The morning after Frameline31's sold-out screening of Out At the Wedding at the Castro Theater, Mink Stole and I met over coffee at the Hotel Rex.
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Michael Guillén: Congratulations on your participation in Lee Friedlander's Out At the Wedding.
Mink Stole: Thank you. It's a fun movie. I'm really pleased with it.
Guillén: Truly entertaining. I'm aware that the film recently won the Audience Award at the Newfest New York LGBT Film Festival and I think Out At the Wedding has a very good chance of winning Frameline's audience award as well.
Stole: That would be good. I really like this movie and I really like these people.
Guillén: That's what the Frameline publicists said to me when I requested this interview. They said you were really behind this movie and wanted to get the word out.
Guillén: Clearly the film was loved by its audience and you were singled out by your adoring fans as the icon you are and the cinema outlaw you are. Was it really your first time on the Castro stage?
Stole: It was, yes! And I have always wanted to do a show there; I just haven't pushed it. One of these days I may.
Guillén: Do you know Marc Huestis?
Stole: I have met Marc Huestis.
Guillén: I can't believe he hasn't pulled you onto the Castro stage. I'll have to put a bug in his ear.
Stole: Well, it's going to be a little harder now because I'm moving back East for a while. So it's going to be a little more difficult to do it; but, not impossible. Planes go everywhere.
Guillén: Well, I'm glad you at least got to make an appearance on the Castro stage.
Stole: It was really exciting. I was really happy just to be at the Castro. It's a wonderful theater and it's drenched in history, and the [Mighty Wurlitzer]; it was really a thrill to have the movie there.
Guillén: I've grown up in that theater; I'm so lucky. You are, however, no stranger to San Francisco. You've shared the stage at the Bridge Theatre with Peaches Christ as part of Midnight Mass and are returning to kickstart her tenth season on the same weekend as John Waters. So this will be a reunion of sorts?
Stole: We see each other periodically. He should be there for my show and I should be there for his. He'll be in the audience for me; I'll be in the audience for him.
Guillén: I'm going to be interviewing Peaches on Monday about the new Midnight Mass line-up.
Stole: I adore Peaches Christ.
Guillén: So do I. One of the funniest people in the world.
Stole: And sweet. This will actually be my fourth time at Midnight Mass. I was his first live guest.
Guillén: Oh! I wasn't aware of that. The Midnight Mass montage they put together for your last appearance is fantastic. How did you connect with Peaches?
Stole: I was here doing Ronnie Larsen's play Sleeping With Straight Men at the Rhino. Peaches got in touch with me and said, "As long as …" [Pauses.] I think that's what happened. No, that's not how it happened. That was the second time I did [Midnight Mass]. The first time I did it … I don't know how it happened; I honestly don't.
Guillén: It was just one of those things that was meant to happen, eh?
Stole: I do remember them flying me up the first time. The second two times I was here.
Guillén: Speaking of Ronnie Larsen's Sleeping With Straight Men, you premiered that here in San Francisco at Theater Rhino and then you took it back East where it played off-Broadway, and then on to Boston. How was that, doing a play? Is it different than making a film?
Stole: Completely. They're both wonderful for totally different reasons. One of the wonderful things—and also horrible things—about film is that it's permanent. You do it once, you get it right—you hope you get it right—and then it's done and you move on to the next scene. With theater you repeat every night. Every night it's going to be a little bit different. There's this flying-without-a-net quality to theater because there's always something different. No matter how well you've rehearsed it. Some nights the audience is sitting on its hands and looking at its programs and they're not paying any attention….
Guillén: Being the fickle beast that they are.
Stole: Yeah. Then you go back and beat yourself up because the audience wasn't good. The nights when you've got the audience, there's nothing like it. But the thing I like really best—best being a relative term—I like being myself on stage.
Guillén: When do we get a one-woman show?
