The career of John Waters has spanned five decades, during which he’s seemingly done and seen it all.
He’s had cult film success, followed by mainstream success. Earlier this year, he released the book Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America, about his personal journey hitchhiking across the United States. And on Tuesday, Dec. 2, Waters will show locals his skills as a spoken-word performer, when he brings A John Waters Christmas to the McCallum Theatre.
John Waters made his first short film, Hag in a Black Leather Jacket, in 1964. The 17-minute film featured a black man and a white woman getting married on a rooftop in a ceremony led by a Ku Klux Klan member. Waters followed that up with films including Roman Candles, Mondo Trasho and The Diane Linkletter Story, but it was his 1972 film Pink Flamingos that launched Waters and his childhood friend, Glenn Milstead, aka Divine, into fame. Pink Flamingos, made for about $10,000, was an unexpected hit that went on to become a cult classic.
During a recent phone interview, Waters wouldn’t say whether he was surprised by the following he gained thanks to Pink Flamingos and the films that followed.
“My audience has always been technically minorities who didn’t even get along with any other minority,” Waters said. “They were gay people who didn’t want to be accepted—but that’s changed completely now. A lot of my audience now is smart people who are in prison. I’m always amazed now; for my Christmas show last year, my sister was there, and asked, ‘How do you get away with saying all of that shit?’ And no one ever gets mad at me anymore. I think it’s because over the past 50 years, I have never changed that much. I’m not (now) as angry as I (was) when I made Pink Flamingos, (now) at the age of 68, thank God.”
John Waters has usually had to raise the money himself to make his films over the years, which has led to long periods between films. As far as fundraising goes, don’t expect him to start asking for money via sites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo any time soon.
“I’m not going to be asking people to send me $100,” Waters said. “If I was young, that’s definitely how I would have made a movie. I’m all for it—God knows it works for other people. I could get the funds now to make a movie that costs $1 million or $2 million very easily. But my movies don’t cost that; they cost $6 million or $7 million because of the movie stars; I have music in them; and all the unions I work with.
“If you’re young today, it’s much easier to get a movie made. First of all, it’s cheaper to make movies now, and you can make a movie on your cell phone, which is like 8-milimeter when I was young, only it’s a lot better. I think the big Hollywood studios are looking for a 25-year-old who makes the next film that makes people crazy. They weren’t looking for it when I made it, but right now, they are!”
While Waters at first made films primarily starring friends and colleagues from Baltimore, as the years progressed, his movies began featuring Hollywood stars including Kathleen Turner, Tab Hunter, Edward Furlong, Johnny Depp and Johnny Knoxville. He’d love to work with yet other big names, too.
“I’ve always said Meryl Streep, because I’ve loved her in anything,” he said. “I’m also a big fan of Isabelle Huppert, and I think she would make a movie with me, but the problem is I can never figure a way to put someone with a French accent in a movie set in Baltimore. I would have to think of a story where we kidnap someone at the airport.”
During our 10-minute interview, the subject of Edward Furlong came up. The Terminator 2: Judgment Day actor, who was a child star in the ‘90s and who appeared in Waters’ 1998 film Pecker, not too long ago spent two months in prison due to domestic-violence charges.
“We all have our bad days and nights,” Waters said. “He’s not the only one who’s been in one of my movies who’s been in prison. Actually, I think many of them have.”
In 2012, John Waters decided to hitchhike across America. Waters said he never had a moment during which he felt in danger, and he managed to have a number of surprising adventures. He was picked up in Ohio by the indie-band Here We Go Magic, and got a ride from Myersville, Md., Councilman Brett Bidle.
“I didn’t get any creepy rides,” Waters said. “I thought up creepy ones, definitely, or that I’d get murdered. But no one was creepy. I had a cop. I had a truck driver. I had a minster’s wife, a single black woman taking her kid to a daycare center, and a coal-miner.”
I asked him what he has planned for his show at the McCallum.
“I’ve always wanted to do the Christmas show in Palm Springs,” Waters said. “Mostly, because it’s never cold, and I always have to bring the right kind of outfit. My idea of Christmas is the same everywhere: It makes people crazy; it makes people happy; you can’t ignore it; and it’s a steamroller coming at you, so you might as well have fun with it and celebrate the extremes of it—the good parts and the bad parts. I talk about all of that.
“I’ve always wanted to smoke crack and do Christmas carols where I just knock on people’s doors and start shrieking ‘Little Town of Bethlehem’ in their faces. I’ve never smoked crack, but that would be the only time I would.”
What’s the worst Christmas gift John Waters has ever received?
“I remember one year, I got the soundtrack to Rocky, and I threw it out the window. I did live in a high-rise at the time, so that was probably dangerous.”
A John Waters Christmas takes place at 8 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 2, at the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, in Palm Desert. Tickets are $25 to $55. For tickets or more information, call 760-340-2787, or visit www.mccallumtheatre.com.