Exclusive interview with cult icon John Waters

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John Waters is back with Carsick, a hilarious (if not always 100% true) account of hitchhiking fearlessly into the heart of middle America.

CultBox writer Alice Woordward phoned the American filmmaker, actor, writer and visual artist at his home for a chat about the book and everything from Vincent Price, RuPaul’s Drag Race and crowdsourcing to Zandra Rhodes, his fondness for London and his upcoming art show. Then accidentally sent him to Rochester.

> Buy Carsick on Amazon.


Hi John, thank you very much for talking to CultBox. I want to talk to you about your latest book, Carsick. I loved it!

“Thank you, I think it comes out in paperback shortly.”


What I really enjoyed was how unusual it was in its structure; part travel diary, part fiction, with the imagined sections of the story.

“The reason I did that was because everyone I knew was so horrified, but it gave me the idea, well, what could happen that bad?! What do I think is going to happen for real, then I started to imagine the worst fears and the very best things that could happen. And I wrote all that before I left.

“I’m glad I did it that way because once I had gone and did know what it was like, I don’t know if I would have been able to write the fantasy version. So to me each of those chapters seemed like a movie; they felt very much like one of my movies to me.”




I think people do that quite a lot, imagine how things will be and go through the best and worst case scenarios, but not that many people actually write about it. I like the story where you talk about about getting food poisoning and crapping yourself; not something people write about often, but a genuine fear!

“That is the worst thing that could happen if you were hitchhiking, one would think of diarrhea or getting murdered! You can’t just pull over and go to a rest area! It would be embarrassing. It was a fear, mercifully neither happened.”


Glad to hear it. I also wanted to ask about the fantasy with the drug dealer who gives you 5 million dollars for a new film.

“Well in the early days of my films, pot dealers would give me money, they didn’t give me that much money. And I paid them all back, and I think the statute of limitations is up on that one.”


They can be generous souls you know.

“Yes, they can – there are probably many legal backers in Maryland who are not. So it was kind of a fantasy that was based on a tiny clip of reality.”


Well, I know you’ve been trying to get funding for your next feature, and I wondered if you had tried crowdsourcing, because you have such a fan base; you would have the money in no time.

“I have three houses and a summer rental, I can’t beg!”


Is that what it is?

“It seems like it to me. I was pretty good at panhandling when I was young, but to do that…I dunno. I’m not against people doing it, good for them, and I probably could do it that way. No, my days for doing that are over. My panhandling days are over.”


John Waters


You’ve spoken about Fruitcake being your next film project…

“I don’t know that it will be anymore because I was trying to make it for years. No, I can’t be pregnant for seven years, it’s the only time I’m pro-life, I don’t want an abortion. If I could have it anally, straight to video…”


That would be pretty punk-rock.

“I think trekking across America was more punk rock!”


At the moment though it says on IMDB there’s something called Kiddie Flamingos that you are working on?

“OH, IMDB IS SO WRONG! Well, I did make it, but I don’t consider that my next movie at all. It was this show I had, and it’s going to be in this art show in the UK in June.”


You’re having an art show?

“Yes, but I can’t really talk about it yet. I rewrote Pink Flamingos for children, took all the dirty things out, then had all the children read it like a table reading. But it’s not a film, it’s an art piece from my show in New York.”


And that’s what you’re bringing to the UK?

“Yes. I think.”


Pink Flamingos Divine


Well, because it’s Pink Flamingos, I think it’s just like a fairy story from hundreds of years ago.

“Yeah, you take the dirty stuff away, a lot of the children’s bestsellers are about grossness in a way, and the kids love Divine. I mean, she was just like a big clown in Pink Flamingos, so I think it works as a children’s movie.

“The weirdness is the children don’t know the original, and have never seen it, and the fans and adults who are watching it know all the dirty parts, and it makes them especially perverted and the children especially innocent.”


Yeah, but children don’t know what’s dirty until you tell them, really.

“I agree!”


Does it feel weird as such a cult figure to have crossed the line from complete outsider to national treasure in America?

“Well, I didn’t call myself that, but I think it’s much more perverse today to be an insider than an outsider. No one thinks it’s an insult any more. I was a real outsider when no one wanted to be considered that, now it’s much more devious to be an insider, it’s somehow defying the establishment.”


I would love to see you do more TV appearances…

“Are you kidding!? I do them all the time!”


Well, I know you are guest judging on RuPaul’s Drag Race this season.

“I am yes!”


I’m really excited about that by the way!

“Thank you, it was a lot of fun doing it.”


RuPaul's Drag Race


It’s like a weird mainstream version of what you and Divine were doing…

“It’s amazing how incredibly popular it is, the ratings and everything, it’s a real hit. I’m happy for him, he’s been doing this kind of stuff for a long time, I’m very happy for his success.”


I wanted to ask you if there is any new music you like, as there is a playlist that goes along with the new book.

“I can go look at my CDs if you hold on…”

[John goes downstairs to look through his CDs.]

“Let me see what I was listening to last night. I was listening to Bjork’s new one, St. Vincent, Zola Jesus, Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield sing Elliott Smith, which was quite good. Future Islands and an old album by The Killers. That was what was on last night.

“Okay, now I’m going back upstairs.”


We cover a lot of British cult TV and films on CultBox; I wondered if there were any you particularly liked?

“Well, there are, but I sort of can’t really say that because I’m sort of having this tribute at the BFI this coming year, and I’m going to pick a lot of these movies for that, it’s not announced yet.

“So yes, I’m a big fan of British movies. The one I’ve shown most is Boom, with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. It’s one of those films that’s almost perfect, but also atrocious.”




I thought you might be into Hammer Horror or something, I know you love your B movies.

“No, the horror films when I was growing up, I loved William Castle more.”


Yeah, I love The Tingler!

“I just narrated this tribute for Turner Classic Movies about Vincent Price. I was a huge fan of his, definitely. And he called me when he was alive, because I was in a documentary about William Castle, saying some nice things and he called to thank me which I thought was so nice.”


That’s very gentlemanly.

“Yes, Vincent was a gentleman, and his daughter who wrote a very good book about him, she was very lovely too.”


Has anything ever shocked you? It’s really hard to imagine you being shocked by anything.

“Oh, I’m shocked by stupid people and romantic comedies and racists and gross 80 million dollar Hollywood movies. And I was shocked when I was doing a picture for a British paper in the US, I made a sign that said ‘London’ and someone offered to pick me up!”


It sounds like you are spending a lot of time here this year.

“I’m coming a couple of different times, yes, so I’m excited about that. It’s the only place I ever go on vacation. I take one week a year and I go on vacation to London.”


John Waters


I saw you at the Southbank Centre the last time you were here with Carsick. Zandra Rhodes was sat next to me in the audience!

“Oh, I love Zandra! You know Divine used to live with Zandra for a long time.”


Really? In America or the UK?

“When Divine was in the UK, when he had those records that were hits. My mother and I had dinner at Zandra’s house, my mother loves Zandra. She’s marvelous.

“She’s been to my house in Baltimore and everything. She’s just been named a lady or something right? She should be the queen.”


I look forward to you coming to London.

“I’m just glad, London is the last place that has newspapers and bookshops and I look forward to coming.”


Have you been to the biggest second hand book shop in the UK?

“I don’t think so, which one?”


It’s called Baggins, it’s in Rochester and I have daydreams of taking you on a trip there. It’s huge and weird and the ceiling leaks.

“I’ll definitely try and take a trip there. I’m going to write that down and go.”


> Follow Alice Woodward on Twitter.