Stole: I've done one in L.A. a few times. I really enjoyed it; but, my life is topsy-turvy now with my moving back East so it will be a while before it happens again.
Guillén: I look forward to that when it does happen.
Stole: I really like it. I tell people it's like having dinner with me only I get to sing and you don't get to talk.
Guillén: Speaking of singing, you have your Wonderful Band.
Stole: I do have a wonderful band.
Guillén: Will they be backing you up at Midnight Mass?
Guillén: Will you be bringing them back any time soon?
Stole: We did a gig here last year at the Café du Nord, which was fun. I had a really good time. I came up with my keyboard player Christian Hoffman who is terrific. He's also a songwriter. So he had his act and then played for mine.
Guillén: Returning to Sleeping With Straight Men, can you tell me about your role of Jill Johnson?
Stole: Jill Johnson was based on—what was her name?—Jenny Jones. The Jenny Jones talk show where a gay man came on and said he was in love with a straight guy and then the straight guy shot him. They came on together as a secret love and the straight guy shot him. I played the talk show host. It was an interesting show. It had problems. What I liked about it particularly is it didn't assign guilt. One of the things that was controversial about it was that it didn't blame the straight guy. It implied that the gay man was an accessory to his own murder. Not an accessory in the sense that he was asking to be shot, but, that he was doing something he had been warned was dangerous and inappropriate and was likely to result in nobody being happy. And he went ahead and did it anyway. Whether or not that was true with the actual real people, nobody knows. But there were people who saw the play who were angry because we didn't sanctify the gay man [who was shot]. But I thought it was interesting. I thought it was well-balanced. It also implicated my character, the Jill Johnson character, in what was going on because she was deliberately exploiting a potentially volatile situation. Ultimately, the only person who's to blame is the person who pulls the trigger; but, there are mitigating circumstances and provocations. People can do a lot of strange things when they're provoked that they wouldn't normally do.
Guillén: You have been involved in gay-affirmative projects from the get-go. You are regarded as a Universal Sister.
Stole: I am an honorary Gay.
Guillén: And we're blessed for that!
Stole: Thank you.
Guillén: And lately you've been playing a lot of mothers of lesbians.
Stole: Well, I played a mother of a lesbian in But, I'm A Cheerleader. Bud Cort and I were the parents of Natasha Lyonne. [Jamie Babbit's] latest film [Itty Bitty Titty Committee] is going to be closing [Frameline]. She's really good. She's a wonderful director. She and Andrea [Sperling] have been a terrific team for years. And then I played the mother of Robin in Girl Play, which I really enjoyed. That was my first production with the three women who are involved in [Out At the Wedding]. I've worked with Gina [Goff] and Laura [Kellam]; this is my fourth film with Gina and Laura. But it's my first film with Lee Friedlander. She is a terrific director.
Guillén: It's just as I commented during last night's Q&A when someone asked Lee to choose her favorite scene from the film, how could anyone choose one scene over the other? The continuity was flawless. It went from one funny scene to another.
Stole: It's like choosing your favorite child. You can't.
Guillén: And I appreciated how Out At the Wedding was commensurate in its portrayal of straights and gays. We're all on the same path trying to achieve joy.
Stole: Yes, exactly! Everybody's just trying to do the best they can and get as much out of life as they can.
Guillén: I do want to focus on the current film and I don't mean to indulge too much of the past….
Stole: But I have one! [Laughs.]
Guillén: Yes, you do have this wonderful shady and checkered past. The book. You have to write a book on your life and I understand that you don't want to do it unless someone sits down and prompts you. [Mink giggles.] I would gladly volunteer.
Stole: You don't want to live with me! I would need someone to actually be there in the morning and start jabbering at me when I first wake up. Nobody wants to live with me. I'm terrified of having people live with me. I'm not as nice 24 hours a day as I am during an interview, believe me. I'm not mean but I have my cranky moments.
Guillén: I wish the book would get written, though.
