The Farrelly Brothers
John Waters, 'Til Death Do Us Part
, the Jackass
boys, every contestant who's ever eaten an insect on Fear Factor
... they all owe a huge debt to the schlockmeister who pioneered hard-to-stomach, in-your-face entertainment: Baltimore-based auteur/author/actor John Waters
. Originally known as the director of campy, lowbrow flicks punctuated by gross-out gags (e.g., plus-size drag queen Divine
eating authentic dog poop in 1972's Pink Flamingos
), the 60-year-old moviemaker has enjoyed a more mellow image in recent years, thanks to a string of family-friendly guest spots (My Name Is Earl
, The Simpsons
) and the smash Broadway musical adaptation of his 1988 opus Hairspray
, currently being remade for the big screen. But Waters insists that he's as outrageous as he ever was; it's society
that's changed. Assuming his supposition is correct, perhaps the mainstream is ready to embrace his newest gig, as the host of 'Til Death Do Us Part
, Court TV's first-ever scripted series (premiering tonight at 10 pm/ET). As the Groom Reaper, the Hitchcock-like narrator of real-life tales of marriages that ended in murder, Waters imbues the dark subject matter with kitschy, pun-heavy humor.
TVGuide.com: I read that you're a big aficionado of Court TV and that you used to attend a lot of trials.
John Waters: I went to trials for fun all the time, but then people started recognizing me so I stopped. I always thought it would be unfair to the criminal. If the jurors hated my movie, they'd take it out on him!
TVGuide.com: What happens when you're called for jury duty?
Waters: I'm never picked to sit on a trial. It's always the prosecution who wants me and the defense who doesn't, which is strange. Given my movies, I would think that it would be the other way around.
TVGuide.com: So you've never sat on a jury? It's really kind of fun.
Waters: It wouldn't be for me. I'm too emotional, I'm a liberal, and I don't think I could be very impartial. I taught in prison and I had a friend who was sentenced to death, so those two things always get me booted. Whenever I'm called, I always think, "How long is this going to last? I can't come here every day. I run my own business." It's annoying. Plus, in Baltimore they show you movies while you wait. Last time I sat through, what's that one... "The Shamshaw Redemption"?
TVGuide.com: You mean The Shawshank Redemption?
Waters: That didn't seem like what they should be showing.
TVGuide.com: No kidding. They'd be better off playing one of your films.
Waters: Yeah, like Female Trouble [starring Divine as a mass murderer]. Or have Court TV up there playing. They could get tie-ins with juries all over the country!
TVGuide.com: Speaking of Court TV, how did you get involved with 'Til Death Do Us Part?
Waters: The show was thought up by [director/writer/producer] Jeff Lieberman, who's made a lot of great horror movies (Squirm, Satan's Little Helper). He had me in mind from the start, maybe because I was in [Seed of] Chucky, or perhaps because he thinks I look like a ghoul. I don't know. But I get to be the comic relief. I make it OK to enjoy this show even though you know that one of the spouses is going to off the other.
TVGuide.com: The murders are pretty inventive, not your run-of-the-mill shootings or stabbings. But the slayer always makes a fatal mistake.
Waters: That's what's so scary, that people do such stupid things. If these stories were fictional, no one would buy them. You have to think of a lot of details if you're going to do a crime, particularly if you kill someone you were once in love with. This is a real pro-divorce show: "Don't murder your spouse — get divorced. It's a lot easier than a life sentence." That's definitely the moral.
TVGuide.com: You turned 60 last year. Would you say that you're in a different place than you were 30 years ago?
Waters: Well, I had my 30th birthday party at a punk-rock club in Baltimore and Sue Lowe, who's been in a lot of my movies, jumped out of a cake to do a striptease, and she broke her leg. That didn't happen last year at my party at [New York restaurant] Pastis, but in some ways I'm very much the same. My last movie, [2004's] A Dirty Shame [about a suburban sex addict], had big censorship problems, like many of my prior films. And on 'Til Death Do Us Part, I'm playing a version of myself, which is the result of cultivating this persona for the last 40 years. I always wanted to be in show business. When I was a kid, my parents took me to the NBC Studios in New York to see Howdy Doody. I saw the puppets and thought, "Oh, my god, the whole thing's a lie. This is what I want to do forever!" So I became a puppeteer, and I had a business up until I was about 14, doing birthday parties for $25 a show. Then I started making movies when I was 16. So I wasn't naive. At 10, I dressed up as Captain Hook with a coat hanger up my sleeve, my father's tie Scotch-taped to my head, ordering people to walk the plank. That's not that different than playing the Groom Reaper.
TVGuide.com: With Hairspray winning all those Tony Awards and being made into a mega-movie musical with John Travolta [as Edna Turnblad], do you feel like you've become more mainstream?
Waters: Certainly, but I don't think what I'm doing has changed that much. I think the American public's sense of humor has changed way more than I have, luckily for me. Jackass is closer in spirit to Pink Flamingos than anything that's ever happened since. They drink horse semen in Jackass Number Two [in which Waters had a cameo]. Isn't that just like eating dog s--t?
TVGuide.com: Do your fans ever confuse your public persona with your real self?
Waters: In the old days, audiences who saw my movies thought that they were real, that we all lived in a trailer and ate s--t and went around killing people. I used to go to colleges to give lectures and the kids would offer me drugs and I'd say, "Oh, please, I don't want to get high. I have to speak here!" I thought I was going to get arrested with all those students with a trunk filled with a kilo of marijuana. And we had fans who were into coprophagia. [Editor's note: Google at your own peril.] When Divine ate s--t, that was anarchy, not a turn-on. But we went to places where there would be real [coprophagiacs] waiting for us saying, "Hey, I'm into that, too," and we would run and get in the car. People used to send Divine turds in the mail with flowers!
TVGuide.com: Wow, you just couldn’t win.
Waters: Getting away from them was winning. And hey, they bought tickets!
TVGuide.com: Will you ever make a serious film?
Waters: All my movies are serious! Comedy is serious. Would I ever suddenly do a drama? I doubt it. Because it would be hard for me to resist making people laugh. And that's what I do the best.
Get a look at the new Star Jones, who's getting her own Court TV series this fall, in the March 19 issue of TV Guide. Click here to subscribe.
Send your comments on this Q&A to firstname.lastname@example.org.