Throughout AJ and the Queen, there are over 25 cameos from familiar drag queens from RuPaul's Drag Race. While performers like Bianca Del Rio, Latrice Royale, and Jinkx Monsoon are all real, RuPaul's Ruby Red from AJ and the Queen is a fictional character. Ruby Red is Robert when not in drag, and he embarks on a road trip with a stowaway in the form of 10-year-old AJ (Izzy G.), a girl who dresses like a boy. Creators RuPaul and Michael Patrick King told Variety that the inspiration for AJ and the Queen came from an old comedy road movie. So while RuPaul pulled from her decades of work as a drag queen for the role of Ruby Red on the Netflix series, the character has roots in a classic film.
In the official description of the series, Netflix compares AJ and the Queen to Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Touched by an Angel. But the real inspiration, according to RuPaul and King, was the 1941 movie Sullivan's Travels. The Preston Sturges film follows a famous Hollywood director who disguises himself as a person experiencing homelessness and is joined on his journey by a struggling actor played by Veronica Lake. As King explained to Variety, "We just made it that the smart guy happens to be a little guy and the femme fatale happens to be a man" — meaning Ruby Red/Robert has a little dash of the 1940s femme fatale Lake.
AJ and the Queen is the first time RuPaul had led a scripted television show and he discussed with Asbury Park Press how the role of Ruby Rose/Robert shows a more vulnerable side to him. "It was initially very scary but I wanted to do it," he said. "I’ve had a very, very long career. I've been very fortunate, but if you stop challenging yourself as a performer, as a human on this planet, you don't open yourself up to new ideas."
As Ruby Red, RuPaul performs at each stop during her road trip with AJ. They include performances of Sia's "Chandelier" and Tina Turner's "Proud Mary," and being Olivia Newton-John's Sandy in Grease. With one to two numbers an episode, Ruby Red's act may be reminiscent of the many times RuPaul has performed drag. But King made sure to differentiate between RuPaul and Ruby Red in a behind-the-scenes video (below). "Everyone knows Ru's character," King said. "But we're giving them a different version."
Playing Ruby Red was cathartic for RuPaul, as he explained to CBS News. "After we finished filming, I could still feel her right here," RuPaul said. Thinking back on his own childhood, he said he used Ruby Red's character "as a way to re-parent the 10-year-old in me." He echoed this sentiment in an interview with Judge Judy, saying, "My character parents an 11-year-old child, so I was able to really emotionally revisit myself as a kid." So, in some ways, RuPaul may relate more to AJ than to Ruby Red.
Ruby Red in AJ and the Queen doesn't tell the story of RuPaul or any other specific drag queen. But with RuPaul's experience and a packed cast of queens, the series will still give an inside look at what it takes to be a drag artist — and it allows RuPaul to really stretch his acting muscles as Ruby Red goes on both a physical and emotional journey in AJ and the Queen.
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