Drag Star, Disney Icon, Kids Book Author

nina west

photos: Max Fleury

Being a multi-hyphenate performer is something that Nina West is known for. Winning Miss Congeniality on Ru Paul’s Drag Race season 11, partnered with Dolly Parton in a charity campaign, made music for children, acted opposite Daniel Radcliffe in Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, to be the LGBTQ face of Disney’s pride campaign, and released children’s books-Western doing it all in heels and wigs that touch the sky.

Speaking of children’s books: with your type, west The goal is to spread awareness that kindness is needed more than ever, especially with legislation across the U.S. that has the potential to harm LGBTQ youth. io9 recently sat down with him to talk about his inspiration, working with fellow Disney creative illustrator Hayden Evans, what the season means to him, and his favorite things to do. Disney Parks during holidays.

Sabina Graves, io9: Hi Nina! I must start by saying that I am glad to see you strange as the iconic Divine in the eccentric celebrity pool-party scene. How did it happen?

Nina Kulon: I’m on tour now with Hair spray and I got a call in late January, early February from my agent saying, “Hey, we’ve got an offer for you to do this project that’s top secret, but they want you to play. [drag legend and John Waters muse] God.” I think the day I leave is the day TMZ or someone else posts a picture of Daniel [Radcliffe] as Strange Al. I was there like in the heat of the secret behind the project. And this is just a dream to be asked to play an iconic role and with pure camp and pure fun celebrate the life of Weird Al, with Daniel Radcliffe and Jack Black. This is one of those things that I never thought would happen. Dan Radcliffe is like the most charming, the sweetest, The most disarmingly kind and wonderful person. He was really interested in my drag career. Director, Eric [Appel] is just a really amazing guy and obviously strange Al is so amazing. I feel like there’s this beautiful storyline about celebrating your authentic self and celebrating your weirdness and celebrating what makes you you.

io9: On a note of kindness, let’s talk about books Your kind. Congrats on the release, this is amazing. I love Hayden Evans’ art. I’m also a big Disney fan so I’m familiar with their work and your work with Disney. So when I saw both powers combined, I was like, “Oh, this is going to be great.”

West: The project came about after I was eliminated from Drag Race. I released this EP called boy music Drag Is Magic. Then the pandemic hit, and it allowed me to settle on it and give myself to it in a luxurious way that I never had. I started working on the book really full time in probably April of 2020, and Hayden came into the picture late in the game. Hayden is someone I bring to the table because of his artwork. I love the storytelling he’s able to capture through his artwork and there’s a Disney connection, don’t you think? There is something about Hayden’s artwork, which is similar [legendary Disney artist] Mary Blair’s. Mary Blair, but there’s something scary about it, and there’s an awe in it and an excitement that’s captured in the way Hayden does her artwork.

Hayden really told me how I should edit the script and how I should really think about the presentation in a new way, which was really exciting. And he really encapsulated the energy of the little character Nina and the energy of my drag character Nina West—I mean, literally captured on each page through its vividness. The text also really supports it. Another Disney connection is that I was inspired by the Sherman Brothers who wrote a lot of different ones [Disney] song from Bedknobs and Broomsticksbut perhaps the most famous Mary Poppins'”Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Little Nina with a rainbow message

picture: Pa Press / Hayden Evans

Mary Poppins is my favorite Disney movie and it always inspires me and pushes me to just think outside the box. I really want to tip my hat to that and give Nina a little of her own energy and her own ability to have a license to create the world she wants to live in; part of that is how we speak in our language. And in turn, I hope young readers. I want to reconnect with that, because when I was a kid and I heard “Supercalifragilistic” for the first time, I was like, “but this isn’t a word, and that’s okay.” This is permission to dream and be creative. And I want to also have that effect in my book.

io9: Let’s dive into your first fandoms. Which would you say most inspired your career?

West: It was The Muppets. I am from Sesame Street generation and that developed naturally for me because The Muppet Show it was in syndication—it was my first real love. When I was a kid at the time, there were some of the most important moments in the Jim Henson Company, that was. Little Shop of Horrorsit was labyrinthit was Dark crystal. They are all kind of circling around my childhood. It all sounds like a Jim Henson presentation. So I would say that my first fandom and obsession was the Muppets. And I think Gonzo may have been [the] the first real moment where I think I saw myself, because he was so different and he was an outsider. This is this or this this who loves chickens, and that’s just kind of accepted in the same world where frogs and pigs love each other, right? Like there’s just this whimsy and natural logic for it that really doesn’t make sense, but it’s true.

The Great Muppet Caper is one of the best movies ever made. Little Shop of Horrors is one of the best movies ever made Then everything expanded and everything went to my Disney love. So this is all a connection, right? to Little Shop of Horrors, Jim Henson Studios created [the Audrey II puppet]But it’s also music from [pre-Little Mermaid’s] Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, and [The Muppets performer] Frank Oz directed it. It’s really amazing. This past fall in September, at D23 Expo, I got a host Muppet Christmas Carol 30th anniversary panel! I performed with the Muppets. We sang a medley from the movie. I was interviewed [Muppets songwriter and famed music man] Paul Williams and [director] Brian Henson, [voice of Gonzo] Dave Goelz, and [costumer] Polly Simmons. As a child, I never thought I would grow up and be sitting on the couch talking to my hero son. He was sitting next to his son, who was leading The Muppet Christmas Carol and directed Muppet Treasure Islandit was like this crazy moment.

And interview Paul Williams, who wrote “Rainbow Connection.” We did a Disney Pride special during the pandemic in 2021, and I sang “Rainbow Connection” with Kermit the Frog, which was like, “this doesn’t get any better than this” somehow it’s better than that. We are all in this room together. I sat there talking to a man who has been Gonzo since Gonzo was created by Gonzo. And these things are synonymous with who I am intrinsically at the core of my being.

io9: Since this is coming out close to the holidays I need to get your tips as you are a Disney Parks expert. What should you do in the park on vacation?

West: At Disneyland, they have special churros for every season, and I’m like seriously obsessed with churros in general, so I had to find them. I have discovered it years ago at Disneyland The Nightmare Before Christmas overlay on Haunted Mansion is the best. Haunted Mansion is my favorite then put The nightmare before Christmas above that? It’s great.

io9: Love Mansion.

West: Then what they do with it seasonally also makes it super fantastic and wonderful. I love holiday parades [and] park magic when it snows on Main Street, USA whether you’re in Southern California or the heat of Orlando. It’s wonderful and amazing. There is something about even the music that they pipe at the opening of the park and it feels like a holiday, it is so beautiful and perfect. If you can experience the candlelight procession, it’s fantastic. Take a trip around the world at Epcot, or take the monorail around the Polynesian and Grand Floridian [hotels] and see the trees. Go from resort to resort and look at the beautiful decorations – that’s how to experience the park and the magic of Disney. Or Disney Springs or Downtown Disney—there’s always a way to do it where you can really enjoy the magic of the season, and also be fiscally responsible if you have to. I think that’s what’s so great about Disney is that they deliver experiences and they’re storytellers. And that’s what I love about them.

You kind of little nina marching with friends

picture: Pa Press / Hayden Evans

Your kind is available now at booksellers online.


Want more io9 news? Check when to expect the latest Marvel and The war unfolded releases, what’s next for DC Universe in movies and TVand everything you need to know about Home of the Dragon and Lord of the Rings: The Ring of Power.

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