John Waters: ‘I hate weddings. I hate every single second of going to a wedding, even for people that I really love!’
“If you talk about love, it disappears,” John Waters says when asked about the key to a long relationship. Keep your declarations of love private, the self-proclaimed Pope of Trash argues, and your love will flourish. Plus, it’s a universal truth that PDA is unwanted and foul.
Waters’ career can be described as one long con: advertising his signature filth to posterity, goading audiences to turn their nose-jobs up at hilariously caustic films like Pink Flamingos (the poop-eating one), Female Trouble (the child-rearing one) and Serial Mom (the Karen blueprint), and making them giggle through the pages of his many books. (He’s just released a new one, his first work of complete fiction, called Liarmouth.)
Now, Waters appears in a Calvin Klein campaign alongside his friend of 56 years, Mink Stole, to remind us that the works they’ve made together are iconic. Stole holds the distinction of being one of only two actors who has appeared in all of Waters’ films from Pink Flamingos onwards. She remains a lynchpin of the Dreamlanders, an ensemble of Waters regulars so tight-knit that it trumps any idea of a chosen family.
The pair even has his 'n' hers cemetery plots next to one other in Baltimore, meaning together with co-conspirators Divine, Pat Moran, and Dennis Dermody, they will all share the same gritty destiny: an eternal friendship from beyond the grave. “We call it Disgraceland,” Waters jokes of his final resting place. “Come on out,” he adds, “group visit!” Love can’t quite disappear if you bury it with you, right?
What initially attracted you to one another?
Mink Stole: John was a very charismatic character even when he was younger. I was very attracted to him because of his self confidence. Also he was showing me a completely different way to live, counter to the traditional way that I had grown up.
John Waters: Yeah, we were both from kind of similar backgrounds. So I think defiance is what attracted us to each other, and wanting adventure in our lives. And we met in Provincetown, a beach town that already was bohemian and crazy that we had both sought out a different life by going there in the first place. It seemed natural for us to be friends.
Mink Stole: Yes, there was defiance and anger in both of us.
John Waters: Yes, and humour.
“The worst thing that turns somebody off is an obsession with them” – John Waters
What's the key to a long-lasting relationship?
John Waters: Well, that's a tough one. To me, sometimes, it goes back and forth. One person, one day, loves the other one more than the other. You never let that person know when that is. That's [a quote from casting director] Pat Moran. And it's really good advice.
Mink Stole: It wouldn’t work in my relationship. We tell each other we love each other constantly. So to me, it's patience, understanding and not expecting the other person to be the end all and be all and the only way of happiness.
John Waters: Yeah and the worst thing that turns somebody off is an obsession with them. It's hard to realise when you are [being obsessive]. But it is the biggest turnoff there is to another person.
What does the idea of chosen family make you think of?
John Waters: Making old friends because I don't trust people who don't have old friends. Both Mink and I have many friends in common that we've had for 50 years, and they live longer than your family. They become your family. I don't know why people don't [have old friends]. It takes work.
Mink Stole: John and I are both lucky because we both have decent families we were born into. We were both in good hands with our families. But you know, the people that you gather along the way, some of them you don't keep but you keep the ones that really matter.
If you had to redesign the institution of marriage, what would you alter?
Mink Stole: I would make people live together for two years in advance of marriage and, in a straight couple, without any possibility of conception. But definitely living together changes the way you feel about people.
John Waters: I just remember that line Bette Davis said about Faye Dunaway: she belongs in an institution, and I don't mean marriage! To me, I would change the ceremony. I hate weddings. I hate every single second of going to a wedding, even for people that I really love. I hate that horrible tradition of what you have to do at them, so weddings themselves get on my nerves. I'm all for going to City Hall.
What is your favorite gay film about love?
John Waters: Either Like a Horse with Jeff Stryker or Fox and His Friends by Fassbinder. It's about class and falling in love, which used to be – and still is in the gay male world – sometimes erotic, sometimes very important. It's a power struggle. I think Fassbinder played the rough trade. That movie was really, really a good movie about its time. I'm a huge fan of Rainer Fassbender and I was lucky enough to meet him. He was not very politically correct. He would be in trouble for that. But let's just say that I have always respected his lunacy, his workload and extreme, extreme dedication.
Mink Stole: I would have to say But I'm a Cheerleader! One, because I'm in it. And two, because it's about love, it's about family. And it really skewers the idea that you can change people.
John Waters: And it was a hit, too!
“I would have to say [my favourite film about gay love is] But I'm a Cheerleader! One, because I'm in it. And two, because it's about love, it's about family. And it really skewers the idea that you can change people” – Mink Stole
I know when you were writing your last book Mr. Know-It-All, John, you and Mink took LSD together. Did you bond in any surprising ways?
John Waters: What was shocking was that it wasn't surprising. We played some of the same music that we listened to 50 years ago. We were in Provincetown, where we met, so in a way it was a wonderful bonding experience, but it was not surprising to me what happened.
Mink Stole: It was a lovely, peaceful experience.
John Waters: It was Bear Week, and we did not go out in that. To go out during the height of Bear Week on acid was an adventure I decided not to take. There are limits.
For what would you like to be forgiven?
John Waters: For me, smoking cigarettes; that's the one thing I very much regret in life.
Mink Stole: Yeah, I smoked for 30 years myself so I agree with that one. I don't know, casual unkindnesses that I have inflicted upon people without thinking. I'm haunted by one that, as an adolescent, when I was very deliberately unkind to a person who had been my friend because I thought she wasn't cool enough anymore. And that bothers me still.
If you could go back to any part of your career, would you change how you did anything?
John Waters: About my films? Oh god, Mondo Trasho is 90 minutes, I'd rather it were 20 minutes. Still, it was made at a time when Warhol, his films were long and I think the rawness – if you like my early films, you say they're raw, if you don't, you say they're amateurish; it means the same thing. And I addressed that in Cecil B. Demented when he says, “Technique is nothing more than failed style.” Maybe that's true.
Mink Stole: I would change some auditions to have been better, where I could have gotten the part. But no, no. My career has been interesting. I'm alright with my career.
What does being a part of this Calvin Klein campaign mean to you both?
John Waters: Free underpants!
Mink Stole: I can't tell you how exciting it is to be my age and say, I'd be a fashion model.
John Waters: Just call us the new Marky Mark and Brooke Shields with a slightly different body.
Who would you like to see in their Calvins?
Mink Stole: All I could come up with is Tilda Swinton.
John Waters: Brad Renfro from beyond the grave, Beth Ditto again, Orville Peck, Harry Dodge, and I'd like to see Justin Bieber without his Calvins!