ONE OF THE GREATEST TV SHOWS OF ALL TIME IS A SHADY LITTLE REALITY SHOW BY THE NAME OF RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE, WHERE DRAG QUEENS FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY (AND PUERTO RICO) GO WIG TO WIG FOR A GENEROUS CASH PRIZE. SEASON FOUR, WHICH CAME TO A CLIMACTIC END JUST A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO, WAS, AS FANS UNDOUBTEDLY AGREE, ONE OF THE BEST IN DRAG RACE HISTORY. PERHAPS ONE OF THE MOST SCANDALOUS (AND MEMORABLE) QUEENS WAS WILLAM BELLI, WHO’S MYSTERIOUS DISQUALIFICATION FOR BREAKING NUMEROUS RULES SHOCKED EVERYONE. NO STRANGER TO THE CAMERA, WILLAM WAS ALREADY AN ESTABLISHED ACTOR WHEN HE “AUDITIONED” FOR RUPAUL’S SHOW.
DIRTY CAUGHT UP WITH WILLAM AT THE CHAMBERLAIN HOTEL IN WEST HOLLYWOOD, TO TALK CHARISMA, UNIQUENESS, NERVE AND TALENT (WHAT RUPAUL REQUIRES OF ALL HER DRAG RACE CONTESTANTS: C.U.N.T.) AND TO FIND OUT WHAT SHE REALLY DID TO GET KICKED OFF. WE INVITED LEGENDARY PHOTOGRAPHER BRIAN BOWEN SMITH ALONG WHO SNAPPED THESE INCREDIBLE DIRTY PHOTOS.
TEXT Paul Bruno
PHOTOGRAPHY Brian Bowen Smith
DIRTY: WHERE WERE YOU BORN?
D: IS THAT WHERE YOU GREW UP?
W: Umm, Pretty much, although I did live in Florida for junior high and high school.
D: DO YOU HAVE ANY SIBLINGS?
W: Just one, a sister, and she’s 18 months older.
D: WHEN YOU WERE A CHILD, DID YOU ALWAYS KNOW THAT YOU WERE GAY? WAS YOUR IDENTITY ALREADY CLEAR TO YOU, OR WAS IT SOMETHING THAT SORT OF TOOK SOME TIME TO REALIZE?
W: It was always really clear. My dad and mom are both one of five kids, and on my dad’s side I have a gay uncle and a gay aunt, and on my mom’s side I have what we think is a gay uncle. So it was always really cool, never an issue. Although, I do remember getting in trouble for wearing a giant, dinner-plate-sized New Kids On The Block pin in my school pictures. I had to retake it, and I’m like, “But I want to marry them!” And my mom was fine with it, she just didn’t want all of them in that picture that she had to send to my grandparents, you know?
D: OUTSIDE OF YOUR FAMILY THEN, GROWING UP, WAS BEING GAY AN ISSUE FOR YOU IN ANY WAY?
W: No, everything was always cool because my sister, who was in the grade ahead of me, was really popular. So the guys who might have tortured me, she was hanging out with them. She was really popular. It was a great place to grow up. It was the beach, in Florida, where I went to high school. Everyone surfed basically. Our school even had a surfing team. And I worked at a bakery that was owned by a lesbian. She was sort of my surrogate den mother for all things gay.
D: AMAZING. WHERE IN FLORIDA WAS THIS?
W: Coco Beach, which is right by NASA. My dad worked for the Space Center.
D: HOW OLD WERE YOU WHEN YOU FIRST PUT ON WOMEN’S CLOTHING?
W: Oh, Jesus! Ummm… Shit, I remember being 5, playing dress up with my sister, and my cousin. When Batman came out, I wanted to be Vicky Vale (Kim Basinger) so bad! She wore this ugly-ass trench coat, but underneath it she had something leopard on, and I thought, “Oh my god! this is so cool, she’s like a spy. She’s like Carmen Sandiego, but like whoreier,” and I thought she was cool. Plus she was fucking Batman, so…
D: WHEN WAS THE FIRST TIME YOU DID FULL DRAG FOR THE FIRST TIME?
