If you know the name Mink Stole, it is most likely in connection with John Waters. As of 2017, she has appeared in every single one of his feature films, going back to “Roman Candles” in 1966. She is perhaps best known for “Pink Flamingos”, simply because that is Waters’ most notorious film. But over the years she has had many memorable roles, both with Waters and outside the “Dreamland” troupe he cultivated. She has also appeared on the stage throughout the country, and even had her own band for a while. Mink was punk before “punk” existed, and has somehow managed to become a gay icon without being gay.
On April 18, 2017, Mink was kind enough to share her time and discuss the Blu-ray release of “Serial Mom”, directed by Waters and starring Kathleen Turner. We touch on that, and also say a few nice words about her hometown. Without further ado…
GS: I feel I should tell you up front that I was really excited to get this interview opportunity…
MS: Oh, good!
GS: … but then I started doing research and found that you’ve answered every possible question in other interviews.
MS: Well, I’ll try to give you fresh answers. (laughs) Don’t worry, we’ll make it work.
GS: Let’s talk about Baltimore. You grew up there, moved around to New York and Los Angeles. Now you’re back in Baltimore and could literally walk to where “Serial Mom” was shot.
MS: Some of it was shot in my neighborhood, yes. Kathleen Turner was actually already familiar with the area because this is where she shot “The Accidental Tourist” (1988), which you may or may not have seen. It’s a part of Baltimore that’s quite lovely. We sometimes get a bad rap because of the slums, but there are parts that are actually quite lovely. This neighborhood, for example, is spectacular-looking. (Note: Much of “Accidental Tourist” and “Serial Mom” were actually shot in Towson, in Baltimore County but not in the city limits of Baltimore.)
GS: What is it about Baltimore that made you want to call it home again?
MS: If anybody had asked me two years before I moved, I would have said they were crazy. But when I made the decision to leave LA and come home, it just felt right. I actually live across the street from my childhood home, but that’s just a fluke. I found my apartment on Craigslist from LA, and recognized the address. I spent my childhood looking at this building, and spent some time playing around on the roof. I sent my sister over to check out the apartment in person, and she said, “Yes, take it.” So I moved back to Baltimore with an apartment ready for me, and it just happened to be across from my old house. In fact, when I moved in August 2007, my mother was still alive and living there. On a sad note, she had a stroke five weeks after I moved back, and three weeks later she was dead. So I got to have some time with my mother before she passed away.
There are still people in my neighborhood I’ve known since I was 4 years old. They never left. I suppose there’s a difference between never leaving and leaving for a period of time and then coming back. If I had never left Baltimore, I don’t know if I would love it quite as much as I do. I love being back here and haven’t regretted it.
GS: John Waters was influenced in general by Andy Warhol and “Serial Mom” in particular was influenced by Herschell Gordon Lewis; but who are the directors or actors who have influenced you?
MS: When I think of actors, I really go back to the “grand dames” of the cinema. I love Barbara Stanwyck, I adore Bette Davis. Those two come immediately to mind. And the performance of Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard”, which is so over-the-top in a brilliant and wonderful way. Actors would just take hold of a role, chew it up and spit it out. I love that. I particularly like Barbara Stanwyck and Bette Davis because they could go to high comedy or to serious drama. I mean, don’t think that I’m comparing myself with them, because I’m not. But I love watching them grab a role and just owning it.
GS: I’m really glad that you singled out Barbara Stanwyck, because I fear that she’s fading into obscurity and she should be an icon.
MS: She’s really one of my all-time favorites. The fabulous comedy of “Lady Eve” and then the darker dramas… and you’re right about her fading, unfortunately. I mention Barbara Stanwyck and people look at me with a blank expression. Meanwhile, I don’t know who anybody is on the cover of Us Weekly. Barbara Stanwyck was ahead of my time. I’m somewhere between her and whoever is on the cover of Us Weekly.
GS: The ironic thing about “Serial Mom” is that mainstream Golden Globe winner Kathleen Turner played the “filthy” character and you, known for more caustic roles, played the normal one. Was this change from your usual roles intentional?
MS: I was playing a victim in “Serial Mom”. You’d have to ask John why he gave me the role that he did. I’m glad that he did that, though. Of the two neighbors, Dottie Hinkle has more fun or was the more fun part to play. Mary Jo Catlett played her part well, too, but I love that my character is the one who really got to interact with Kathleen. I was terrified to work with someone so brilliant, so famous, but she was a pleasure, a joy and so generous. When we filmed the obscene phone call scene, it was split screen, so you might think that it was filmed in two parts and cut together. But Kathleen was talking to me. Neither of us was talking to empty air. So she was very present, and my interaction with her was very “present” and authentic because of this.
