Patrick Swayze reflects on 'To Wong Foo' role in resurfaced TODAY clip from 1995

"She had to be real," Swayze said of the approach he took to playing the beloved Ms. Vida Boheme.
/ Source: TODAY
By Alyssa Newcomb

Patrick Swayze was at the top of his game in Hollywood when the actor stepped into a role unlike any he had ever played before for the 1995 film "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar."

In honor of the groundbreaking film's 25th anniversary, TODAY resurfaced a video of the late Swayze talking to Bryant Gumbel about what it was like stepping into drag and the inspiration for his character, Ms. Vida Boheme.

At first, Swayze tried playing Boheme like a caricature, but he quickly realized that wouldn't work.

Swayze on TODAY in 1995.

“Ms. Vida in many ways propels the emotional throughline, and she had to be filled with love and compassion and a nurturing spirit,” he told Gumbel. “And I found in rehearsal, every time I started playing her like Miss Thing, you know, and going out there and being outrageous, like I naively thought I was going to get to, I realized that I'll blow this character. She had to be real.”

Swayze modeled the character after his mom as well as his former “Ghost” co-star Demi Moore, Lauren Bacall and Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany's.”

While his mother didn't approve of his decision to appear in drag, Swayze said his wife, Lisa Niemi, embraced it, even helping him work on his walk.

“Just think of it this way, darling: You’re not losing a husband — you’re gaining a girlfriend," Swayze told her after landing the part.

Before filming began, Swayze did a bar crawl of New York's best drag clubs, including Escuelita, Boy Bar, the Tunnel and Sally's Hideaway with his co-stars. Swayze said he made many drag queen friends that night and learned more about how dressing up in drag comes from a place of happiness for many drag queens.

Patrick Swayze as Ms. Vida Boheme.

In Ms. Vida Boheme, Swayze even made a friend.

“I loved Vida,” Swayze, who died of pancreatic cancer in September 2009, wrote in his posthumous book “Time of My Life.”

“And even missed her a little bit when she was gone.”