Stole: I should write it. It's partly that a lot of stuff I actually don't remember.
Guillén: That's why the coaxing would help.
Stole: The coaxing would help, yes, because the more I talk, the more comes back.
Guillén: I think it's important for you to write your memoirs because—as I was thinking about it last night—the early work you did with the Dreamlanders, you probably didn't have a sense of what you were really doing.
Stole: Of course not.
Guillén: And yet time has revealed that those films were the springboard for cultural and creative expressions among so many queer and transgendered individuals. It's phenomenal.
Stole: It's unbelievable. It is phenomenal. No, of course, none of us had any idea. If anyone had any idea, it would have been John [Waters]. But I don't think even he—because John was very ambitious and was very motivated and deliberately out to make a big name for himself—and the rest of us were very happy to tag along. We knew we were doing what was the most fun to be doing in Baltimore at the time. We did know that. We did have a sense that we were doing something really cool. But there was, of course, no way—because plenty of people make a splash and then they're gone—so there was no way to know. And I'm actually really glad we didn't know because we would have been really self-conscious.
Guillén: Good point. Because sometimes I see films that are emulating what you folks did back then and they don't quite work precisely because they are self-conscious.
Stole: And we really weren't. Here's something that I say in a lot of interviews. We were not unprofessional; we were untrained. I used to get really hot under the collar when people would call us unprofessional actors because to me professionalism was a work ethic as opposed to a training. Our work ethic was really strong. We arrived on time. We did our work. We knew our lines. We were not goofing off on the set. Between scenes, we'd get a laugh. We weren't rigid. We were having a good time. People still think, "You mean, you weren't all just taking drugs and making things up?" Not at all. Every word was scripted. We had to know our lines. There was no money for retakes and everything was shot in master. I've said this a lot of times but—if you had a five-minute scene and somebody blew a line four minutes and 48 seconds into the scene—we started at the top. Nobody wanted to be the one who blew five minutes worth of film. Nobody wanted to be that person. So we tried very very hard to do everything really well the first time. That's incredible training. We didn't know from marks on the floor. We hadn't had the training but we were incredibly professional.
Guillén: What I think is also culturally interesting is that—you may not have had training as the actors—but, audiences also hadn't had training in how to receive these films. Just as you were learning how to make the film as you went along; audiences were learning how to receive the films.
Stole: That's true! I never thought about that.
Guillén: For me that's what's so delightful and engaging about that period of work. We were all learning together what we thought was bad taste and what we enjoyed about bad taste.
Stole: John's taste is impeccable. His personal sense of taste and style is truly impeccable. So his knowledge of bad taste was as good as his knowledge of good taste.
Guillén: Now you guys got along, right? Because—as I was reviewing the films—you get killed….
Stole: A lot. [Laughs.]
Guillén: You get stabbed in the chest by Divine in Multiple Maniacs. You get shot in the head by Divine in Pink Flamingos after being gagged and tarred and feathered. You get strangled by Divine in Female Trouble. You get shot in the butt in Desperate Living. And you get strangled on a staircase in Polyester.
Stole: [Blithely] Yeah. I did. I got killed a lot. Mmmmm-hmmmmm. Oh, and I died in the opening scenes of Cecil B. Demented.
Guillén: That's right, you had a heart attack.
Stole: No, [John and I] actually did get along. But I was always the antagonist. I was always the uptight foil. I was a great foil for Divine. Divine and I could have gone on to do more fun things together because I loved working with Divine. If you look at those scenes in Female Trouble where it's just Divine and me, there's a real connection that we had. Divine was an incredibly generous performer. There was no trying to upstage to get a little more attention. We were incredibly focused on each other. I loved that. I loved knowing that. I felt really safe. The emotional commitment was equal between us. I really loved working with him. I loved being his foil. I wanted to win once. I thought it would really be nice to win once. And I was sort of on the winning side in Hairspray; but, that was like the first time. Yeah, and I guess sort of in Dirty Shame I was on the winning side; I flipped to the winning side at the end of the movie. But that was the first time that I was on the side of the winners, was in Hairspray.
