Monday, 3 November 2014

Interview with John Waters

MENTION the name John Waters and most people will think of his trademark pencil thin moustache and the film Hairspray.
But there is more to the 68-year-old American than that - much more.
Since he rose to fame in the early 1970s he has been entertaining us, shocking us and making us cringe in equal measure thanks to his work as director, photographer, screenwriter, actor, stand-up comedian, visual artist and journalist.
Once dubbed the Pope of Trash, a label he says he's not unhappy about, his early career was dominated by his transgressive cult films which featured a regular troupe of actors known as the Dreamlanders - among them Divine.
Since then he's consistently been pushing the boundaries bringing us such films as Female Trouble, Serial Mom, Pink Famingos and Hairspray, built up an impressive art and book collection and has garnered a cult following.
Unsurprisingly he's also opinionated - in a good way - and has got plenty to say on just about anything. And fans of his will be able to hear his latest take on life when he brings his latest show to the Royal Festival Hall on November 11.
Carsick: This Filthy World Volume Two Live Comedy Monologue will be a chance to hear more from this icon who is still one of the coolest men on the planet and has plenty to say about life.
Speaking to me from his home in New York, John says the show will feature stories about his amazing and eclectic 40-year career.
We chat on the day his new book, Carsick, was published in the UK, something he is very proud about.
"It's been out in the US a while but it's great it's now out in the UK," he says cheerfully. "I'm very excited about it."
The book charts his adventure two years ago in which he hitched from his front door in Baltimore to his flat in San Francisco. The trip took him nine weeks and although he says he was glad when it was over he recommends everyone try it.
"Have you been hitch-hiking?" he asks me. "I think you should. I think you should take a trip outside the city. You need a good sign though.
"It's a bit scary for sure but it's a bit sexy too. But you should definitely do it - it's fun," he adds warmly.
He did it partly because he "got an advance on the book so I knew I had to do it", but also he wanted to do something different and to prove to himself that it's "more scary to stay at home". For John, life clearly is very much for living.
"Before I did it I had these ideas about how brilliant it could be or how horrible it would be," he says.
"In my fantasy I thought the best that could happen was that it would be a bit of a freak show and the worst that I would be murdered by an axe wielding maniac serial killer.
"Then I did it for real and the reality was that it was neither of those things!" he chuckles.
"It was actually quite exhilarating and mostly the people I met where lovely. I got picked up by everyone from frackers to truckers, cops to families and preachers and all sorts.
"Some people thought I was homeless and some gave me money but most went out of their way and were incredibly helpful."
But wasn't it a bit scary I ask.
"It wasn't always fun," he admits. "It was fun when it was over but it was an adventure because I'd wake every morning in a godforsaken motel room and it was too late to back out." he laughs.
"Where you get dropped off could be scary - so it has to be a good place - and there were weird people but they were the ones who didn't pick me up and just drove straight on by.
"It reinforced my opinion that I'm more scared of staying home than going out and living though - you gotta live."
What concerned him most was the reaction of his friends who he says were "horrified" at the idea.
"It was their concern not mine," he says. "I live in New York and I could walk out of my door, get in a cab and be involved in an accident.
"Everything is dangerous but staying home is the biggest risk. Life is for living and not staying indoors. How boring is that? I hate it and don't understand it when people say they are bored - how can they be bored? Why don't they just step outside and see the world.
"What could be better than walking around looking at people - it's fascinating."
So although he will tell stories about his hitch-hiking adventure, don't expect the show to be just about that. In fact it will form only a tiny part of the show in which he promises his thoughts on such subjects as religion, fashion, crime, art, drugs and Divine.
"I will talk about the trip but I'm not going to give the same material as in the book," he says. "People pay to see me perform but they don't want to hear about just that - especially if they've read it by the time the show is on so I will talk about a whole lot of things," he says.
"It's a whole written monologue which I'm still tinkering with," he chuckles. "It's constantly being re-written. Afterwards the audience can ask questions and then I'll do a book signing.
"It's the only one I'm doing in London so I'll stay until they've all been signed," he laughs.
"I love London," he adds. "It's the only place I take a vacation outside the US. I spend a week here each year, visiting the art galleries, spending time looking at real people in the streets, going to book stores and shopping. I love it."
And of course he will talk about his extensive career.
"I do pinch myself when I think about it," he admits. "I have had a great career and people have been interested in me which is lovely.
"People come to my movies and my audience has been great although to begin with of course I wasn't a favourite with the critics.
"All the stuff happening now is just gravy though. My dreams happened years ago. I just had a retrospective at the Lincoln Center - it was like being at my own funeral," he laughs. "It is always great to hear the nice things people say about you when you are alive.
"I never thought Hairspray would be so big," he adds. "I didn't set out to write a commercial movie but I loved teenage dance shows of the 1960s and it grew from there. I wanted it to be devious.
"It's been done at every college since, is still touring around the world which I'm hugely pleased about of course and no one questions the politics of two men singing a love song at each other - it was the best magic trick I ever did!
"It bought me an apartment in San Francisco so I can't complain!"

John Waters performs Carsick: This Filthy World Volume Two Live Comedy Monologue at the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre on November 11. Tickets cost from £22.50. Visit or call the box office on 020 7960 4200.

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