W: First time in full drag, I was 13. My dad took me to see Rocky Horror Picture Show.
D: SO YOUR FAMILY IS OKAY WITH THE DRAG?
W: Oh yeah, they don’t give two shits.
D: THAT’S AMAZING.
W: Yeah. I mean I got into a fight with my mom once because she took my away tweezers. She said, “Your eyebrows are too thin! Stop it!” And looking back at pictures, they were fucking chola down! They were way too thin! She just had my best interest at heart.
D: ASIDE FROM VICKI VALE, WHO WERE SOME OF YOUR OTHER DRAG INSPIRATIONS?
W: Leigh Bowery, and RuPaul. And Divine, because I was heavier as a kid.
D: DID YOUR SISTER INFLUENCE YOUR DRAG AT ALL?
W: NO. Not at all! My sister was awful in the ways of beauty and glam. She was basically the football team’s girl, running the locker room and team equipment. That’s why she was really, really popular with the boys. She wanted to be a sports therapist at the time, so she was taping up ankles and things like that. But no, she didn’t influence my drag at all, although we did wear the same shoe size for a while, so that helped.
D: HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE WILLAM’S DRAG LOOK?
W: On the show, Ru referred to my look as sort of a slutty celebutante. I like to think a little mistressy, like I always look like someone’s side piece, but I also think I have a little bit of an edgy element. A bit of a wild child, I’ll never be the good girl.
D: WHO WANT’S TO BE?
W: Exactly! I also never wear black — I wear color. And shiny things. I think black is like a drag queen default. As a guy, I wear black all the time. But in drag, I hate it. There are so many more interesting things to do, you know?
D: YOUR FANS, AND RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE VIEWERS ALL KNOW ABOUT YOUR CAREER IN TELEVISION AND FILM, DID YOU EVER STUDY ACTING OR THEATER?
W: I never really studied, I took a class a couple of times, because my aunt paid for it. It was a Christmas present, she has an Emmy, and she really wanted me to do it. But I never wanted to learn monologues that I never was going to perform, you know? I didn’t want to learn commercial copy. My thing was, I always wanted to be famous, but I never really knew how, and acting was just the easiest way, because it got me on TV. So I just kept doing it and I happened to be good at it. I don’t know if I was just lucky or good, but people kept asking me back, so I ended up being on TV a lot!
D: WAS THAT YOUR FIRST TIME AUDITIONING FOR DRAG RACE?
W: The people at World Of Wonder actually called my manager to ask me if I would audition, so I made a tape. I wouldn’t have cold-called and submitted a tape on their own, but I figured since they asked, they were interested!
D: WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST TV APPEARANCE EVER?
W: My very first appearance on tv was this game show called Street Smarts when I was 18. But my first guest appearance on anything was when I did two episodes of The District, and Jaclyn Smith was my attorney. I played a street hustler named Darren who got arrested, kissed a cop, got beat up. I remember my stunt double was a former Navy SEAL, who looked NOTHING like me. He was wrestler-sized with a bad wig! There’s a scene where they cut quickly from me to him, and he looks like the typical Craigslist cross-dresser – it was so laughable!
D: WHAT WAS IT LIKE WORKING WITH JACLYN SMITH?
W: (Laughs) They told me not to talk to her! It was my first job, and I didn’t even know it was for two episodes until I got there, and I remember thinking on set, “WHAAAT? Two episodes? Oh my god, I’m going to be famous!” I wish I could go back and shake my head at this 18 year old and be like, “No boo-boo, go sit down. You need, like, ten years to cook!”
D: AND WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST OPPORTUNITY TO BE IN A FILM?
W: My first movie movie was American Wedding with Sean William Scott and all those kids. It was a pretty good part, I had two scenes, and (laughs) I get a check from it almost every day! It was a very high-grossing movie. Those blockbusters really make you money!
D: WERK! NOW, GETTING BACK TO DRAG RACE, I’M CURIOUS IF THERE WAS ANYONE AT THE VERY BEGINNING OF THE SEASON THAT YOU DIDN’T CARE FOR AT FIRST, BUT GREW TO LIKE?
