Over a career that spans four decades, Baltimore-based John Water’s has been a film director, screenwriter, actor, journalist and visual artist. His photography, sculptures, and installations are subject to the same satirical vision Waters brings to his films, as he often re-edits and re-contextualizes iconic film imagery in a hilarious questioning of popular culture and conventions. Themes and motifs of provocation — race, sex, gender, consumerism, and religion – are unapologetically central to his practice, and presented with wit and cynicism that is the epitome of John Waters. They say that behind every good man is a good woman. Along for Waters’ rollercoaster ride of success, since the beginning, is the always amazing Mink Stole. The multi-faceted actress has appeared in all of the filmmaker’s off-kilter, most notable works and continues to dazzle no matter what project she takes on.
Through the years, her hard work and dedication to her craft have allowed her to carve out one of the most eclectic resumes inside or outside of Hollywood. One of Mink Stole’s most memorable roles paired her with legendary actress Kathleen Turner (“Romancing the Stone”) in John Water’s “Serial Mom”. In the cult classic, Waters puts a twist on the everyday mediocrity of suburban life in this outrageous, dark comedy brimming with his brand of perverse humor and high camp. ‘Serial Mom’ focuses on a cheerfully psychotic housewife Beverly Sutphin (Kathleen Turner) who will stop at nothing to rid of anyone failing to live up to her moral code. As Dottie Hinkle, Stole quickly finds her character in the sights of the madwoman and hilarity ensues. The film also features Sam Waterston (“Grace and Frankie”), Ricki Lake (“Hairspray”), Patricia Hearst (“A Dirty Shame”), Matthew Lillard (“Scream”), Mary Jo Catlett (“Diff’rent Strokes”), and Traci Lords (“Cry-Baby”), with a special appearance by Suzanne Somers (“Three’s Company”). On May 9, 2016, Scream Factory will unleash “Serial Mom” on Blu-ray to a new generation of fans with an outstanding Blu-ray Collector’s edition! Packed with bonus content including new interviews with John Waters, Kathleen Turner and Mink Stole, special featurettes and more, the release will surely drives audience over the edge with laughter.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Mink Stole to discuss her unique career, the pros and cons of being linked to John Waters, the making of ‘Serial Mom’ and more!
Let’s start at the beginning. How did you get involved with the creative arts?
You know, I fell into it. I truly stepped my toe and fell right into it! I met John Waters on the streets of Provincetown, Massachusetts. I was introduced to him by my sister who was acquainted with him from Baltimore. I was 18 years old at the time and I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. It was something I wasn’t overly concerned with at the time. I met John and the next thing I knew it was, “Hey, do you want to be in a movie?” It was really a very fortunate happenstance.
Obviously, you worked with John Waters for decades. What impact has he had on you personally and professionally?
I think it’s affected me in both good and bad ways. The downside is that I stuffed myself with a completely ridiculous name for the rest of my life! I could have changed it many years ago but I didn’t because I thought I would have no resume, which I wouldn’t have. The worst part of it is that anything I do … any play that I do and I do plays. I did a wonderful version of a Tennessee Williams play called “The Mutilated.” I did it in Provincetown, New York and New Orleans. Almost every review mentioned John’s name, sometimes even before it mentions mine! That kind of annoys me! I have to admit it! John had nothing to do with it. He was supportive and came to see it but he didn’t direct it, write it, act in it or produce it! [laughs] I have made other films and they will compare the new film almost immediately to John’s films just because I’m in it. I think that’s tremendously unfair to other people that I work with and I think it has cost me roles. On the other hand, I am the luckiest person in the world to stubbed my toe and fallen into one of the most amazing groups of people that has ever existed. I have done things that people would love to have say they have done. I have been apart of something that’s really amazing, so there is a good side and there’s a bad side. Divine had the same conflict. You can’t blame John and I don’t blame John. It’s more of the limited imagination of the reviewers but what do you say? You can’t call the reviewer up and say, “Hey stupid! John didn’t do anything on this movie!” [laughs] You just can’t do that! But it’s definitely something that follows me.
You spent most of your life in entertainment. What are the keys to longevity?
People keep asking you and you keep saying yes! I have said yes to things I’ve regretted-ish. I mean, I have definitely made movies for the check, not because I thought they were fabulous. I’ve also made movies that never saw the light of day for which I am grateful! As long as people keep asking you, you should keep saying yes to stuff! I think saying yes to things is an important part of life!
We are together to talk about Shout Factory’s release of John Waters’ “Serial Mom.” How did working with John on that film compare to the earlier films you were a part of?
