John Waters is having a great time. The musical adaptation of Hairspray! finally delivered on the promise of a network bringing Broadway to a live presentation. He’s having an adult summer camp in Kent, Connecticut. He’s on tour. He’s got a new bestselling book in Make Trouble. His underrated classic about the perfect housewife’s dark secret gets the Scream Factory Blu-ray treatment with Serial Mom: Collector’s Edition arrives on May 9.
The film features what appears to be a normal Sutphin family with Kathleen Turner (Body Heat),
Sam Waterston (Law & Order), Ricki Lake (Hairspray) and Matthew Lillard (Shaggy in Scooby-Doo). Except we quickly learn that the mother has a thing for serial killers and loves making obscene phone calls to her neighbor Mink Stole (Female Troubles. But very quickly mom joins her idols with her killing ways. The movie also features Patty Hearst, Traci Lords, Suzanne Somers, Joan Rivers and the music of Barry Manilow.
I had a chance to call Mink Stole and ask a few questions that didn’t involve her body parts. She’s been part of John Waters’ films since the very start. The conversation turned to how the bonus features help elevate a film because they give context to the film. I asked how she felt about the bonus features on Serial Mom:
“I think it’s delightful and appropriate and I haven’t seen them yet,” Mink confessed. “I don’t have a Blu-ray player, so my sister is bringing one over this afternoon so I can see the bonus features.” She is excited that John’s films still have a following and new fans discover them every year. “I’m always amazed. Well that’s kind of untrue, I’m not amazed, I’m almost always overwhelmed by the fact that people care about anything we did as children.”
More importantly, Mink is excited that Serial Mom is getting a Collector’s Edition. “I think Serial Mom is John’s absolute best film. I just watched it and it holds hope,” she said.
We both agreed that this is one of Kathleen Turner’s finest performances in a career that includes Body Heat, Crimes of Passion, Romancing the Stone, Prizzi’s Honor and The War of the Roses. I was willing to put in Turner’s Top Five.
“At least. if not one of her top two,” Mink declared. “She’s wonderful.”
Mink’s assessment of Turner being so wonderful extended beyond the screen. The Oscar nominated actress has a major fan in Baltimore.
“I loved working with her,” Mink gushed. “She was fun. She was there. She knew her lines. She was cheerful and having a really good time. She was absolutely not difficult at all. She was easy. It’s like she had walked in from next door. She immediately fit in. She did not separate herself from the rest of us. She hosted parties. She had people over to play Poker, she was great.”
We ended up talking about how John Waters isn’t a conventional director since so much of the cast between his films are his friends. The fact that he shoots in Baltimore and not Hollywood soundstages makes his movies more than just showbiz gigs. Anyone brought into one of John’s films are taking part in social scene. How does this feel for an outsider arriving on John’s turf?
“I think it’s a very welcoming atmosphere for an actress,” said Mink. “Not everybody takes to it. Sam Waterston, who is amazing in the movie and whom I admire enormously, did not automatically become family. Ricki Lake did. When she came to do Hairspray, she was immediately welcomed and became part of the family. Some people do and some people don’t. Some people come in to do the job and get out, and that’s how they think of it. That doesn’t mean they do a bad job. They can still do a perfectly wonderful job with that attitude. Kathleen came in and became family.”
A person who had joined John’s film family in Cry-Baby was Patty Hearst. The granddaughter of publisher William Randolph Hearst became a figure in the ’70s when she was kidnapped by terrorists and brainwashed into joining them on bank robberies. Waters was fascinated by her and ended up getting her to act in his films. I asked Mink what it was like when Patty arrived on the set after nearly two decades since her plight made headlines.
“At first I was awestruck,” Mink replied. “You get over it really fast when you share a dressing room with somebody. You get over the awe when you’re working together and you’re seeing people changing clothes. It’s hard to be awestruck at somebody when you see them in their underpants. Patti and I shared a dressing room on Cry-Baby. I saw her in her underpants. She was also incredibly lovely. She was happy to be there and enjoying herself enormously. She did not hold herself apart. “Please don’t talk to me, I’m a famous person.” There was none of that.”
Were there people who had that superstar attitude when they arrived in Baltimore?
“You kinda can’t,” Mink admits. “It doesn’t really work. Anyone that does have it, doesn’t tend to come back to be in another movie. It’s not like there was another movie that starred Kathleen, had John had one for her, she would have said yes. I bet we all would have been happy to see her.”
Perhaps one of the most amazing things about John Waters is how he can be the man who made outrageous Pink Flamingos yet families gathered around the TV set to enjoy Hairspray as a live musical. Is it strange to have John go from the midnight movie to the matinee that an 8 year old can embrace?
“The things was, Hairspray is still just as subversive as Multiple Maniacs. It just doesn’t have any sex in it. The sex is kissing. It’s sanitized for kids. There’s also no profanity. That’s the only real difference. There’s still subversion, it’s just activities and language that’s different. I happen to love the film. It has moments of such sweetness that just take my breath away. Take about the F-bombs and genitalia exposure and it’s the same thing. It’s absolutely John sensibilities, just not vulgar.”
Baltimore is as much a character in John’s movie as anyone played by Divine, Mink Stole, David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pearce, Edith Massey and Traci Lords. Mink is a Baltimore native. How does she view Charm City?
“Baltimore is a city of neighbors and we’re very cliquish,” Mink says. “When I moved back to Baltimore ten years ago, I moved back to the street I grew up on. I can look across the street at the house I was conceived in. It was coincidental. I’m very comfortable here. My roots are deep. Baltimore is a city of contrast. We have beautiful areas, I fortunately live in one, and we have awful blight. There are neighborhoods in Baltimore I won’t go in at night. But I’ll go in during the day.”
Many people visit Baltimore to spot the locations used in John’s various films. How does Mink do in giving impromptu tours of the old locations?
“I almost never can. When I was rewatching Serial Mom, I kept trying to figure out where her house was. I just don’t remember the neighborhood. It’s been so long. I remember going there, but I just don’t remember where it is exactly. It’s the suburbs.”
In a strange sense of timing, the release of Serial Mom: Collector’s Edition arrives as Barry Manilow goes public that he’s gay. Manilow’s music plays a memorable role as Turner blasts Manilow’s “Daybreak” at an odd time. Was this a fortuitous coincidence for Serial Mom‘s new release?
“Why not?” Mink said. “I kinda think it is because people who don’t normally listen to Barry Manilow might hear it. I’m thrilled for Barry that he fells finally at the age of 73 safe enough to declare himself to a world that already knew and doesn’t care.”
We joked about how Manilow became part of the John Waters universe by being part of the soundtrack.
“As is Pat Sajak and Wheel of Fortune.” But then Mink quickly added, “I actually like Barry Manilow. It’s very toe tappy.”
Tags: John Waters, Mink Stole, Serial Mom