W: No! I pretty much liked everybody! I thought Lashawn [Beyond] was really reserved, and I didn’t know if he was like that with everybody, but apparently he hated me. Which I don’t care about at all! It’s fine, for someone who’s only done drag six times in their life, and then they’re on RuPaul’s Drag Race! He admitted to us at the beginning that the last time he had done drag was making his audition tape, and we were like, “That was like two months ago!” That was basically her Achilles heel, and she revealed it to us on that episode.
D: YEAH, I FOUND IT INTERESTING THAT LAST SEASON THE GIRLS GAVE SHANGELA SUCH A HARD TIME FOR BEING THE NEWBIE, AND SHE HAD WAAY MORE EXPERIENCE DOING DRAG THAN LESHAWN. IT DIDN’T SEEM TO BE TURNED INTO MUCH OF AN ISSUE FOR LESHAWN.
W: Well, apparently from what I’ve heard, they had to manufacture a lot of drama for season three. They had a talent producer who was really significant in instigating it – she was the one who told the story people about the whole boogers and heathers thing. That was something the girls came up with hanging out in the hotel, and the talent producer relayed it, and the girls were like, “You want us to talk about that on set?” She is a very smart talent producer, very behind the scenes. She actually kept me from walking off the show during the second episode, after the first time I broke the rules. She refused to give me her phone to call the producer. After the show aired of course, I told her that in my presence, she would never pay for a drink!!
D: SHE KNEW WHAT SHE WAS DOING!
W: She saw potential. She knew me before the show, and I think she was the one that got World Of Wonder to call me, after having seen me perform, although the World Of Wonder people were already aware of who I was. There was this show called Show Dog Moms & Dads and they were having some sort of a dog fashion show on one of the episodes where they wanted to use Ru’s song Supermodel, but they couldn’t afford the rights, so they payed me $50 for four hours to record it! That was my first job with W.O.W., and since then they’ve been booking strippers from my company for years for their parties.
D: TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR COMPANY.
W: It’s called Box Meat. I represent talent — I am basically the middleman between clubs and people who take off their clothes for money. People call me if they need a midget, or a six-foot-six blatino dude, and five minutes later I’ve got them some options.
D: ACTUALLY, I THINK YOU PLACED ONE OF MY HUSBAND’S OLD FRIENDS AT A CLUB THE OTHER NIGHT!
W: That is not surprising at all! I’ve had lots of people who work for me that randomly move on to bigger stuff. This actor Nolan Gerard Funk, who played the lead in Bye Bye Birdie on Broadway, used to work for me. A lot of reality television people as well. Also people who dance for Kylie or Madonna, in between tours they’ll call me for gigs.
D: THAT’S A SMART IDEA, MISS AGENT!
W: Yeah, I found a niche and I filled it! That’s what they teach you in business school, not that I ever went to business school…
D: SO GETTING BACK TO THE SHOW, I’M DYING TO KNOW, WHEN WAS THE FIRST TIME THAT PHI PHI (O’HARA) SHOWED HER ASS TO YOU?
W: On the first episode! (laughs) On our way back from the motel zombie challenge, we were in a van heading back to the studio. It was Phi Phi, Dita, Jiggly, I think Latrice, The Princess, and anyway there were seven of us. I was in the very back row of the van, laying flat because I didn’t want to sit up and have marks all over my stomach from my fat rolls, and I saw the Hollywood sign and told all the girls to look to their right to see the sign. There was dead silence, none of the girls said anything, but a couple of seconds later, they all slowly looked over, as if no one wanted to do it when I said it. No one liked me at the beginning! And then Phi Phi said, “Yup, top six in here!” and I said, “Actually, we’re seven in here!”
That same episode, when we walked into the Untucked room after being declared safe, I sat down and I said, “Alright, we’re all losers!” and she went off! “Don’t you dare call me a loser! I fought too hard, and I’m too good, everyone knows who Phi Phi is! Blah! blah! blah!” I asked her, “Well what is it called when you don’t win? How about we call ourselves the non-winners? Is that good?”
