Patti LuPone needs no introduction. The legendary Tony, Olivier, and Grammy Award-winning actor and singer has long had a reputation for delivering fiery performances—scripted or otherwise.
Now, she brings that same heat to one of her juiciest screen roles in years: As Mona Wasserman, the nightmare mother of Ari Aster’s dark odyssey, Beau Is Afraid. Joaquin Phoenix’s Beau spends much of the film’s runtime trying to reach her, but when he does, LuPone delivers a monologue so acid-tongued, so withering, you’ll think twice about the next time you ignore your own mother’s call.
Are you surprised? That’s just the power of Patti. Never one to hold her tongue, LuPone’s made headlines for telling off disrespectful audience members at her Broadway shows. More recently, she shocked the industry by stepping away from Broadway entirely.
But that big move has clearly paved the way for the next phase of her career, in which she’s more eager than ever to go “non-traditional” and step out of her comfort zone. And if her barn-burner of a supporting turn in Beau Is Afraid is any indication, we’re all in for one hell of a show.
With the film now playing in theaters everywhere, LuPone took a break from filming Marvel’s witchy new series, Agatha: Coven Of Chaos, and from touring the country with her one-woman show, “Don’t Monkey With Broadway” to talk to Queerty about what she considers the best role she’s ever had on film.
And we couldn’t just stop there: Read on for more of LuPone’s famous hot takes on the current state of Broadway, Jinkx Monsoon, and her lifelong bond with her gay fans…
QUEERTY: It’s such an honor to talk with you, Patti. I have to tell you, my immediate thought leaving the theater for Beau Is Afraid was: ‘Well, Patti just delivered the scariest movie monster performance of the year,” which I of course mean as the highest compliment—
PATTI LUPONE: You mean that penis monster didn’t scare you?
Well, we’ve all come face-to-face with those before. But Mona—Mona was a different kind of frightening, albeit familiar in her own ways.
Yes, I understand what you mean by familiar. Some mothers could compete. [Laughs.] And, yes, terrifying! She scared me, too.
So did you, then, approach this performance, this character as a creation of horror? Or do you see it as more comedic?
Oh, not at al! No, no, no—I mean, first of all, I didn’t even know it was a comedy! Ari didn’t tell us about that at all. But I say this all the time: I’m only responsible for the words in a script. So when when I was given that monologue, I went, “Oh my god, this is the best role I’ve ever had on film. And this part is incredible.”
So I tried to do the best I could with it. And I didn’t shy away from any of the horrible things that she says. But I think it all comes from a place of deep, deep, deep hurt—so how can that be villainous?
Right, and lm is so deeply ingrained in Beau’s point-of-view, which is one warped by shame and anxiety and guilt. So, if he’s afraid of her—even if that’s not who she really is—the audience is going to be, too.
Yeah, and he’s pathologically indecisive! So he is just a constant disappointment to her.
Ari has described the film as “personal but not autobiographical,” but did his own mother come up at all in your discussions about the role?
No, and as far as I understand, it doesn’t have anything to do with his mother. But… I don’t know! [Laughs.] We talked about Mona in relation to Beau, but you know what? We had these conversations two and a half years ago, so I can’t remember anything. The only thing I do remember is, after he finished talking to me I said, “Does your brain hurt?” And he said, “All the time.” [Laughs.]
Because this movie is layer upon layer upon layer upon layer—and I missed a lot it in the readings of it. Ari had to tell me stuff—I’m going, “holy sh*t, how did I miss that?” He’s been working on Beau for a while. But I just was so grateful that he chose me, and I was so grateful that I had that to act. I’ve never had that kind of a role on camera, and she was a powerful, sexual woman with a myriad of emotional responses—it’s an incredible role, and I was so lucky it was me, that I could dig into it.
Have you heard that, as “pre-show” for Beau is Afraid‘s opening weekend in New York, The Alamo Drafthouse was playing your pandemic basement tour video?
No way! No—you’re kidding! [Turns to someone off camera] They’re showing the basement videos as a short in front of the movie. OH MY GOD, THAT’S HYSTERICAL. [Laughs.]
I mean, that’s an honor, right?
Oh, an honor, indeed! [Continues laughing hysterically.] That’s so brilliant! Whoever you need to tell, tell them i am honored beyond belief. I would like to do a fresh one for them! [Laughs.]
