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The actor: Few actors are more intimately associated with the films of John Waters than Mink Stole. In the late '60s and '70s, Stole played a series of uptight villain roles generally pitting her against Divine, most famously in 1972's Pink Flamingoes. As Waters' films got bigger, Stole's roles got smaller, but she continued to appear in each one. Over the past 15 years, Stole has solidified her status as a camp icon by appearing in a number of gay independent films, including Eating Out 2: Sloppy Seconds, which was recently released on DVD. Stole also writes an advice column for the Baltimore City Paper.
Mondo Trasho (1969)—"Homeless Woman/Asylum Inmate/Snob #1"
Mink Stole: That was our jump from 8mm into 16mm black and white, no-sync sound. Mondo Trasho was a lot of fun. I think I played several roles in it. I'm probably best known for my topless tap dance. [Laughs.]
The A.V. Club: What do you remember about your topless tap dance?
MS: John actually got me exactly one lesson. I got one tap lesson to learn how to do that, which obviously, if you look at the movie, I didn't learn very well. It was fun.
AVC: When you're topless, people probably aren't obsessed with what your feet are doing.
MS: They weren't really looking at my feet. They can't really tell. Plus, my eyes were completely bugging out of my head, I was wearing a rosary. It was fun.
AVC: The Internet Movie Database says your three characters are Homeless Woman, Asylum Inmate, and Snob #1.
MS: Oh yes, and at the very end of the movie, as Mary Vivian Pearce is walking around with duck feet, David Lochary's mother and I are standing on the corner. Since it's not sync sound, we were saying things like, "17, 30, 29." We were just mouthing words. David and I later went into the recording studio—or we should have been so lucky. We went into John's room with a tape recorder, and started saying whatever obscenities we said. I honestly don't remember. [Laughs.]
AVC: You actually got arrested at some point, filming Mondo Trasho?
MS: Yes. We were doing sort of a guerilla film day, and we were filming the scene where Divine hallucinates a naked hitchhiker. In order for a person to appear naked on film, the person actually has to be naked in reality. John had chosen the campus of Johns Hopkins University without permission. So even though Mark was fully clothed and he had a robe on between takes, we were spotted by some graduate students who were highly offended, and they called the police. When we escaped from the campus police, they called the city police. We were in a 1959 red El Dorado Cadillac, so were sort of conspicuous. [Laughs.] We were picked up by the city police. The guy Mark, who had played the hitchhiker, was taken away and arrested. The rest of us were picked up the following day. We got off. The judge thought he had Tropic Of Cancer, he thought he had cracked this major porno. [Laughs.] We were just kids making this movie.
AVC: That must have been sort of a bonding experience, getting arrested together.
MS: Yeah, kind of. We were already bonded. I'm not sorry it happened, except years and years and years later, when I wanted to get my real-estate license, it was held up. They only write down that you've been arrested, they don't write down the disposition of the case, which was dismissed, and they didn't have the records from 1967 in Baltimore. [Laughs.] It held me up with the FBI for a while.
Multiple Maniacs (1970)—"Mink/Cavalcade Patron"
MS: Well, I played the religious whore. I had a couple little roles in that. I played a straight woman at the Cavalcade Of Perversion, and then I played… I can't remember. I don't think that was "Drunk On The Street." You know, in the early films, I played a lot of bit parts as well as whatever my main role was. The religious whore, that was really fun. We had such a good time doing that, because John and I had both grown up Catholic. We were violently anti-Catholic, so the desecration of the church was really fun. [Laughs.] I couldn't see, I didn't have contacts at the time. My vision's really bad, so as I come out of the confessional, I'm counting pews, because I can't see where Divine is. I have to actually count to find the pew that I'm supposed to turn into to go do my seduction of Divine. After we did the fake rosary job, John said, "Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute," and came out and he had a candy bar called Fudge that he had wiped all over the rosary. [Laughs.] Just his little coup de grace.
AVC: You'll never get into heaven now.
MS: Oh, I'm not expecting to. [Laughs.] I haven't been expecting to get into heaven for a long time. Actually, you know, I really want to go there, which I don't think you really do. If there's a heaven, I would probably go. I've actually a very nice person.
Pink Flamingos (1972)—"Connie Marbles"
MS: Pink Flamingos was fun, but it was really cold. It was our leap. We did the progression. We started out with 8mm, then we went to 16mm with Mondo Trasho, 16mm black-and-white no-sync sound, then the leap into Multiple Maniacs, which was 16mm black-and-white sync sound, then Pink Flamingos was color! This was a huge step forward. We're practically the history of American film, starting with 8mm. That was our big jump into color. Naturally, we took advantage of the color, with our hair colors, and the clothes that we wore. Fun with color.