Guillén: Speaking of Hairspray, of course there's all this hoopla going on about the current movie that's about to come out based on the Broadway show. Did you ever see the Broadway musical?
Stole: Yes, I saw it twice. I saw it in New York with Harvey Fierstein and then I saw it in L.A. with Bruce Vilanch.
Guillén: Any thoughts on the musical adaptation?
Stole: It's fluffy. Certainly a lot of the real depth of the movie isn't there. But it's a light, entertaining way of telling a story that was a true story.
Guillén: Hairspray remains one of my favorites of John's films. It marks a crossover where John's style or the Dreamland style becomes more accessible to the public.
Stole: Which caused some problems because parents who had rented Hairspray for their kids would go back to the video store and go, "Oh, Pink Flamingos! We loved Hairspray!" And then, oh my God. It caused a few problems there but Hairspray was such a sweet story and Ricki Lake was such a find. The whole time on the set she was like this big adorable St. Bernard puppy. She was just, "Love me, love me." And you couldn't not love Ricki. She's still one of the nicest people in the world.
Guillén: Were you approached to cameo in the new Hairspray movie?
Stole: I wasn't. John's in the movie and Ricki might have a cameo in the movie, but, I wasn't.
Guillén: Well, that's not fair.
Stole: I agree totally. I was hugely put out. [Laughs.] It would have been nice to be part of that but I think that—if they had too many people from the original film—it would have been more like acknowledging the original. This is a movie of the musical; it's not a remake of the movie. My character in the original movie got blended with Deborah Harry's character in the Broadway show so now Michelle Pfeiffer is playing me and Debby [in the new film].
Guillén: Any reminisces on Tab Hunter in Polyester? What was it like working with Tab Hunter?
Stole: I didn't really work with him that much. He was perfectly lovely. I mean, he was perfectly nice; but, I didn't really have scenes with him except for the end scene where I get killed. He was lovely. And he was in Baltimore working on our little low-budget film. We didn't have all the amenities. I think we might have had snacks on the set. It wasn't even a union film. There were no craft services or anything like that.
Guillén: All that water under that fabulous Dreamland bridge, you have continued on making movies elsewhere. You're a shining example of perseverance and what it takes to remain an actor in this business. You've done—what?—30 more films?
Stole: I've done a lot of movies.
Guillén: I just saw you recently in a bit part in Flirting With Anthony.
Stole: I haven't seen that. How did that come out?
Guillén: You're a prognosticating Tarot card psychic!
Stole: [Laughs.] But I've never seen the film.
Guillén: You're kidding?! I had issues with the film; but, I was happy to see you in it.
Stole: I did that movie because friends of mine asked me to do it and not because it was going to be any great career move for me. Very few of my films are great career moves.
Guillén: Clearly you participate for the love of doing it?
Stole: I kind of do.
Guillén: So many of the bit parts and cameos that I've seen you in—sometimes they're not even scene stealing—are always welcome because it's you, it's your presence.
Stole: Thank you. I do truly love it. A happy day is a day when I have to get up at 4:00 to be on a set at 5:30.
Guillén: So with your Frameline entry Out At the Wedding, how did that all come about? Were you approached?
Stole: Yes. Like I said, this is the fourth movie I've made with Gina Goff and Laura Kellam who are the producers and the second movie that Lee Friedlander has been involved with them. I worked on Girl Play with that team.
Guillén: But Girl Play didn't get anywhere near the reception Out At the Wedding did at last night's screening.
Stole: No. Girl Play did well. I liked Girl Play a lot; but, Girl Play wasn't as laugh outloud funny as this one, not as consistently funny as this one. Last night was the first time I'd seen [Out At the Wedding] and I was very happy.
