get to act opposite Ncuti and play someone that’s on level with him. That was exciting. And we both bring such fresh perspectives, I think.

We don’t see a ton of characters like Maestro. And when we do see them, they’re not always flattering and they’re not always played by the right performer and Ncuti is bringing such a new and fresh perspective to the Doctor. And [Russell T Davies] is just really leaning in this season with the inherent queerness that’s always been a part of Doctor Who. Because Russell has always been a part of Doctor Who.

Yeah. It’s tricky talking about queer coding, a lot of people think of that as inherently problematic, which I don’t think it is, especially when you look back at the history of the Hays Code. It prevented most onscreen depictions of queerness, so a lot of queer filmmakers hid their representation in monsters. So this felt like a nice extension of that. Queer actors playing these characters, chewing scenery, and breaking the fourth wall like this is such a celebration of that history.

Monsoon: I absolutely agree with you. I think it’s all context because it depends on who this character is in the hands of. I think we can see historically damaging representations of queer and trans people as villains. But since then, we have experienced a lot of progress and we have seen queer actors and queer characters be the central focus in a lot of things that I didn’t think in my lifetime we’d get to see. 

With the privilege of so much more representation these days, we get to go back to, okay, let us play any character because we can make the context, right? Where this character can be a villain and can be objectively evil, but we can love them for how freaking queer they are. And it’s just honoring what I think drag queens have always done.

I mean, I based my drag persona off of the larger than life female villains that I was obsessed with who probably were queer coded because they couldn’t cast a drag queen or a trans woman as this character. A cis woman was the only acceptable person to play this character. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently with Audrey [in Little Shop of Horrors] because I just think there’s parts of Audrey where I’m like, this really feels so familiar that it makes me wonder if aspects of her were based on a trans woman or a drag queen that the author knew.

And so to think about the fact that I’ve derived my drag persona from these larger than life female villains, and then this character was written with me in mind, I got to take all of that back to where it all started, Disney villains.

Literally one of my next questions was, “Do you think having a trans femme actor play Audrey elevates a lot of the nuance of that character?” When I saw [Michaela Jaé Rodriguez] play Audrey a few years ago, that destroyed me.

Monsoon: Yeah. I think with good writing, you can cast anyone in the role and if the story is universal, then the demographic of the person doesn’t matter as much. I think that’s a sign of good writing. We’ve seen Audrey interpreted so many ways now. Specifically, this production has been running for five years and has had a wide array of Audreys. 

I think bringing fresh perspective to characters is how we reinvigorate storytelling. It’s how these stories survive for so long. It’s why Little Shop is still relevant today. 

If the actor and the direction do the work that they’re there to do, it doesn’t matter that Corbin Bleu is mixed race and I’m trans feminine. We are every bit Seymour and Audrey as the Seymour and Audreys who came before us. We just have a different perspective.

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That’s the magic of live theater, too. You have a text that exists as a written script but then who you bring to it, who you collaborate with, how you direct it, how you produce it all creates such an entirely different experience. And it’s different every time you do that.

Monsoon: Well, and I will say candidly that it’s not like I set out to play Audrey as a trans feminine woman. I just set out to play Audrey and I really derived my understanding of the character from the text, which is different from the movie that I grew up with. The original show has different text from the Ellen Green movie that is ingrained in my psyche because it’s iconic and incredible. Her presentation of Audrey definitely makes me feel like Audrey was based off of someone very larger than life or based off of people who can pull off being larger than life. 

And then that informed my Audrey, and then I thought, well, what if Audrey was trans feminine? She would live on Skid Row in the ’60s. And we know that trans people have existed and we know that they existed in the ’60s and their life would not have been easy, though.

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And that’s what we see in Audrey. So I guess in the end, what I wanted was to not necessarily play Audrey as trans, but to show you the what if, like if Audrey were trans. The story works either way. If you are seeing me playing Audrey like I’m just a performer playing a cis female character, it works. But if you are reading into the nuance of who I am as a performer, it still works. And that’s the beauty of the production, the beauty of the writing. And when you get the trust and respect to bring that to the character, that’s what you get to bring on stage.

Yeah, there’s a lot of conversation these days about whether trans actors should be playing just trans roles or also cis roles. And I feel like kind– going off what you said too, that’s the wrong conversation to have about it. As a trans performer myself, I feel like why do we have to define the character in the text as one or the other? Why can’t an actor just take the role, and play it? I think that defining a character as trans or cis really doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense in the context of it’s just a character. 

Monsoon: And if their gender journey is the story, Okay.


Monsoon: My first suggestion lately when people come to me asking, like would it be appropriate to ask a trans person to play this character because this character is a cisgender character? What’s appropriate? The first thing I say is, “Have you considered changing the gender of the character?” Because if you want this performer, what if the character was more like the performer? 

I really think context is everything. Because like I said, there are performances we’ve seen through history that have been damaging to the community, and there have been performances that have been celebratory. And it doesn’t matter the gender of the character. It doesn’t matter whether the character was the hero or the villain. What matters is the authenticity that the performer was allowed to bring to the character, I think.

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Agreed, absolutely. My last question for you before I let you go. So you’re playing Audrey right now. You’re going to return to Matron Mama Morton [in Chicago] soon. You’re headlining Carnegie Hall next year. So what’s left on your stage musical bucket list?

Monsoon: Well, I’d really love to originate a role, and as much as it would be exciting to originate a role in a new musical, I’ve been having just a really fun time reinterpreting classic roles. And so there’s a part of me that would really, really love to originate another classic female role from a beloved musical and see what perspective I could bring to it and I’m open-minded to what that might be. Of course, my dream rule is Mrs. Lovett, but they just did that, so we’ll see. That’s down the line, whatever.

But I also like to say that I’m having a really good time with what I’m doing. So my bucket list kind of has been met, and then at the same time, I’m not upset about it. I don’t feel hampered by that. I definitely feel like there’s more for me to do and more places for me to go, but I’m not in a rush because I really like where I’m at. And I just hope that I keep getting to do more of this work because I really feel energized and alive. I really love my life and I love the job I’m allowed to do now.