Actor Michael-Leon Wooley Gets Real About Life After “AJ and the Queen”
The universe taketh away and the universe giveth. Fresh on the heels of Netflix canceling the RuPaul series AJ and the Queen after one season, costar Michael-Leon Wooley—who played the sight-impaired Louis Bell/Coco Butter—has been named a hero.
On March 23, HIV Experience Resources Organization (HERO) is presenting the sixth annual Broadway & Ballet HERO Awards at the Paul Taylor Performers Space, and Wooley will be one of those honored. I talked to him about the good, the bad, and the facts of life.
Michael Musto: Hi, Michael. I’m sorry about the cancellation.
Michael-Leon Wooley: Thanks. It’s a bit of a bummer, but we’re really proud of the show. We always knew it was hit or miss, and didn’t know if people would accept it or not like it, but we’re proud of it.
MM: How did you find out it was over?
MLW: We got an email from [creator] Michael Patrick King, letting us know Netflix had made a decision, which really came down to numbers more than anything else. But it was the time of my life. I played Ru’s best friend—what can you say to that? But it was the hardest job I’ve ever done—trying to be blind and do it convincingly, and doing all the acting and business on top of it, and the icing on the cake was that I had to be really funny. It was a lot to do. It was really challenging.
MM:What was your favorite episode?
MLW: The last one, where Coco Butter is playing and singing in the pageant was great fun, and also the first one, with Ru and chocolate cake and a lot of our relationship. It was all fun.
MM: How do you feel about the increasing inclusion of queer characters on TV?
MLW: When I first got the script, I thought Louis was a bit over the top, a little bit of a caricature, and I wasn’t sure about it. It said Louis was diabetic and had a stroke. I thought he was obese. I was like, “They’re gonna want a huge, obese guy to play the character.” The response back was, “No one said obese. But he needs to be a little thick.”
MM: Did you start eating hoagies?
MLW: [Laughs] They said, “Don’t lose any weight.” And when I read the script, I could tell how funny he was and I was like, “Okay.” When I auditioned, I realized how much I loved the character. I loved him more than any character I’ve done. For one thing, Louis is fearless. He’s blind, he had a stroke, and he’s like, “I’m gonna still be a drag queen and do my own makeup and be amazing.” When I found out he does his own makeup as Coco Butter, I thought it would be a mess. But Ru was like, “Oh, no, you’re going to be gorgeous.” As Louis says, “It’s memory and magic!” People say I looked great and all. I still say I looked like a handsome woman. That’s as far as I’ll go.
MM: As for another triumph: Congrats on your HERO award. How did that come about?
MLW: I’ve known [the organization’s] Mike Cavanaugh for a number of years. I’ve helped with the organization for the past three years as a benefactor and I do whatever I can whenever they need me. It makes me proud to be his friend.
MM: And you’re an honoree.
MLW: My first response was, “Really? Me?” My second response was, “I’m gonna have to get some track lighting for my mantel to put the award on.” I’m really honored to be honored for my work, not as an actor in the business, but trying to be a better human being on this planet with everybody else and also being of a certain age that I remember losing friends and wondering, What the fuck is happening? It’s still a problem and it’s important to keep it on people’s minds, especially young people, and this organization does that.
MM: What are your immediate plans?
MLW: I’m involved in a couple of really exciting projects that I so wish I could talk about. When the show got canceled, I texted my manager. He was like, “I’m sorry to hear that, but it’s great,” because people had been calling about something I wasn’t available for. It’s a new show for TV. Also, I do a lot of voiceovers. When you go to an AMC theater, I’m the one who says, “Welcome to AMC. Don’t talk…”
MM: Oh, yeah! I love your work!
MLW: When I go to an AMC theater, I’m obnoxious. I’ll talk back to myself. “Yes, everybody, enjoy the show!” And I critique the trailers. My friends hate going with me. [We laugh.]
I want to leave you with one quick story about Ru. We were shooting the first episode and Ru and I were in a golf cart being taken to another part of the set. I said, “I think when we left the set, I heard one crew member go ‘Yasss!’” Ru said, “When they start calling each other ‘bitch,” that’s when my job is done here.”