‘Doctor Who’ Star Jinkx Monsoon Unpacks Maestro, the Series’ Wackiest, Most Musical Villain Yet

“Doctor Who’s” Ncuti Gatwa just faced off against the franchise’s wackiest, most over-the-top villain yet. And that was before they started singing.
Enter “RuPaul’s Drag Race” superstar Jinkx Monsoon as Maestro.

Those familiar with Monsoon’s game wouldn’t expect anything else from her: the beloved two-time “Drag Race” winner is currently taking Broadway by storm, wowing audiences as Audrey in “Little Shop of Horrors” opposite Corbin Bleu. This summer, she will return to “Chicago,” reprising her role as Mama Morton after she became the cast’s first drag performer in 2023.

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And she’s not done dreaming big — Monsoon’s still got her sights set on becoming a Disney Villain one day. “I’m available! People know how to get in contact with me. I got a great laugh, and I can sing. I was raised by Ursula the sea witch,” she says.
While Ursula may be her “mother,” Monsoon tells Variety it was another, much happier Disney character that inspired her zany “Doctor Who” villain. Ahead of the episode’s premiere, she sat down with Variety to unpack Maestro’s fearsome, fabulous arc.
Maestro is larger-than-life. What was your first reaction to reading about them in the script?
It’s one of those once-in-a-show kind of characters. Maestro feels, to me, in the same realm as the Genie in “Aladdin,” and just exists entirely on their plane, entirely antagonistic. They can reference anything they want. They can break the fourth wall. To be trusted with such a character, I still don’t know what I did. I don’t remember selling my soul to the Devil, but it sure feels like it.

Was the Devil’s chord playing when you accepted this role?

No, thank God. It was all very gentle and friendly. It was a polite chat amongst friends. Showrunner
Russell T. Davies is just one of the nicest and loveliest people I know. As far as writers go, he’s one of my favorites. All of his writing is so prolific and important. I know we’re talking “Doctor Who,” but anyone who has not seen “It’s a Sin” needs to stop what they’re doing and see it. Be prepared to cry, but it’ll be worth it.

Maestro’s episode is anchored around Ruby’s (Millie Gibson) desire to see the Beatles recording in 1963. If you had a TARDIS, what would you want to witness?

I’d want to see Elaine Stritch at Liberty. I’d want to see Judy Garland at Carnegie. As for world events, they’re always overrated.

Speaking of Carnegie, you’re playing there next year.

I didn’t mean to do that! Judy at Carnegie has been on my mind for that reason, but I promise I wasn’t intentionally trying to do a humblebrag there. I’m doing Carnegie on Valentine’s Day 2025. It’s going to be a Jinkx/Ben DeLaCreme joint because it’s co-written and directed with Ben.

Back to Maestro. The Doctor, who never hides, is terrified of them. When you first signed on, did you realize the scope of how big this villain is in this overall “Doctor Who” universe and just how fearsome they are?

I had a bit of an idea. The closer we got, and as soon as I was on set, I understood that this character is a piece of something larger, and that was very exciting. I’m a comedic actor, but if I’m gonna play a villain, if I’m gonna play a monster. I want to achieve being threatening in some way. I’m glad that there were actual scary bits to it. I love an actor who can turn on a dime and make you laugh one moment, and scare you shitless the next.

Who were your inspirations for Maestro?

I didn’t have to do any Disney villain research, because that’s just ingrained in me as a drag queen and queer person. So that was already there. But I will say being a fair-weather fan of “Doctor Who,” I have seen enough episodes to know the aesthetic, acting style, and the level we’re playing at.

I turned to Michelle Gomez as Mistress. I turned to her for so many character inspirations. She’s one of my favorite actors ever, and I think she is a great example of a “Doctor Who” villain who tows that line between the heightened, stylized, almost Shakespearean elements of “Doctor Who,” but also is very truthful, genuinely scary and just a very effective villain.

Ncuti Gatwa’s new Doctor has unfortunately faced a barrage of racist, homophobic backlash to his casting. Do you have a message for those online trolls?

I used to try to find diplomatic ways to talk about this, and now, truly how I feel is: Who gives a fuck what bigots think? A more optimistic way and idealistic way of looking at this is that popular opinion is not on their side. They are a very loud group and they’re growing louder as they grow smaller. With every way they lash out in this way, the Conservative Right has decided to take an all-out war against trans people, queer people and people of color, and claim that’s not what they’re doing, but that’s clearly what they’re doing.

Numbers are not shrinking. For every transphobic, racist, bigoted “Doctor Who” fan that we lose this season, there are going be three to five new fans who are coming in for the representation. So to those fans — who are not fans — I say, “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

What was it like wearing, and getting into, that grand piano dress?

It was a three-person job. My assistant would prep me in the undergarments, and then I would go out and they had to load on the coat, and I freaking loved it. It felt like being in an opera or something. The costume, makeup and wig and special effects makeup do not get utilized outside of the realm of fantasy and sci-fi very often. This design team was so incredible. They included me in the conversations very early on, wanting to make sure that I felt well-represented and comfortable in my costumes. They had everything planned out for this character and it was so beautifully conceived. All I did was just add another layer to the way I perceived the costumes. The piano coat and that overall look is a mash-up of Liberace, Beethoven or Mozart, and it’s all in there. The second look is a nod to Adele.  And the third look is Sergeant Pepper.

But rather than thinking of it as, “Maestro took inspiration from these people,” let’s think of it as, “These people took inspiration from Maestro.” Maestro visited famous musicians throughout time and affected their place in history. In my mind, Maestro is the beginning and end of all music.  There is no music without Maestro, so these people really all owe it to me!

If you’ll indulge us in one “Drag Race” question: What did you think of Nymphia Wind’s win and that lip sync finale?

I believed in them from an early point on in the season, and I think the top three were really great. It’s really wonderful when the top three are all cool people, and you could feel happy for any of them winning. But I really saw something very special in Nymphia, and unique because her personality doesn’t fit the same kind of personality we’re used to from so many drag queens. It’s so uniquely hers, and she’s so convicted to her mission as an artist and I really admire that. I think that in the lip sync, it was very obvious that she was saying, “I’m going to win this lip sync fighting hook for nail if I have to.”

After your second “Drag Race” win, you kicked into high gear, going on tour, starring on Broadway and becoming a “Doctor Who” villain. How does it feel?

There was a time, going to acting school, when I thought I had to give up drag to be an actor, and it turns out that wasn’t true. And then I thought I had given up my chances of being an actor because I had so firmly planted my flag in the world of drag, and that ended up not being true. And now here I am, marrying the two art forms that get me out of bed in the morning, and I get to do them both at the same time. It feels surreal.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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