Thomas Duplessie and Cloris Leachman in Jump, Darling
New Brunswick native Thomas Duplessie’s first leading film role is opposite Cloris Leachman in Jump, Darling. They shot it in Prince Edward County, Ontario. The wonder of wonders. Duplessie is Russell a.k.a. Fishy Falters, drag queen. He’s suffered career setbacks and a painful romantic break and appears unannounced at his grandmother’s rural home. He’ll pick up her car and think about his future. But he’s shocked by her deteriorating physical and mental condition and decides he must stay awhile to care for her and protect her from his mother’s interference. It’s a gem of a film and What She Said’ Anne Brodie had the chance to speak with Duplessie.
Have you done professional drag? Your performance as Fishy Falters was amazing and seemed completely natural.
No, this was the first time I’d ever done it. I’d gone to musical theatre school so I had some dance background and I’ve been living in Toronto for 12 years and am very familiar with the gay village and the drag scene. It was kind of a drag fantasy to toss my hat in the ring. Phil Connell the director wanted the choreography to come from me. Maybe that’s why it looked natural. I wasn’t doing any kind of choreography.
Did you work on the act at home or did you have a space? For the auditions, I had choreographed some drag numbers in my apartment but the producers rented some space in the city. Phil observed me and put tweaks on it and gave me ideas and I rehearsed with drag artist Tynomi Banks who was in the film and we also found Ryan Lee who helped me out. He gave me ideas.
Jump, Darling goes deep into ageing, rebellion, love, family relations. There are so many moments for an actor.
It doesn’t come along very often a role that is so multi-faceted, it was such a treat. I was so excited when I read the email. But the more I dug into the character the more layers started to reveal themselves. It’s a dream role in a sense, you had to explore all of those sides of things.
I used my acting chops when it came to family drama and it really stretched my range when it came to embodying this drag queen and make it look real. It was a real exercise. A dream.
Were you aware of Cloris Leachman’s experience and importance?
Yes, I’d say yes, I’d caught some of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and my mum was a huge fan of hers in the seventies. She was quite pleased! I definitely felt the pressure as the first day of shooting on the set got closer, and the idea of playing opposite her.
The producers needed someone to play Russell who could withstand the magnitude of who she was and act as her equal.
They auditioned 150 people nationwide, so they definitely went far and wide looking for somebody. They believed I could match her and that was so cool. The process was lengthy and thorough. I had the first audition, then another audition and two callbacks.
What was it like?
It was a blast working with Cloris Leachman, she’s unpredictable, has zero filters. She’s so spontaneous and a joy to be around. She took the work very seriously but not herself.
You worked really intimately with her, there’s that tender moment when you’re helping her into the shower and she’s so feeble.
In that shower scene, she was cracking everyone up – even in that scene. I guess it really speaks to our chemistry we had offset together and our relationship. I knew I was dealing with someone who was such a treasure. I felt like I’d known her for years and years and years. To be gentle with her and working in that scene, I didn’t see it as any different from being with my
There’s also this wonderful, funny scene when you’re mowing grandma’s lawn because she ordered you to.
That was kind of slapstick, I had a lot of fun with that. The lawnmower in real life would not start. It was life imitating art. The direction was that you finally got this thing started and things had taken a turn with your experiences and it was the first time in a long time you’ve felt upbeat and happy and you’re looking forward, symbolically, to cleaning things up and moving forward.
So how is it to come from Miramichi and land in Prince Edward County and shoot a lead role in a movie with Cloris Leachman? I left Miramich twelve years ago and came to Toronto. That’s one of the great things about the industry is that you’re off to who knows where and what and who you’ll meet!
There was a public screening of Jump, Darling a while back. How was it received? It screened at the Inside Out festival in a drive-in. It went really well and it was so nice to show the movie for the first time to a hometown crowd. It was hard to move forward in the mess of 2020 but to get this out in front of anybody, a friendly audience, but still, with that excitement,
it was the best.
You must be excited that when the film is released here and in the US , people will be curious
to see Leachman’s final lead performance and they’ll see you. It’s very, very exciting. I feel very … I’ve tried to fight to find these words. I feel privileged to have shared that with her. Her last performance was my first lead.