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John Waters: Ready For His Close Up
By Gregg Shapiro

Was the character of Honey Whitlock in Cecil B. Demented written with Melanie Griffith in mind?

No Because I never knew that Melanie was going to play the role. This movie was developed for a French company even before I wrote Pecker. There was a whole other actress that we were trying to get, but, budget-wise, it didn't happen. Then when it started happening again, I had just seen Melanie in Another Day In Paradise, for which I figured, "Well, she's certainly taking some chances here." I had met Melanie and I knew that she had a sense of humor and a checkered past - that she was always the first to talk about. I always love a woman with a checkered past.


Ms. Griffith appears to have more of a sense of humor than one might expect.

She'd have to have one to do this movie - or else she'd be pissed off.

Were you surprised by it?

No. The few times I've been with her she's had a sense of humor about the whole thing. She never was a "normal" person. Tippi Hedren is her mother, she had her first tiger when she was thirteen, all of her husbands have been movie stars. She's never, for once, had a normal day in her whole life. I like people like that. To me, that's an outsider. Movie stars are outsiders - they're aliens. Ones that have grown up in the business - especially with movie star parents and that kind of thing - have never had a normal day in their lives. It's a whole other kind of thing that they have to overcome in a way.

Speaking of having a sense of humor, Patricia Hearst has appeared in four of your movies. How did you originally get the idea to cast her in Cry-Baby in 1990?

I was obsessed with Patty Hearst my whole life. I went to her trial - she didn't know me. I was a Patty Hearst fan. She later told me, "People like you is why I went to prison. You wanted me to be some left-wing heroine that I never was." She's right. I met her when she was in Cannes for the Patty Hearst movie by Paul Schrader. A friend of mine that was invited to the dinner knew that I was obsessed with her, so he took me as his date and I plotted to put me next to her. I had just seen the movie, which had very much radiacally changed my opinion about her. I was wrong. Whatever she did was correct; she's alive. They [the FBI] thought she was in that house and they burned it up. They [her captors] told her that the police would kill her - and they were right, they would have. Whatever she did, she made the right decision and she shouldn't have had to go to jail for it. When I met her at Cannes, we got along immediately. Her kids like Hairspray - that was the thing. And she had a sense of humor. I think she's a gifted comedian. She came in and read for me for Cry-Baby - I didn't just give her the part. With Cecil B. Demented I was pushing it, but since she had a history with me, to not put her in the movie would have made it seem like she was guilty of something.

Why didn't she have a larger role in Cecil B. Demented?

I really think that Patricia Hearst is really sick of the whole thing. I mean these stupid left-wing lawyers are dragging her back for some other case and attacking her. Basically, she hates the SLA for interrupting her life and kidnapping her. Who wants to be known as a victim? But she hates the police, too. They put her in jail. Why is she uspposed to be such a great witness and help them now? So, she can't win. She makes a movie, and it's "fuck you" to all of it, isn't it?

How was it working again with Ricki Lake?

I was really thrilled to have her back. Ricki always told me that she wanted to be a TV star, even when she made movies. No one says that. They all say they want to be movie stars. Ricki has remained a very, very close friend, even if I weren't making movies. I was thrilled to have her back on the set; it seemed like she should always be on my set. I don't want her to give up acting. I understand that her show is incredibly successful. It's all over the world now, too. Good for her!

You have successfully incorpoartaed gay characters into many of your films. How important is it to have gay characters or a gay subplot in your movies?

I have to have a twist on it. It can't just be gay anymore. Gay's not enough. It never has been to me. In Cecil B. Demented, we have someone [Rodney, played by Jack Noseworthy] who wants to be gay so badly that he wants to commit suicide - which is a comment on the old movies where if you were gay you had to commit suicide. I always have to twist it a little

Actually, three of the "Sprocket Holes" and a fourth one wants to be, out of six or seven. It's important to me to have it in it if I can subvert it. I'm against all separatism. If gay liberation truly happens, there won't even have to be gay newspapaers. It would be like having black newspapers. Eventually, there won't be any. I love the new gay people that hang around with straight people too. I like it mixed. I don't especially like all-gay bars. I feel closer to the culture of a punk rock club. I don't have any rainbow flags. I'm not against people that do. I'm all for it. I don't want to get married, but if straight people can have eight bad marriages, I don't know why gay people can't have one good one. It's bullshit to me. I don't want to go in the army. However, if gay people want to, good. Who cares? Tax laws should be equal. I'm all for those things. I don't necessarily want them for myself, but gay people should certainly be able to. I like it when gay people weren't like everybody else. i don't think I'm like everybody else. I'm insulted if people think I am.

From Next Magazine, August 2000.