Interview: John Waters on Cry Baby hitting 4K Blu-Ray

John Waters sits with JoBlo for an exclusive interview about the restoration of his 1990 classic Cry Baby, and remembers working with Johnny Depp.

john waters cry baby

There aren’t many movies like Cry Baby, just like there aren’t many directors and writers like John Waters.  Both are unique and unlike anything that has come before or since.

Cry Baby hit screens at the beginning of a new decade, 1990, and celebrated a time many decades prior.  It was skewering of teenage delinquent movies of the 50s with a healthy dose of weird, transgressive and musical theater.  The overly dramatic time of a teenager and how rebel films of the 50s took that angst and upped to off the charts.

John Waters grew up with those films, and Cry Baby was his unique and amazing spin on that genre.  Cry Baby tells the story of Wade “Cry Baby” Walker and his bizarre family and gang of Drapes.  These are the weirdos and outcasts of Baltimore, the ones Waters himself would identify more with than the Squares of the story.  The Squares are the clean-cut, Pat Boone types who are proper and dignified.

When Allison, a pretty young Square falls in with Cry Baby’s gang and in love with Cry Baby himself a star-crossed love affair begins and so does the music. 

The film is one of my favorites of Water’s library (one he’s having a hard time adding to these days) and was an opportunity for Johnny Depp to break free from a teen dream image by mocking that very sort of ideal.  It would happen even before his turn the same year as Edward Scissorhands, showing a determined Depp didn’t want to be trapped in the role of heartthrob.  Along with Depp, Waters brought together a cast that only he could.  Iggy Pop, Traci Lords, Susan Tyrrell and Amy Locane were just a few of the names.  These were joined by the likes of Troy Donahue as well as Joe Dallesandro who was known for his work with Andy Warhol, Patty Hearst, Mink Stole, and Willem Dafoe in a brief but memorable role.

The soundtrack was fantastic, even though a decision was made to not have Depp’s voice used in the singing numbers (something now which seems extremely odd given his turn in two musicals and being in the band The Hollywood Vampires.)  Instead, the Rockabilly and 50s songfest that included Cry Baby himself was the voice of James Intveld.  Intveld is still recording and releasing music, but at the time he wasn’t credited for the singing in the film until later.

TODAY, Kino Lorber is releasing Cry Baby in glorious 4K with new extras and includes the Theatrical Cut as well as The Director’s Cut of the film.  The extras include a new audio commentary with John Waters, new interviews, and a new Featurette called Bringing Up Baby.  It also includes the documentary It Came From…Baltimore! along with deleted scenes and trailers.

John Waters took the time to chat with me about the film and he did not disappoint.

cry baby movie

JD:  I did want to start this off by saying you have one of my favorite quotes in the world, which was basically, If you go home with someone that has no books don’t have sex with them.

JW:  I think I said, Don’t fuck them.

JD:  That’s true.

JW:  If they’re cute enough, I’ve made exceptions. The other angle to that is if you go home with somebody and they have books in the bathroom run. That’s even worse than having no books.

JD:  That is also true.

JW:  If they have jokes by the John next to the bathroom, the lowest genre of literature there is, which almost I was offered to do one, and it almost made me want to. That is the lowest possible form of literature.

JD:  That’s true too. Well, sir, thank you again for taking the time to speak with me. I’m very excited to talk to you because Cry Baby is one of my favorite films you’ve done.

JW:  Thank you.

JD:  I love the fact that it’s getting the 4K treatment because it’s just one of those beautiful films that needs to pop off screen more. That’s one thing about it that as I’ve watched this movie so many times, and as I’ve watched, it seems like in parts of it, it reminds me of almost a cartoon, and other parts of it remind me of almost a stage play. What was your design process for the look of this and putting this together?