AVC: Did you have any idea that it would become a cult sensation?
MS: You know, there's no way to know that. No, of course not. People ask me that all the time, and no, you can't possibly know. We knew we were doing something that was going to shock people, gross people out, and make people laugh, because we thought it was very funny. We all thought it was hysterical. At the same time, I can know something is hysterical, and also know that a mother giving a blowjob to her son is going to shock people. I'm tough to shock, and I was already accustomed to John's humor, but even then, we would sometimes get the script pages and go, "God, I can't believe we're doing this."
AVC: What shocked you?
MS: The incest shocked me. Not so shocked that I wouldn't do it, but it was shocking in that it was funny. There was a recognition of the fact that it was going to be shocking. And, you know, eating dog shit. I wouldn't have done it, so that was shocking. I still can't watch it. It makes me gag. It's not that I sit around, "Yawn, I think I'll watch four of my old movies." I don't do that. [Laughs.]
AVC: You don't watch them on a perpetual loop?
MS: I just recycle my three fan letters. [Laughs.] I'm not really like that, but every now and then, there'll be a screening that I'm talked into going to, or paid to go to. But I can't watch that scene. It makes me gag.
AVC: It's sort of become the signature scene of the film.
MS: It's almost too bad, because the movie, even without it, would have been shocking. It pushes it way over the edge, but even without it, it would have been very shocking. It makes me wonder what then would have been the center scene. I'm not sure. That is the question that people continually ask, if it was real. People still ask that, even though if you watch the movie, there is no cut.
AVC: It isn't like you can do CGI or complicated computer effects.
MS: It was the '70s. It was a long time ago, they didn't have CGI. Back in those days, we didn't have Xerox. John handwrote, and I still have somewhere, a page of handwritten script from Multiple Maniacs. He wrote them by hand. We didn't have copy machines. You kids these days, you have no idea. [Laughs.] If you wanted to have something printed, you had to have it offset printed. You couldn't just type it up and print it out. We didn't have that. Things have changed enormously.
Female Trouble (1974)—"Taffy Davenport"
MS: I think that it's actually the best of John's early films, I think it's the masterpiece of his early years. I'm not sure that the masterpiece of his later years has been made. I mean, I love Serial Mom a lot.
Polyester (1981)—"Sandra Sullivan"
MS: I can't remember, was Polyester 35mm? It might have been.
AVC: Well, it was the legendary Odorama.
MS: Odorama had nothing to do with the filming of it. That was all post. That had no effect on me whatsoever. We didn't have a big "Two" flashing in front of us when we were on camera. [Laughs.] I think the Odorama is very clever. Polyester was just shown in San Francisco, the 13th or 14th. People had their Odorama cards, and it was fun. People get a kick out of the Odorama. It all smells the same. One smells pretty, and the rest smell like farts.
AVC: Polyester reached a bigger audience than some of your earlier films.
MS: It was the first movie that we allowed our parents to see. That was a big milestone, because the movies before that are "Parents not allowed." Which is fine. There's no reason for my mother to ever see Pink Flamingos. She wouldn't like it, and it would just upset her, so why? I certainly wouldn't want her to see me giving Divine a rosary job in a church. She's a good Catholic woman. So, yeah, Polyester certainly reached a wider audience. We also had our first big movie star.
AVC: Tab Hunter?
MS: Yeah, Tab Hunter, who was perfectly lovely to work with, and John talks to this day about how brave he was, because, you know, he kissed a man. This was not done. I forget when we made this. The '70s, I guess.
AVC: Well, it was released in '81.
MS: So we must have made it in '80. I used to live my life and know "This was the year we did this, and that was the year we did that." It's all become sort of a blur, now.
AVC: Well, as you get older…
MS: Other things happen. I don't calendar my films by making films with John.
AVC: There's a seven-year gap between Polyester and Hairspray. Why was that?
MS: You'd have to ask John. That's an "Ask John" question.
AVC: You talked about how you could show your family Polyester.
MS: Well, my mother is in Hairspray, as an extra. By that time, after years and years and years of being just humiliated and mortified, and hoping I would never show my face in her home, she embraced it. Now she goes to all the premières and really enjoys the movies. She even went to see A Dirty Shame. I tried to talk her out of it, but she insisted. She said she liked it. [Laughs.]