Guillén: You must have been.
Stole: I was. I was very pleased. Because you never know. It was a good time on the set and I watched a lot of the scenes being done and they looked good; but, I'm not behind the camera. I'm not in the editing room. I don't know what's going to happen. I trust Lee. I think she's a really good director.
Guillén: I was impressed.
Stole: I do. I trust her. She's really an outstanding director and she's a wonderful actors' director because she just lets you go and then occasionally throws a little suggestion here and there, something you might do to tweak it a little bit, but it's not an overpowering, "You need to do it this way." John's a little overpowering. "I need it this way."
Guillén: Describe your character Sunny in Out At the Wedding.
Stole: I'm the doting mother and beloved wife. I really like the characters. I adored Reginald Veljohnson. I fell in love with him. I think I walked into the dressing room and he was standing there in his boxer shorts and it was just, "Honey, I love you." We just instantly clicked. He was so easy, so smooth. One of my favorite scenes is actually the scene with Reggie in the bedroom where I'm just rubbing his head. I think that showed how comfortable we were together. Instantly. We had to be, married 30 years. The Jewish [thing] was irrelevant to me because I don't think people walk around [broadcasting] their religion.
Guillén: I took that as a necessary set-up for Mike Farrell's punchline.
Stole: Yes, it was. But [in Out At the Wedding, Reginald Veljohnson and I] are a mixed racial couple and we have this beautiful son and I'm very concerned. Something strange is going on and my son is involved. I don't want anyone to hurt my son. So I'm very suspicious of Alex [Andrea Marcellus] and of what's going on. I'm very concerned that something's going to hurt my son. But I'm happy when it works out.
Guillén: Will you be traveling with the film around the festival circuit?
Stole: I'm not going to be traveling. I'll go to Outfest because I love Outfest; it's a terrific festival. But that's probably it. I know it's going to be in Philadelphia in July, but, I'm moving. I have a lot of work to do.
Guillén: What's precipitating the move back East?
Stole: My mom is getting older—she's nearly 90—and she's still well; but, I just thought I want to be with her while she's still my mom. Before she turns into a cabbage. …I just decided maybe it's time to take a really big fork in the road. I'm still processing [my decision]. I'm still completely in denial that I'm doing it and yet excited that I'm doing it. …She, apparently—I didn't realize—is excited at the prospect of having me back.
Guillén: How has she accepted your career?
Stole: She hated it. She loathed it. First of all, she thought—being as monocentric as everybody is—that I was doing it deliberately to ruin her life. It had nothing to do with me; it had everything to do with her. Since Polyester, she's mellowed. She's actually in Hairspray. She's an extra in the big auto show scene. She goes to all the premieres. She loves the parties. It took the world telling her that I was okay. She couldn't come to that on her own. Of course she won't acknowledge that now. Everybody's memory is selective.
Guillén: You must admit you came off as a problem child.
Stole: I did. And I wasn't an easy child ever. I was never an easy child. So the fact that it was making my mother miserable was kind of fun for me, I'll admit it. It's not why I did it; but, the fact that it was having that effect was a plus.
Guillén: So, according to IMdb, you're just finished the role of School Secretary Stole in Matthew Buzzell's Sunny & Share Love You.
Stole: Y'know, I really don't know anything about that movie. I was on it for one day. I'm going to see it in a couple of weeks at Outfest. But I never read the script. I read my pages.
Guillén: Does this happen often where you're brought in for just one day or two days on one scene or two?
Stole: Sometimes, yeah. On this one, a friend of mine was one of the producers and she asked me to come in to do it. So I did it. That happens a lot, that someone will ask me to come in. I don't really have an agent. I live very simply. I'll probably have to get an agent when I go back to Baltimore because people won't be able to call me up to come over—"Can you drop in this afternoon and shoot a scene?"—it's not quite that casual but a lot of the work comes from friends and people that I've worked with.
