Mink Stole got wrapped up in acting when she met avant garde director John Waters in the mid-'60s. But this wasn't just a convenient accident: the East Coaster had a real knack for the B-movie style. Working hard as part of Waters's devoted crew -- dubbed The Dreamlanders -- Stole has now been acting on both stage and screen for more than four decades.
Coming to Denver this Saturday, July 20, as part of the Cinema Q Film Festival, Stole will speak about Divine, her late friend and fellow actor, in conjunction with the screening of the new documentary I Am Divine. In advance of her appearance, Stole spoke with Westword about the first time she met Waters, what it was like to work with Divine and the recent release of her first-ever studio album, Do Re MiNK.
See also: - Keith Garcia's top five picks for the Cinema Q Film Festival - Everything I know about real life I learned from John Waters - John Waters on beer, bathroom reading and his signature mustache
Westword: I Am Divine is the story of Divine, a friend and fellow actor you worked closely with. What did you think of the film?
Mink Stole: I thought that (director) Jeffrey Schwarz created a documentary that was very affectionate and very respectful, but it wasn't a whitewash.
The film talks a lot about John Waters, the films he made and his working relationship with Divine. How did you come to work with John Waters and eventually Divine?
I met John in the mid-'60s in Provincetown on Cape Cod, and he had made one ten-minute, 8mm, black-and-white film. That was it; he wasn't a famous filmmaker yet. He was just a guy. He was an extraordinary guy -- incredibly charismatic, very self-confident and very motivated, which was attractive.
We had a lot of things in common -- we had both grown up with and had rejected Catholicism. We came from similar neighborhoods. We became friends after my sister introduced us -- she had known him in Baltimore. By the end of the summer, he, my sister and I and about half a dozen other people were all living together in Provincetown, and we went back to Baltimore together.
Through John, I met a whole slew of other people. I guess I don't remember the first time I ever met Divine....I have a vague recollection that it was at a party and I was on acid and he was draped in a sheet and he was kissing his dog, a little Yorkie that he had. That's my vague recollection, but I'm not sure.
John asked me if I would be in a movie and of course I said yes; I'm not stupid. We did Roman Candles and Divine and I are both in that, but we're not in scenes together. I guess the first time Divine and I actually worked together was Mondo Trasho, so that was '67 or '68. I don't remember -- it kind of blurs. Of course, we were lovers in Multiple Maniacs.
I love Divine's ability to embody these wild erratic women and then reserved housewife types, but with equal passion.
The thing with Divine is that he committed 100 percent to every role that he took. There was never any hesitation. We would get together for rehearsals and we would all laugh -- we would read these scenes and think, oh my god, John, how do you come up with this stuff?
But when the camera was rolling, you know, there was a 100 percent commitment -- it was "this is a role that I'm taking and I'm going to play it the best I can," and Divine was completely professional in that way.
The limited interview footage with Divine in the film really shows that -- his devotion to his craft as an actor.
Exactly. I used to get really annoyed when people called us amateurs. We were untrained, that much was true. We didn't belong to the actor's union back in the '60s and early '70s, so we didn't have that. But when I think of professionalism, I think of people who show up on time, do their work, know their lines and do what the director asks of them. That's what I think of as professional, and that's what we were. That comes through in John's movies, for sure. It may be odd and kitschy and bizarre, but there's nothing unprofessional about them.
We were very disciplined and Divine was as much or more so than any of the rest of us. It takes commitment to make a completely ridiculous character real. The reason that these movies have survived -- which astonishes me, by the way -- is because the characters are still real. We did the very best that we could to bring absurdity to reality -- to make a viable reality out of absurdity. The logic within the films holds.
There's a point in the documentary where Divine is being interviewed on Larry King, and a caller asks about the poop-eating scene in Pink Flamingos -- that is just one tiny scene in one movie out of so many great films that Divine did. Divine handles the question gracefully.
It's a blip. It is literally a blip in the film. The thing that I would like people to come away with from the documentary is that yes, there's his humanity, generosity and kindness -- but something people forget about Divine is that he was an actor. The drag was character work. Divine didn't identify as a woman, he did not want to be a woman, he didn't wear women's clothes at home. He identified as a man.
He did a lot of interviews -- and the more of them you do, the better at it you get. Some questions get asked all the time. He was asked all the time -- and I'm still asked, periodically -- was the dog poop real?