AVC: What do you remember about Hairspray?
MS: Well, Ricki Lake was such a presence on set. She was such a sweetheart, and she's still a sweetheart. She's a genuinely nice person. She was a big St. Bernard puppy, so affectionate, and happy to be there, and happy to be around people. It was really infectious, her joy of being there. I loved the script of Hairspray. For me, it was exciting, because I actually got to be on the side of good for the first time. I'd always been the antagonist, I'd always been on the wrong side. I'd always been counter. Whatever Divine was doing, I was on the other side.
AVC: Why do you think that was?
MS: We were very good antagonists. We played off each other quite well. In Pink Flamingos and in Female Trouble especially, we have a nice chemistry. I think John enjoyed pitting us against each other. We liked each other a lot. We were friends and had enormous respect for each other as performers.
AVC: You both have big personalities, so it kind of works in that way.
MS: It worked out, but I had to really work hard, because Divine was just such a physical presence, especially in Female Trouble, with the acid over the face and the hair, the mohawk. It was such a visual enormity, Divine was, in that film, that I had to really work at being not invisible onscreen. But I liked Hairspray. I really enjoyed the script. I was alive during the time when all of that was going on. I used to go to the amusement park that got shut down. It was based on historical fact that I was aware of and had experienced myself, so that was another part of it that made it interesting for me.
AVC: Have you seen the new one?
MS: I have, and I liked it a lot. It's very different. It has a lot of the sweetness of the original, and it has some of the emotional depth. There's actually a bit of emotional depth in the original. The only thing I think, had I had any input at all, which I didn't, I would have called it New Hairspray or something. Having exactly the same name might confuse people. I don't want the original to be obliterated by the new one. I think the new one is great, and I think people will really love it, but I think the original has a great deal of merit as well.
Cry-Baby (1990)—"Hatchet's Mother"
MS: The thing that really bothered me about Cry-Baby is that I had quit smoking, and then I did all these scenes where I had to smoke, which made me smoke again, and then the scenes got cut out of the movie. I was like, "Oh my God, you mean I started smoking again?" I filmed a lot more than just being in the iron lung. I know that some of them went back in for the TV version. But I had fun. I mean, I had Troy Donahue for a husband, and I thought that was pretty cool.
AVC: Yeah, you got to work with Tab Hunter and Troy Donahue.
MS: Well, I didn't really work so much with Tab. He had most of his scenes with Divine, but Troy and I actually had scenes together.
AVC: Johnny Depp's first big starring role is there as well.
MS: Johnny Depp, who I haven't seen in years, is a sweetie-pie. Truly, another really genuinely nice person. John is very good. He doesn't hire people who aren't going to be pleasant to work with. His instincts were right about Johnny Depp. He was a treat.
Get A Life (1990)—"Mrs. Wilson"
MS: One episode. I had a really small part. Is that really a cult hit? I kind of thought it had fallen off the face of the Earth.
AVC: No, Chris Elliott's a real cult figure.
MS: I think Chris is funny. I thought the whole premise of the show was very funny, but I just did one episode.
AVC: What do you remember about the character you played?
MS: I was a woman on the street screaming. I really didn't have much. It was one step above being an extra, so there's really not a whole lot to remember.
Married With Children (1997)—"Edna"
MS: A part equally as big, but with Married With Children, I still get checks. Every now and then, I get a check for seven or eight bucks. I'm always thankful, it just makes me smile. Those people must be rolling in dough. That show is still on. If I'm getting a check for $7 every now and then, they must be getting a lot of checks for a lot of money all the time.
Monster Mash: The Movie (1995)—"Wolfie's Mother"
MS: Okay, interesting little tidbit. The choreographer for that movie was Adam Shankman [who also played "Wolfie." —ed.], who directed Hairspray. The movie was produced and directed by the guys who wrote the first Toy Story. That movie was just silly fun. It was very silly, and I had a good time. Bobby "Boris" Pickett was a really nice guy, the guy who wrote "Monster Mash." I just saw him last fall, right around Halloween. I saw him at this big horror-movie convention in New Jersey, the Killer Festival. He died this year, so that's sort of sad. He was a really nice guy.