JW:  Well, I give looks a lot of credit to Dave Insley, who was my DP, who started with me as a student on Female Trouble and did, yeah, I give him great credit for that. He did Hairspray, too. Both those things you say, cartoonish and stayed play, would usually be thought of as a negative thing. But cartoonish, I always plead guilty to that because I myself always wanted to be a cartoon, in a way, am one now in real life. I plead guilty to that. And a stage play, yeah. In the beginning, my movies were way more like that. I mean, this, we had coverage and different cameras and everything. In my early movies, they really were a stage play because they were shot with single system camera. You couldn’t cut back and forth. So we did long takes, where people would have to memorize three pages of dialog and get it right in one take. I think it was thought of more as trying to be an Elvis movie and satirize a genre I love, which was juvenile delinquent movies and musicals.

JD:  Well, and it did that perfectly. 

JW:  Many, many young people say to me that the first movie they saw of mine was Cry Baby, and it gave them a hint that there was another life that they could find.

JD:  Exactly. Yeah. Well, it almost seems, too, that with this movie, it was absolutely a perfect film for Johnny Depp. 

JW:  Especially at the time, especially at the time, because he was a teen idol and hated being one.

So he chose me, the opposite of a big Hollywood commercial director, to make a movie that made fun of being a teen idol.

JD:  Well, the other one, the same year, you beat Edward Scissorhands by five months before.

JW:  Well for Edward Scissorhands, he (Tim Burton) came and looked at a footage of Cry Baby before he hired him. Definitely, he knew he wanted Johnny, too, but he didn’t know really what he was going to be like. I think Cry Baby really helped him get that part. He certainly went on from me to have a very distinguished career, never making… I mean, he made some, God knows, commercial hit movies, but I don’t think they were ever the movie that he was trying to get away from where he was just like a teen idol or that kind of thing.

I’m the one who wants to be a teen idol at 78.

JD:  You are. That’s the best part of it.

JW:  (laughs)Thank you.

JD:  You totally are. I agree with that. You are a stunning man, and I think you’re beautiful.

JW:  Thank you. That’s called gerontophilia. Attraction to old people. Wrinkle Queens.

JD:  I have it. I know this.

JW:  Wrinkle Queens. 

JD:  I have it. I’m I am totally guilty as charged on that. I was curious, when you went for Johnny Depp for this film, was there any convincing to the studio that this was the right guy?

JW:  They wanted him big time because I had just made Hairspray. For once, I was conceived as somebody that could make a hit movie and get good reviews. It’s the only time ever that happened to me in Hollywood, but it was that time. Starring Johnny Depp, everybody wanted to make a movie starring Johnny Depp at the time.

JD:  I love that you got him for this. It’s so great. Now everybody’s like, Oh, yeah, now that makes sense.

JW:  Well, I think it did make sense for him to do it. I think he got the film, finance a movie probably, I don’t know, for whatever had been made without Johnny. But he was attached right from the very beginning. It really helped and made everybody know it was my Hollywood movie.  And they let me do it pretty much the way I wanted. So they were on board with it.

JD:  Well, and jumping around a little bit, I was curious. I know that he lip-synced his song for the film, but he played the music and did all of the moving around and choreography. Was there ever now with his band, like with the Hollywood vampire, and then knowing that he did two musicals, what was the basis for that?

cry baby cast

JW:  I mean, always In the beginning, he wanted to sing, and I guess just everybody was unsure about it. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I should have let him sing, except the guy that does the voice is absolutely fantastic.

JD:  Oh, he is.

JW:  The real Cry Baby in real life. I don’t know. I understand why today, even, he wishes he had sung, and now he can sing, and certainly, he probably could have done it very well. But at the time, no one knew at all if he could sing or anything. I don’t think anybody wanted to take that chance. Probably me either at the time.

JD:  I just was curious. Were there any audio recordings of it at all?

JW: No, he never did it, that I remember, no.

I mean, he’s lip syncing it constantly through the whole thing. When you do that, you almost do sing along with it. But no, I don’t remember that he ever tried that hard. I mean, it was never an issue where it was, Listen, let me do the song. I don’t I don’t think that ever happened. 

