A long time ago I drew up a list of my style icons, it wasn't a very long list to be honest, you could count them all on one hand. There was only one woman on the list, and she was at the very top. I'd read a few stories about her that changed the way I thought about clothes, dressing and fashion. She also seemed like pretty much the coolest person ever. You see, no matter how edgy you think you might be, or how original, someone's always done it before. She had bright red hair before hair dye in that colour had even been invented, she had the goth look down before goth was even a word, and her characters have uttered some of the most hilarious things you've ever heard in any movie. She's been in pretty much every John Waters film as well as having worked with David Lynch and Gregg Araki. And if that wasn't enough she's also a singer, some people really can do everything. She's an original Dreamlander, an icon, a legend, and owner of the best name ever. I give you, the one, the only, Mink Stole.
I should probably start by explaining why I think of you as a style icon. In John Waters book Shock Value he tells a story about how in the days after Halloween you would buy up all the half price costumes on sale and then wear them all year round. This is just the greatest idea! I always think dressing up should be fun you know? And this sounds like the most fun. Can you tell me a little bit about this story? Were there any specific costumes for example?
I’ve always had shiny garment syndrome, so I’d look for anything with sequins or beads. Mostly I’d accessorize with costume pieces. One of my favorite finds was a black crepe-backed satin jacket with brown leather fringe on the sleeves that was most likely part of a cowboy or maybe a pirate outfit. I wore that for years.
In John's new book Role Models he mentions your 'religious whore phase' where you dressed all in black with loads of rosaries. He points out that this predates 'goth', is there any chance you created the goth look, or did you just do it first?
I would hardly credit myself for inventing “goth.” In my very conservative world in the mid-‘60s, the big fashion outrage was pierced ears. Just having those and wearing Levis marked me as “bohemian.” I found black fingernail polish in a dime store in 1967 or ’68, probably left over from Halloween, and I loved it. I bought every bottle I could find in case they stopped making it, and because I wanted to be the only one wearing it. At the same time I dyed my hair dark red. I did it myself, and never bothered doing just the roots, so my hair had a kind of “ombre” or “tie dyed” look, lighter at the roots and darker at the ends. I knew I was unique looking, and I enjoyed that, and I definitely identified as counter-culture, but I was never nihilistic, which is something I associate with goth. But I was deliberately not a hippy either; I didn’t wear Indian prints, or hairbands, feathers (except for the occasional boa), or regular beads. Wearing rosaries was definitely a way to flip the finger to my Catholic upbringing, but they were also pretty. I couldn’t even tell you when “goth” got to be a fashion/social statement, because whenever it was, I was already over it. Never got tats, and my ears still have only one hole each. Now, I dress more or less like a waiter – I’m usually in black pants and a white shirt of some kind.
It seems like nowadays counter-cultures and sub-cultures are 'big business' so nothing is truly 'underground' anymore and anything radical has pretty much been done already. Did you think back in the days when you were making the early John Waters films like Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble that you were genuinely doing stuff that had never been done before?
I knew I was doing stuff I’d never done or seen before. But what I couldn’t know then was the effect what we were doing would have on anyone else. And it’s a good thing: if I’d had any idea people would care so much, I’d have been way too nervous. It’s gratifying and humbling to have people tell me how watching films like “Pink Flamingos,” “Female Trouble” and “Desperate Living” changed their lives, showing them that there were other people who didn’t fit in with their origins, yet managed to find their own kind and a way to express themselves that didn’t lead to a prison sentence.
I have a long list of quotes that I still use from your characters, all of which are hilarious, but do you have any favourites?
Usually when people ask me that, I say “Fat, very fat” which is how Taffy described Dawn to Earl Peterson when she was trying to convince him she was really his daughter in “Female Trouble” but, honestly, I rarely quote my characters, mainly because most of my best lines are so hateful. I’ve learned that while people love a bitch on-screen, in real life, not so much. There was one time back in the ‘80s I was walking through the West Village with Cookie Mueller and a couple of guys started to hassle us. One of them said something to the effect of “blow me” and I threw Taffy’s line “I wouldn’t suck your lousy dick if I was suffocating and there was oxygen in your balls” at them. It shut them right up.
You seem to play the straight characters in John Waters films more than the wild ones... I've always assumed that's because John likes making you play the opposite of what you're like in real life, is that true?
No, John just likes to hear me cuss. In real life I’m fairly tame – unless I’m really pissed off. Then my inner Peggy/Connie/Taffy/Dottie roars to life and anyone in my path should run for cover. But I have to be extremely provoked for that to happen, because it’s no fun for me either.
You're one of the original 'Dreamlanders' what was it like working with such a diverse range of people like Divine and Edith Massey? Who was the most fun? Who was the most difficult?
