Once you've gotten over the shock that two boys are making out in Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful" video, you may notice the stunning drag queen who is their co-star. Meet Constance, a.k.a. Robert Sherman, one-time Robert Mapplethorpe model and still as fierce as ever.
By Trent J. Koland
Drag queens are back in the national limelight, in part thanks to Christina Aguilera's latest music video, "Beautiful," now in heavy rotation on cabledom's many music channels. The fabulous drag queen featured putting on makeup and a wig in Aguilera's video is in fact Robert Sherman, who portrays both himself and his infamous alter ego, Constance. By telephone from Los Angeles, Sherman spoke to Advocate.com about his role in the shoot, his experience as a Robert Mapplethorpe model, and his future endeavors concerning his life "en drag."
How were you approached to do this project?
I met the director. I work at [a local restaurant]; I'm the maitre d'. So I meet a lot of people. I'm in showbiz.
Right. So how did the director, Jonas Akerlund, describe the project to you?
He said he wanted—what did he say?—he just said he wanted me to be in it. And I said yes. Oh, and the next day the casting people called and said I had to audition for it. And I said, "Oh, my God, that's mine." [Laughs]
That's my baby, you can't take it away!
Yeah, they said I had to audition for Christ-ee-na. "She needs to see you."
What exactly did Jonas say he wanted from you for the video?
Well, they wanted me to cry at the audition—on cue. And I did, which shocked me. I didn't really know I could do that when called upon. It was just kind of an emotional day for me that day, so it was rather easy, actually. But the song made it easy to do.
I see. So do you think Christina is trying to reach out to the gay and lesbian community, or do you think this whole video was something to try to add to the rebellious, sexual persona she's trying to create?
Well, I think she wants people to see a deeper side of her during this song. You know, because that "Dirrty" stuff, it's on the same album but it's so different.
Yeah, I've heard her CD, and "Beautiful" is the one song on the album that's like that.
Right, that's what I heard. I haven't heard it. But what I have heard from a lot of people is that we're getting a lot of recognition from the video. I've done many—I've done at least 12, but usually you're in a music video and you're lucky to be on for 15 seconds. And I got a full minute in this one, you know, all put together. And everyone is saying people who didn't like Christina before like her now. Well, they like her songs. Let's put it that way.
So what was the filming of the video like for you?
Because most people don't ever get to see that "special secret" time when a drag queen is going from man to woman.
I know! Well, I had my own set. We just used it for my scene. It was all set up really nicely. But everything was, like, first take with him. There were no retakes. My part took about 45 minutes [to shoot], which is unheard-of in music videos. You're usually at music videos for 14 or 16 hours, just waiting around.
I was mentioning to someone the other day that it's very rare to see drag queens putting on their makeup. They seem to guard that transformation, that secret, very closely. What was it like doing that on camera in front of millions of people?
It doesn't bother me at all. In fact, I'm writing a one-man show right now, and I'm going to put my makeup on as I'm performing the piece so they can see the transformation. Yeah, because it really is intimate and it's a big transformation. Especially for me, because I don't have any eyelashes or eyebrows. I have alopecia [a complete lack of body hair], which is a nervous condition. I actually lost all of my hair as a kid.
Really? That's fascinating.
Yeah, that's why I started doing drag, actually. I made the bald and the drag work [together].
So shooting the video was in and out?
Yeah, well, you know you had to audition because you had to know how to act. You had to know how to convey emotion without saying any words, and not everyone can do that. A lot of drag queens can walk into a room and be funny. But that doesn't mean they can convey emotion.
Right. And I think you did that really well. Like in that last scene where you smile into the mirror—that was one of the most powerful scenes in that video for me. It had that kind of glow that said, I'm all right.
Well, thank you. That's what the director told me.
Had you heard the song before?
No, but I heard it about 20 times that day. Because we had to lip-synch some of it, about three verses for the audition. And [the director] shot us lip-synching too, but he never used that footage. All the characters lip-synched, but he didn't go for it.
You were also a Robert Mapplethorpe model.
Yeah, I'm 46 years old. I modeled for him from '79 to '84, and I did five photo shoots—the most famous one being of [African-American model] Ken Mooney and I—the [double] profile. It's his most famous work. It'll never go away. It always comes around.
What is it like knowing you're immortalized like that?
It's great—I mean, what can I say? It's nice to know my image will be around for…forever, I guess.
How are these two experiences, modeling for Mapplethorpe and the doing the Aguilera video, different for you?
Oh, very different! I mean, you know, I was modeling for a big S/M photographer. [Big laugh] And not knowing what he was going to do. I was young then. Now I'm older than everybody! I mean, I was young and green to New York City. And the leather scene was really not my scene. Although I was at a leather bar when he discovered me! [Laughs] I didn't own any—
Yeah! I saw his photographs. And I said, "Uh-oh." And he said, "Don't worry. It's your head I want." He did do a complete nude of me, though. It's in a couple of his books. That was our first shoot together.
Do you perform drag regularly?
No, I did several years ago. But those shows are over. I'm not performing, just writing that piece about the drag queen and waiting to see what happens with it.
Well, we're all waiting with bated breath.
Ha, ha! Well, thank you.