The cover of John Waters' novel "Liarmouth: A Feel-Bad Romance."
In the U. S., the paperback version of John Waters' novel "Liarmouth: A Feel-Bad Romance" will come out May 2.

Writer and filmmaker John Waters hasn’t said much about who might star in his next movie, but he did give a strong hint recently about a role he’d like for himself.

The movie is the film adaptation of Waters’ 2022 novel, “Liarmouth: A Feel-Bad Romance.” It’s a story about Marsha Sprinkle, a woman who steals suitcases at the airport, and her partner-in-crime Daryl, a man with a talking penis, which is a separate character named Richard in the book. Village Roadshow Pictures has optioned the novel and Waters, who turned 77 on April 22, has confirmed that he will write and direct the film.

At recent spoken-word performances around the country, Waters has told audiences that he has begun writing the screenplay. He’s stopped short of talking about who might be cast in the lead roles, saying it’s still too early for that.

But in a recent interview with a French television network, Waters said there’s one role that he could see himself playing: Daryl’s talking baguette.

“I hope when they make the movie, I get to do the voice,” he told Olivia Salazar-Winspear, a journalist who interviewed him for a cultural affairs program called ENCORE! on France 24, a TV network based in Paris.

“That would be an amazing role to fulfill,” Salazar-Winspear responded.

Waters’ appearance on France 24 coincides with the publication this year of the French edition of “Liarmouth,” which has the title “Sale Menteuse: Une Romance Feel-Bad.”  In the U. S., the paperback version of “Liarmouth” will come out May 2.

The France 24 interview wasn’t the first time Waters expressed an interest in playing the vocal appendage – a sign that it’s on his mind. In his Valentine’s Day show in Baltimore, when an audience member asked about the character, he also brought it up.

“Daryl’s d–k? Maybe I’ll be the voice, I don’t know,” he mused.

From creepy to lovable  

If Waters does take on the talking todger, it wouldn’t be the first time he’s had a role in one of his own films. He was a flasher who lives next to the Turnblads in the 2007 version of “Hairspray”; Dr. Fredrickson the crazy psychologist in the 1988 version of “Hairspray”; Mr. J in “Pink Flamingos,” the narrator modeled after Mr. Ray the hair weave promoter; a reporter in “Cecil B. Demented”; Ted Bundy in “Serial Mom”; and a ‘Pervert on Phone’ in “Pecker.”

He’s played characters in other shows as well, many of them weird, sleazy, unsavory or creepy in some way. His roles have included: a bartender in “Homicide: Life on the Street”; a funeral director in “My Name is Earl”; a snooping news photographer who’s killed when a jar of sulfuric acid falls on his head in “Seed of Chucky”; an airline passenger in “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip”; and a used car salesman in “Something’s Wild.”

Waters introduced a dance song called “The Creep” in a 2011 music video on “Saturday Night Live.” He was movie director William Castle in “Feud: Bette and Joan”; Floyd Cougat, the “porn-monger man” in two episodes of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”; Lazarus, a gay man who guides Midge to a lesbian bar in the “Interesting People on Christopher Street” episode of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”; and Sheffield, a child trafficker who sells genetically-engineered babies for an organization posing as a legitimate adoption agency, in “Search Party” on HBO.

One of Waters’ previous voice roles was his portrayal of John, the gay owner of Springfield’s campy antiques and collectibles shop, ”Cockamamie’s,” in a 1997 episode of “The Simpsons.” John, who befriends the Simpsons, was the first openly-gay character on the animated series and the episode, “Homer’s Phobia,” was widely praised for using humor to help change Americans’ views about the LGBTQ+ community. Waters also appeared as an interviewee on The Simpsons’ 20th anniversary special – “In 3-D! On Ice!”  

A soft spot

When Liarmouth was published last year, Waters acknowledged that there may be other talking penises in literature. But he contends that the loquacious tallywacker in Liarmouth is a literary first, because Daryl is straight and his penis is gay. No one has explored that dynamic before, he pointed out. 

Daryl’s extremity is one of many offbeat characters in the book, which also has a cult-like band of trampoline bouncers; a tickle enthusiast and a woman who performs plastic surgery on pets.  Waters has said it’s “the craziest thing I’ve ever written.”

Judging from his answers on the French broadcast, he clearly has a soft spot for Daryl’s wise-cracking knobgoblin.

Toward the end of her interview, channeling the late Barbara Walters, Salazar-Winspear asked Waters one final question: “If you had to live out your days as one of the characters in your films or books, who would you be?”

Waters didn’t hesitate. “I guess I’d be the talking penis,” he replied.

Playing Richard would be more than a cameo role for Waters. Liarmouth goes to some lengths to explore the conflicts between straight Daryl and his gay phallus, and who gets shafted more.

During the Q&A portion of the Valentine’s Day show in Baltimore, the penis-obsessed audience member asked Waters how he planned to film Daryl’s protuberance. Waters said he isn’t worried, given the CGI [computer generated imagery] technology available to filmmakers today, in which computer software is used to create visual effects that can’t otherwise be filmed.

“I saw Avatar,” he said. “If they can do that, I can do a talking [penis.]”

More observations

France 24 is an international news platform that offers a French perspective on global affairs. Its four channels, in French, Arabic, English and Spanish, have a combined weekly viewership of 61.2 million people in 183 countries. It’s the first international news channel in the Maghreb region of northern Africa and in the French-speaking African countries. Its Paris newsroom serves as the hub for 430 journalists representing 35 nationalities.

