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John Waters tells Seth Meyers about being a cult director, getting rats to have sex

John Waters, Seth Meyers
Screenshot: Late Night With Seth Meyers

Nobody in Hollywood has let John Waters make a feature film since 2004's A Dirty Shame, which is, well, a dirty shame. Still, the self-proclaimed “filth elder” (according to the title of his new book Mr. Know-It-All: Confessions Of A Filth Elder) isn’t letting the man get him down (so to speak). On Thursday’s Late Night, the legendary—or infamous, if you like—Baltimore-based director told Seth Meyers that he’s still out there pitching. Even though, as he confessed, he has to lie a little to try to make studio suits forget his thoroughly earned title of cult director.

Saying the term “cult director” translates in Hollywood-speak to “smart people like it and it lost every penny,” the 73-year-old trash auteur told Meyers, explaining that his little white lies about his next flick having something for the whole family aren’t really fooling anyone. “I’ve failed upward,” Waters joked to Meyers, explaining that his one mainstream success in 1988's Hairspray was “a sneak attack” on a moviemaking establishment that has traditionally treated Waters and his coterie of up-for-literally-anything actors like the unbankable weirdos they defiantly are. (Waters still has all those lovely Hairspray residuals coming in, thanks to the long-running stage musical, and told Meyers he’s up for directing a porn version. See if you can guess his title!)


Meyers, clearly a big fan, teed up the ever-dapper Waters throughout with anecdotes from Mr. Know-It-All that Waters delighted in telling in all their disreputable glory. Such as the time when his efforts to get two Baltimore alley rats to have sex in a trash can for the opening credits of his 1998 ode to the creative spirit, Pecker, proved surprisingly futile. Waters told Meyers how, bored and frustrated at his actors’ shyness, he tried out a little explicit rodent dirty talk—only to realize that the film’s rat wrangler had brought his young son to set that day. “And I look like a pervert anyway,” laughed Waters, explaining that, after apologizing, some vigorous trash can shaking was all it took to get his reluctant rat lovers to get down to business. And, before you ask, yes, Meyers had the clip, to Waters delight, as he proudly watched his onscreen credit come up just as his camera caught two rats in flagrante. As anyone who’s seen Waters’ gleefully filthy one-man show knows, Waters has plenty of very John Waters ideas just waiting for the green light. Like his proposed Christmas movie, a heartwarming tale of a clan of feral Baltimore children who survive as expert meat-thieves. Someone give this man a few million, please.

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Dennis Perkins

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.