Patti Cake$ star Bridget Everett: I've fallen off a couple of bars in my time and I don't think there's any shame in that
She's made her mark on the New York cabaret scene and now Bridget Everett has her sights set on the big screen. Debuting her first dramatic role in Patti Cake$, the comedian-singer tells Gemma Dunn why she's pleased to have stepped outside of her wheelhouse.
A self-confessed dreamer and actress on the up, Bridget Everett is set to cause a stir. "Unruly sex bomb with the voice of an angel" read one of the casting calls for Geremy Jasper's debut feature directorial, Patti Cake$.
It was written for the part of Barb: a 'b****-to-the-wall' bitter, boozy mother. And having spotted cabaret queen Bridget Everett on Inside Amy Schumer, Jasper had found the woman for the job.
But despite Everett's notoriety for her fearless and uninhibited original performances, signing up would take some convincing.
"I hadn't been in a movie like this," explains the 45-year-old singer and comedian, who regularly plays to sold-out theatres with her band The Tender Moments.
"I've only ever done comedy parts in things, so having a lead role and having to be dramatic felt really outside of my wheelhouse," she admits.
"I talked to Geremy, a friend and my agent and they were like, 'Just take the pressure off and go for it'. And I am so happy I did.
"I am going to get that as my new tattoo: 'Sexy with the voice of an angel'."
A hit at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Patti Cake$ is ultimately Jasper's love letter to his hometown of New Jersey, plus the creative spirit, hip-hop music and the strong women who raised him.
Rooted in his post-college years, it's a coming-of-age story focused on Patricia Dombrowski (Danielle Macdonald), who fancies herself as a one-of-a-kind hip-hop legend in the making. But stuck at home with her wheelchair-bound grandmother (Cathy Moriarty) and less-than-encouraging mother Barb (Everett), it's less than an easy ride to fame and glory for the unlikely rapper.
Yet it's that tug-of-war to the top that Everett could really get on board with.
"I've spent my whole life being a dreamer," quips the six-foot-six blonde, her laugh infectious.
"These are my favourite kinds of movies; I love watching somebody battle against their circumstance, find the fire inside of them and latch onto that and just not let go. I love that about this movie."
For Barb especially (an ex-rock 'n' roller who put her dreams on hold when she became pregnant with Patti), the Kansas-born talent holds a torch.
"She always wanted to be a rock star, but then she got knocked up, so now she spends a lot of her time in bars, drinking, singing karaoke and sleeping with the wrong men," she reasons.
"For me, she was like 50% my own mother, 50% Bridget in her 20s and 30s and then 50% of something else ... She's 150% of a woman," she says, chuckling again.
"Most of my life has been struggling to achieve my dream," she confides. "Being trapped and lonely and resenting people, it's not a foreign feeling for me, sadly, so I empathised with Barb's struggles for sure."
However, unlike Patti, Everett was always encouraged by her own mother - a music teacher in her own right - to pursue her love of performing.
"She sort of looked the other way when I waited tables for so many years trying to chase my dream," she reveals. "Because she always wanted to be Dolly in Hello, Dolly! on Broadway and she understood the need.
"She just had six kids instead of moving to New York like a maniac," she adds, with a smile.
But the grapple was worth it for the Downtown Manhattan favourite with a larger-than-life personality.
For the past decade, Everett, who describes herself as "alt-cabaret provocateur", has carved out a career as a world-renowned cabaret artist, hailed as "raw and riotous" by The New York Times and named "the most exciting performer in New York City" on the cover of the Village Voice.
Trained as a classical singer, she's a regular fixture at comedy festivals; has headlined her own major US tour; impressed with her live television special, Bridget Everett - Gynaecological Wonder, on Comedy Central; and is the co-creator, co-writer and star of upcoming Amazon series Love You More.
It's no surprise, then, that the singing scenes were her most comfortable moments in Patti Cake$.
"Geremy chose it, but it was a perfect fit for me," she says of one of her big scenes, in which she belts out Heart's hit These Dreams in a shabby karaoke bar.
"First of all I love Ann Wilson's voice so much and I love karaoke, so it was an honour to play a character in a karaoke bar singing a song that I love to somebody that I love.
"(My go-to karaoke song) is You Oughta Know or Piece of My Heart," she adds, having recently received a standing ovation for the latter on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.
"Anything that is just savage, I love a savage karaoke song," she says, grinning. "For me, it's about getting on top of the bar and just going totally ape s***."
As for falling off the bar, in the name of Barb?
"It's second nature," she confesses, with a laugh. "I've fallen off a couple of bars in my day and I don't think there's any shame in that ... But it was four foot down," she says of the scene in which she took a tumble. "This is a lot of woman ... so I felt it but it was worth it. Guts and glory."
She's keen to point out, however, at the crux of the film is three strong female leads.
"I love seeing a movie about a fully realised, unconventional female lead," Everett notes.
"I feel like there are women roles, but it's just nice that it's not a reflection of how she's reacting to a man or anything," she concludes. "It's all about Patti, a young woman, and I think its super-exciting, really refreshing and I hope it inspires people to do more of the same."
- Patti Cake$ is in cinemas today