For decades, Elvira has been synonymous with Halloween and all things spooky. But the woman behind the dark wig and macabre make-up is Cassandra Peterson, a gifted actress with a special place in her heart for the LGBT community. She did, after all, get her start as a drag queen in a Colorado gay nightclub and as the front-woman to an all-gay male band.
Since then, Peterson has amassed legions of gay fans playing the campy vamp Elvira: Mistress of the Dark. Her wickedly vampish appearance offset by her comical character, quirky and quick-witted personality, and Valley girl-type speech quickly gained her notoriety. At 61, Peterson is showing no signs of retiring.
Last year, Elvira’s highly-anticipated return to TV included a stint as guest judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race and a revival of her 1980’s hit series Elvira’s Movie Macabre. From 1995 to 1997, Elvira even made appearances at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando for "Elvira's Friday the 13th" events held whenever the 13th of a month fell on a Friday. Shedding her black beehive and slit dress for oven mitts and pearls, Peterson has begun shooting the dark comedy, First Period – one of her few roles sans Elvira.
Everyone’s favorite mistress let down her wig and took time from her clearly chaotic bewitching season of conventions, movie premieres and a number of film and television projects - including her return to the panel of impressive guest judges on RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars - to chat with Watermark about a new TV series coming this fall, being a gay icon, and how she felt the first time she ever saw an “Elvira” drag queen.
Watermark: What projects currently have your attention?
Elvira: I’m working on a TV show that I can’t talk about. [Laughs] I hate that I’m not allowed to talk about it; those darn confidentiality contracts. I’ll just say, by this Halloween, I will have a new show on television.
Besides that, I’m doing a couple of guest appearances on reality shows this fall.
I just finished Elvira’s Horror Hunt with Peaches Christ. For ElvirasHorrorHunt.com, she and I did this independent film fest contest then screened the winning movies live. It was very Siskel and Ebert.
Tell our readers about your beginnings performing in a Colorado gay club.
[Laughs] How sick is that? I was a girl, playing a guy, playing a girl. Weird, right? I was a go-go dancer for several clubs and I used to go to this one club called Purple Cow. I didn’t even know what gay clubs were back then. So, when I saw these men dressing up as women, I thought “Oh, how cool!” Eventually, they gave me a job dancing there one night a week—I guess so they could get straight guys in there, too. One night, a “girl” didn’t show up for the drag show and they asked me if I would play her part as part of The Supremes.
Strangely enough, I could fit in her costumes because she was so skinny. Not only was I in drag but I was in black-face and we were singing under a black light so all you could see was the whites of our eyes and the white gloves as we lip-sang.
Best known for being the mistress of the dark, I have to ask; what scares you?
Obviously, doing this interview considering how long it took me to call you back. [Laughs] I swear it was nothing personal; interviews just scare me because I have to sit and talk about myself. That’s scary. I’m not scared of much else. I think about the things I have to deal with, like when my cat brings in dead animals or when I have to take spiders I find inside and put them back outside. I like snakes; I’ve had them since I was a little girl. Most of those things that generally scare people don’t bother me.
How similar are you to your character “Elvira?”
Elvira has a lot more confidence than I do—a lot more…balls, I guess. I wish I could be more like Elvira. She’ll say anything, do anything. I’m a little more shy, believe it or not. I tend to like to be by myself a lot. If I’m out, doing events, I’m “on” but I prefer to be more introverted. Elvira’s my extroverted self. Yes, I know that sounds kind of schizophrenic. I’m like Sybil. [Laughs]
When did you realize you had become a gay icon?
Read the rest of the interview at our media partners at Watermark