ENCORE!, the program on which Waters appeared, describes itself as a show that takes viewers “to the crossroads where culture meets the news and engages with what’s happening in our lives today.” It’s seen Monday to Friday at 12:15 p. m., Paris time.

During a wide-ranging segment that was broadcast April 27, Waters read an excerpt from Liarmouth and answered questions about his career and life in the U. S. The program also showed footage of the recent Baltimore Museum of Art exhibit of artwork that Waters pledged to donate to the museum when he dies, entitled “Coming Attractions: The John Waters Collection.”

Salazar-Winspear asked Waters what it was like to be making a movie again, since his last film was in “A Dirty Shame” in 2004. Waters said he never really stopped working in the film industry, because he has been paid to write four different sequels to “Hairspray” and “a children’s Christmas adventure,” but they didn’t get made.

The difference between his previous movie projects and “Liarmouth,” he said, is that he’s adapting a book this time.

“I’ve never taken a book and then gone the other way – made it into a movie,” he said. “What you have to do is eliminate a lot. You have to change things. Because in a movie, you show it or say it. In a novel, you can think it, and that’s the difference. It’s a different kind of challenge. It’s like writing in reverse, in a way.”

Waters weighed in about the attacks in the U.S. on drag queens and transgender people.

“I take them seriously because trans people are being killed,” he said. “But at the same time, it seems like everyone is trans now, in rich kids’ schools, like 90 percent of the students. And I think, am I a woman?…But at the same time,  I think you should be able to be whatever you want to be. I think if you want to be a woman today, a ‘them’ tomorrow, I don’t care. Good. So why does that threaten anybody? I don’t know why it makes people so angry…I don’t understand why it’s so threatening to people. Kids love drag queens. They’re like clowns.”

Divine’s influence

Divine, a 300-pound drag performer who starred in a number of Waters movies before he died in 1988, was a one-of-a-kind actor who remains influential today, Waters said.

“Drag queens hated him because he made fun of drag,” Waters said of the actor, born Harris Glenn Milstead. “He would show up carrying a chainsaw with fake scars painted on his face, and he was overweight and he had nudity, like Lizzo does today…. Other drag queens were nervous because they were square then. They wanted to be Miss America or their mothers.”

Divine’s influence is that “every drag queen has an edge” today, Waters said. “Every drag queen has a kind of anger to it and a kind of humor to it.  And they make fun of themselves, just by some of the names, like Urethra Franklin. I love that. That’s my favorite drag name. But Divine was not trans. Divine dressed as a man in real life. He didn’t want to be a woman. I always said he wanted to be Godzilla.”

Salazar-Winspear asked Waters what he thought about cancel culture and whether he thinks “woke debates” are legitimate.

“I’m not sorry that Harvey Weinstein’s in jail,” he said of the film producer convicted of sexual misconduct. “But at the same time, I taught in prison. I helped people get out of jail that committed murder. So who am I to judge other people? That has already happened. That is up to the courts.”

Waters said he’s happy for Johnny Depp, who starred in his film, “Cry-Baby,” and who’s in a new movie that’s opening the Cannes film festival next month.

“Johnny Depp was found not guilty” in last year’s defamation trial with the actress Amber Heard, Waters noted. “So as far as I’m concerned, he is certainly eligible to get everything back he may have lost.”

Waters said he doesn’t think that books are becoming obsolete for young people, as Bret Easton Ellis recently warned.

“I don’t agree,” he said. “Everybody in America thought when all the big chain book stores opened, that they were going to put the independent book shops out of business. The exact opposite has happened. The big chains are closing and the independent book shops are thriving, because people like the community. The only real job I ever had in my life was working in an independent book store.  And if I had to get another job today, that’s what I’d do. You meet great people.”

Salazar-Winspear asked Waters if he thinks it’s still possible for young people to find a “fertile, creative, artistic scene” in which to work, the sort of environment he found in Baltimore in the 1960s and 1970s.

“Certainly,” he said. “Especially in Baltimore where I live, which is cheap. It’s still cheap. You have to have a cheap neighborhood in order to have Bohemia…I think it is possible, but cheap rents have a lot to do with it — and people living together and mixing together.”

Waters said he’s not a separatist.

“I believe straight, gay, everybody should hang around together, and then you learn about each other’s career. And I don’t understand why the gay community is fighting with each other. Gay, straight, trans – we all used to hang around together. Now we’re weakening the pervert brand. We can’t be fighting with each other.”

Book talks and signings

As part of a book tour in May for the launch of the paperback edition of “Liarmouth,” Waters will sign copies at Atomic Books, 3620 Falls Road in Baltimore, on May 12 starting at 7 p.m.

He’ll also appear at Book Soup in Los Angeles for a book signing on May 8; the Sydney Goldstein Theater in San Francisco for a book talk and signing on May 9, and MAP on Commercial Street in Provincetown, Massachusetts, for a book signing on June 15.

Waters will perform his End of the World spoken-word show at the Carroll Arts Center in Westminster, Maryland, on May 13; the Waldo Theatre in Waldoboro, Maine, on June 24, and the Wortham Center in Houston, Texas, on October 13. He also appears in the just-released digital documentary, “Little Richard: I Am Everything.”

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Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.

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