Divine Interview Magazine, 1988
This month, in Waters' bizarrely gentle, shockingly moral new '60's musical,
Hairspray - about American bandstands, integration, barrel curls, and
war with Cuba - Divine gives you two, two, two stints in one. For those
who forever love him as the most oddly voluptuous creature this side of
Brigitte Nielsen in a kimono, he is Edna Turnblad, happy housewife. But,
for those who miss Huey Long, a helluva guy, he is Arvin Hodgepile, segragationist
owner of a Baltimore TV station. Divine may be the only one of us left
who can still swing both ways and smile.
Rubenstein: Well, suprise, suprise. After fostering a screen image that
combined the best of Joan Crawford, Ida Lupino and Broderick Crawford,
you've turned into Myrna Loy.
Imagine me, a concerned mother. Now that's acting.
You're practically sweet in Hairspray. Is this your new leaf for '88?
No, I am sweet. It's just that no one asked to see this side of me before.
But you're so wholesome, so caring. Is this a career turn? Should we be
expecting a remake of The Best Years of Our Lives anytime soon?
Well, put it this way: For all those people who always thought I was nothing
more than a drag queen, wait until they see what I agreed to look like
in Hairspray! Drag queens are supposed to be hung up on glamooouur. Meanwhile,
on my first day on location, I came out as Edna Turnblad - in my flip-flops
and hideous housedress, with varicose veins drawn on my nubbly shaved
legs and everything that is wrong with me accentuated, schlepping along
in these pin curls and barely any makeup - and I walked right by the crew.
Just kept going. Not one person on the set recognized me or even noticed
me, because I looked like half the women in Baltimore. I had to go up
to John and stand face front for him to realize who I was. He was thrilled.
I was crushed.
Initially, I was disappointed that you didn't have the lead in Hairspray.
Funny, I had the same reaction. I wanted to do it, to play both mother
and daughter, like those Lana Turner movies where she's sixteen years
old and then she's eighty. I thought it would add the right touch. But
I think the producers were a bit leery, so they hired Ricki Lake to be
my daughter. She is nineteen and delightful. I hate her. I got to admit,
some of those kids were a little young, and no matter what kind of makeup
I devised, I wouldn't have held up next to a fifteen-year-old boyfriend.
The camera is so cruel.
Chronologically, you could easily be Ricki Lake's real mother.
Thank you for reminding me. As if the kids didn't tell me enough times.
But they were sweet. It was great to watch them, because they had never
heard of the dances of the '60's. So John would go, "C'mon, Divine, show
'em how to 'mash potato'; do the Madison for them." I mean, they had a
dance instructor, but I would show Ricki special steps, in hopes of making
her a baby Divine...
You are more popular as a cabaret performer in Europe than you are here.
Europeans are not uptight about the female attire. Men have always played
women's parts in the theater. It's not questioned and no one really cares.
It's just a way to give people a good laugh.
But if you want to be known as a character actor and want to get more
male roles, doesn't perpetuating a drag character hinder you from changing
the perceptions of ready-to-pigeonhole Hollywood casting people?
I have to work. I have a certain way of life I want to maintain. I don't
want to be poor again. Besides, I love what I do. I've only been making
money for the last five years, so I certainly haven't been doing this
for bucks. At this point, I can't help it if others have a lot of misconceptions
about what I do, if they're not willing to believe I am a character actor
and one of my characters just happens to be a loud, vulgar woman. Nevertheless,
it hurts. The other night I had dinner with a friend I hadn't seen in
a while, and he told me his roommate warned him not to eat with me because
"God knows what she will do, probably stand up on the table and moon and
vomit all over people." C'mon fellas, give me a break.
People don't even know the meaning of the word "transvestite." I don't
live in drag. Now, Candy Darling was a transvestite, and a very beautiful
one. But I don't sit around in negligees and I don't wear little Adolfo
suits to lunch. Of course, if I had a couple of Bob Mackie outfits, things
might be different...