We caught up with actor and fashion icon Tom Lenk, who is making his Gay Days Anaheim debut this weekend with the international hit play Tilda Swinton Answers An Ad On Craigslist.
With a one-night-only performance at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa on Saturday, October 5th, Tom took a few minutes to let us in on all the secrets behind transforming into mystical enigma and possible alien, Tilda Swinton.
Okay, tell us everything. We’re big Tilda fans, we’re big you fans – how did this come about?
When Gay Days reached out, I was like yeah! Basically the premise of the show is that a sort-of Mary Poppins version of Tilda Swinton swoops and changes this gay man’s life for the better.
We’ve been doing it the past three years. We started it here in LA at the Celebration Theatre, just spent our second summer doing the show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and we’ve been self-producing a tour around the world. This is our last show of the year!
I play Tilda, and there’s three other actors. My friend Byron Lane is in it as well and he wrote it. When he sent it to me, I got to the third page and I was like, oh these Mary Poppins references – my head is exploding! He wasn’t necessarily trying to do a whole Poppins thing but I told him he definitely was – all this came from your subconscious!
I am a Mary Poppins aficionado. At one time my side hustle in college was directing musicals for K-8 at a school in my hometown and we did Mary Poppins, and this was pre-Disney Theatrical. It’s a perfect two act musical! The kid who was playing Bert ran into Dick Van Dyke in Thousand Oaks and invited him to the show.
So Dick Van Dyke shows up, as well as the local press. We did a thing in “Step in Time” where we’d say teacher names from the school, like “Mrs. Smith, step in time, Mrs. Smith, step in time.” I told them go pull up Dick Van Dyke and sing “Dick Van Dyke, step in time,” and he got up on stage and did the number!
Unprompted, he jumped on stage at the end and joined them for “Let’s Go Fly a Kite”. I was heading backstage just sobbing, weeping, a puddle on the floor.
Tilda has to have a giant bag and I pull things out – I won’t spoil the crazy things I pull out – so we amped up the Poppins references. The show is so funny. Not to toot my own horn, or play my one man band a la Bert, but it’s so much fun to do. Doing it every single day for a month is exhausting but it’s so worth it – I love doing it.
From the outside she seems like this very magical, from the future, out of this world person and Byron has a one-eyed dog named Tilda that he named after her. He was just imagining what she would be like as a modern-day Mary Poppins character.
What did you do to prepare to embody an enigma like Tilda? What’s your process?
I’m pretty lazy when it comes to that. I’ve seen her in a bunch of movies, and I watched clips of movies I’d seen, and some I hadn’t seen. I found a few interviews with her, just so I could see what her actual voice is like. She’s from Scotland, but she has sort of a royal pronunciation (RP), which you learn if you go to a fancy private school or drama school there.
In America, no one knows what she sounds like because she becomes the character and uses a different accent each time. I play around with that. That RP accent is the same accent Julie Andrews has, it’s very Poppins. In the play she references characters she’s played in movies. She goes into her characters from her movies, so I get to use all those accents. A lot of YouTubing, and my own imagination of what I think she’d be like, throw in some Julie Andrews, some Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone from Ab Fab, cook til medium brown around the edges – and that’s my process!
How was the show received at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year?
She’s a bit of a hometown hero there! She’s from the tippy top, a place called Nairn, lives in the family castle. People are more aware of her there than they are here. But it is interesting – everywhere, the range of people who are like I discovered that indie band first, that was my band, I knew about them first – the variety of ages and types of people who are like I’ve been obsessed with Tilda Swinton for a long time and you’re like, grandpa? Really? It’s wild.
Every night in Scotland someone would be like [thick Scottish accent] “I used to live down the road from her, she’d come by, she’s lovely, oh I went to college with her, or she popped into see my granddaughter’s production of Chronicles of Narnia.”
The Fringe Festival is amazing because you’re just there in a city surrounded by other performers and shows and tourists, who go to a city just to vacation and see as many shows as possible. Live theatre! It’s an amazing, inspiring time and it’s very creatively and artistically recharging. You come back to LA and it’s Hollywood and the business and much more corporate, so it’s really cool to go and be an artist for a month.
Are you a big Disneyland fan? Have you done Gay Days before?
Can you believe this is my first time going to Gay Days? I’ve been going to Disneyland all my life, I grew up in Southern California. My whole extended family would go in the 80s, there’s photos of us with those old school strollers that are like two candy canes and a piece of fabric, and we’re all wearing red shirts. The whole family, matching red shirts. We were Gay Days before Gay Days, okrrr?
There was a brief period where we stopped going because we were on Tom Sawyer Island and I was playing in the cave there. My cousins ditched me and I got lost, wandering around by myself. My mom was freaking out! A woman saw me crying and took me to a mountie, who put me on his shoulders so I could try to find my mom. The mountie saved me and I found my family, but my mom was furious and I was traumatized. Took a good three or four year hiatus to heal!
I went to Grad Nite in high school, which is like what – you stay up all night, how is that a good idea? My parents went to one of the very first Grad Nites back in the day.
See it for Yourself
Tilda Swinton Answers An Ad On Craigslist is a one-night-only performance as part of Gay Days Anaheim on October 5, 2019.
MORE INFO: Tickets are on sale now!
Let me know if you do a meet up, I will be there, and been following you for years. I have a few friends that I am sure to meet up. Maybe Lamplight drinks, or something.