Divine was a professional in all the best senses of the word -- totally committed to every character he played, regardless of how insane they were. He was willing to do anything John asked him to do. I loved working with him because he was always so present, so engaged in whatever scene we were doing. Edie was a different story. While she tried very hard, and was certainly game for whatever torture John thought up for her, she sometimes had trouble memorizing her lines and we would have to do a lot of takes before she got everything right. David Lochary had an amazing sense of style, and was invaluable to me in creating Connie Marble’s gorgeous crayon-red hair in “Pink Flamingos.” He bleached it white, then mixed red ink with shampoo and washed it in. He broke open a blue Magic Marker to get the color for his own hair. I learned a lot from him.
Your films are always a pleasure to watch, but were they always a pleasure to make? I get the sense that before they took off you were doing a lot of stuff on a tight budget...was it very difficult?
I’ve always believed that the extremely tight budgets we were working with were good training for me as an actor, however difficult they may have been for John as a producer. Because we were working with film, and there was no money for retakes and on-screen rehearsals, we had to come to set totally prepared, our lines memorized, our makeup and wardrobe camera ready. And although we enjoyed ourselves enormously, there was no time for goofing off, or for diva moments or temperament. Yes, sometimes it was really cold, or the only bathroom was half a mile away down a muddy trail, and we often had no food on set, or anywhere to relax between scenes, but we were young, and I always felt these inconveniences were an integral part of the experience of making these movies, and if we’d been more comfortable the movies might not have been so authentic. And the truth is, I never had to suffer real misery, like jumping into a river in January as Divine did in “Female Trouble,” or poor Edith, who wasn’t as young as the rest of us, freezing in a bra and girdle in an unheated trailer for “Pink Flamingos.” That being said, however, I’m pretty much over that kind of filmmaking-in-the-raw. I’d do it again, but I’d want a lot more money.
I have a lot of trouble trying to pick my favourite character of yours, Connie Marble is obviously a classic but Taffy Davenport takes some beating... What's your favourite character, or which was the most fun to play?
I love all my characters, but I’ve always felt a special bond with Taffy. She wasn’t bad, and she wasn’t retarded; she was lonely, misunderstood and unhappy, which was pretty much how I felt growing up. She craved attention, like any other kid, and resented her unloved status. The big difference between Taffy and me was that, while we both were searching for a sense of belonging, my search was successful, and Taffy died for hers. And I didn’t play car accident or wear inappropriate clothing. But, like I said, I’ve loved all my characters – it’s kind of like asking me to choose a favorite child. I couldn’t get really attached to my characters in “Pecker,” or “Cecil B. Demented,” because they had no story line, but I thoroughly enjoyed playing Dottie Hinkle in “Serial Mom.” I mean, I like Kathleen Turner a lot, but to get to call a major movie star a “motherfucker pigfucker” was a genuine thrill.
We've already had the pleasure of hearing your singing voice on the "A Date with John Waters" CD where you sing "Sometimes I Wish I Had A Gun", what kind of music do 'Mink Stole and Her Wonderful Band' make nowadays?
We’re working on a CD at the moment. Well, actually, we’re fundraising to get back into the recording studio to finish the CD we started several months ago. I think of it as a memoir of my life in songs written by other people. My drummer calls the music “cabaret jazz” but there are elements of rock and pop in there too.
Has music always been a passion of yours?
I’ve always enjoyed singing, but in the last few years I’ve developed a real respect for it. There’s a big difference between being able to sing, which most everyone can do, and being able to sing well, which is what I aspire to. I practice a lot. I record my band’s instrumental tracks and play them over and over again while I work on my breathing and phrasing and trying to get each note just right It’s hard, but it’s so worth it when I can actually hear some improvement. The challenge is to make it sound easy.
Is there any chance you'll go on tour, maybe come to the UK? I know a lot of people who'd love to see you perform...
That would be so much fun!
A Dirty Shame
You probably get a lot of crazy fans (me included) does it surprise you that people are so passionate about the films you've been in?
It doesn’t any more, but it did at first. I really didn’t know how to handle it. On the one hand I was enormously pleased and flattered, but I was also a little embarrassed. Now I’m more comfortable about it – I don’t expect it, but I’m not thrown by it. It’s actually humbling in an odd way. It’s not only the John Waters movies – I often hear from young gays how “But I’m a Cheerleader” and the “Eating Out” series helped them come to terms with their sexuality. But I meet people all the time who have never seen any of my films, so it’s all balanced. Now I get really happy when people tell me they like my music.
You've recently embraced Twitter can we expect a lot of exciting Mink Stole tweets from you or maybe a Charlie Sheen style breakdown?
I tweet when I have something to say, whether it’s interesting or not. What fascinates me is what other people consider share-worthy. But any meltdowns I have will be kept as private as possible. I spend a lot of time on Facebook, too, building my Official Fan Page, but I don’t put anything on the internet I don’t want to have to read about later.
One final question...do you have any style advice for my readers?
Wear good shoes.
If you want even more Mink in your life, and really who doesn't? You can can check out her website. You can also get yourself a signed picture in her amazing official gift shop, if you ask very nicely she might even personalise it for you.
Help Mink Stole with her first CD over by donating a little something at KickStarter
Words by Warren Beckett