She was just out for blood from the start, and it just seemed like she didn’t have a good time while she was there, unless it was at someone else’s expense. The fact that she couldn’t have fun unless she was making fun of someone else was really detrimental to the morale of the show, and she wanted to make me out to be a villain.
D: I REALLY APPLAUD YOUR PATIENCE UNDER PRESSURE, BECAUSE I CAN’T SAY I WOULD HAVE REACTED TO HER SCREAMING, AND CONFRONTATIONAL NATURE IN SUCH A POISED WAY!
W: Well, I read the first three pages of Dianetics, and there are some good tenets in Scientology about negativity and all that stuff!! I’m not giving them my money though, fuck that! But there is a level of peace that comes from within when you know that this person is so insecure, they’re going to stick to their guns so hard, even if it means shooting themselves in the foot.
D: WHICH SEEMED TO HAPPEN SEVERAL TIMES BEFORE THE SEASON WAS OVER
W: Totally! Every time she would say something negative like, “she needs to learn her words,” or “she’s going to be in the bottom,” that girl (usually Sharon Needles) would win! It was kind of ironic that every time she thought she was so right was when she was the most wrong.
D: IT’S ODD, I REALLY REALLY LOATHED PHI PHI UNTIL I REALIZED THAT NEARLY EVERYONE ELSE SHARED MY SENTIMENT. THEN I ACTUALLY STARTED TO FEEL BAD FOR HER!
W: No. No. Don’t do that. She made her bed, and she knew what she was doing all along. People boo her! Now she’s acting like she likes it, like, “Yeah, come on! Boo me! I love it!” Backstage at the finale / reunion special, when they were announcing the top three, The audience booed so loudly, but it was edited out. Sharon told me later that Phi Phi just looked up to the ceiling as if holding back tears. But she knew what she was doing. She was premeditated in her actions and in her words. She meant to fuck with people! Trying to get Latrice to mess up the challenge so I could get kicked off! Nuh uh! And the fact that Latrice wouldn’t even consider it, even as a sportsman, meant a lot. That’s why she won Miss Congeniality! Chad said it best when she said, “After this competition, I intend on seeing very little of Phi Phi O’Hara.”
D: HAD YOU NOT BEEN DISQUALIFIED, WHO DO YOU THINK WOULD HAVE BEEN YOUR FIERCEST COMPETITION?
W: Jiggly Caliente.
D: BUT YOU ALREADY SENT HER HOME!
W: I know… that was an accident! I call that my pants-off dance-off — I didn’t know any of the words!
D: SO! WE ALL WATCHED THE REUNION SPECIAL TO FIND OUT WHAT EXACTLY YOU DID, WHAT RULES YOU BROKE, TO GET KICKED OFF. AS IT TURNED OUT, YOU SAID YOU WERE SECRETLY RECEIVING CONJUGAL VISITS FROM YOUR HUSBAND… NOW, I’VE BEEN DYING TO ASK YOU: IS THAT THE TRUTH, THE WHOLE TRUTH AND NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH?!
W: Well, that is definitely true, but if you want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, you’re going to be waiting for a while! I mean, my Drag Race bio on their website, which was written before the show even began taping, basically said “This rule-breaker will do whatever it takes,” or something to that effect, which was major foreshadowing…
I broke a lot of rules. Anytime I didn’t like something, I broke a rule. If production wasn’t living up to their end of our agreement, or to what I thought was their end of our agreement, I broke a rule. Sometimes it was for the benefit of all the girls, like we got treated better, you know? So I wouldn’t have changed anything.
But there are things that I’m not going to talk about that would make production look bad, and I’m not going to do that. No way, no how. I love and respect RuPaul too much to do that — she couldn’t possibly be aware of everything that goes on in her show. If I ran my mouth and talked about the WHOLE TRUTH, it would come off as me blaming the people who work for Ru, which is a reflection on her at the end of the day. There’s lots of stuff that makes production look bad, makes me look bad, and it makes me look a little slutty too, frankly! You can take from that what you want!
