Serial Mom: Cult legend Mink Stole reflects on making John Waters’ comedy masterpiece
If you’re a fan of the great John Waters (and if you’re not, may we kindly suggest you take a long walk off the shortest pier you can find), then you are aware of his stable of performers, the collection of freaks and goons and comedy geniuses who Waters has steadily employed since he first starting smashing cinema taboos in late ’60s Baltimore.
But outside of the late transvestite icon Divine, Waters’ steadiest and most beloved movie muse is the amazing Mink Stole, who has essayed a dizzying array of bizarre characters of every persuasion in every single film Waters has ever made, from the filthy Connie Marble in Pink Flamingos to the tormented Dottie Hinkle in Serial Mom and beyond. And did you know she was also an accomplished torch singer? True story…
In honor of the release of Scream Factory‘s lovely looking and sounding Blu-ray release of Waters’ mainstream (and yet defiantly ANTI-mainstream) comedy masterpiece Serial Mom, we had the chance to speak with Stole, a gift we jumped at receiving. In Serial Mom, Stole plays poor Dottie Hinkle, one of the victims of psycho suburban mom Beverly Sutphin (Kathleen Turner). Daily, without fail, Beverly crank calls Dottie and growls a torrent of sexually-volatile expletives that virtually shock the confused and tormented Dottie to the point of distraction. All of this because she scooped a parking spot from Beverly at the mall…
Pound for perverse pound, ounce for icky ounce, Serial Mom might just be Waters’ best movie. And Stole’s performance is a dry comedy masterclass.
ComingSoon.net: I just found out about your album and that you perform this sophisticated cabaret music. Are you still actively doing music?
Mink Stole: I still am, but not nearly as much as I was and that’s just kind of circumstantial. Every time I get really started getting into music again, something drags me away from it. And unfortunately for me, even though I work with some amazing musicians, they all work other places and with other bands. So it becomes logistically difficult to get the band together. But yes, I still am involved in music.
CS: When John brings you into one of his movies, has he written parts exclusively for you?
Stole: I think in the early days, the first films, he did, yes. He wrote all those parts for me. I think right up into Serial Mom, in fact. I think he wrote Dottie for me. He knows my voice, he knows how I can speak and knows the changes I can make. After Serial Mom, I don’t think he wrote anything specific for me. I think after Divine died, it became harder for him to write for anyone specifically.
CS: How did that affect you when Divine passed?
Stole: It was devastating. We all were devastated. It was a time of euphoria because of Hairspray. It had just opened and gotten wonderful reviews and Divine had gotten wonderful reviews and I had reconciled — well, I shouldn’t say reconciled because we were never estranged — but Divine and I hadn’t been in touch for several years because Divine was in Europe making music and was huge over there. But making Hairspray was a wonderful time and the filming of it was — except for the horrible heat — really fun. So it was amazing to get the good reviews and I loved the movie, it was so good. And then, in the midst of all this “Yay! Hooray!”… Divine dies. It was an awful shock. And I saw how it affected John and I think it affected him more deeply than anyone else on the planet, because they were such a team. They were such a force in each others life. It was a bad time.
CS: But to end on Hairspray, which was a breakthrough for the gang… that was something.
Stole: Yeah, I mean, he went out on the way up. Better than going out on the way down.
CS: On the back-end of the Serial Mom Blu-ray, there’s that great sit down with you, Kathleen and John just sharing stories about the making of the movie. At one point John mentions that Serial Mom was the only time you guys ever really had any real money to make a movie. Did having increased pressures of a bigger budget hinder the creative process?
Stole: (Laughs) Oh no, I don’t think money every hinders the creative process (laughs more). No, honey, money never ever hurts. It was lovely to have money. I was not living in Baltimore at the time, I was living in Los Angeles and so I was able to stay at a lovely hotel. There were perks that only money can give you. Craft services had more than crackers and peanut butter. We had actual chairs to sit in. You know, it was a pleasure to work on a movie with the budget.
CS: And the suits left John alone, pretty much?
Stole: Pretty much. And you know, this was the first film that I can remember in which John kept telling me to tone down my acting, to bring it down. And this was shocking to me. I was like, “but this is me!” I have always acted in this sort of larger than life way. I’m thankful he did that, because if I didn’t make it a more subtle performance I would have stood out like a sore thumb.
CS: Indeed, Dottie is muted for you. She’s in a reactive state the entire movie until she loses it at the end. It’s a very controlled and funny performance.
Stole: Yes. And I love that end scene. There’s just something so amazing about having the freedom to say to someone, who was probably one of the most popular actresses in the world at that time, “you c**ksucker pig f**ker!” You know… this is not something everyone gets to do! Kathleen was amazing to work with. She was in a good mood every day and was having the time of her life.
CS: She seems so sweet in that video on the Blu-ray…
Stole: She was always like that. A lovely woman. She would host poker parties at her apartment. She enjoyed being here. She enjoyed being among us. By us I mean also Sam Waterston and Matthew Lillard too, who I saw recently by the way and is just looking fabulous. No, she was a pleasure every minute I worked with her.
CS: Why did you come back home to Baltimore?
Stole: It was time. And it was a good decision. I don’t regret it.
CS: Do you get mobbed at the supermarket?
Stole: (laughs) Oh God no! John is a big hero here. I’m practically invisible. Fans come up to me anywhere but Baltimore. I go out with John periodically and people fawn all over him and he’ll introduce me and they’ll go,” Oh yeah, hey” and then ignore me. So when he’s in the room I’m totally invisible.
CS: On that same interview, you say that back in your heyday people wondered “Who are these people? Where do they go after dark?” Were you guys really just a normal bunch of art kids?
Stole: Welllll… pretty normal except we took a lot of drugs. Never while we were working. Ever. But we took drugs and were anti-establishment without being militant so we considered ourselves counter-culture, but we did not identify as hippies. We called ourselves freaks. I was wearing black fingernail polish in 1967. Now it’s normal. Then people would stop me on the street..
CS: You know, every time I see John or hear him interviewed or speak… he seems so happy. Is he?
Stole: John has a lovely life. He built his life. The man has an imagination that will not quit and endless energy. He wakes up and creates every day. I find him astonishing.
CS: And how about you? Are you happy with your life?
Stole: My life? Well, I tell ya. There are days I wake up and think I’m the luckiest person in the world and others, well, not so much. Depends on if I have to do the laundry…