- Interview

John Waters

by Mo Mozuch and Greg Benevent

Director, author, and photographer John Waters needs no introduction. Since the 1972 release of Pink Flamingos , Waters has consistently pushed the boundaries of conventional filmmaking, surprising (and often angering) audiences, tastemakers, and motion-picture ratings boards. Dubbed "The Pope of Trash" by William S. Burroughs, Waters has an endless fascination for society's detritus, its misfits and boundary-breakers. This summer, he assembled an exhibit, John Waters Curates Andy's "Porn," exploring the influence of sexual imagery on the art of Andy Warhol. He also took time to offer Deek his views on reality-tv, uncomfortable audiences, and "voting gay."

When can we expect the John Waters Reality Show?

I would never do that, I've been offered to do that. The thing is, I hate reality television. I believe in writing, rewriting. I believe in acting and directing. Everyday when I walk outside it's the John Waters reality show. I live in Baltimore , that's a reality show right there. Reality shows are, basically, for people who have boring lives. If you create a life where things happen, what do you need a reality show for? I'm in the writer's guild, the screen actor's guild, the director's guild and I believe reality shows are a cheap way to get out of paying writers. The last thing I would want is somebody following me around. It's for low-level celebrities, if you're offered a reality show it means your career's in big trouble. It's a D-list phenomenon. The very fact that you agree to do one looks desperate. I've never seen one.

How do you define success?

All success really is, any kind of success no matter what field you're in, is that you never come in contact with assholes. That's beyond wealth or reviews. And that can only come with success. Because the less success you have the more you have to deal with assholes who are around, and as you climb in success you eliminate your exposure to assholes. That's something all people can work towards. To hell with Scientology, this is what we ought to teach: "The Avoidance of Assholes in Everyday Living." If you can eventually do that, then you've had some success.

Why is there a Neuter, R-Rated version of A Dirty Shame on DVD?

I had to. It was a fair trade in a way. My contract said them movie had to have an R-rating and I couldn't cut it to get an R-rating. Time Warner has a policy to not release NC-17 movies. Most theaters won't play it, which is why major studios won't release an NC-17 movie. Because of my history, because of my past, because I've been with New Line Cinema for almost thirty years they didn't change any policy -- they just said OK on this one. Especially because it was NOT explicit, and it really didn't, I believe, deserve an NC-17 rating. But because of that Blockbuster won't carry it, Wal-Mart won't, all these hideous stores that you should never be in there buying videos from anyway. So I had to do it, and so I thought 'Well, if I have to do it, I'm going to do a baby version.' Luckily, I had to do [cleaner] shots for cable anyway. And you hate doing it, because it holds you up. I had to be creative, like when JK goes down on TU and comes up with her shoe and she says "Watch the corns."

So, the Neuter Version is for children's birthday parties, if parents want to have a sex movie for 8 year-olds this is the film for you. It's for cowards and to trick people in chain stores to buy the film they don't want. I believe that if you're in those stores that don't carry it you should say something.

I've only seen it once, because I had to. I could never look at it again. The collectors, the real collectors, would be shocked to see it. And they would like because it's so different. That's the wonders of the MPAA, who have actually been very fair with me, although I don't believe they were this time. But that's because it's about sex, and this country's always been fairly uptight about sex, and when people are afraid they're more uptight about sex, and they don't want anything new. The Abu Ghraib pictures had been released around the time the MPAA saw this movie; people weren't feeling great about sexual fetishes at the time.

Why do you think that is, that American culture is more accepting of a violent R-rated film than a sexual one?

It's America and we like violence and hate sex. In Europe they love sex and hate violence. And we look very silly to them, and they laugh at us. But they don't understand a comedy that can use explicit violence, like "Serial Mom." They don't get it, well, some do but they don't like it. It's basically as offensive to them as sex is to the MPAA sometimes. I guess if you had to pick between them they're healthier about it, but I like violence in movies too. I don't like REAL violence; I turn my head on the news if they're going to show it. I've never looked at anything that showed real violence -- I don't want to see it. But I don't care about you, know, what's the new Rob Zombie movie? It got an R-rating. Good! Good for him! And Quentin seems to be the one that can somehow get away with anything, and more power to him. In "Pecker" I had full-screen shots of bush, in Cecil B. Demented I had a gerbil up someone's ass, and they both got R-ratings. In ADS you don't see any sex, even in the NC-17 version.

