ENTERTAINMENT
05/01/2018 23:01 GMT

'Celebrity Big Brother': 'RuPaul's Drag Race' Star Courtney Act On Preparing For A Debate With Ann Widdecombe And Michelle Visage Rivalry (EXCLUSIVE)

Courtney spoke exclusively to HuffPost UK before she went into the house.

Shirlaine Forrest via Getty Images

The cat is well and truly out of the bag, ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ star Courtney Act has finally arrived in the ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ house.

Prior to entering the ‘CBB’ residence, HuffPost UK caught up with Courtney to chat about how she hopes to promote issues of gender and sexuality, why she doesn’t think she should win and how she “certainly hasn’t” asked ‘Drag Race’ judge Michelle Visage for any tips on surviving in the house...

What are your initial feelings about going into the house?

I’m excited! I feel like I got to cheat on the big test by seeing half the cast that’s gone in already, so there’s been some serious Googling and fact-checking, and girding my loins for a debate. Well, at least with Ann Widdecombe...

Well, let’s talk about Ann Widdecombe. She’s someone who voted against LGBT+ rights throughout her political career, and you obviously represent the complete opposite of that. How do you feel about sharing a living space with her?

One thing with people like Ann on reality television, that I have general concern for, is that she’s hysterical and funny, but the things that she stands for are quite horrible and oppressive. I think it’s very dangerous to make somebody who is so oppressive likeable.

Having said that, I respect that she’s a very intelligent woman, she’s not like one of these stupid people who somehow came to power… she knows what she’s talking about.

I think it’s very dangerous to make somebody who is so oppressive likeable."

I’m obviously not going to change any of her opinions, but I do hope to perhaps understand how she thinks that a woman shouldn’t have the right to choose what happens to her body or why she thinks pregnant women in prison should be shackled while in labour, or why she’s against trans rights, or why she supports the death penalty.

I’m genuinely interested to, you know, talk to her and hear more about how she’s come to those conclusions that seem somewhat closed-minded for such an intelligent person.

Maybe she just hasn’t come in close contact with somebody like me before, or somebody like India [Willoughby] before. So hopefully she might get to see that our similarities are greater than our differences.

Rex/Shutterstock
Ann Widdecombe

Since you were on ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’, you’ve spoken a lot about raising awareness of subjects like gender fluidity and pansexuality. Is that something you’re hoping you can do on this series of ‘Celebrity Big Brother’?

Yeah, for sure! I think we all live in echo chambers, and in my echo chamber sometimes I’m preaching to the choir about, you know, being genderqueer or pansexuality, and just the topics of gender and sexuality in general.

I really think that these topics are not understood by most people, and I love being able to talk about them and have people ask questions.

And I’m not offendable, so I really look forward to using what I know and what I’ve learned from my own experiences to talk about those important topics and hopefully enlighten some people. 

I really think [gender and sexuality] are not understood by most people... I love being able to talk about them and have people ask questions."

In the same way, are you hoping you can challenge stereotypes of drag performers while in the house?

For sure. I haven’t seen the episode, but I saw that India said she had some preconceptions about drag queens. I think a lot of her comments are valid, but I think she perhaps is pigeon-holing drag as being one thing. Drag has evolved so much and there are so many facets of drag - from your East London drag to your Glamazon drag, and obviously ‘Drag Race’ has had such a huge influence all around the world.

I just really think India will soon have a new perception of what drag is and what it means. And I actually think that despite her comments we’ll have some common ground and get on quite well.

Karwai Tang via Getty Images
India Willoughby on 'CBB' launch night

I wanted to ask you about India, because she’s quite a divisive figure within the LGBT+ community because of comments she’s made in the past...

I’m not familiar with that...

Well, for example, she wrote a column saying only trans women who were “transitioning” should be allowed to use female changing rooms and public toilets [she later issued an apology retracting her comments].

I suppose I’d have to know more about her specific views, but I would definitely be keen to discuss that with her.

I thought that the “bathroom debate” was something that was just happening in North Carolina, but it’s nice to know that it’s not unique to America. Trans people have been using the bathroom since the beginning of time. It’s only now that this conversation has been raised that this theoretical issue has been created.

And I think it is used to oppress people, I don’t actually think it’s got anything to do with the bathroom, just as it was never anything to do with the water fountain when it came to people of colour.

I’ll definitely be keen to talk to her about that. I love conversation and getting down to the nitty-gritty and hearing people’s opinions, and I just love that this year, seeing so many intelligent and diverse people going in means that there will be lots of intelligent conversation.

On the last show that I did [‘Single AF’ on MTV], I was the oldest person by 10 years and the conversation got about as intelligent as what colour lip gloss to wear, so I’m looking forward to some mental stimulation. And possibly some physical, who knows?

Eamonn M. McCormack via Getty Images
Courtney and the cast of MTV's dating show 'Single AF'

Is any part of you concerned that discussing these topics that so many people don’t understand might backfire or not go down well with reality TV viewers?