It's like, you can't be nasty. You can't be mean. You can't be dismissive. You have to be nice -- and you have to be as nice to the person who's asked you the question for the millionth time as you were to the person who asked you the first time. Because that person doesn't know he's the millionth one; for him, it's the first time.
Divine was good at it -- he was personable and charming. He was lovely in interviews, so people enjoyed interviewing him.
What did you think was going to happen with these films? Did you see them sustaining within popular culture as they have?
You know, I was just having a really good time. I was having a ball. I loved it. I loved every minute of working on the films -- I love the rehearsal, I loved going to the set, I loved what we were doing. It was more fun than anything I had ever done in my life.
I knew that we were doing something that wasn't being done anywhere else, but the fact that there was a lasting quality to the films was something that I never knew. I thought, yay, I'm a movie star. Of course, in certain circles, yes, but I still haven't gotten the call from Steven Spielberg (laughs). There are movie stars and there are movie stars. I've yet to make movie star money. But I love my life and I'm happy with it, so I'm fine.
But I don't think any of us -- John maybe was trying for it, but I can't speak for him -- I don't think we quite understood that what we were doing then was going to follow us through life. I think if I had, I wouldn't have chosen such a silly name. I mean, I'm happy with the name, I like being called Mink. I still get comments about it from people.
And for Divine, I think he always would have been Divine. But it was harder for somebody named Divine to get roles as a man. So there were the pluses and the minuses, and I think that's expressed very well by Divine in the film. There's a love and thanks and gratitude from him. Was it your plan to be an actress all along?
I hadn't planned it -- I was always sort of dramatic. I was a very histrionic child, so when the opportunity was presented to me, I grabbed it. As it turned out, I had a knack for it. I mean, I'm acting all of the time now. I'm in rehearsal right now for a Tennessee Williams play. It has always been something that I've loved to do.
I didn't really have a plan -- I was kind of drifting. I was actually very lucky, because I met John Waters and he had a plan. I was kind of carried along with his plan. I mean, I earned my spot. He wasn't just being charitable towards me. I had to earn my spot in the casts, but I was very fortunate to become involved with somebody who was so self-determined.
I sometimes think, if I had met, say, Charles Manson, I may have been as attracted to Charles. But I think I may not have been. But I was lucky to meet John. And John was lucky to meet me.
What are you working on right at the moment?
I just released a CD -- Do Re MiNK -- and I'm really happy about it. I worked really hard on it and the response has been great. I'm very pleased. None of the songs were written by me -- five of the songs were written by musicians that I worked with in Los Angeles. The other seven are covers of songs that I just wanted to do. I call them covers because that's their technical name, but they're versions. They're my interpretations -- none of my songs sound like a version you may have heard before.
I got involved with music years ago in Los Angeles. I was actually doing a Shakespeare play -- The Winter's Tale, and I had to play the singing peddler. A dear friend of mine named Brian Grillo came to see me and said, oh, she can sing! It had never occurred to me to pursue singing. I mean, I had a pleasant-enough voice and could carry a tune. But that was it.
Brian gave me a couple of musicians to play with and my very first gig was a Sunday afternoon beer bust at a leather bar in Silverlake. It was fabulous and I just loved it. Brian was wonderful -- I dedicated the album to him.
He put together my first band, gave me material to work with and really nurtured me until I kind of knew what I was doing. Because I didn't. I will be forever eternally grateful to him. It was really a gift, and I kind of think of him as another John (Waters), someone who had a deep impact on my life.
With this album, I did everything but engineer it and play the instruments -- I was the producer, the financier, the organizer, the gopher, I did it all. Well, with the help of my wonderful band and engineer. As far as making it happen, I made it happen and I'm very proud of being able to get it done.
It was hard -- I never understood how much work it was. I thought it was something that could be knocked out in a couple of weeks and it ended up taking nearly three years. I could have made a much less good record a lot faster, but I got really fanatic about the quality. I ended up redoing a lot of it.
I'd leave the studio thinking it was perfect, and then I would get home and go, god, that's disgusting. Then I'd go back into the studio. I'm talking mostly redoing the vocals. Because of that, it cost twice as much as I thought it would. (Laughs.) But I'm very pleased with what happened. It was worth it.
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Catch a live discussion with Mink Stole this Saturday, July 20, at the Sie FilmCenter as part of the Cinema Q Film Festival. I Am Divine screens at 9 p.m. as a double feature with Polyester playing at midnight; Stole will answer questions from the audience between films. For more information on the festival -- which officially kicks off tonight at 7 p.m. -- or to purchase tickets, visit the Sie FilmCenter's website.