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Mink Stole: Today, Blood Is Richer Than Waters : Theater: 'It's been really wonderful to play a character rather than a caricature,' the actress says of her role in the Grove's production of 'Dracula.'

November 12, 1994|ALAN EYERLY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

GARDEN GROVE — Fans of the campy, trashy cult films of John Waters remember Mink Stole for her outrageous portrayal of a baby seller in "Pink Flamingos," a murderess run amok in "Desperate Living" and an adulterous secretary in "Polyester."

General audiences have seen the actress in the three latest, and comparatively mainstream, Waters movies: "Hairspray," "Cry-Baby" and "Serial Mom," in which Stole receives obscene phone calls from the June Cleaver-ish mother-gone-psycho played by Kathleen Turner.

For the past two weeks, however, Orange County theatergoers have been watching Stole in a decidedly different role. Instead of skewering the middle-class conventionalities of suburban Baltimore, she is driving stakes through the hearts of London vampires in the Grove Theater Center production of "Dracula."

So how did this John Waters mainstay become involved with Gothic drama in Garden Grove?

The Echo Park resident has the same manager as Matthew Walker, who plays a bug-eating but endearing lunatic Renfield in "Dracula," which closes Sunday. After director Kevin Cochran learned that Stole was available, he asked her to audition for the part of Professor Van Helsing, esteemed vampire expert.

"It's been really wonderful to play a character rather than a caricature," Stole said as she relaxed upstairs at the theater over coffee after a recent performance.

"I like doing the stage," she said. "It's a whole different set of challenges. In theater, you're really flying without a net. In film, if you blow something you can go back and fix it."

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Most of Stole's acting work has been with Waters--she appeared in all of the writer-director's feature films over the past three decades--but she also has stage credits in New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. One of her most memorable theater experiences was working with comedic playwright-director Charles Ludlam in "Love's Tangled Web."

"He was such a force," Stole said of the New York playwright, who died of AIDS in 1987. "There wasn't a moment when his brain wasn't going at full speed. He exhausted me."

With the exception of the long drive from her home to Garden Grove (she passes the time listening to country music), Stole said she's having fun "not going camp" in her latest incarnation as a scholarly slayer of the undead.

"I really have enjoyed this," she said. "(The director) allows us a great deal of freedom, yet there's a captain at the wheel.

"And I never spent a month in Orange County before. Now I know about the Carl's Jr., the. . . . ," she said, her voice trailing off.

Stole began her acting career with Waters in a serendipitous manner.

"I didn't really start out as anything," she said. "As a teen-ager I met someone who wanted to make movies."

In those days, Waters was a "really skinny, geeky guy with stringy hair." And the early, low-budget movies movies they made together were destined to become underground classics.

The Waters body of work includes "Roman Candles," "Eat Your Makeup," "Mondo Trasho," "Multiple Maniacs" and then the intentionally tasteless "Pink Flamingos," in which Stole challenged Divine (the late 300-pound transvestite) to become "the filthiest person alive."

Stole also was in "Polyester," the first (and, one hopes, last) film that came with a scratch-and-sniff Odorama card. As Stole cavorted with Divine's sleaze-ball pornographer of a husband, audiences had their nasal passages assaulted with the smells of gasoline, old tennis shoes and flatulence.

Asked if she had any insider stories about Waters suitable for a family newspaper, Stole thought back to the outrageous parties, the general weirdness, then laughed and said, "Ah . . . no."

She did say that Waters "loves being a celebrity, but he has many friends who are not famous."

"He's actually such a nice man," she said. "He's one of my best friends."

And despite what some filmgoers might think, Waters does make his actors stick to the script.

"There have been a few occasions when I've been called on to ad lib," Stole said, "but I was told when to ad lib."

As for herself, Stole said she didn't set out to be a cult figure, "it just happened.

"I'm John Waters' Mink Stole," she said. "I didn't want to be be somebody else's apostrophe."

Initially Stole was disturbed by the adoration she got from cult-film devotees, but gradually she came to appreciate their attention.

"I have a stack of stuff at home that I have to answer," she said, and some of her admirers have given her flowers following "Dracula" performances. "People are really wonderful to me."

"Female Trouble" is her favorite Waters film, she said, "but I really like Dottie" (in "Serial Mom"), which is her most restrained and naturalistic film role.

For her performances in all Waters' other films, she said, "I've always gone, 'How big can I go?' But in 'Serial Mom,' John kept saying, 'Take it down, take it down.' I said, 'John, if I take it down anymore, I'll be dead.' "

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