There are a lot of labels that can be associated with Beth Ditto: Singer. Fashion designer. Self-described “fat, feminist lesbian from Arkansas.”
But despite the fact that she’s making her big-screen debut, there’s one label she wouldn’t necessarily associate with herself.
“I wouldn’t say I’m an actor, but it was so fun,” says Ditto, 37, of her time on the set of Gus Van Sant’s “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot” (now in theaters).
An adaptation of cartoonist John Callahan’s memoir, the movie follows a man’s recovery and struggle with addiction after an accident leaves him a quadriplegic. Ditto says she was drawn to the story for its portrayal of someone who was “really multifaceted and really complex.”
“A lot of the time when you see somebody who’s overcoming major obstacles … there’s a lot of hero worship in it. It’s a lot of even painting the picture of this perfect person. … That’s what’s cool about this: The truth is just the truth.”
Ditto’s character, Reba, is a fellow Alcoholics Anonymous group member who helps Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix) gain some perspective on recovery. In the book, she inhabits less than a full page, but here, she’s one of the more outspoken members of the support group, which accounts for a good portion of the film.
And, yes, her character’s accent is real: Ditto isn’t sure if he was kidding, but Phoenix wondered why she was still using her “fake” Southern drawl after their first scene ended.
She doesn’t have plans for future acting roles, though she says she’s open to the idea. For now, she’s on tour in Europe: Ditto released her solo album last summer after breaking up with the Portland-based rock group Gossip in 2016.
For the film, she was able to channel the “butch, Southern, rural, farm woman” type she grew up surrounded by, but that’s about where the similarities between her and the character end. Reba is sweet and simple; Ditto is outspoken with a bold fashion sense. Her style boasts loud personalities, as do her fashion idols: Miss Piggy (yep, Kermit the Frog’s on-again, off-again girlfriend), British icon Twiggy and Hungry, a Berlin-based drag performer known for wildly over-the-top, distorted makeup.
She’s been on the runway for Jean Paul Gaultier and Marc Jacobs, and has created two plus-size clothing lines. “I just wanted to give people options,” she says. “There’s this big gap that’s missing (in plus-size fashion): You either have high-street or you have really, really expensive. A lot of people I know who are my size can afford to get things tailored, but not everybody can afford to do that.”
Another label Ditto doesn’t mind: social justice warrior. (“People are like, ‘Ugh, a SJW,’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, why is that bad?’ “) Her Twitter account promotes political issues far more than it does any of her own projects. And she can’t stand people who tell celebrities to stay in their own lanes.
“I would rather hang out with a celebrity who talks about caring for the world,” Ditto says. “I want to hear what people have to say. We live in a celebrity culture where it’s very obviously looked up to and followed to a T: the way people look, the way people talk, the way people act.
“That is the culture we live in, and if that’s what it takes to instill some sort of empathy and right-doing for the good of everybody, then I think that’s the most awesome thing you can do.”