D: ELABORATE, PLEASE!
W: Well, there were rumors about me sleeping with the pit crew, which is DEFINITELY untrue. I would never do that!
Look, basically, there were rules I broke that were trivial, and there were rules I broke that were major, but I was definitely receiving conjugals! And that was a violation of our non-disclosure agreement.
D: ON THE EPISODE OF YOUR DISQUALIFICATION, RIGHT AFTER WINNING THE FRENEMIES CHALLENGE WITH LATRICE, YOU THREW UP ON THE MAINSTAGE, JUST BEFORE GETTING SENT HOME — WHY?
W: Okay, look. Most of my runway outfits were completely skimpy, revealing and sheer, so I couldn’t really eat during the day before our presentations, or at least I refused to, because I didn’t want to go on stage with a little food baby. And very often, in the middle of judging on stage, they would cut for lunch and we would have to go eat right after walking the runway, done up in corsets & full drag — it was crazy! For those of you who have no idea, it is very difficult to sit, let alone eat, with a corset pinching in your torso several inches, and so sometimes in order to eat, some of us would get out of our corsets, after spending all morning getting into drag.
On that particular challenge I wasn’t as naked as usual, I was wearing a corset, and it was one of those times that I thought I was going home, so I said, “fuck it,” and I stuffed my face. Unfortunately, after getting back into the corset I got sick and threw it all up — you can even see that I’m burping up a storm during that Untucked, while the judges deliberated.
D: (LAUGHS) YEAH, WE LEARNED A LOT WATCHING THE UNTUCKED EPISODES. WHICH BEGS ME TO ASK, HOW MUCH OF WHAT WE SAW WAS A CHARACTER, AND HOW MUCH WAS ACTUALLY WILLAM BELLI?
W: I’d say 90% of it was me in character.
W: Uh huh.
D: WAS THERE ANYTHING REALLY OUTRAGEOUS THAT HAPPENED OFF-CAMERA?
W: Ummmm… I found a pill on the ground in the studio and I took it and I got really sleepy and I had to pee. They wouldn’t show that on camera, but it happened. Everyone thought I was crazy and I was like, “I know right? Don’t fuck with me!”
D: EVER FIGURE OUT WHAT THE PILL WAS?
W: I think it was a vicodin.
D: NOW, THE WAY IT APPEARED ON THE SHOW, AFTER EDITING, WAS THAT PHI PHI’S INSTIGATING PLAYED A HUGE ROLE IN RUPAUL SENDING YOU HOME. WAS THAT TRUE?
W: No. Definitely no. Every time I broke a rule, I would bring it to the producers’ attention. Every time. I was making sure that all my bases were covered — I wanted to get kicked off! So I told them all some bullshit story, which they never aired, and they won’t, which is even better.
Look, I wasn’t the only one who broke the rules. Phi Phi had a phone, which was against the rules. And production was very aware that Phi Phi had a phone. Multiple girls had their phones. A lot of girls had weed and a lot of girls had phones. There was also a pay phone downstairs that girls were sneaking down to use!
D: DURING THE FINALE / REUNION EPISODE, YOU DEFINITELY SEEMED TO GET A BIT HEATED WHEN PHI PHI WAS TALKING! WAS THAT THE FIRST TIME YOU SAW HER SINCE GETTING SENT HOME?
W: The only time I saw her before that was at the New Now Next Awards. She and I share a manager, and he asked me if I could pick her up, and since I was driving a few of the other girls as well, I figured why not. There was a skit planned with me for the New Now Next awards that I learned two pages of dialogue for, and it all got cut! I was explaining this to the girls in the car, and Phi Phi was like, “So you’re not presenting anymore?!” She seemed to get happy about it! And I told her, “I’m still on stage, don’t you worry.” But I was thinking to myself, “Girl, calm down, the competition is over!” She’s definitely determined. I’ll give her that.
At the reunion I got heated because she was talking, and I didn’t believe her, and people in the audience were just shaking their heads at her. I just decided to say what was on everybody’s mind. Right after the show wrapped, one of the producers pulled me aside afterwards hugged me, and said, “I have two words for you: Thank you.”And I don’t know for sure what he thanked me for, but I said you’re welcome! I’m just here to make good tv.
