On this season of "RuPaul's Drag Race," Willam Belli infuriated Phi Phi O'Hara, tossed off hilarious one-liners and got kicked off for a mysterious rule infraction to be revealed at the finale. He also recently starred in a spoof video "Chow Down (At Chick Fil-A)" that's been viewed nearly a million times on YouTube. In the meantime, RedEye talked drag names, de-wigging and acting with the personable but controversial Willam.
So, how often do people mispronounce your name or call you "William"?
Um, daily. My grandma spelled my name wrong until she died. Like literally, birthday cards, mail, everything.
Why did you decide to not use a drag name?
I have two answers. I have like the PC one and I have the real one. The real one is that I couldn't get checks made out to a drag name. And the Screen Actor's Guild [union] doesn't really want you to go by anything but your real name or a set, professional alias. ... The real answer, or the fake answer is, the best ones don't change their names. Like RuPaul and Charles Busch and Kevin Aviance and Leigh Bowery. So I kinda went for that, too. And I like my name.
You certainly got the villain edit on the show, right?
A lot of the girls got my sense of humor but the couple that didn't, of course, are edited in to show people hating me because it's good story. They could only use stuff that I gave them, obviously. I mean, I am a cocky little bitch sometimes. I don't know; villain seems so humorless to me. I think there's a better villain for the show who's been yelling a lot and who hasn't been as quip-y or at least entertaining. I mean, I find drama to be engaging and it makes your blood pressure go up and you keep watching, but it's not as entertaining as, say, comedy. I'm definitely more arch than others, if that's a good word.
Did you make any lasting friends on the show?
There's certain people I never need to see again. And there's people that stayed with me for the premiere, like Dida [Ritz], one of the Chicago girls. She and I are really close. I'm friends with a couple of them.
With your acting career so flourishing (Belli had a recurring part on "Nip/Tuck," as well as roles in films and other TV shows), why did you decide to do "Drag Race?"
They called me, which was nice. [But a casting director] wouldn't see me for a pilot last year called "A Man's World," and there were three gay guy roles in it, hair stylists. One was black, one was Latin, one was white. The black one went to Shangela [a previous "Drag Race" contestant], the Latin one went to somebody else and they wouldn't even see me for the white one because they said I didn't have enough name recognition. And they wanted somebody more name-y. They ended up getting Chris Crocker, the "leave Britney alone kid," and I was so insulted. I was like, how many thousands of dollars have I paid in union dues to three different fricking unions and I can't even get an audition because I haven't done a reality show or screamed at people on YouTube. So I was pissed. So when they called my manager about getting a tape, we had a talk and we figured out maybe this would be a good idea. Because it's basically a sizzle reel for what I can do.
Tell me a little about your new movie, "Neighborhood Watch." You play Olivia, right?
I'm a friend of Billy Crudup's and the whole premise is, these neighborhood watch dads encounter something that they're definitely not ready for and I'm one of the people involved in that. It comes out July 27.
What's your dream role?
You know who Tuesday Weld is? Tuesday Weld was like this floozy in the '70s and the '60s, she was in "Ocean's 11." ... But she was also a singer, a dancer, a personality on variety shows and game shows and she was an actress. So I just want to be a one-stop-shop tranny entertainment bureau, I guess.
Why did you and Phi Phi not get along?
She [bleeping] hates me. ... One of the people from ["Drag Race"] production I ran into the week before the show said ... 'What did you do to Phi Phi?' I'm like, 'Nothing. Why?' She's like, 'She hated you from the get-go and I wasn't sure if it was a jealous issue or if it was you just rubbed her the wrong way.' I said, 'I don't know.' She had a problem with me, I obviously didn't have a problem with her. When she's screaming at me, I'm the one who's calm, saying, 'Your tone is very pointed right now.'
Was the show a stressful experience?
I didn't lose any hair. I didn't get any stress cold sores or anything like that. It wasn't stressful for me. It was just a day. Like when I go to set, it's a job. I do a job. I do whatever is on the paper, I act my best. So this is basically a big acting gig for me. They were paying me to do my best and I did my best. Or I just [bleeped] with people, one or the other. Some days it was the latter, definitely.
How many suitcases of clothes and shoes did you bring?
It was in L.A., so I was lucky enough to not have to fly and pack and deal with those regulations. The official regulation is five checked pieces and two carry-ons. And I brought a 50-gallon tub just filled with shoes. So I don't know how fair that was but hey, hometown advantage, you know. Homefield advantage.
What do you make of the "undressing" lip sync performances on "Drag Race?"
When people like throw off their wigs and take off their jewelry and stuff, I'm like, why would you put all that stuff on just to take it off? ... Why would you do that, why would you de-drag bit by bit for your moment in time? Whatever.
It did seem like there was a period of time when all the lip syncs were either someone undressing or people almost fighting each other, right?
The confrontational aspect of it, I get. Because you want to be in front of the judges and there's only one good spot really to do that. At the same time, they basically threaten you and say you can't come off the stage. ... But it's hard to do a good performance with all these parameters based around you sometimes. Plus, it's like, I don't want to lip sync to like a country song ever. I don't want to lip sync to opera. You know?
A lot of the songs I didn't even learn. Like they would tell us what to learn for that and I was like, '[Bleep] this. I'm cool.' And I was. I was like, I'm not going to have to lip sync in this. Honestly, if I was going to be judged for lip syncing, which is not something I do in my normal life. I'm in a band, I sing live. I was in 'Rock of Ages' right before it went to Broadway. RuPaul is looking for the next RuPaul. The next RuPaul is an actor, a singer, a personality, not someone who can just get up at a bar. So I'm looking to do all those things.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times