John Waters Q&A: “The Resurrection’s going to happen. It’ll be crowded, but interesting…”

The filmmaker talks The Wizard of Oz, illegal voting, and Myra Hindley’s hairdo.

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John Waters is a film director, screenwriter, actor, stand-up comedian, artist and author. His first film, “Hag in a Black Leather Jacket”, was, he claims, shown only once, while his best-known film, “Hairspray”, was turned into a successful musical. He has a book collection of around 8,000 volumes.

What’s your earliest memory?

Being in the crib and seeing my mother in the same room, ironing clothes while she listened to a radio soap opera called The Romance of Helen Trent.

Who are your heroes?

My childhood hero was Margaret Hamilton, the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. That’s why I today loathe the musical Wicked – they made my favourite childhood villain an ingénue.

My adult hero is Agnes Gund. She is the president emerita of the Museum of Modern Art, and she just sold a Roy Lichtenstein painting she owns for $150m and gave $100m of it to start the Art for Justice Fund, to end the mass incarceration of prisoners.

What was the last book that changed your thinking?

RISINGTIDEFALLINGSTAR by Philip Hoare. His obsession with the sea makes all readers want to drown, which I think is pretty powerful.

Which politician, past or present, do you look up to?

Shirley Chisholm. She was the first black woman who ever ran for president in America, in the early 1970s. Her campaign slogan was outrageous and I voted for her – illegally, twice – in California.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

The roots of Myra Hindley’s hairdo, because I’ve been obsessed by them forever.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

My own is just fine.

What TV show could you not live without?

These days, David Simon’s new one, called The Deuce, which is about the porno world of the 1970s.

Who would paint your portrait?

David Hockney and John Currin are both artists I like very much.

What’s your theme tune?

“The Joker (That’s What They Call Me)”, a 1950s song by Billy Myles.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

I would pick my own two pieces of advice, which I give others and I follow myself. They are “Never go backwards”; and “A no is free” – which means don’t feel rejection, you only need one yes to make it happen.

What’s currently bugging you?

The stupidity of Donald Trump’s world.

What single thing would make your life better?

Immortality.

When were you happiest?

Tomorrow. I’m an optimist.

In another life, what job would you have chosen?

I would have been a criminal defence lawyer for the worst people – those who did it. Or a psychiatrist.

Are we all doomed?

Oh, absolutely not. The Resurrection’s gonna happen. It’ll be crowded, but you know, it’ll be interesting. 

John Waters’s creative manifesto “Make Trouble”, illustrated by Eric Hanson, is published by Corsair

This article appears in the 05 October 2017 issue of the New Statesman, How the rich got richer