GS: On the Blu-ray, there is a conversation between you and Kathleen where you tell her she was the biggest star you ever worked with up to that point…
MS: She’s probably still the biggest star. It was so intimidating.
GS: I’m curious if that situation ever happened to you in reverse. Has an up-and-coming actor ever been intimidated by you in the same way?
MS: Oh, interesting question. Yeah, it has. As you may know, I do theater. I haven’t done any in a while, but I used to. I had the wonderful good fortune of working on a Tennessee Williams play called “The Mutilated”. I’ve actually done the play several times in many different places from New York to New Orleans. It was actually written and set in New Orleans, by the way. But yes, I have had young actors come up to me and say, “I’m so thrilled to work with you.” I’m 100 years old and they’re four. I’ve been a working actor for 50 years. So the chances are these kids were 18 years old, back when I was 75, and they were just seeing “Pink Flamingos” for the first time. They’ve built me up to some sort of legendary status. A BFD, if you will. But for me, it’s always a pleasure to work with anyone who is eager and happy, and preferably talented. So yeah, it actually has happened. Let’s not kid ourselves. It’s disproportionate – Kathleen Turner is a much bigger, much more famous person than I am. I’m not equating myself with her. (Note: Mink is exaggerating her age for effect. At the time of this interview she was 69.)
GS: Don’t sell yourself short. It’s all relative. For someone like myself who grew up on “cult” and “genre” films, it’s a bigger deal meeting Mink Stole than Kathleen Turner.
MS: Well, thank you. That’s lovely to hear. I’ve been a bigger part of your life than Kathleen has. But as far as mainstream America goes, there are millions of people who have never heard of me but know exactly who Kathleen is.
GS: That’s correct. Very true. “Serial Mom” was considered a bomb at the time of its release; as with most of John’s films, it has established a cult following; do you have any general thoughts on this film or others and how opinions shift with age?
MS: The films of John Waters have a remarkable shelf life. “Multiple Maniacs”, for example, is being re-released after 48 years. But I don’t actually think “Serial Mom” is as big of a cult film as his others. I would actually say it appealed to a more mainstream audience. What I’m hoping is it reaches a new and larger audience with the Blu-ray, because it deserves a larger audience. I understand why the other films have cult status, but I think “Serial Mom” has a wider appeal. It’s brilliantly made, everyone in it is great. I just re-watched it and it made me laugh so hard. The gleeful nature of Kathleen’s murdering. The fact that it’s a “John Waters film” makes people consider it cult, because this is the same guy who had a drag queen eat dog shit. But if it were the exact same film with a different name on it, I think people would really like it. It’s a very mainstream movie, it’s very light-hearted. I still have to turn away when Kathleen skewers that kid and pulls out his liver, but that’s just because I don’t like horror movies or gore. I have many friends who laugh at me because I’m scared of fake blood, but I just don’t like it. And yet, it’s brilliantly done. People are “shocked” by John Waters, but there’s nothing shocking in this movie.
GS: Winding down, let’s switch gears. You made a very small cameo in David Lynch’s “Lost Highway” as the jury foreman. How did that come about?
MS: I don’t remember if I actually auditioned for it or not. I think what happened is that I had auditioned for something else, not a David Lynch movie. I didn’t get the part, but later on the casting director called my agent and offered me the part. I think that’s what happened, a casting director working on a different project. This was so long ago.
I don’t actually even appear in “Lost Highway”, I’m not even on film. We shot the scene, it was filmed, but right before there was a cast and crew screening I received a note from David. He said he was really sorry, but my scene was cut. I was sad, of course, but more so I was really impressed that he took the time to write and send me a note so I wouldn’t be blind-sided when I saw the movie. That was a lovely gesture. And when I saw the film and saw that my voice had stayed in, I was happy and my not appearing became irrelevant. Why IMDb puts that as one of my top credits, I have no idea. I’ve done all these John Waters movies, but they single me out for this cut scene. But my take away from that whole experience is just how lovely of a person David Lynch is.
GS: Well, Mink, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you.
MS: It’s been lovely chatting with you, Gavin. And I have to tell you that you asked questions nobody else has, so thank you. I appreciate that.