Unconventional auteur John Waters talks hitchhiking, filth, cosmetics and Lady Gaga with Michael Adams.
Waters might be 67 but the man who became infamous making underground bad taste movies like Pink Flamingos and Desperate Living before finding mainstream comic success with Hairspray, Cry Baby and Serial Mom is busier than ever writing books, creating art and doing one-man shows.
Your book Carsick is about you hitchhiking across America. What inspired that journey?
I always need an adventure. My life is very organised, very controlled. So I thought, “Do I have the nerve at my age?” As Brigid Berlin, my favourite Warhol star, once said to me, “How can we be bad at 70?” It’s such a hilarious question. But people who rebelled always want to rebel, even when they’re old. I hitchhiked a lot when I was young but I certainly didn’t hitchhike across the country and I certainly didn’t do it when I was this old – and especially in a time when there’s no such thing as hitchhikers. I never saw another one the whole way. Most people thought I was a homeless man. Which I kinda was.
Who was the most memorable ride?
A Republican kid who was going to have lunch in his mother’s Corvette at the Subway sandwich shop in western Maryland. He picked me up. He had no idea who I was. I kept talking and he drove me to Ohio. His parents were freaking out. He drove back home but kept checking on me. When I got stuck, he texted “I’m coming to get you.” I thought it was a joke. I made it to Denver and there he was – he’d driven 80 miles an hour for 48 hours to catch up with me.
You’ve always been fascinated by celebs acting wildly. Who’s your favourite these days?
Justin! Fuck One Direction – I’m still a Justin Bieber fan. I love it when he acts all black. I talk a lot about Justin in my show. I went on Christmas Day – alone – to see the new documentary and it was great.
Are you a Miley Cyrus fan, too?
I never say negative things about people so I’ll just say I feel nothing about her. I don’t think anything she does seems new to me.
What about Lady Gaga?
I love her – she’s the hardest-working woman in showbusiness and she gives all the gay kids in seventh grade the chance to be powerful. God, what a fashion example she is for kids everywhere!
Speaking of style, how’d you arrive at your signature look?
You mean my moustache – not my receding hairline! I just always wanted to look like a pimp or Little Richard or a store detective in a bad 1930s movie. But I could never grow it thick enough until my friend Mink Stole’s sister said, “Just draw it on a bit.” It was the wonders of a Maybelline eyebrow pencil that gave me an iconic look.
Have they ever asked you to be a brand ambassador?
No, and I’m mad! I know the woman who does the Maybelline ads. She’s said to me they won’t have me because they’re so mainstream. But I really want to do their ad – I never leave my house without a Maybelline eyebrow pencil. I throw them into the audience at my shows.
Didn’t Justin Bieber draw a moustache on himself when he met you?
He did! What a lovely thing that was for him to do. I was in all the papers in London.
Have you got any style advice for Australian gentlemen?
I don’t think Australian men need my advice. I’ve seen so many handsome men when I’ve been there and they seem to have a great sense of humour about themselves. To me Australia seems like the best of Baltimore.
You’re not on FB or Twitter. Why?
I have 10-hour workdays. I have friends. I say this in my show: the only reason people go on Facebook is to find people they used to have sex with and see what they look like now. And I’ve already stalked those people’s homes for years.
Have you embraced the “golden age of television”?
I have TVs in my houses but I almost never turn them on. I’m not being a snob. I think TV is better than movies today in America but I just like to read at night. The TV on makes me nervous.
You’ve been trying to get your kids’ movie satire Fruitcake financed for a while now. Any progress?
I’m still trying to make it. I’m not saying I won’t. But I have many careers I like just as much and are just as important to me. My last book Role Models was a bestseller in America. I started with underground movies that caused trouble and I ended with a Hollywood movie about sex addicts that got an NC-17 rating. Maybe I have made my last movie. If I have, I’m fine with that.