Lost Highway (1997)– "Jury Forewoman"
MS: Well, my role was cut. They kept my voice, so I just think of it as, I did a voiceover. David [Lynch] was a wonderful man to work with. One of the things that was really lovely, that I really appreciated, was before the cast and crew screening that I was invited to, he sent me a handwritten note to tell me that my scene had been cut, but that my voice was still in it. I thought that was really classy. Because otherwise, you know, you deal with editors all the time. You know what it's like when your favorite paragraph gets cut. "Ahh! That was the one that I really loved." [Laughs.] It's happened to me, when I've done things where my favorite scene or scenes have been cut. It's something over which you have absolutely no control.
AVC: Well, you can't really take it personally, but it still sort of feels like a slight.
MS: If you're off story or something, things happen. I've been cut out of other stuff, too, believe me. I was cut out of Another Gay Movie.
AVC: You're listed on the IMDB as having been cut, so your absence has a presence in the world.
MS: I haven't seen the scene, but I know it's on the DVD extras.
AVC: That's the other thing. Even if you get cut, you're not really cut, because people can still see the scene if they're so inclined.
MS: It was way over the top. I played a tranny in a men's room, a tranny in a gay bar's men's room. I'm sure it's very overdone, and very overwrought for sure. It's going to get me a lot of work.
Serial Mom (1994)—"Dottie Hinkle"
MS: Kathleen Turner is marvelous in the movie. I really think she's marvelous. She's very charismatic. The character of Serial Mom is so much fun. She's having a really good time. It takes you kind of back to the era of Divine, when her character, especially in Pink Flamingos or Female Trouble, is doing all of this criminal activity, having a ball. "This is wonderful fun, yay!" And it's for a good cause. Kathleen's character is able to completely justify her reasons for killing.
AVC: There's a morality to it.
MS: Yeah, all of these people are mean. There was something about them. I enjoyed working with Kathleen, and Sam Waterston. I think he must wake up every now and then and go, "Did I really do that?" He is such a respected member of the theatrical community. I just enjoyed it. I like my character. I liked the way she looked, I liked the way she dressed. I loved my courtroom scene. If you like your own character, it's much easier to like the movie. I'm in Pecker for such a tiny amount of time, and in Cecil B. DeMented for such a tiny amount of time, it was really impossible for me to get emotionally connected to the films. I like Pecker, I think Pecker is a sweet movie, but I wasn't there long enough to get a feel for what being there doing that movie was like.
A Dirty Shame (2004)—"Marge the Neuter"
MS: I enjoyed Marge. It harkens back to my old uptight characters. John usually has me playing uptight people. I really like working with Suzanne Shepherd. She was wonderful. Tracey Ullman was terrific. Johnny Knoxville, I see periodically. He makes me laugh every time I see him. He's just the nicest guy in the world. It goes back to John not hiring people who aren't fun to be around. That was a really fun movie to work on, and I had a really good time. Selma Blair knocked me out, I think the woman's a really amazing actress. She totally commits. She made that character, that completely insane character, believable. That's the charm of a John Waters movie, is when these totally and completely unbelievable, could-not-possibly-exist-on-the-face-of-the-planet characters, take on a real life.
AVC: You wind up relating to them and empathizing with what they're going through.
MS: And actually believing that they're real. Not lately, but for a long time, people thought that I lived in a trailer in Baltimore. In the film, I burned it down. [Laughs.] If they were really paying attention, they'd know the trailer was gone. They kind of lose touch with the difference between playing a part and actually being. Pink Flamingos was not a documentary. [Laughs.] I have to kind of remind people of that every now and then.
Eating Out 2: Sloppy Seconds (2006)—"Helen"
MS: You know, I really like this movie. It's fluff. It's a great "get together with your friends and giggle" movie. I play the mother of the kid, this is something I do a lot. [Laughs.] But I'm A Cheerleader, I did it in Girl Play, it's a character I'm comfortable with. My son is emotionally tender, and he thinks that his boyfriend wants to leave him, so he decides to go after somebody else who he thinks is straight. He ends up joining this anti-gay, used-to-be-gay club, and pretending to be straight with this wonderful woman, Tiffani [Rebekah Kochan]. So he pretends to be straight, and my character accepts him for what is, but when I think he's straight, I get really excited, because I'm going to be a grandmother. Without knowing what's going on in his life, I come to the conclusion that I'd rather not have a straight son, because who am I going to watch the Oscars with? I'm all upset because he's not gay, and then he tells me that he actually is. We have this lovely little bonding moment. [Laughs.] It's a lot of fun. It spoofs the "don't be gay" organizations, the ex-gay movement. It spoofs just about everything. It's really funny, and there are really cute guys.