Jennifer Tilly explains how 'Chucky' became the queerest show on television: 'It's a gift to the gay community'
Who said an old doll can't learn new tricks? Chucky, the pint-sized plastic star of the Child's Play franchise, has been a beloved horror movie boogeyman for two decades and counting. But his latest role on the TV series Chucky — which continues the story and elaborate continuity that began in the original 1988 film — is perhaps his most unexpected: LGBTQ ally. Since its premiere on Syfy and USA last month, Chucky has emerged as arguably the queerest series on mainstream television, with multiple storylines featuring gay and genderfluid characters.
For example, the show's teenage hero, Jake (Zackary Arthur), has a serious crush on another boy at school, Devon (Björgvin Arnarson) — feelings that turn out to be reciprocated. Then in the second episode, Chucky — whose tiny body is possessed by the spirit of serial killer Charles Lee Ray — reveals to Jake that he's the father of a genderfluid child, Glen/Glenda, confirming a piece of mythology that was originally featured in the 2004 installment, Seed of Chucky. "I have a queer kid," Chucky disclosed to Jake in a clip that immediately went viral on Twitter. And when the lovelorn teen asked the doll if he was "cool" with that, the killer doll replied with absolute earnestness: "I'm not a monster, Jake."
Meanwhile, Chucky's longtime lover and Glen/Glenda's mother, Tiffany Valentine (Jennifer Tilly) — who joined the franchise in 1998's Bride of Chucky — has her own hot and heavy genderfluid romance going on. In the just-aired fifth episode, Tiffany is revealed to be shacking up with with Nica Pierce, played by Fiona Dourif, daughter of actor Brad Dourif, who has voiced Chucky since the original Child's Play. At the end of 2017's Cult of Chucky, Nica was possessed by a piece of the doll's spirit, and he's still inhabiting her body for make-out sessions/murder rituals with Tiffany even as the wheelchair-bound heroine tries to exorcise the demon doll.
For her part, Tilly coudn't be happier that the franchise has taken such a progressive turn. "I think it's a gift to the gay community," she tells Yahoo Entertainment, noting that Child's Play creator, Don Mancini, is an out gay screenwriter. "Don wanted to write something that was about his experience growing up, so Jake is based on Don. And viewers love Jake, and the relationship between him and Devon. It's amazing how accepting kids are: there's no backlash."
In the case of Tiffany's boundary-pushing romance with Nica/Chucky, Mancini is also paying homage to Bound, Lana and Lily Wachowski's 1996 heist movie that featured Tilly and Gina Gershon as lesbian lovers who outsmart a group of misogynist mobsters. "Bound wasn't Basic Instinct," the actress says of that pioneering film, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last month. "Back then, lesbians had to die or they had to be schizophrenic or something else weird. But in Bound, nobody got punished. It was about two people who were ripping off the mob and who were in love, and both of them happened to be women."
Looking ahead to future episodes of Chucky, Tilly teases that Tiffany might start to feel genuine love for Nica even when Chucky's not in control of her body. "She loves Chucky, but she kind of falls in love with Nica also, because it's a perfect melding of the feminine and the masculine. Chucky can also be very abrupt where as Nica is sort of nice. It's really interesting for Tiffany! And Fiona's such a great actress, and a fantastic kisser. It's so much fun doing steamy scenes with her."
Glen/Glenda's proud mama is equally thrilled that her offspring is finally back in Child's Play canon after Universal banished them to the back of the closet following Seed of Chucky. Chucky and Tiffany's child was originally glimpsed in the closing moments of Bride of Chucky, but the next film officially established them as genderfluid — one of the many elements that caused the studio to reject Mancini's script as "too gay." (The film was later made by Universal's specialty arm, Focus Features, and distributed by the genre label, Rogue Pictures, which Universal owned until 2008.)
"Universal was like, 'We must never see that kid again,' so they disappeared," Tilly says of Glen/Glenda, voiced by Lord of the Rings star, Billy Boyd. (The name is an homage to Ed Wood's 1953 cult film, Glen or Glenda.) "At the time, Seed of Chucky was the most poorly received movie [in the franchise]. I happen to love it, but it was so campy and so gay; I mean, we had John Waters playing a pervy paparazzi! I said to Don, 'It's ahead of its time,' and it was. Now everyone's clamoring for Glen/Glenda to come back!"
Even Chucky's longtime onscreen enemies — Alex Vincent and Christine Elise, who have been part of the franchise since Child's Play and Child's Play respectively — are happy that the doll's views have evolved since 2004, when he expressed preference for having a son. "There's not much redeemable about Charles Lee Ray, other than maybe for sure his sense of humor," says Vincent, whose alter ego, Andy Barclay, was a mere child when he first encountered Chucky 23 years ago. "But it's refreshing to have this small smidge of decency, even if it is fleeting. It's a reference that fans were really waiting to hear, too."
"I get messaged constantly if Glen/Glenda will be in the show," the actor continues. For all the s*** that Seed Of Chucky got from a section of the fanbase, I think Don knew going into the series that [most fans] really connect with that character, and want them to be part of the show very badly." And Mancini has added further fuel to that fire by teasing the impending return of Tiffany and Chucky's child. "All I can say is... stay tuned!" he remarked in a recent interview.
Even without a Glen/Glenda cameo (yet), Elise — who plays Andy's foster sister, Kyle — says she's already seen Chucky's impact on young audiences. "I have a friend with twin boys that are in eighth grade, and one of them is gay," she says. "He thinks I'm the greatest person on Earth, because I'm on a show where the lead character is gay! And it's just treated as a matter of fact thing: the whole show isn't about Jake being gay. I think that's very helpful to society, especially for kids who are struggling now."
Having been part of both Bound and the increasingly progressive Child's Play franchise, Tilly has similarly had firsthand experience with the way that films and TV shows can change public perception. "That's where media can be very helpful," she notes. "Chucky has a huge gay audience, a huge straight audience and a huge kid audience... it crosses all boundaries. So it's really nice that we can reflect the world as it is, and everyone's OK with it. I also love that we can say 10 'F****' per episode! I was watching the show last night, and one of kids went, 'Oh f***.' It's great to hear kids talking like kids."
Chucky airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on Syfy and USA.