Well, we’ve all be so enamored with the Nicole Kidman AMC Theaters ads, so I think The Alamo needs to hit you up and then we’ve got a whole new new thing here.
There you go! Mona’s sitting in the theater all by herself like, “G*dd*mnit! That son of mine! I got popcorn for two of us!”
Oh that’s just great; that’s just unbelievable.
You know, this is all to say that we love seeing you at the theaters, we love seeing you on screen. You resigned from the Stage Actors’ Union last year, but now we’ve got you in Beau is Afraid, you’ll soon be in the Marvel series Coven Of Chaos—do you plan to stick with screen work moving forward?
Oh yes, this is exactly where I wanted [my career] to go.
I’m kind of over doing eight shows a week. It’s not that I can’t do it anymore—I just don’t want to do it anymore. And I don’t like where Broadway is going! I don’t think it’s going to end up in a place where I want to be on stage on Broadway. It’s not that I don’t want to be on stage anymore, but if I go back on the stage, I want it to be much more interesting—like The Shed or New York Theatre Workshop on East 4th Street or in a church or in an office building—you know, left the audience find me.
But not on Broadway, because I think Broadway has just bastardized itself. I don’t know what it is anymore, and I don’t think it’s gonna go back to—I mean, plays can’t survive, and new ideas can’t survive! We’ve sufficiently dumbed down the audience enough that they are dumb enough to just go see what they know.
But audiences will [seek out] anybody they want to see perform. I mean, I saw [cabaret act] Kiki & Herb at the Cherry lane [Theatre,] you know what I mean? You just go where you want to go to see the theater; it doesn’t have to be on Broadway. And I think it’s time for me to move downtown, I really do!
I take it then that you haven’t been keeping up with the latest on Broadway?
No, I haven’t been able to! I’m a Tony voter and I haven’t been able to see anything because I’ve been in Atlanta shooting [Coven Of Chaos] since January, and it doesn’t end until Tony season is over, so I can’t see anything —I’m just going to have to pay for the ticket!
But my two favorite plays were Cost Of Living and Ain’t No Mo—those were my two favorite plays that I saw. And Ain’t No Mo should never have closed, ever. Neither one of them should have, but that especially should never have closed—it’s an extraordinary piece of writing from [Jordan E. Cooper,] and he’s a great actor. It was funny and disturbing and educational and it needed to be seen.
I was also going to ask if you had a chance to see Jinkx Monsoon in her incredible Chicago run, specifically because she cites you as an influence—she says she learned how to sing from watching you!
Oh my god, thank you! Oh my god, that’s such an honor. Aw, I’m going to have to send her flowers—is she still in it?
She just recently wrapped up, but she’s going to be touring the country soon, just like yourself.
Ah, well I should open for her! [Laughs.]
As a final note, you were recently on The View where you had some choice words for Ron DeSantis and the wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation sweeping the country. As you’re taking your “Don’t Monkey With Broadway” show on the road right now—to blue states, but even red states—what has it meant to you to be able to connect with your gay fans, who you’ve always been such a vocal supporter of?
Well, now you’ve just scared the sh*t out of me after what I said on The View; am I going to have to cancel some of those dates? No, you know, with the permit-less gun laws now—I mean, I’ve been afraid of being on stage since 9/11. it’s just scary!
But I certainly feel it in the gay community, and it’s just an awful time. It’s beyond scary. I don’t know where we are. I don’t know, it’s dystopia—it’s scary as hell.
And, look, when I was five years old, I stood in the driveway of Philip Caggiano’s house—Philip was five as well. He was talking to me, andcI knew: “He’s different. I’m going to have to protect him.” I knew when I was five that he was different—and we’re still friends, by the way—but I protected him. He was flamboyant in the ’50s in a white, middle-class school, and he was always who he was. He is still who he was them.
And we’re all outcasts. So we just—I mean, it’s just love. And the gay community has always been a more creative and intelligent community. [Laughs.] And the more progressive community. So it’s all love.
And it’s all love back to you, Patti! Thanks for everything; we can’t wait to see you on your tour, on our screens—wherever we can find you!
Thank you! I’m going to have to get to the Alamo Drafthouse! [Laughs.]