Guillén: In your Dreamland period, what was your favorite film? And after your Dreamland period, what was your favorite film?
Stole: Female Trouble will always be my favorite, always, of every film I've ever done.
Guillén: And that's where Taffy Davenport has her infamous line: "I wouldn't suck your lousy dick if I was suffocating and there was oxygen in your balls!" [Laughs.] One of the funniest lines in cinema history.
Stole: It was never my favorite line. It's too long. I liked the ones [adopting Taffy's voice]: "Mother, there's a shithead here to see you." Actually, I don't really remember most of the lines. People come up to me and start [quoting] and I'm like, "What are you talking about?" But I loved that movie. And I loved Serial Mom.
Guillén: How was working with Kathleen Turner?
Stole: She was great. She was really fun. She had a wonderful time making Serial Mom and I think when people are having fun, they radiate.
Guillén: It was one of her best performances, I thought.
Guillén: Was it true that she had issues with your being cast in the film?
Stole: I had been told that there was somebody else she wanted for the role; that she wasn't happy when she didn't get her way. Anyway, when I met her, I got called up for a makeup check unexpectedly and I didn't have my contacts with me. So I'm sitting in the makeup wagon, totally blind, and all of a sudden this person looms behind me, [doing a breathy Kathleen Turner] "Hello, I'm Kathleeeeeeeeeen." I already knew that she had wanted somebody else and I was really nervous—and also she was the biggest movie star I'd ever met—so I was nervous to meet her. I was like, [timid] "Hi." She left and then a little while later I was standing outside and I was in full [costume], my makeup was done, my hair was done, I was in an outfit, and she sort of breezed past me and she said, "Well, you do have a certain flair." [Laughs.] Phew!!
Guillén: Well, I'm glad she didn't get her way.
Stole: Me too. But we got along absolutely fine after that. I think it was just a power play.
Guillén: After the Dreamland period, of the many films you've made?
Stole: I really love But, I'm A Cheerleader. I love [Out At the Wedding].
Guillén: It has a lot going for it.
Stole: I'm really happy with this one. I've got another movie that just came out on video called Eating Out 2, have you seen that? I like that one too.
Guillén: I haven't; but, I know of it. The thing is, I'm not a great fan of gay comedies. That's why I was so pleased last night with Out At the Wedding. I really felt you guys nailed the whole screwball comedy of errors down pat.
Stole: And it's not really a gay movie. I mean, it has gay elements, but, it's about family. It's really a story of two sisters. There's a lot in it. It touches upon so many [issues]. It's an interracial movie, if you want to go there.
Guillén: And the performances of the ensemble are evenly-balanced with fine performances throughout.
Stole: They cast it really well.
Guillén: Well, I wish you well on the move back to Baltimore. Again, congratulations on your performance in Out At the Wedding and I thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. I'm looking forward to seeing you at Midnight Mass with Peaches Christ. I have such great respect for your continuing artistry and your continuing activism.
Stole: That's so sweet, thank you. There are things that are important. I'm going to give you a hug. [We embrace.] This was a lovely interview; I really enjoyed it. I do a lot of them and not all of them are good.
Guillén: Well, I never thought I would reach a point in my life where I'd have the opportunity to sit down to talk to someone like you, Mink. And mainly it's just to say thank you. That's what this is all about for me. Thank you for all these years of entertainment and inspiration.
Stole: Believe me, I would be nothing if it weren't for the people. And I don't want to say that and sound sappy; but, you have no idea. Because I've never made any money. You don't make a lot of money making indie films. But what I get: the love that I felt when I walked on the stage at the Castro. I feel, "This is better than money." Money would be nice—let's not kid ourselves—but there's something that I get [from audiences], especially in San Francisco; San Francisco has treated me better than any place I ever go. I don't want to live here because then it would stop. Then I would just be, "Oh, her…." San Francisco treats me like royalty and I love it! [Laughs.]