Thanks to their scene-stealing supporting turns in shows like Search Party and At Home With Amy Sedaris, as well as their irreverent comedy videos (“Mom Commercial” is a must-watch), Cole Escola’s always had a way of making us laugh.
So, when they turned up in the indie film Please Baby Please, we didn’t necessarily expect them to make us cry, too. But, by the time they wrapped up their big musical number—singing The Skyliners’ ’58 classic, “Since I Don’t Have You”—we were wiping tears from our eyes. It just might be the movie musical moment of the year.
To be clear, Please Baby Please isn’t a musical—not exactly. And it’s not quite a comedy either, although it does bear an arch sense of humor that should feel familiar to longtime fans of Escola’s work.
Instead, writer/director Amanda Kramer’s film is best described as an erotic camp fantasy that gleefully plays with a heightened tone reminiscent of old Hollywood musicals. Set in the 1950s, it’s the story of a Bohemian young couple, Suze and Arthur (Birdman‘s Andrea Riseborough and Harry Potter‘s Henry Melling), who begin to experiment with gender roles and sexuality after a dangerous encounter with a genderqueer biker gang. It’s as delightfully strange as that sounds.
Escola, a nonbinary actor who credits “old movies” as their primary source of comedic inspiration, found the allure of Please Baby Please irresistible, particularly in the way it lovingly cribs from the cinema of yesteryear—everything from West Side Story to the transgressive, queer films of Kenneth Anger.
“The Blue Angel is the name of the club in the movie, which is also the name of Marlene Dietrich’s first big American movie,” Escola shares with Queerty, recounting the film’s many references. “And I have a line that directly quotes Greta Garbo in Grand Hotel. When Amanda first told me about the movie, she was like, ‘I want to do this on a backlot where all the exteriors are just rear projections.’ And I was like, ‘These are all the same references that I get!'”
In the film, Escola plays two roles, who may actually be one character—depending on who you ask.
“Amanda sent me the script, and she told me ‘I wrote the part of [Suze and Arthur’s neighbor] Billy for you.'” they share. “But after I read it, she was like, ‘Or, if you don’t want to commit to Billy, you could do the drag queen in the phone booth—whatever you want.’ And so I said, ‘Can I do both?’ In my mind, they were two different characters, but it’s a ‘Reader’s Choice.'”
Though Escola is a hoot as Billy, it’s their single scene as said “drag queen in a phone booth” that features their show-stopping number and nearly walks away with the entire movie. As they belt “Since I Don’t Have You” with little concern for pitch, there’s a surface-level comedic bent to the performance, but Escola sings with such an honest conviction that it’s hard not to get choked up.
“It was always intended to be the heart [of the movie,]” says Escola, whose character spends the scene covered in—and surrounded by—flowers, makeup streaming down their cheeks. “And it looked exactly how I’d imagined it would.”
At about halfway through Please Baby Please‘s runtime, the number also represents an emotional turning point for Riseborough’s Suze. The heartsick ballad is so powerful that it effectively inspires her metamorphosis into the dom-daddy butch she always wanted to be.
“What [Riseborough] does in this movie is just incredible—she’s so big and mesmerizing,” Escola reflects. “And watching her performance now, I wish I could have gone even bigger, somehow.”
They lament that, so often in their work, they’re told to tone it down. “My first notes from directors are always like, ‘It’s a little big—could you just maybe ground it a little bit more?’ And it’s annoying because ‘big’ doesn’t mean ‘not grounded’—and Andrea’s performance is a true testament to that.”
In the colorfully heightened world Kramer created, there’s no such thing as “too big.” Without a traditional rehearsal process, her actors were emboldened to feel and react in the moment, and Escola relished the opportunity to emote, uninhibited.
“I feel like I’m always self conscious about being too big when I film something,” they say. “But here I could have screamed so loud that I broke all the glass on set, and it would have ended up in the final cut.”
That freedom to explore is also what drew Escola to the most recent season of Big Mouth, Netflix‘s animated series, in which they voice Montel, the nonbinary child of hormone monsters Maury (Nick Kroll) and Connie (Maya Rudolph).
“I was actually just talking about this with Amy Sedaris, who also does a lot of voice work and always gets told, ‘Just say how you would say it; just say it normal.’ And we’re like, ‘Well, that’s not fun!’ But with Big Mouth, I wasn’t told that; I was able to lean in. I just prefer the big old-school cartoon voices.”
By the way, Escola has another pretty wonderful musical moment in Big Mouth, singing a tune opposite Rudolph called “The You That’s In Your Heart,” all about fluidity and the idea that gender is performance. Come to think of it, it fits pretty well with the themes of Please Baby Please.
In other words, you can hear the vocal stylings of Cole Escola all over the place this winter, and for that we’re entirely grateful. But the one place you won’t be hearing from them? Twitter.
Before our time was up, we couldn’t resist asking Escola if they’d ever consider re-joining the social platform now that, under Elon Musk’s “leadership,” the app would be reinstating previously suspended users (their fans are waiting, after all):
“Oh, I’m never going back,” they laugh. “And, if I could get banned from Instagram, too, I think I would be finally happy and free. I guess I’ll have to post like full nudes or something, so look out for that!”
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Please Baby Please is now available to rent or own via all digital/VOD platforms. Big Mouth‘s sixth season is now streaming, exclusively on Netflix.