Interview: Mink Stole
By Joseph Erbentraut in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 11, 2010 5:20PM
Here at Chicagoist, we have a deep fascination with bizarro, pencil-mustachioed director John Waters, and it is only natural that adoration extends to one of the most talented actors from the wacky ensemble that starred in cult classics such as Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble: Mink Stole.
And though many of her scenes in Waters' films are undeniable classics for film geeks and quirky types alike, Stole's career has cast a wide net in the four decades that have passed since her first film role, even as she's avoided mainstream features in favor of independent projects.
In her latest effort, All About Evil, a "black comedy, horror film" directed by Joshua Grannell and starring Natasha Lyonne and Thomas Dekker, Stole plays a pesky librarian. The film premieres in Chicago this Saturday, Aug. 14, in a special midnight event - featuring Stole and Grannell's drag alter-ego Peaches Christ - performing live - at the Music Box Theatre. Just prior to Stole's arrival in the Windy City, we spoke with the Baltimore-based cult film legend.
Chicagoist: How are you doing, Mink?
Mink Stole: I'm excited. I'm getting ready to go into the recording studio with my band. It's the first album I've ever done, so I'm looking very forward to that.
C: Tell me more about the album and what we can expect of it.
MS: [The album] is the thing I'm most excited about ever, because it's basically mine and not something that someone else is doing. I've chosen all the songs and have a Wonderful Band - that's what I call them! They're terrific musicians and help me a lot but it's ultimately my project. All of the songs have some kind of meaning to me and there's a lot of variation with different kinds of music presented on it.
C: So, in addition to that, you are touring the nation presenting your latest film with Joshua Grannell, All About Evil, which is set to come into Chicago Saturday. I read you agreed to be in the film before even reading the script. Are there many directors you will do that for?
MS: Not that many, but I have known Joshua for many years. He does Midnight Mass in San Francisco and I was his very first live guest. My experience from the beginning to the end of that guest appearance was so spectacular - he was so professional and put on such an amazing show... When I walked into the theater, they had a giant Peggy Gravel stirring a pot of rabies potion! I went back to the show several times. I knew if he was involved with the film, it was going to be a good production. It was an automatic yes.
C: But still, you should be careful! I understand things don't turn out so well for your character in this film.
MS: Well, you have to know what my history is. About 12 years ago, I made a film with Natasha Lyonne called But I'm a Cheerleader. I played her mother, Bud Cort played her father and we suspected her of being a lesbian, so we sent her away to a "make you straight" camp. In All About Evil, she gets back at me. It's really lovely to see her looking well and happy. She's wonderful to work with.
C: How did working with Joshua compare to your infamous "partner in crime," John Waters?
MS: Every director has his or her own way of working and Joshua was incredibly professional. It was like working with John later on, but not the early John, when we had very little crew and did everything in master shot. They're completely different directors and Joshua was never afraid to tell me what he wanted. It was a fun shoot.
I don't enjoy working on every movie I've worked on. Some of them are hard. And this one was hard because a lot of it consisted of night shoots. It's difficult going to work at 5 in the evening and working until 7 in the morning! But we had a good time and got the work done. That to me is the mark of a competent director - they make sure the work gets done.
C: That's interesting. Having worked on so many films with so many different directors and productions, do you have any pet peeves that have emerged from the filmmaking industry?
MS: It depends, my least favorite thing is working with a script that isn't good or a director who doesn't know what they're doing. I'm not naming names because it's not fair, but first-time directors don't quite understand that you don't spend four hours to get one scene at the expense of the six scenes that follow it. If you don't get the six next scenes, you don't have a movie! I've never disliked anybody I've worked with, though.
My other biggest gripe I would have to say is the crafts services. There should always be celery! The crafts service is usually filled with salty and sugary food. It's happened over and over again and you don't want to feel bloated and puffy while you're shooting. Sometimes I'll request it and they'll give it to me, but everyone else sees it and takes it so there's never enough. I'm not quite a diva enough to say they can't have it. I'm not quite that nasty.
Below: A scene from Pink Flamingos (1972) featuring Stole as Connie Marble telling off an unsatisfactory job applicant. Warning: NSFW language.
C: Really? I think you've earned the right to at least a bit of divahood. Especially when celery's involved. Do you enjoy watching your films? Are there some you watch more than others?
MS: Usually I watch them once or twice and that's enough, but it depends. Some films I'm quite comfortable watching and over the years I've had to see some of my early films many times for various reasons. I enjoy watching Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble not so much for myself, but because it's almost like home movies, seeing so many of my friends that are no longer with me.
