Featured image: still from What You Looking At?! – courtesy of Faryal
The last time we saw Michael Twaits, almost exactly a year ago, he was on stage at the Trafalgar Studios performing his one-man show Confessions of a Dancewhore, which earned him the rather impressive accolade of ‘an ego bigger than Madonna’s’ from one critic. Since then he’s kept himself busy. Aside from his usual cabaret haunts, The Royal Vauxhall Tavern and Cellar Door, he ‘acted in a couple of plays, did a short film, wrote a full-length play, moved house, and generally just, y’know, faffed around a bit,’ he explains off-handedly as we take our seats in a trendily-retro cafe on Clapham High Street.
‘It was actually nice to move back into being a traditional actor for a while – I turned up, learned some lines, rehearsed a bit and went home. Not having to worry about the promotion, the lighting or any of the other stuff was delightful. And it gave me a chance to really flex my performing muscles, which was something I also enjoyed about the short films – a great opportunity to focus on the character I was portraying, but in a completely new and challenging way.’
The short film, What You Looking At?!, tells the story of a drag queen and a woman in a burqa who get trapped in a lift together and realise they have more in common than they thought. It’s a product of the Best of Boroughs awards (‘I like to call them the BOBOs,’ Twaits interjects), an initiative that saw over 200 scripts submitted by talented filmmakers across London, of which 30 were shortlisted by a panel of judges from the BFI and the now-defunct UK Film Council. Sixteen of those were given funding and produced as short films, to be screened at the British Academy of Film and Television and judged by the panel (for the Jury’s Award) and by the viewers (for the Audience award) on the Best of Boroughs awards website.
Up against some extremely talented filmmakers, Michael admits to being a little nervous. ‘We looked at the other entries, and usually in competitions like this you can see a few good ones and a few of the ones you don’t need to worry about, but when we saw the other films that had made it through there was a definite consensus among the cast and crew that, shit… they’re all a bit good!’
Having worked with Faryal, the writer and director before, it was obvious to Michael that the part of the drag queen, Liberty Quick, had been written if not for him, then certainly with him in mind. ‘There’s a lot of playing around with gender and stereotypes in the film, which I’m all about, and the idea of examining the differences and similarities of two individuals who’re marginalised and mocked for their dress was very appealing – a lot of my solo work has been around similar themes and it was great to be able to bring all of that to my character and flesh out the performance. Every gay or ethnic person can relate to having some abuse thrown at them occasionally, and while it’s sad that that still happens in this day and age, the positive side of it is that it can bring people together in unlikely ways, which is really the core message of the film, and quite uplifting, if you ask me”.
You can see the film (and vote for it, of course) on the Best of Boroughs Audience Award voting site until 31 August. You can also catch some of Michael’s solo work as part of Constructed at Bistrotheque.