Dec. 7 (UPI) -- Two and a half years after the Pulse shooting in Orlando, drag queen and Orlando native Ginger Minj still gets teary-eyed when looking back.
The Dumplin' actor, RuPaul's Drag Race star and voice of Lemon in Super Drags got her start as a drag queen at Pulse nightclub and immediately went back to help rebuild in the aftermath, but told UPI it was tough to return after that.
"It was too hard to go back for a long time," she said.
In recent months Pulse has erected interim memorial walls to honor the lives of the victims. The 34-year-old, born Joshua Allan Eads, made an effort to go and pay her respects and felt because time had passed she may have been more composed, but got emotional when she arrived at the walls.
"The second I step up to it, it puts me right back to that first moment and it never gets easier," she said. "It never does."
Minj was on tour after her appearance on Season 7 of RuPaul's Drag Race when she found out the news.
"We had the FBI coming in telling us, we were on the Battle of the Seasons tour at the time, they were like 'You guys are a dozen of the most popular drag queens in the world. You're a moving target right now," she said.
The whole cast was on edge for the rest of the tour, taking extra precautions.
"You never want anyone who looks official to tell you, 'Hey, you're a moving target,'" she said.
The energy in the theater was solemn where they performed in Minneapolis the night after the shooting and the queens decided it was their duty to provide the escape the crowd needed from the tragedy.
Minj said she'll never take her career as a queen for granted again.
"It taught me drag is a whole lot more than just dressing up in a costume and hitting the stage. It's a cathartic experience for a lot of people. And we're so lucky and blessed that we're good at it and people care about us doing it," she said. "So I have never once taken a show for granted ever since then."
Despite the fact drag queens still have to overcome stigma and hate in some parts of the U.S., Minj still believes that people are coming to see drag as legitimate artistic expression, worthy of mainstream adulation.
"People are starting to see that we are legitimate actors, we are legitimate singers, we are legitimate dancers and performers and entertainers," she said. "I still feel like it's new and it's very niche so we have to work 10 times as hard for like a quarter of the respect from the mainstream viewing audience, but I think we're getting there."
It has been a huge year for the drag community, from fellow Drag Race alum Shangela and Willam acquiring roles in A Star is Born, to RuPaul herself and Season 3 winner Raja being animated in The Simpsons, and now Minj's role in Dumplin', which streams on Netflix Friday.
Dumplin' is based on the New York Times best-selling book of the same name written by Julie Murphy. The film tells the story of plus-size Willodean (Danielle Macdonald), the daughter of a Texas pageant queen (Jennifer Aniston) as she enters a pageant in protest of conventional beauty, but discovers what really makes people beautiful in the process. Minj plays Candee Disch, a drag queen who works at a local bar and helps get Willowdean prepared for the world of pageantry.
Minj says the character was originally named "Paige Turner" and was only going to be a small part, but after she had a meeting with the directors they decided to change the role to better reflect Minj's personality.
"They wanted something that was sweet and fun, that everyone would want-- and they were like well everybody loves candy! So let's go ahead and make her Candee Disch," she said.
Production gave her a lot of creative freedom in the process.
"They go, 'Alright so we have this costume for you, we want you to come in here, this is what's happened, so just kind of go for it. Give us a couple of different things and just, if you think the character would do it, we want to see it,'' she said. "So I got to ad lib a lot of things."
A memory Minj holds in her heart from filming Dumplin' was from their last day of filming. Minj and the girls from the movie had piled into a van to go back to the hotel at the end of a long day when they heard the news about the Vegas shooting on the radio. Minj was overcome with emotion, with the feelings from Pulse flooding back to her, but was trying to keep it together for the girls.
"Maddie Baillio and Bex (Taylor-Klaus), who are the youngins on the movie, they saw that I was upset so they started singing, 'The sun'll come out, tomorrow' from Annie," she recalled.
The whole car started singing along to comfort Minj, which she said, "took what could have been this really dark, horrible moment that could have put a damper on the entire experience and make it like this triumphant, joyful, hey, we're all in this together kind of thing."
Meeting Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton wrote original music for the film and was very involved in the project, but this wasn't Minj's first encounter with the country superstar. On a fateful trip to Dollywood, Parton's theme park in Tennessee, a young Minj met her idol.
"And I'll never forget, I was probably like eight or nine years old and I remember my grandmother saying, 'Well that's the one that sings that song that you liked,'" she said.
Parton called her "Pumpkin" and told her she was "going to be a star." From that moment on, anytime her career would give her troubles her mother would tell her, "Oh honey, Dolly Parton thinks you're a star."
Minj says she didn't get a chance to meet one-on-one with Parton on set, but said she can't wait to tell her this story.
"You see this picture of me in this t-shirt, you told me I was a star! I blame this all on you," she said.
The Little Mermaid
Fans across social media have called for Minj to take the role of Ursula in the upcoming live action Disney remake of The Little Mermaid -- some even dismissing major celebrities like Lady Gaga for the part.
"It feels really good and really possible knowing that I have so much support from around the world behind me doing this role," she said. "It feels like it could really happen."
"I think it's going to take something like an Ursula to really kind of cement in the public's mind that we're actors and singers just like everybody else," she added.
Dumplin' and Super Drags are now streaming on Netflix. Minj has nine dates left in her Crossdresser for Christ-mas tour and has a new album, Clown [Expletive] out later this month.