Oh, it was night and day. If you take a look at ‘“Multiple Maniacs” and it is barely filmed and the camera shakes half the time! Then you look at “Serial Mom” and you can see the quality of John’s work and the quality of the people he was able to work with … the contrast is stark and you can barely conceive that this film was made by the same person who made “Multiple Maniacs.” “Multiple Maniacs” is anything but subtle! ‘“Serial Mom” is extremely subtle. Except for the actual murder act or acts of violence, “Serial Mom” is very subtle and charming! It’s so charming and delightful! Don’t think you could say that about “Multiple Maniacs.” I don’t think you could say “Pink Flamingos” is delightful, although it’s very funny. The two are very different and, of course, money helps! It helps to have money when you are making a film!
What we always loved about your work is your ability to make your role believable even within the world of John Waters’ imagination. What is your process for bringing these characters to life?
[laughs] Thank you! Basically, what I do is just read them, out loud, over and over again until they kind of fall into place. If you call that a method, then that is my method. I believe that a writer puts everything you need into the script. Whether it’s highly wordy, like “Pink Flamingos,” where there’s not a moment of peace in that movie or “Desperate Living,” where everyone is yelling constantly, but what you need to know is the characters lie within the words the character says. So, that’s what I do. That is totally my method. I get up and I walk around with the script. In doing that I gradually developed a posture of body carriage. The one thing that I will do, that John will chew me out for, is that I will often learn scripts in a southern accent! [laughs] For absolutely no reason at all! [laughs] I will go to a rehearsal and he will tell me, “Mink, don’t do that accent.” [laughs] Then I’m able to pull it back but for some reason, I like to act in a southern accent!
When you look back at the making of “Serial Mom,” what was the biggest challenge you faced?
I think the biggest challenge came from me being intimidated by the idea of working with Kathleen Turner. I was intimidated! I mean, I had worked with Troy Donahue and I had seen Tab Hunter, although I hadn’t really worked with him. Kathleen was going to be the biggest movie star that I had ever worked with and I had Norma’s respect and admiration for her. She had a reputation for being difficult and I was concerned about it. The biggest and most pleasant surprise was that she wasn’t difficult at all! She was an absolute sweetheart! It was easy to work with her. I always say that working with Divine was wonderful because Divine was a very generous actor and he gave me the focus we needed for scenes. He looked at me and he didn’t try to upstage me. Kathleen was very much the same way. There was always focus given, attention paid and never any need to upstage. Not all actors can do that! There’s a generosity that not all actors have and Kathleen was incredibly generous. In the turnarounds where I was on camera and she was off-camera, she was always there to feed me my lines. She was very respectful of me and I think that was the thing that made working with her completely easy!
All of the John Waters movies you worked on through the years became cult classics and are as impactful as they were when they were released. What was it is about these films that resonates with the audience all these years later?
In the early films, before “Serial Mom” and “Hairspray,” I think so much of it came from the fact that we were so gay friendly. Young gay people who felt alienated and isolated could come to us and see friendship and see people who were like them. Whether we were gay or not, we would like them. We really appeal to people who were misfits. Someone called us a merry band of misfits and we kind of were! None of us fit into other environments as well as we fitted into our own; the one that we created. I think a lot of it came from that sense of acceptance or sense of a place to go to feel like they were apart of us and we were part of them. I think that made huge difference. People have come up to meet many, many times to thank me for creating films that became a place of refuge. We didn’t do it for that! That was never our contention or nothing that I was ever aware of. It’s very hard to know what impact something you do or say is going to have on another person. I mean, have you had the experience where a person comes up to you and says, “You said something to me 1 million years ago that really made an impact … ” and you have no recollection of saying it? It’s kind of like that. I think we gave people a sense of place … of weird place! [laughs] People really responded in ways that I never have expected!
How have you evolved as an actor through the years?
I think I have certainly gotten subtler! From the earliest days of “Multiple Maniacs” to now, I can deliver a line without overdoing it. I can deliver a line with my face in repose. I look back and I always feel that my mouth was open as wide as I possibly could have gotten it to say a line! That was partly because I was afraid the microphone wouldn’t pick it up if I didn’t do that but part of it came from me thinking that’s what acting was! [laughs]
I know our time is short, so I have one more question. What was the best lesson we can take from your journey as an artist?
I have worked to say no to things that I have figured out are really going to be bad for me to do … [laughs] or just a huge waste of my time. I no longer do tiny budget indies because there’re too much work and they are physically uncomfortable. With that said, I still like to say yes and to challenge myself. I do one woman shows now with my band every now and then. I put an album out a couple of years ago and that was a huge challenge. Doing things that scare you is something I think is very important!
Thanks for your time today, Mink! We really appreciate it and can’t wait to see what you do next!
Thank you so very much, Jason!
If there is a better way to tell your mother your mother you love her this Mother’s Day, we don’t know about it! John Waters’ ‘Serial Mom’ Collector’s Edition Blu-ray hits stores on May 9th, 2017 from the good folks at Scream! Factory.
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.