Is it still possible to shock people?

I don't try to just shock people.

Can you still put something up there that would just surprise the hell out of people to the point where they get uncomfortable?

I'm never trying to shock people. I'm never trying to make people uncomfortable. I'm trying to make them surprised at something that they didn't find funny before. So, that's a little different I think. It's easy to shock. I mean just throw some gross things at them, but it's not funny. I'm trying to change the way you think about something by showing you. This week a radio station in New York was running part of its John Waters month and they offered $500 to anyone who would come eat shit, and no one did. I was surprised, and my friend said, "Well, I would if I was a junkie." It's easier than breaking into a car. You won't get arrested. I'm surprised no one did it.

I'm shocked all the time by big, bad, bloated, overproduced movies -- that's shocking to me. But I get surprised. I think "Mysterious Skin" was a really good movie, I know that's playing here. That's one of my favorite movies of the year. I think Gus Van Sandt's new movie was a really good, surprising movie. "Irreversible" was a great movie, and a shocking movie, about rape. So, yes, you can do it in a smart way. But when you say to me 'What's shocking?' I think of the barn-raising scene in "Witness." That's my idea of obscenity.

Where do you get your ideas?

Everyday I go in my office at 8 o'clock and it's my job to think of this stuff. I have little pads in every room of my house, and I live in three different cities. I have a pad in my car. I read seven newspapers every morning, I get over 150 magazines every month. I eavesdrop on people. I tear things out of papers. I keep files. I read. And it just comes, that's my job to think it up, but it comes from total fiction and based on real things. Things that have happened to me, things that I've seen in my life, things people've told me, it comes from everywhere, really. I just have to figure a way to try to make all that comes to me humorous, and sometimes it's just changing some of the details and putting something in. One extra, added thing can make something terrible funny.

What do you look for when you create a character in one of your films? Do you just try and fit them in to something you're trying to do?

It's easy for me to think of characters, the hard part is the narrative. Characters are easy, I could think of a hundred of them. But plot is what's harder, plot is what makes a hit movie. I think of all the characters first. I have a notebook, and each page is a character, and I need a name. It's really important that I have a name. I use my yearbooks, and I move things around. Everyone I've wanted to have sex with I've already used. Basically you mix up the names so you can't get into trouble. First name here and last name here. Or if I hear a person's name I write it down. I write down things everyday that could end up in a movie. The characters I think up first, and I think up way too much about them. I think of who their family was, everything about them. I think about the way a character dresses. The backstory is generally in the first draft of the script and generally gets cut out in the second draft. But I know more about them than the audience will ever know. Or needs to know.

Also, where they live is really important to me. I do a location scout before I write.

Outside of Baltimore ?

No, in Baltimore . What neighborhood they're from and what kind of house they live in. I'll sometimes sit in front of a person's house and write. I need to a character's name and who they are, then I'll know what their personality is. Each movie I do is always a genre that I'm satirizing. So, that's it. I need a title, first. A title really helps to have first. I need a genre. A title and a genre, and then the characters and where they live. And once I have that I can begin to do the plot.

Have you ever really touched on racism in your movies?

"Hairspray" is like that. Somebody said "Hairspray" is about the integration movement and how white people felt about it. And it is. It's a white movie. It's about how integration affected me growing up. Racism is a thing that's tough to use in comedy because it's so not funny. And where I live in Baltimore is racist still, it's very racist. As a white man, I'm not comfortable with racist jokes. I feel like I can make fun of gay people because I'm gay, but I feel like I can't make fun of black people. It's the kind of thing where you can do a Jew joke if you're a Jew. Racism is the kind of thing that doesn't cross over very smoothly. You can do it. Like in "Hairspray" where the little black girl says "I have a dream" and it's a joke! Now that "Hairspray" has crossed over, and is so accepted you don't think about it. But I was worried about being a white man and doing a comedy about integration, how that would be accepted.

But racism itself, to me the question is always "Could you sleep with a racist?" I ask all my friends that, and all gay men have the answer that is technically a 'yes, just change the subject.' I think most people would say 'it depends how cute they are,' I think that's the real truth. If you were black it would probably be a lot easier if they hated white people, then the other way. Who knows?