With more recent films, I'll watch them and the first time I can only look at myself and I can only be critical and it can frustrating or even painful, but there's nothing you can do to change it. I think most actors are like that. But after watching it once or twice, then I'm OK with not seeing it again. When I go to a screening, I will go into the lobby or have a cup of coffee, whether I like the film or not. I've already seen it.
C: I assume you won't be making too much of an effort to watch All About Evil on repeat, since I heard you're not a big fan of gore or horror.
MS: I'm not! Fake blood scares me! I'm terrified of it and don't enjoy it. I avoid roller coasters and don't drive really fast. I'm not a thrillseeker. With All About Evil, though, I knew bad things happened to me so they're not horrifying to me, but the movie is very funny, too. Even the goriest moments of the movie have their moments.
C: You've become a bit of a legend of so-called "indie" films, particularly many with gay themes. Do you ever feel typecast or constrained by that, in terms of getting other, more mainstream, dramatic types of roles?
MS: I was recently in a movie called Stuck!, a women-in-prison film I did with Steve Balderson in Georgia last year. That was a bit more dramatic and yes, I very much enjoyed it. But I would love to do some film noir - Stuck! come about as close to that as anything I've ever done. I usually get mother of the gay, aunt of the gay, grandma of the gay as a role I get pulled into quite a bit.
C: What will make you say "no" to a screenplay?
MS: I don't say "no" to very many things, just a few things. But I like to work and enjoy acting. I enjoy being on a movie set. So, even if it's a project that may not be as fabulous or a script that may not be the best, I'll probably still do it if I'm not doing something else at the time. I'd rather be working.
C: Are there any directors or other actors at the top of your dream list of people to work with?
MS: I wish I could remember names! I'm really bad with them, so I can't say because I'll say the wrong ones. I'll tell you whose career I envy is Julianne Moore and everyone she's worked with. She's had a really terrific career and is an actress I'm really amazed by. I just saw The Kids Are All Right and I'm also constantly amazed by Annette Bening, whom I've enjoyed since The Grifters where she blew my mind. But I'll work with just about anybody.
C: Does the competitiveness surrounding the limited number of solid roles for 45-plus-year-old actresses in Hollywood bother you?
MS: Sure it does. It's unfair, but honestly, if you were to show me the face of any number of young actresses on the covers of magazines these days, I would have no idea who they are. They all basically look alike. We're infatuated with these 4- and 6- and 12-year-olds and so obsessed with youth that there's a real danger of losing the perspective of the little bits of wisdom those of us past a certain age have accumulated.
One of the reasons I was so impressed by Annette in this movie is you can tell she's not had any surgery. She is photographed from unflattering angles and she looks so real and so beautiful. I really love that and I'm hoping that we will see more films with women who are allowed to be their age without botoxing themselves and doing facial freezes. There seems to be a perception that the public at large is not interested in seeing women past a certain age. I mean, if I really tart myself up, have on heels and am all done up, I can still turn heads, but if I'm just myself in flip-flops and jeans walking around in my neighborhood, nobody notices me. We become totally invisible.
C: What is one thing about yourself that surprises people to find out?
MS: That I'm nice. I think that really surprises people. I play such nasty people on the screen that for a long time I think people really thought I was like Taffy or Peggy Gravel, like all I do is scream, yell and demand things. They thought I was playing myself! While there are elements of myself in all the characters I play - and I'm capable of throwing a huge hissy fit - that's not what I normally am like. I generally like people until I have a reason not to, and then I'm very capable of cutting them out. I have social scissors. My general instinct, however, is to give people the benefit of the doubt and get along. Life's easier that way.
C: What do you consider to be your proudest achievement to this point in your career?
MS: Let's wait and see how my album comes out, because I think that might be it. This is something I've created on my own, certainly with the help of my band, but this is the thing I decided to make happen myself rather than waiting for a phone call asking if I wanted to be a part of something else. I'll have to wait a few weeks to see how it sounds because I might say, "Oh, you know... Nevermind." But I think I'm going to be very happy with it.
C: Is there anything in particular you're looking forward to doing while you're in Chicago?
MS: I have never been to the Art Institute and don't know if I'll have time, but I'd really like to make it there if there is. I like being out on the street in Chicago. It's got the energy of a big, bustling city but without the hostility. It's friendly, pleasant and attractive. I've always had a great time there.
All About Evil: The Peaches Christ Experience in 4-D, Saturday, Aug. 14 at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave. The screening is both preceded and followed by parties at Berlin, 954 W. Belmont. Click here for tickets and more information.