by Tim Parks
There’s a lot you probably know about actress Mink Stole – she’s been a constant presence in John Waters movies for decades now. But there is one thing she wants to tell the world: “You could put it in print that I have already lost 10 pounds, and I am losing more. I looked at the movie and went, ‘Oh my God, I’m glad I’m already on a diet!”
The movie Stole is referring to is Eating Out 2: Sloppy Seconds, which opens at Hillcrest Landmark Cinemas on Dec. 15.
But to complete the full circle of Mink Stole’s world, we must start at the beginning.
Mink Stole was born Nancy Stoll in Baltimore, Md., which was very fortuitous, as this locale not only gave birth to her new moniker, it also served to springboard her into the wonderfully weird world of John Waters and his brand of irreverent filmmaking.
Stole got her start as a Dreamland Player (the name of the troupe that worked with Waters) as a party guest in Roman Candles in 1966. Stole still has fond memories of those halcyon days of on-the-fringe filmmaking, so distinct from the sanitized, take-no-chances world of Hollywood, as she told the Gay & Lesbian Times in a recent interview.
“It’s an interesting thing because the context is so different,” she said. “The context is really hard to explain. We weren’t really on the fringe of anything – we were so far off of here. There was Hollywood, and then there was what we called underground movies. But the underground movies weren’t fringe; they were a completely different environment and genre.
“So, it’s not like now, where there are festivals and where there really is a fringe,” she continued. “We were too far away from anything to be fringe. Now it’s digital video; everybody with $100 and an idea can make a movie, which is a good thing. The bad thing is everybody with $100 and an idea can make a movie.”
During her time in the trenches, Stole created an army of despicable characters, ready to march and fight against the notion of good taste. There was Connie Marble, the red-haired, villainous nemesis in a fur coat and cat-eye glasses competing with Divine for the title of “filthiest person alive” in Pink Flamingos. It was this role that laid the foundation for a list of characters she would continue to build for Waters.
Take, for example, Stole’s role as Taffy Davenport in Female Trouble, a young lady who is prone to play “car wreck” in the living room, much to the chagrin of her mother, Dawn Davenport (played by Divine). But it was Stole’s turn as uptight, murderous Peggy Gravel in Desperate Living that elevated her to leading-lady status.
She continued loading unique characterizations into the John Waters canon with roles in Polyester, Hairspray and Cry Baby. She all but stole the show from Kathleen Turner in Serial Mom as Dottie Hinkle, who receives harassing phone calls from the titular character. Stole rounds out her Waters oeuvre with Pecker, Cecil B. Demented and A Dirty Shame.
“I loved Taffy,” Stole said when pressed to pick a favorite character out of the many she has portrayed. “Taffy is the automatic response, ’cause Taffy was so much fun. Plus I had the best
lines any actor ever had in any movie ever. I loved everything about her. I loved the way she looked, and I identified with her.
“But I also loved Dottie Hinkle; I loved Connie Marble; I think I loved Peggy Gravel on some level, too … the one-word answer is Taffy,” Stole continued. “People that I talk to who are real fans, generally like Taffy; except I really only liked Taffy much more when she was just an unhappy kid. She wasn’t as much fun when she joined the Hare Krishnas.”
Life in front of the camera has served Stole well, but she has done more than appear on the silver screen. For a time, she wrote an advice column for the Baltimore City Paper called “Think Mink,” but found the grind of a weekly deadline both daunting and too structured.
“I would sometimes have to write it in the middle of the night,” she recalled. “When we were doing A Dirty Shame, we had night shoots, and I would often have to write it on set between takes at 4:00 a.m. It’s a load off my back to not be writing it anymore, but I miss it. It [deadlines] defines your life, gives your life borders and edges.”
She also fronted Mink and Her Wonderful Band, and has branched out further musically with her new group, Biomechanic, an electric jazz ensemble that has a new CD single, “Kick,” due out next month.
Stole, who enjoys the immediacy of live performance, also has live theater on her resume.
“The thing that’s wonderful about performing live is you’re really flying without a net,” she said. “Actually, that’s not true. I mean, if you’re a professional you have a net because you’ve done your preparation. So you have a net, but you don’t want to fall into it.
“I love the immediacy of being myself on stage,” she continued. “When I’m doing theater it’s wonderful because I can hide behind the lines, I hide behind the character that I’m playing. But when you’re just being yourself on stage and talking to the audience, it’s almost like a one-on-one experience with the audience, it’s so intimate. It’s almost like having sex in a way; it’s that kind of intimacy because I’m very forthcoming on stage.
“My show basically is I get up and I tell stories and have my band with me, so it’s not just the music, it’s me up there. I’m not hiding behind the microphone or the lyrics, so I really love it, it’s visceral.”
But the lure of being in front of the camera has an almost rip-current pull for Stole, who has also starred in such gay-friendly fare as But I’m a Cheerleader and Leather Jacket Love Story. And just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, Stole will be appearing on screen in the aforementioned Eating Out 2: Sloppy Seconds.
“I saw Eating Out, the first one, and I liked it. I thought it was fun,” Stole said. “So I was quite happy to do this [Eating Out 2].”
But, she added: “I have to admit, I was very hesitant about that final scene that I do, where I’m calling my son a faggot. I really fought Phillip Bartell, the director; I fought him on that. I didn’t want to say the word. I don’t like the word. And he said no, so that was a source of great anxiety. I was very unhappy with having to do that. But I thought the movie was fun, and I play the mother of the gay. That seems to be how I am now typecast. I’ve played it several times now, which is fine.”
Not one to shy away from controversial material, Stole does have a limit on what she is willing to do on screen nowadays.
“I’m never going to be naked on camera again, unless they pay me a huge amount of money. I mean a huge amount of money,” she quipped. “As far as controversy, I think that is the heart and soul of filmmaking – of most art, but not all art. I don’t think that something has to be controversial to be art or to have value. I really don’t believe that. But the things that make people think, there’s a validity to that, so I don’t shy away from controversy, as such. If there’s no controversy, then everything is the same, and that would be very boring.”
To keep up with the never boring Mink Stole, you can visit her Web site, www.minkstole.com.
Published Thursday, 23-Nov-2006