John Waters Talks Rats, Tennessee Williams, and This Filthy World
By Shirrel Rhoades
Cooke Communication Film Critic
Mink Stole has appeared in every single movie made by John Waters (but one). But when I knew her she went by the name of Nancy. She was my receptionist in the late ‘70s, never mentioning that she’d just starred in “Desperate Living.” But I recognized her when I went to see the John Waters masterpiece in a neighborhood art house.
You’ll remember “Desperate Living,” the funky film that opens with a cooked rat on a dinner plate. It’s Mink’s hands serving up this tasty repast.
“We actually cooked that rat,” John Waters laughed when talking with me about his upcoming visit to Key West. He’ll be doing his monologue, “This Filthy World,” on November 14th at the San Carlos. It will immediately follow the screening of the Jeffrey Schwarz film, “I Am Divine.”
With Waters’ gaunt features and pencil-thin moustache, he might remind you at first glance of actor Steve Buscemi. “People are always saying to me, ‘I loved you in Fargo,”” chuckles Waters. One year he actually used Buscemi’s photo on his Christmas card. “It’s an old joke between us. His wife thinks it’s hilarious.”
John Waters says he’s looking forward to coming back to Key West. He used to visit often, back when his star Divine was here.
“I used to walk past Tennessee Williams’ house,” he reminisces. “But I never met him.”
He pauses. “I did see him one night with a bunch of people in a restaurant. But he looked very inebriated, so I decided that was not the night to meet him.”
Waters credits Tennessee Williams as changing his life. “He really did save my life when I was a boy.” He came across a book by Williams in the library. It showed him there was indeed another world out there, different from the drab existence he knew.
Perhaps it was “This Filthy World,” the place he likes to talk about in his stand-up show.
“But now I want to be an insider because everybody else wants to be an outsider,” he quips.
John Waters has been described as a filmmaker, actor, stand-up comedian, journalist, visual artist, and art collector. But just how does he see himself? “I think a writer,” he decides on the spur. “I’d never make a movie I didn’t write.” From his screenplays to his monologues to his books, “I write my spoken words.”
His upcoming book is titled “Carsick.” He tells of his adventures hitchhiking across America at age 66. “I’d forgotten you sometimes stand there for ten hours waiting for a car.” He made the trip with 21 rides over 10 days.
He only saw one other hitchhiker along the way, following Route 70. He urged his driver not to stop. “I didn’t want to share,” he says, holding back a smile.
Was hitchhiking ever scary? Only in his imagination, detailed in the opening chapters of the book. “I’m afraid to stay home,” he counters. “I have a fear of NOT flying.”
Relaxing in a posh London hotel as we talked, his surroundings were quite different from those he endured on the road. He began naming the best and worst roadside motels -- but looked quite content with Covent Gardens where he was taking a break from his non-stop travel schedule.
Will he visit the Tennessee Williams exhibit while in Key West, paying his respect to his unmet mentor? We’ll see. That brings the conversation back to our mutual friend Mink Stole, who is currently starring in a play by Tennessee Williams -- a dark comedy called “The Mutilated.”
“We talk all the time,” he says of Mink Stole. But promised to email her right away to tell her he’d met someone she used to work with.
As for John Waters, he likes doing things on his own terms -- such as his stand-up routine. “I’ve had some great stuff happen in my life,” he grins. “This is all gravy.”