JD:  I just was curious if there was ever a chance of them being found because it would be neat to hear it.  But the guy who did it was great.

JW:  I don’t think there was. We probably would have exploited that already.

JD:  That is an extra feature. One thing that I love about this movie, too, is while it’s a teen comedy, you managed to sneak a lot of things into this that are implied heavily, maybe a little bit of incest in there. There’s some interesting bits and pieces. I was curious, was there anything that you would have liked to include it in this film that got left out because the studio was like nooo.

JW:  I’m trying to think where the incest is.

JD:  Well, you’ve got Ramona and Iggy Pops character, the uncle and they are a couple.

JW:  Is that incest? I forget.

JD:  I think they’re related?

JW:  Oh, maybe. Yeah. That’s not incest. That’s just Baltimore. They weren’t mother or father or anything. They weren’t like that. I forget. Maybe did they say they’re cousins or something? I don’t even remember that. That wasn’t some point I was, I’m not an incest. I’m not an incest militant.

JD:  I thought it was funny, though. I was like, Oh, Okay. No, that’s hilarious.

But one thing that always stuck out for me, too, within this, because I grew up… I didn’t grow up in the Baltimore or the Maryland area, but I grew up in the sticks. I grew up in a little town in Southeast Missouri, Southern Illinois area. It’s funny to me that in this film, the Backwoods yokel group that you have with the drapes are really the more connected and loving family than these supposed good guys.

JW:  In my films, the villain and the heroine in regular movies are always reversed. Yes. The crazy people in my films are always more well-adjusted than the judgmental others, which are not.  I think Johnny Depp, Cry Baby, had a better upbringing than Allison did. She had a loving one, too, but still, both their parents were killed, so they had that bond.

JD:   Well, and also just the look good, don’t touch, can’t hug. There’s a lot of physical affection being shown within the other. I thought that was always such a great showing of that.

JW:  Yeah, and then everybody’s saying how great you look, even when society is saying you don’t.

Yes, Ramona Anna and Iggy and the Iggy pop character were very supportive of their family’s rebellion.  They did stuff together. They did everything together.

JD: Yeah, they were a family, and a lot of them weren’t blood-relation, too, which I thought was fantastic.

JW:  Well, everybody formed some family.

I mean, even the people I made films with, we were a kind of family. I mean, I’m not saying they didn’t have real families, but all groups of people become families. I think that’s what friends are.

And they outlive your family, too, usually. 

See I was lucky, I had a very supportive, functional family. I grew up very much how Allison did in that world. I mean, I had parents. It wasn’t like my parents were killed in a plane crash. But I had to go to those dance schools and all that stuff. That gave me rage and the rebellion. But my parents really tried to understand everything I did right from the beginning, which was never easy. I look back on it and realize how supportive they are because nobody said what I was doing was good for 20 years. They were horrified. I got arrested for doing it. They were horrified by what I did, but supportive of me doing it.

JD:  That’s great. And that’s great to hear. And that rolls into what I was going to ask about this film needed to have a cohesive group to sell Cry Baby and his Gang. And I was curious, can you talk about bringing that group of misfits together in this and how everyone bonded together?

JW:  Well, I think that everybody at the time had been through something. Patricia Hearst, she didn’t want to be a kidnapped victim. Tracy Lords had escaped adult films. Nothing good happens to you if you’re in adult films underage. All those films are illegal, kiddie born. She survived well. She’s doing great today. I think I helped with that. We all bound together there. Everybody got along. It was different misfits from high society, from the lowest form of juvenile delinquency, and everybody got along. We made a movie that was a Hollywood movie that mocked the very idea of one. It was a safe way for many of the cast to be bad.

JD:  I absolutely loved Susan Tyrrell, and I wanted to ask you about working with her on this and having her be the mother figure for the group because she just was such an icon. 

JW:  She just- Well, to be honest, she was a nightmare. She was drunk for the whole movie, and Iggy had just gotten sober and had to do every scene with her. She even told me one day her mother died, and it wasn’t even true. But I liked her, and she gave a great performance in the movie, and that’s what counts. 

