"Groom Reaper" John Waters Slays Us in a Lively Q&A
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.
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