Q&A: John Waters

The filmmaker on hitchhiking and the 25th anniversary re-release of 'Pink Flamingos'

John Waters during 'The Devil's Own' Premiere at Cinema One in New York City, New York, United States. Credit: Ron Galella/WireImage/Getty

The door to John Waters' New York apartment swings open, and there he is – natty as ever, in a crisp checked jacket. "Come on in," he says. "Coffee?" His living room is downright tasteful, filled with antiques and books, and done in soothing green tones. "It's a symphony of puke greens!" he says cheerfully. The filmmaking genius (Female Trouble, Polyester, Hairspray) is in a fine mood, perhaps because the 25th-anniversary re-release of his trash classic Pink Flamingos is doing so well. (In 1974, Variety called it "one of the most vile, stupid and repulsive films ever made.") Waters heads for his bedroom and picks up a Polaroid. "I take pictures of every person that comes into my apartment," he says, taking aim. "Sometimes repair guys give me trouble, but in the end, they'll do it."

What music are you into?
I love Beck. I'm really a fan. He doesn't even know this, but I tried to pitch him as the star of my movie Cecil B. Demented [which did not get made]. I'm sure I'm not the first person who's thought about putting him in a movie.

Have you ever been to his shows?
I'm too old to go to shows, although I like all kinds of music – except bluegrass. The outfits of the people that like it get on my nerves. I love rap – people at red lights always glare at me when I play it real loud in my car – especially black people, who look over, and there's Don Knotts listening to rap.

Is Baltimore still the hairdo capital of the world, as you have maintained?
It is, except now the black women have the giant hairdos – 8 feet high, with sparkles. You walk in the 7-Eleven, and you think, "Good Lord, that person working there has a hairdo fit for the inauguration in Paris."

So Pink Flamingos is finally lucrative.
We'll see in a year or so. It's kind of like a reunion of reform school. It was done to commit a crime, to commit a joke terrorist act against culture.

Why was that movie your most notorious one? Because Divine eats dog poop?  
I guess it's one of the most famous scenes I ever shot. Certainly no one ever tried to do it again. It was a first, a last and pointless! Infantile! No special effects – it was real. And it frightens people to this day. [Divine] would try to explain it, saying, "I didn't eat it." It made it worse! I mean, he brushed his teeth immediately. It wasn't like he walked around.

When did you first meet him?
In high school. We were united by four things: anger, pot, defiance and a sense of humor. It was gay, straight, rich kids, rednecks, young, old, everybody together. I don't like separatist anything. And that's where Pink Flamingos came from: all that humor put together. And in 1972, 100 percent of that audience was stoned out of their minds. Not 99; 100 percent.

You stopped smoking pot years ago.
It wasn't a moral decision – it just doesn't relax me anymore. It's also so ... retro. And the new drugs, I really hate. Who'd want to love everybody, on ecstasy? I was in England years ago when the entire country was on ecstasy. It was scarier than the Summer of Love. Peace and love I always had trouble with.

They ran Woodstock on TV the other night for the umpteenth time.
I bet Woodstock was Bo Central. I get nostalgic for Altamont! Or the Who concert where everyone was crushed. I liked to go to the riots. All the cute boys were at the riots – drugs, it was crazy. You could hitchhike – I still hitchhike.

Do not.
I hitchhiked at Sundance. If you're recognizable, it's easy. Usually they don't even kill you. Psychos won't pick you up because they figure they'd get the death penalty instead of a life sentence.

What's best about being famous?
The restaurant thing: a table. But that's not a reason to dedicate your life to show business.

What about getting laid?
That complicates it. I can't have bad sex anymore. Are you kidding? That's one of the drawbacks of celebrity! With AIDS, it's hard for everybody to get laid. Especially in New York, where everyone's too cool to fuck. But the best thing about New York is that everyone's cute. That's why my apartment here costs almost the same as my house in Baltimore – it's the cute tax.

Did you see the Oscars? There's no bad taste in Hollywood lately.
That's because bad taste has crossed over – it's already an integral part of Hollywood. It's like in Anaconda, where the snake pukes Jon Voight. It was better than I could have imagined!

You just did a round of book signings.
I've signed pretty shocking stuff. One woman pulled her Tampax out of herself – a bloody one – and slapped it on the table. She was trying to shock me. I didn't miss a beat, although the security guard next to me almost had a heart attack. I said, "My first unsafe autograph," and held the pen kind of high as I signed it.

You've worked with Traci Lords. How do men react to her?
Believe me, men are terrified of her. They look for their hairy palms. I've been on airplanes with her, and the pilots come out. "Get back in there!" I hate it when they walk around and try to meet and greet. Suppose the other one has a heart attack? I saw Airport '77.

Who do you alone find attractive?
Don Knotts. I feel like Don Knotts every day of my life. Sometimes I pretend I'm him. If it's a slow day, I go in and out of being Don Knotts. When he was young, he was really my type.