I think that any kind of discomfort stems from ignorance and I think that by talking about these topics, people will come to understand them.

As ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ fans can attest, you definitely have a competitive streak. Are you feeling competitive this time around?

I’d love to make it to the final… but I actually don’t think that I should be allowed to win. I know that’s not something that I should think, but it’s ‘Year Of The Woman’. We live in a patriarchy where men make the rules and men define the narrative, and things have been in men’s favour for so long, and I think the script should be flipped and a woman should win… although if it had to be a male-bodied person, I’d like it to be me.

I actually don’t think that I should be allowed to win... it's 'Year Of The Woman'."

Going into this experience, is getting further than Michelle Visage [‘Drag Race’ judge and fifth place contestant in ‘CBB’ 2015] something you’re thinking about?

Fuck yeah. You just know that Michelle Visage is sitting somewhere in the world right now fuuuuuuuming. And I would be lying if I said that it didn’t bring me no end of joy.

I thought you’d have reached out to Michelle for tips on surviving in the house?

No. Certainly not.

Channel 5
Michelle was a 'CBB' housemate three years ago

Did you catch her time in the house?

I saw little bits of it. It’s hard to be forced into a life of crime, illegally downloading foreign television programmes, but I did watch little bits of it.

And... you know on ‘Drag Race’? Ru and Michelle always say, “girl, don’t blame the edit, you’re just making excuses”? I have got screenshots of two tweets within 48 hours of Michelle coming out of the house where she blamed the edit. She said, “oh there was so much more than what you saw on television, I wish you could have seen everything”. 

Have you seen any of the rumours about the other contestants going in late?

Well, I saw they’ve announced John Barnes who is the… footballer? I feel like football players… I’m often threatened by alpha males, or at least historically I have been. Now I like to put on my favourite costume and stand up against them…

But the UK has got such a different relationship with masculinity. Whether it’s John Lennon or Harry Styles… none of these are typical “alpha males”. The UK respects that, but in Australia and America it’s still very much about masculinity.

Even David Beckham! I’m loathe to use the term “metrosexual”, but he seems like a pretty cool guy, and he’s a soccer player. So I don’t know whether John is going to be of the David Beckham variety of football player, or whether he’ll be a little more oppressive.

Channel 5
Courtney's official 'CBB' photo

Who would be your dream male housemate, and who would be your nightmare male housemates?

Dream housemate… a handsome, intelligent gentleman, aged 28 to 40, who is somewhere on the sexuality spectrum, likes boys, likes girls, and perhaps somebody in between. And terror housemate would just be a meathead, opinionated alpha male. Piers Morgan would be a nightmare housemate.

How would you cope if you ended up in the house with a “meathead” like you described?

Look, in real life, when I’m in drag and they’ve had a few drinks, it’s shocking to see how quickly those sorts of people who are against any idea of homosexuality or gender diversity can bend and start flirting… and even on several occasions making out and going even further with me. Behind a closed door.

So often I think a lot of that meathead bravado is actually a distraction for things that lie beneath the surface.

"My terror housemate would just be a meathead, opinionated alpha male. Piers Morgan would be a nightmare."

With cameras filming you 24/7, how much will we see Shane, how much will we see Courtney, and how much of a difference is there between the two?

There are so many times I’ll be going out to a party, and I just think, “going to this party in drag would be so much more fun”. And so I think there will be times in the house where I just wanna get up in drag.

I’ve got so many great outfits, I’ve been allowed four bags, whereas everybody else gets two, because I’m dressing for two genders - male privilege is alive and well! - but I’ve got so many great costumes and I wanna wear them all. I can’t wait to put them on.

How do you anticipate someone like Ann will react to you coming out of the bedroom in full drag?

I mean, how could you not love it? It looks so pretty and so fun and there are so many sparkles! If you don’t have an appreciation for things that sparkle - then we’re going to have a problem.

Standing up and doing the right thing is more important than anything... so I look forward to any confrontation."

Is part of you secretly hoping you’ll wind her up a bit by coming out in drag?

Look, I think that any preconceptions will quickly be dispelled - I feel like these are famous last words - when people meet me.

I’m just about having a good time and enjoying company and having fun. Maybe I’m being ignorant here, but I feel like most people just want to connect to other people and have a good time. So I’m hoping they’ll look past anything they might think is a bit strange and see somebody who’s having fun.

You say that, but ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ is notorious for its arguments. How do you deal with that kind of confrontation?

I really like confrontation, but I like balanced confrontation. So if there’s a man speaking down to a woman who isn’t comfortable defending herself, then I’m more than happy to be an ally to either a woman, a minority or anyone in the house who’s being bullied or discriminated against.

Standing up and doing the right thing is more important than… anything, really. So I look forward to any confrontation, and hopefully that will lead to education and transformation of those opinions.

‘Celebrity Big Brother’ airs every night on Channel 5.

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