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John Waters

Film-Maker and Gay National Treasure

by Lawrence Ferber
John Waters by Greg Gorman

The Baltimore-raised Waters also authored a string of hysterically funny, bestselling books, including this year’s Make Trouble and 2015’s hitchhiking diary Carsick among them.

A gay national treasure, film-maker John Waters has brought us campy, shocking, subversive, imminently quotable and iconic works including Pink Flamingo’s (1972), Female Trouble (1974), Polyester (1981), A Dirty Shame (2004), and Serial Mom (1994), the latter of which received a souped-up Blu-ray release in May 2017. His inadvertent mainstream breakthrough, 1988’s Hairspray, is the gift that keeps on giving, spawning a Tonywinning Broadway musical, a 2007 movie adaptation, and 2016’s all-star Hairspray Live! telecast.

The Baltimore-raised Waters also authored a string of hysterically funny, bestselling books, including this year’s Make Trouble and 2015’s hitchhiking diary Carsick among them. His live oneman engagements around the country are deliciously raucous and un-PC. He’s appeared onscreen in numerous documentaries, TV shows, and films, too, most recently FOX’s acclaimed first season of Feud, playing one of his idols, famed movie schlock/gimmick-meister, William Castle.

Happily partnered and working on another book, tentatively titled Mr. Know It All, Waters joined us in the VIP lounge for some dish about his films, the Trumps, Baltimore, and some other global spots.

In a new interview on the Serial Mom Blu-ray, you mention that it could be continued as a TV series in which suburban housewife sociopath Beverly continues to murder people who offend her sensibilities. What kinds of people would meet with death today?
Liars that say they need extra time to get on the plane when they’re boarding [and get on first]. People that dress in their pajamas on airplanes would easily be dragged off and beaten. People who claim to have food issues or are rude to waiters in restaurants. Lots of things.

What about people who use drones?
A drone, no. I actually got one. I won one and then I tried to use it and thought, what am I going to use this for? So I sold it on eBay. I guess it’s good for spying, but there aren’t that many people I’m that curious about to go to that length!

You famously shot all your movies in Baltimore and have a house there. Is the city still as wonderfully ‘filthy’ and special to you as before?
I always thought ‘filthy’ was a good term, and more up to date than trash or camp, so yes. It’s still filthy. We have rats, but we also have great style and humor. It’s a city still cheap enough to have a bohemia, so I like it more than ever. There’s a great music scene, cool kids, and it’s not so expensive, so I think it’s better than ever.

Sort of like Berlin!
I was in Berlin recently, and they had signs saying ‘foreigner go home,’ but [referring to] hipsters because the rents are going up, because so many hipsters are moving in. I bet Albanians and Syrians are so relieved, so glad that they hate somebody else!

In 2015, they closed iconic Baltimore gay club The Hippo and turned it into a CVS. Your thoughts on that? They did, but gay bars are closing everywhere. Isn’t that progress?
Gays don’t want to be ghettoized in a gay bar, they want to hang out with everybody, who cares if you’re gay or straight.

What would Pink Flamingos’ Babs Johnson think of the Trumps? Would she consider them a challenger to the title of Filthiest People Alive?
The Trumps’ real apartment sort of looks like the Johnsons’ trailer—if Jeff Koons did it.

What do you think of the first family?
I think he should be impeached. His musical taste at the inauguration was bad enough, from day one! At the same time I think Mike Pence is probably worse. The whole thing is not funny to me, but it’s good timing for a new student revolution. I don’t understand why any college student would be studying this weekend and not marching somewhere.

Are there any films you’d like to remake?
No. I’d like to do a new one, I guess. The problem with remakes is they remake the good movies. They should remake the bad ones! Why remake something already good? Just improve on the bad ones!

How would you feel about a John Waters biopic? There have been so many amazing stories and episodes in your own life.
There are lots of possibilities for that, but its a tough one because [a lot of the people are] still alive and I care very much about my friends’ reputations and how they are portrayed. I’d probably be overpicky. Wait until I’m dead, and even then I will come back and haunt you from the grave if you make up lies.

Have you ever tried Grindr?
No, but they offered me a job. They said, basically, they did all this research and that most of the people on Grindr aren’t looking for sex, they’re killing time at work or something, so they want to put content with advertising on it. I said no, but I was very flattered they asked. No, I have not used Grindr. First of all it would be a little ludicrous to say, ‘hey, I’m John Waters, come on over!’ It would be a little uncomfortable to do that, because you don’t want to fuck your fans and stuff! At least I don’t.

How has having a boyfriend changed John Waters?
Let’s just say I don’t go out quite as much, but I don’t know that I would anyway. It changed me in a good way and probably made me happier.

You’ve spent summers in Provincetown, Massachusetts since the 1970s. What is a favorite spot there that you recommend for visitors?
I only go to the one straight bar, The Underground, because I like minority bars. But it’s getting ruined because of bachelorette parties. Scream Along With Billy is my favorite thing every Friday night, a great show and great bar with the coolest mixed crowd.

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