She was a difficult woman, but she was a colorful woman.

What you see, that is what she’s like. She was a team player, and she was a definite rebel. God knows she’s had another hag in a history of a career filmed with me playing hags. She was right. She could play a crazy hag better anybody in the world.  In real life, she purposely acted like every person I would introduce her on the movie, she’d say, Hi, they call me Susu, and I have a pussy of a 10-year-old. That’s what she would say every time you introduced her to people.

JD:  Oh, my God. That’s hero level.

JW:  I said, Don’t say that to my mother. I don’t think she did. But I also am not sure it was true. But still, that’s what she said when you would introduce her to anybody on the set every day.

JD:  That’s all I could ask for and expect with the legend of Susan Tyrrell. Oh, my gosh. Well, and this is something I actually really wanted to ask you about, and It pertains to a number of your films, in the past but I would say, anything in the future as well. Right now we’re in this PC versus acceptance time of filmmaking and art, where we’re seeing a lot more acceptance in film for LGBTQ across the board. We’re seeing that and just that representation. But we’re also getting into what is super PC.

JW:  Yeah, that’s the whole thing my spoken word show, The Devil’s Advocates, about that, the whole new revolution, everything. I have never been hassled by PC people because technically, and I say things that really push the edge there. I am PC. If you technically get into it, I don’t say anything that’s politically incorrect. I make fun of the rules that we live by. I always made fun of the liberal rules because I am a liberal. I made fun of hippies in the ’60s. Multiple Maniacs was a film that glorified violence in the hippie years. We always made fun of the values of the counterculture culture, but that’s who came to see it, and they liked that.

JD:  I grew up with Blazing Saddles. I love that movie. That movie was spot on what it was making fun of. It did it without really any boundaries. But today, I don’t think you could get a movie like Blazing Saddles made in any way, shape, or form. And that’s sad.

JW:  Well, all comedy is political. It always has been. But in the same way, my films do better than they ever did. God knows, in hindsight, some of the stuff is politically incorrect in it. Incorrect, but by strict standards of the humor impaired today. But I don’t seem to have that problem. Even Pink Flamingos was chosen by the government as a great American movie and has singing assholes in it. I mean, mother-son sex. It has the most politically incorrect things ever in it, but yet it’s humor. So somehow, I think it liberated people, and that’s how I have gotten away with it. I don’t think I’ve really gotten away with anything, but I have been able to continue a career that makes fun of liberal rules because that’s what I am.

JD:  Yeah, that’s why we love You do it well.

JW:  Well thank you.

JD:  And just my last question for you, John, again, I’m just an honor to get to chat with you about this. I was curious what it was like for you to get to see Cry Baby for the first time in 4K.

JW:  Well, it was great because I hadn’t watched it in a long time. The only thing that always happens is you’re sad at the people that are no longer with us. It’s like going to a high school reunion, you find out who died. To me, it was always a little bitter sweet to watch old movies, and I never sit around and watch my old movies, but I did watch this to see how it looked and everything, and I was thrilled, and I thought, How did we ever make that movie? God, it looks so hard. How did we ever do that? Then you think, Well, that’s what youth does. You can make things that you think today you could never do. No, I’m proud of it. I’m happy with all the people that were in it. It’s a film that was not a success when it came out, but it has certainly lasted. People know the film today and treat it way better than they did when it came out.

JD:  Well, John, thank you again. I hope you keep creating. 

JW:  Well thank you, I’m keeping on as much as I can

About the Author

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Jessica was raised on a diet of Dark Shadows, Doctor Who, and a lot of things she saw way too young. She’s been writing for nearly a quarter of a century about the world of entertainment and her own fiction (and that sound you heard was her bones turning to dust.) Jessica loves being a JoBro as well as creating content for her site/channel/Podcast Fangirl Magazine/Fangirl Radio. Her favorite things are writing, movies/tv, video games, reading, and trying to summon the ghost of Vincent Price.