Have you tried any other moustache styles?


What made you stay with this particular one?

I wanted to be Little Richard. I grew it in 1969.

Is he gay?

Little Richard?


Well, you'll have to ask him. He never sucked my cock. I interviewed him for Playboy, let's just say I could've beat up his bodyguard. If you read his book, yes. But he denies it today for religious reasons. I would say it looks like he would lean that way, but you'll have to ask him. I don't know that you can out Little Richard.

I've read his biography, it's fascinating. He was a drag queen in a carnival for a while. He would mail people bowel movements. I read it after I made Pink Flamingoes, and that's something I had Connie Marble do. I thought it was a joke I didn't think anyone actually did it. Little Richard did. He tells about it in his book, he calls it 'turd harassment.' It's beyond verbal abuse.

Why do you think it's more acceptable for girls to experiment with sexuality than it is for boys?

It's a straight man's fantasy. It's heresy. Girls that do that just do it to give men what they really want. What lesbians really need is the exact opposite of a dick, of penetration. Usually the girls that do that are stupid, and they're transsexual, and they eat pussy when they hate it just to get some man. It's heresy. Only dumb girls do that. Only dumb girls are fake lesbians for men. If they really are that's fine, but they love threesomes. And men that say they love threesomes only mean when it's a man and two women. If it's the other way and they want a man then they're really just gay. So, all three-ways I'm basically just suspicious of. I don't know that there's a natural, good way to have a threesome. Even if it's all three the same sex . I don't want to be the lettuce, you know? If I'm with somebody then I don't want somebody else, and if I'm the third person then I'm just getting used. So, I'm basically anti-threesomes. There's my morals.

You once said you were 100% gay but only 20% in the gay community. What's that mean?

Did I say that? I probably did. Well, here's the thing. I'm gay-ly incorrect. I said I've felt more at home in a punk rock bar than a gay bar. But if any politician said they were against gay marriage I'd hate them, even though I think it's ludicrous and have no desire to entertain a corny hetero tradition. But straight gay people should be allowed to do it. I don't like separatism of any kind. My friends are all kinds of people. I couldn't stand to be with all gay people, or all any type of people. It's like preaching to the converted, and what fun is that? Young people are much better at that. Young people don't even go out on dates anymore -- they go out as a gang together. Like six people go out together and they don't call that a date, and I think that's much healthier in a way.

I live in Provincetown which is a totally gay place but I'm gay-ly incorrect. I don't fit in. I like the people that I hang around with, and minorities that don't even fit in their own minorities. I like the people who find the humor in their sexuality, whatever it is. I vote gay. 100% gay.

You must not vote very often.

Well, I don't mean I vote for gay PEOPLE, I vote gay like how you vote black. I don't vote for gay people but for gay politics.

That must be getting tougher.

It is but it's very stupid. Bush won because they were smarter and they used gay marriage. You should've gotten gay marriage after Kerry won, not before, but they used that. Show that in the Midwestern America, show Provincetown where it was legal. Show gay people making out and finally getting married. Just show that picture.

I mean, I say 'Good for them! They have just as much of a right to fuck up their relationship as anyone else.' At the same time, it was stupid to make that politics. I kept saying to gay magazines that Iraq is more important than this. Win the election, then you'll get that. No problem, you'll just get to do it one day. All [the Right] had to do was show any pictures of men kissing or getting married and people would vote for Bush because of it. They just show all those pictures. And why are people threatened by that? I don't get it, but they are.

The Democrats are really stupid. They're talking about running Hillary, which is stupid. I love Hillary, but people hate her. I'd vote for her, but we would really lose. I like her, Bill Clinton's my favorite president that we've ever had since I've been alive. However, she will lose. If they're even talking about it then they didn't learn their lesson.

What is the dirtiest thing that you can think of, because, as John Waters, it's in the running for dirtiest thought of all time?

In the NC-17 version of a Dirty Shame, in the commentary, I talk about the one thing Johnny Knoxville wouldn't say he would do in the movie: blossoms. Blossoms are . this is repellant, they compare them on Websites . Blossoms are if you're into being fist-fucked and your ass is inside out, like a cauliflower. There are Websites where people trade back and forth pictures of bigger blossoms. That's beyond my pale, as they say.

So you draw the line there?

Well, I put it in my movie .

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