Interview: Barry Bostwick talks 'Rocky Horror' and whether or not Brad Majors was an asshole

No matter what corner of the world Barry Bostwick finds himself in, people still call him an asshole. Every time he hears it, he's honored.

"I've been called an asshole so long, I'm sort of insisting they call me His Assholiness," Bostwick told in a recent phone interview. "I have carried this moniker with me for 43 years. I've earned it and I'm proud of it. And it will probably be the lead line in my obituary: 'Asshole died yesterday.'"

Bostwick received the unusual term of endearment courtesy of his role as Brad Majors in the classic cult film "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Yelling "ASSHOLE!" each time his character appears on screen is among the many rituals fans have adopted at the film's legendary midnight movie screenings, and Bostwick will be appearing in person at the upcoming "Rocky Horror" event at the Pikes Peak Center in Colorado Springs on Oct. 24 (click here for tickets).

Speaking with Bostwick, you get the sense that his signature obscenity couldn't be further from who he really is as a person. Gracious, thoughtful and inquisitive, Bostwick comes off much more like his character of affable Mayor Randall M Winston Jr. on "Spin City" than Brad Majors ("ASSHOLE!").

In honor of his upcoming appearance in Colorado Springs, caught up with Bostwick to ask him about the film's progressive themes, what the shoot was like and when he realized he "Rocky Horror" was becoming a cult smash. Note: this Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

AXS: Is Brad an asshole?

Barry Bostwick: Yes, Brad is an asshole. Well, you know what? I'm not quite sure. Somebody said to me at a convention or something a while back, 'why is Brad an asshole?' And I thought, well, it's just because he didn't plan ahead. He had a flat tire and he didn't have a spare tire, so that made him an asshole. And from then on, he became an asshole. And he didn't recognize that this castle they were going into would be perhaps dangerous and beyond his ken. And I think at every turn he just had that sort of '50s bravado and tried to muscle his way through his transition of losing his innocence.

AXS: I'm sure most people who call you an asshole mean it in a nice way.

BB: It's funny, everybody who is involved in this and has been for 43 years, have been the best kindest, most appreciative [fans], with a great sense of humor towards me and the whole cast. I've never heard one negative [thing], which is really something for a cult movie that is a bit naughty and sexy and rock 'n' roll and about things that aren't perhaps popular everywhere.

Back in the beginning when it was playing Midnight Movies in New York and places like that, and people were dressing up and standing in front of the theater--we're going back to the '70s--a lot of them were harassed and poked at and made fun of because people weren't out [of the closet] at the time. So if you dressed up that way, you were obviously flaunting your sexuality in some way that was not appropriate for the truck drivers who were going down the streets. But then years later, somebody said, "now it's the truck drivers who are dressing up in bustiers. And they're now the ones getting totally behind it and having a great time with it." So it turned the corner somewhere.

AXS: That leads me to a question, did you guys have a sense at the time of how progressive some of the movie's [transgender] themes were?

BB: You know what? Most of us were either living in New York or had more of an international psychology, and it wasn't new to us. It wasn't like something, "oh boy, now we're breaking new ground." I mean, if you think of what [David] Bowie was doing at the time, he was dressing up like that in the mid-'70s and we weren't doing much more, other than giving it a structure, making it a real show. I don't think [creator] Richard O'Brien or Tim [Curry] or anybody who had been involved with it from the beginning thought they were doing anything other than putting on this sort of tongue in cheek entertainment. They didn't see it as a drag show, they just saw it as an evening of rock 'n' roll. And consequently, all the books and the people who have commented on what it meant socially and politically, I'm not sure that [the creators] ever had that in their minds.

Richard O'Brien once said it's a show that any 12-year-old could enjoy. It's a fantasy, it's a fairy tale. And just because the characters are cross-dressing or whatever, it wasn't anything new to us. Because we were living in environments in which [early drag star] Divine was running around. Holly Woodlawn was in New York. And so I don't think anybody was trying to break any new ground, I think they were just trying to entertain people.

AXS: That's interesting because given so much of [what's happening in] our time now, and looking back at what the world was like then as someone that's younger who didn't live through that, it seems somewhat radical.

BB: I always thought it was like a cautionary tale. Because everything was heightened. Innocence was lost all around; everybody lost their innocence in a way. But by doing so, they unshackled themselves from what society said they should be, had to be, would be. And they started to live their truths.

