I’d like to think that This Filthy World creator John Waters would approve of the fact that I’m writing this article during a two-hour layover in a dingy bus depot. The man who made a drag-queen combo of Clarabell the Clown and Marilyn Monroe a “Divine” star, and who reveled in the beauty of the depravity and dirt of his daily life in Baltimore, might find this circumstance especially apropos given the fact that just days ago I was weaving my way through the crew, cables and chaos of an elaborate location shoot at a chichi mansion in the suburban mountains just south of Toronto. It was in the middle of this scene that I came upon a bizarre holiday image: the cult film director and king of happy corruption, waxing philosophical in front of a crackling fire and sparkling Christmas tree. A little less bizarre, it turns out, is the subject of his musings — certainly more Waters than wassail. Filming an upcoming episode of Court TV’s ‘Til Death Do Us Part, the Pink Flamingos director opens a gaudy, talking tie before grimacing, “No wonder he killed her.” Now that’s more like it.
The network’s first ever original scripted series, premiering March 19, features an inspired performance by Waters as The Groom Reaper, a wry harbinger of incidences of marital bliss doomed to unholy homicide. In each of the series’ 13 episodes, Waters’ Reaper weaves these twisted, true-life tales from wedding to morgue, giving his to-the-camera 2 cents — and then some. As we chatted in his on-set trailer, the man behind Hairspray told me about his take on the “public message” of ‘Til Death. “What we’re saying in this show is, ‘Get divorced!'” he laughs. “As an alternative to murder, it’s more sensible.”
That’s not to say he’s anti-marriage, per se. He lauds the success of his parents’ more-than-60-year union, but cringes at the futility of creating “the happiest day of your life.” “I’m not against the institution of marriage,” he says. “I’m against the business of it.” Claiming he’s “never had fun at a wedding in my life,” Waters couldn’t pass up the chance to tell ‘Til Death‘s stories. “I thought it was perfect for me … I’ve always felt a little like The Groom Reaper, even before I knew there was a character!”
A groom reaper he may be, but grim he most certainly is not. Known for his controversial, envelope-pushing style (you must remember Flamingos‘ infamous feces feast), one would think the indie maverick would be as outlandish and offensive as some of his films. While he might like it that way, Waters is — both on set and off — a consummate professional full of humor, humility and, of course, hubris. Cast and crew alike on ‘Til Death‘s Canadian set had nothing but praise for the occasional actor. Executive producer and writer Ken Hanes raves, “John is a terrific guy — maybe I will blow his reputation here. He is a complete gentleman, and the crew adores him. He’s just smart and kind, and his performance has been wonderful. We could not be more fortunate to have John on [‘Til Death]”.
This is, however, still John Waters, maker of the NC-17 flick A Dirty Shame. Eager to learn from the master, I asked him what, hypothetically speaking, a wholesome midwestern girl might do to embrace his brand of corruption. And thus, my (hypothetically speaking) schooling began. “Movies are very good for corruption. Or a bad boyfriend. Basically, you have to corrupt yourself in a good way.”
That good way, it just so happens, does include travel — or, what Waters dubs “the anti-racism” — and does not necessarily include some of the more obvious diversions. “Not drugs. Drugs are so old hat,” he opines. “Maybe they should come up with a new drug. There hasn’t been a new drug in so long! Come on, kids! It’s your duty!”
Upon further contemplation, Waters revises his innovation inspiration. “Movies really are the best way. Movies that’ll change how you think, and that you can corrupt other people with. Because once they get hooked on it,” he excitedly explains, “then they really start liking weird movies and they lose their urge to just see movies that make you feel good for no reason.”
Suddenly feeling a bit corrupt due to my decidedly feel-good approach to movie going, I was relieved when Waters clarified. “I don’t go to a movie to feel good. I feel good before I go to the movies. If anybody says, ‘It’s a feel-good movie,’ I’m generally very suspicious of it.”
I’m not sure if this means I pass or fail Corruption 101, but I plan on ignoring that suspicion and feeling good about John Waters … ‘Til Death Do Us Part.