READ NO FURTHER. Or at the very least, be warned that this article will reveal a now-legendary plot twist from Neil Jordan’s mind-bending thriller The Crying Game. Knowing the Big Secret will not ruin the movie for you. In fact, it will make you feel worldly and superior when it comes time for the Big Scene and everyone else in the theater gasps in horror. In any case, you’ve been warned, and as of right now, you’re on your own.
The Crying Game is about many things, but mostly it’s about an Irish Republican Army man who falls for a woman who is not a woman. Stephen Rea is that man, and Jaye Davidson is that woman. Or, rather, Jaye Davidson is not that woman. Jaye Davidson, after all, is a man. Now you know. Davidson plays transvestite named Dil, who spends his/her days cutting hair and his/her nights in a bar called the Metro, pining over margaritas and lip-syncing to the odd pop tune. Rea plays a freedom fighter named Fergus, who abandons his country, his cause and his IRA sweetheart, played by Miranda Richardson. Fergus and Dil meet up in London. Fergus doesn’t know that his exotic little flower is a man – and neither does the audience – until the truth is staring him in the face.
When The Crying Game was released, the film’s distributor, Miramax, asked movie reviewers to keep Jaye Davidson’s gender a secret, and they did. And did. And did. The movie, which was made for less than $5 million, became the proverbial hot ticket, as well as the subject of a bizarre publicity melee in which journalists vied to see who could write the longest article without actually saying anything. Jordan, Rea and Richardson all walked off with awards.Davidson, however, was largely passed over because some critics nominated him as an actor, others nominated him as an actress, and still others didn’t know what the hell to think. Then, in February, Oscar weighed in. The Crying Game had snagged six Academy Award nominations, including one with Davidson’s name on it: Best Supporting Actor.
Jaye Davidson came from out of nowhere and, as you’ll see, would not mind going back. (Rumor has it, though, he’s been considering an offer from Claude Chabrol, who directed Madame Bovary.) Neil Jordan cast the twenty-five-year-old Londoner after auditioning a slew of unknowns, many of whom were transvestites and did campy, but not terribly feminine, variations on the Bette Midler-Zsa Zsa Gabor theme. “I knew Jaye could sail through it if he was just to be beautiful and aloof,” Jordan says, “but I worried about whether he could allow himself to move you as an audience. Then we did the scene where he gets his hair cut for the first time, and he suddenly began to act with this pain in his voice. It was extraordinary. Acting is a mysterious thing – you don’t know where it comes from.” But you do know when it works. Stephen Rea says: “If Jaye hadn’t been a completely convincing woman, my character would have looked stupid. Everyone would have said, ‘That’s one sick Paddy.’ “
There are people who have seen The Crying Game – seen Dil open his robe and twist in the wind, as it were – and yet persist in thinking that Davidson is a woman and that the penis in question is some sort of special effect. (Claymation perhaps?) Davidson has heard of such people, and he has an answer for them: “How mad! I mean, as if!” Of course, there are also people who insist that they knew Davidson was a man from the get-go. Charles Busch, the peerless New York based writer and drag actor behind Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, says: “I knew in the first scene, but I couldn’t believe that that was the big surprise everybody was talking about. It’s no surprise to me that a girl has a dick. So I kept waiting for the big twist. I thought Miranda Richardson was going to reveal that she had a dick, too. I mean, there’s a surprise for you.”
Last December, Jaye Davidson came to America to shoot a Gap ad with Annie Leibovitz. While he was here, he granted two interviews, one as a woman and one as a man. The former interview was published in the New York Times, and though it did not make a single reference to Davidson’s gender, it was accompanied by a photograph of the actor in a necklace and hoop earrings, his springy black hair swept up in a bun. The latter interview is now in your possession. It was conducted between nine at night and one in the morning in a clangorous Mexican restaurant in mid-Manhattan in the middle of a rainstorm. Davidson wore a bulky gray sweater, black jeans and Harley boots. He struck one as preternaturally poised, utterly sure of who and what he was.