It’s been nearly two years since we were collectively introduced to the story of Joe Exotic, Carole Baskin and the chaos of the big cat community in the United States. The sensational docuseries captivated us but our attention soon moved on, the nature of a fast-paced world in the grips of a pandemic developing at break-neck speed.
In 2022 the story has returned as a semi-fictional series with Joe Vs Carole on Stan, and the show’s mullet-sporting star John Cameron Mitchell wants you to give the show a red-hot go.
“I think you should give the pilot a shot,” Mitchell told PEDESTRIAN.TV.
“I really believe it injects empathy into the equation. Yes, it’s a quintessentially American story about self-made victims who seem to have beaten life but are still crushed by their own tragic flaws and let their paranoia run amok like, you know, an escaped tiger.”
He said that he found there was more to relate to in the people behind the larger-than-life characters that crash-landed in our quarantined lives two years ago, and that’s where he uncovered the true art of Joe Vs Carole.
“You’re gonna find something in there you can relate to, in a way that isn’t just voyeuristically staring at the ‘freaks in the cage’, which is what that Tiger King series was to me,” he said.
“It was a bit othering — these people were not me. We can feel better than them because they’re ‘crazy’.
“But in [Joe Vs Carole], I really think you can find yourself in one or more of the characters and empathise. That is the point of art. That’s the point of everything I want to do, to entertain and also break down barriers.
“You’ll find that you’re moved, as well as laughing along.”
Based on the second season of the podcast of the same name, Joe Vs Carole delves deeper into the identities behind the monstrous catfight between Exotic and Baskin.
It’s what drew Mitchell to the role of Joe Exotic — exploring what made Exotic who he is today. How he transformed from Joe Schreibvogel into the balls-to-the-wall personality that found his way into the global spotlight shortly after his conviction on charges of animal abuse and attempted murder-for-hire.
“What a role,” he said.
“I also felt a responsibility, despite his crimes to show the human that is Joe Exotic. Joe Schriebvogel,” he said.
“And that’s what the script was doing too. I love the fact that we really got to know where he came from. We first see him after his suicide attempt, you know, when he’s outed.
“I saw some footage of him as a young man and that informed a more gentle, feminine Joe before he toughened up and said the world is not going to hurt him again. His husband of 17 years who died of AIDS, I’m glad that they honour that part of him.
“And you start to get to know both Carole and Joe’s trajectory towards what they eventually become, which is king and queen of their kingdoms at war.”
Joe Vs Carole was entirely filmed in Brisbane throughout 2021 and surrounded Mitchell with an accent he’s not unfamiliar with in his work.
In 1991, Mitchell was the voice actor behind the kangaroo mascot for Dunkaroos — yes, the coveted lunchbox snack — and working in Australia had him rediscovering things he adores about the Australian accent, admitting his attempt was “terrible”.
As soon as I brought up the advert, a smile flashed across his face as he quoted The Chats’ “Smoko” in his best nasally twang — a band that he loves.
“I’ve always been enamoured with Australia,” he said.
“Ever since I watched Wake In Fright. As a child [it was] Picnic At Hanging Rock, Walkabout, and then Puberty Blues — the TV series, not the movie.
“I learned the term ‘rooting’. ‘Did he root you?’ It’s like, what a word!”
Mitchell asked whether “rooting” is still part of the Australian vocabulary (I told him yes, definitely) and he was visibly stoked we absolutely do still root over here.
Joe Vs Carole lands on Stan on Friday, March 4, with all eight episodes available to watch in one hit, if you’re up for it.