And I think that's the miracle of this piece if it's anything: You walk away with that in mind. You walk away with a self-acceptance, an acceptance of those around you and tolerance for differences. And I think a lot of the shadow casts [local "Rocky Horror" live performers] and the people I've met over the years, that's the thing that they grasp onto: Living your truth, being who you are. And they found their community and became comfortable with however they dealt with life.

See there's like two sets of people that are involved with the "Rocky Horror" experience: There's the die-hard fans and the shadow casters, who have taken this piece to a whole level of, "I found who I am and now I want to help you find who you are by acting this out for you." And then there's just the people who want to get stoned and drunk and go to the theater and have a party. And that's what, I think, is fascinating about this. They don't go to the movie to learn a lesson about, you know, living your truth or accepting who you are or saving their lives in some way. They're there just to have a good time.

AXS: Is there one screening that you've attended that's been particularly memorable for you?

BB: There was one at the Helen Hayes Theater in Nyack, New York that I helped sponsor for a charity. And my son was in a Boy Scout Troop, he was like 10 or 11, and we had the Boy Scouts out in front of the theater handing out flyers for the charity. My son sort of snuck in to see the movie, and I think he wasn't quite up to speed seeing his dad in high heels, stockings and a bustier yet. I hadn't revealed that side of my personality yet. So I had to have a little conversation with him at the end of the evening saying, "It's all show business."

Or the one where my 17-year-old daughter saw it at this big outdoor screening and she brought a couple of her friends. She hadn't seen it yet and she was as bewildered as my son was at 11. And her friends loved it. You know, it can get quite rowdy and quite obscene, some of these crowds. There's a lot of F-Bombs being thrown around. I was embarrassed that the friends were so into it. My wife and I thought afterward, "God, I hope they don't go home and tell their parents that we brought them to this thing." They were underage. And my daughter was sort of, again, not quite getting it. I guess it's hard to see your parents dressed up like the opposite sex.

AXS: The movie obviously wasn't a big commercial success when it first came out. At what point did you realize it was taking hold as a cult phenomena?

BB: Well I think when people were saying to me in New York, "Let's go down to the 8th Street Playhouse, they're starting to dress up and starting to interact with the screen." And I went down there and I was as entertained as the rest of the audience.

But I think it really, really hit me when, here out in L.A. at the Tiffany Theater up on Sunset, sometime in the late '70s they said, "come down for a screening one of these Friday nights." I went down and they brought me up on stage and presented me with a gold record because the score had finally gone gold. And I had an inkling that something was going on, so I framed a pair of my underwear from the movie and gave it to them at the theater. So I think probably that's when I knew we were really on an upward trajectory: When people appreciated the fact that I gave them underwear.

AXS: What's your best memory from the shoot itself?

BB: Well, maybe the last….We shot the first scene in the church, the "Dammit Janet, I love You" thing the first day. And sequentially, the last day was the superhero scene, which is the last scene. And in between, it was a hard shoot: We were cold, we were wet, we were working very fast. There wasn't a lot of time for screwing around or playing or even getting to know each other.

But by the end of the shoot, I don't know, I got quite emotional. I think maybe that was what tipped me that we were doing something that was gonna have some legs. Because it really moved me when it was over and they said, "OK, hand in your boa and your five inch high heels." And then I had to go out and dress like me again.

I got very emotional. I was sad to leave it, very sad to leave those people and that whole world that was so completely different from real life. And I think we were all so embroiled in the making of it and the tone of it and the color and the kitschiness of it and the pace of it, that it was something very complete unto itself. It wasn't like, "well I'm just gonna go to work for a few hours and then I'll come home." We were totally involved for the six or eight weeks we were there. And I think that's why I was so emotional at the end, crying….I didn't let a lot of people see that, ok? Brad Majors wouldn't let anybody see that.

AXS: You're judging the costume contest at the event, what do you look for in a great Brad?

BB: I like authenticity, I like the fact that the patches on the jacket and the colors and everything are alright. The classic Brad is the tuxedoed Brad and if they can get that right, I know they're gonna get everything else right. So I always look for a really good tuxedoed Brad.

I also like, as part of the costume contest, I like them to have an attitude like the character. So when the Brad comes up and is like Brad--sort of stiff and knows how to to do the glasses, when to take the glasses off and when to put them on and has that sort of attitude--that's what I look for.

And then, on the other hand, I'll also look for a Brad who can walk in high heels. That's always a tough one [laughs]. If they can hang on to their masculinity and still walk around in high heels, that to me is a winner.