An interview with Mink Stole

Every single one of John Waters’ movies has its memorable and quotable lines. Mink Stole, an actress who has appeared in every Waters feature has had the privilege of saying many of them. In Serial Mom (Shout! Factory), for instance, as Dottie Hinkle, a woman being relentlessly harassed by someone calling her and spewing a string of obscenities. Dottie finally has her fill and, in a hilarious courtroom scene, unleashes her own nasty mouthful. Serial Mom, in which Stole co-starred alongside Kathleen Turner as the titular murderous mother, holds up well nearly 25 years after its theatrical release, providing plenty of laughs and gross-out moments. I spoke with Stole about the collector’s edition Blu-ray reissue of Serial Mom in April 2017.

Gregg Shapiro: Dottie, the character you played in John Waters’ 1994 film Serial Mom, doesn’t realize it, but she’s being stalked via obscene phone calls and letters by Beverly, played by Kathleen Turner, a woman whose parking space she once unknowingly took in a parking lot. How would you rate Beverly’s actions on the response scale, one being most appropriate and ten being least?

Mink Stole: Ten [laughs]! I can understand being annoyed, but I can’t understand trying to ruin a person’s life. I don’t know, I’ve had bad days.

GS: Have you ever considered plotting revenge on someone who stole a parking space at the supermarket or mall?

MS: Believe me, there have been many times when I wanted to kick someone’s car door or key the car. Just making huge scratches in their car. But you don’t do it. Just because you want to, doesn’t mean you do it. Once the immediate fury has passed, and it does pretty quickly… but one can’t live their life plotting revenge on every little hurt or slight. I guess Beverly did. It’s way too much work.

GS: You are quoted as saying that you were terrified of Kathleen Turner before meeting her. Were those fears unfounded?

MS: Completely! Absolutely! She was a dream to work with. I like her very much. I’m still in touch with her periodically. I see her in plays. I admire her enormously. She’s delightful. I think she was having a particularly good time on Serial Mom. I think she enjoyed working on the movie. You can’t fake that kind of good humor and good nature. That’s hard to fake consistently. Yes, it was totally unfounded. She’s quite lovely.

GS: Turner’s character Beverly sorts her garbage and evades the police to the song “Daybreak” by Barry Manilow. Manilow recently officially came out at 73. Do you have any thoughts about that?

MS: [Laughs] I think it’s sad that it took him so long. Nobody was remotely surprised. It was like, “Okay. Yeah, we knew.” But I think it’s sad that people are still so afraid of it, so afraid of what the reaction will be.

GS: You have been friends with John Waters for more than 50 years. Do you remember the first time that you met him?

MS: I don’t remember the exact moment. I remember the summer. It was 1966. We were both in Provincetown. I was visiting my sister. We ran into John on the street. She was acquainted with him from Baltimore. She introduced us. The clouds didn’t part and there was no lightning. No volcano erupted at the moment. The actual meeting was probably, “Hey, nice to meet you. See you later. Goodbye [laughs].” Then we started hanging out – John, my sister and me, and various other friends. By the end of that summer, we were all living together. We became friends quickly. At the end of the summer, John and I moved to New York and got an apartment together for a few weeks before we both decided to move back to Baltimore.

GS: As an actress, you have appeared in all of John’s feature films, often playing the villain, in parts written specifically written for you. What can you tell me about being a member of the Dreamlanders family?

MS: I’ll tell you, we had a really good time! We worked hard, we did. There wasn’t one of us who didn’t love it. We thoroughly enjoyed it. We often started a film without a script. Pink Flamingos, I remember specifically, we didn’t have a finished script. We basically knew what was going to happen. We knew Divine was going to win in the end. But exactly what the steps were going to be, we didn’t know. We would get together on a Tuesday or Wednesday night and go over and rehearse the dialogue. John would read everybody’s lines the way he wanted them said. Everything was to be very dramatic with lots of italics. We’d memorize everything and get together on the weekend for the actual shooting. We were always really happy to be there. We were never late. We were always on time. There might have been a complaint, here or there, about the lack of food [laughs] during the course of a shooting day. No one was standing around saying, “I’m not doing this anymore. This is awful.” None of us felt mistreated. We were doing the absolute most fun thing that was being done in Baltimore at that time. And we really were. We knew that what we were doing was fun. Of course, none of us could have predicted the impact these films would have, and the longevity. It would have been impossible to predict. But we knew what we were doing was exceptional. And we got along. We didn’t hang out every minute, but we were all very friendly. It feels good to be a part of that family. It felt good then and it feels good now.

GS: John has said that he likes to hear you say dirty words, because that isn’t ordinarily the language you use. Is it freeing to swear or does it still feel awkward after all these years?

MS: It’s freeing to be really nasty. Whether it’s profanity or not, it’s just so much fun. The characters that I have played, you wouldn’t like them in real life. You wouldn’t want to have a friend like Peggy Gravel (in Desperate Living). She’s not anybody you’d want to hang out with. People enjoy her on the screen. I loved being able to say horrible things. “Nobody will ever be able to destroy the beauty of fascism!” I knew when I was saying them that they were ridiculous [laughs]. The secret is that you say them as though they’re not.

GS: That’s good acting.

MS: Yes. Otherwise you’re giving it away.

GS: In addition to the many films you made with John, you have also worked with David Lynch, Gregg Araki, and Jamie Babbitt. In what ways did working with John prepare you to work with other filmmakers?

MS: More time in front of the camera is just more time in front of the camera. You get more and more comfortable. With Gregg, I had a wonderful little part in Splendor. I played an agent who chain-smoked. I chose a gravelly and raspy voice. I enjoyed it, and I had just quit smoking. I had smoked for 30 years and I had just quit. One of the things that annoys me about actors who don’t smoke, is that if they’re smoking in a movie, you can tell they don’t smoke.

GS: The way they hold the cigarette is always a giveaway.

MS: The way they hold the cigarette, the way they inhale. I adore Jane Fonda, but she made a movie where she played a chain-smoker and I just wanted to smack her. They should have removed that as part of the character. Her discomfort and distaste smoking was so obvious. Get rid of that! I love Jane Fonda; I think she’s great. Anyway, I just smoked. It was fine, I was able to separate it from myself.

GS: Finally, Serial Mom is debuting in a collector’s edition on Blu-ray. What’s the best reason that someone should make Serial Mom part of their film library?

MS: The movie really holds up. I watched it again a couple of days ago and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s not dated. I think even the clothes work. It doesn’t look like the 90s, except maybe the way Suzanne Somers is dressed. But she’s playing a caricature of a Hollywood movie star. Even that works. It made me laugh so much, so many things about it are so funny. There’s one scene that really grosses me out. I have to turn away. I cannot watch when Beverly skewers the guy at the urinal. I don’t like horror movies. I have been in a couple and I don’t like watching them. I don’t mind making them, I just can’t watch them. Fake blood scares me and I’m easily grossed out by gore and horror films.

Author Profile

Gregg Shapiro
Gregg Shapiro
Gregg Shapiro is the author of Fifty Degrees (Seven Kitchens, 2016), selected by Ching-In Chen as co-winner of the Robin Becker Chapbook Prize. Other books by Shapiro include the short story collections How to Whistle (Lethe Press, 2016) and Lincoln Avenue (Squares and Rebels Press, 2014), the chapbook GREGG SHAPIRO: 77 (Souvenir Spoon Press, 2012), and the poetry collection Protection (Gival Press, 2008).

He has work forthcoming in the anthology Reading Queer: Poetry in a Time of Chaos (Anhinga Press, 2018). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBT and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.