D: I THINK EVERYONE WAS WAITING AND HOPING THAT SOMEONE WOULD READ HER.
W: I think I was the best ma’am for the job.
D: WAS THERE ANY CHALLENGE THAT YOU WEREN’T THERE FOR THAT YOU THOUGHT YOU WOULD HAVE ROCKED?
W: No. I wouldn’t have wanted to do any of them. Other than being in RuPaul’s video. I think Ru’s video this year was my favorite of her video’s I’ve ever seen. Brilliant. That’s the only thing I kinda missed. But other than that, fuck no. I was doing a show off-broadway by that point! It was called Jersey Shoresical. In fact, two days after I got kicked off of drag race I was in Jersey Shoresical in New York, pretty convenient, huh? And we won the Fringe Fest Audience Award. It’s almost like it was planned…
D: HOW WOULD YOU SAY THAT DRAG RACE HAS AFFECTED DRAG CULTURE?
W: I’d say it’s made it more accessible for people to try it. There are people who say they’re drag queens now, but there is a certain responsibility that comes with that I think, in the sense of knowing your history, and also being flexible to do certain things, like gigs that aren’t necessarily paid, but benefit a good cause, you know? There are a lot of people who don’t feel a sense of responsibility in the community. That’s the only thing I don’t like about it. That so many new people on the scene don’t understand that responsibility.
D: WHAT’S NEXT FOR WILLAM?
W: I’m releasing an album this summer, I have a video for one of the songs, ‘Trouble’, which was produced by Tom Trujillo, who works with RuPaul a lot. Chi Chi LaRue is directing that. I’m doing a movie called The Porn Brat Pack, and another movie called Kicking Zombie Ass for Jesus, which is a companion piece to the film Ticked Off Tranny’s With Knives, that I was in, which will be a culty, John Waters type of movie. I’m also in negotiation for a series which I cant talk about yet!
The music thing is happening for me right now, so I’m going to do a couple of tour dates to support the singles – I have ‘Love You Like A Big Schlong’ out right now, another song called ‘Starfucker’ coming out, which Cazwell agreed to do a guest rap for. I’m really excited about that. I love Cazwell, he’s totally one of my crushes!
D: WHAT’S YOUR SIGN?
W: I’m a Cancer. I’m not into astrology at all, but I know that I share a birthday with Mike Tyson and Martha Stewart!
D: BEYOND DRAG, AS SOMEONE WHO WORKS IN FILM & TELEVISION, WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR ACTING INSPIRATIONS?
W: Charles Nelson Reilly, Anna Faris, Chris Farley, Eddie Murphey. Eddie Murphey is such a versatile performer. But John Nelson Reilly is a big one for me — he was a musical type of man, who did a lot of variety shows. OH! And Tuesday Weld! Tuesday Weld is like my career epitome. She was this gorgeous woman who fucked all of the rat pack during the 60s, she wore amazing clothes, she was a variety show guest performer, she acted a little bit, she sang, she did theater. Tuesday Weld is a great example of someone I could model my career after… Except for fucking my way to the middle.
D: TO THE TOP BABY!
W: Yeah, fucking my way to the top! (laughs) No, getting there on my own would actually be nicer, but if I have to suck a few dicks, I will.
D: WHO WOULD YOU LOVE TO WORK WITH?
W: I have a wish list of people that will probably never happen!
D: LIKE WHO?
W: The one person I’d really like to work with before one of us dies is John Waters.
D: TELL US SOMETHING DIRTY ABOUT YOU THAT NOBODY KNOWS.
W: (laughs) When I sweat, I smell like a cheesesteak! I don’t know if it’s because I’m from Philly, but if I don’t wear my Old Spice, I swear to Christ I smell like a dirty fucking Cheese Whiz cheesesteak! It’s awful.
D: DOES IT TURN YOU ON? DO YOU LIKE IT?
W: Eeeeew! No! A little….