John Waters Knows Exactly What the 'First Paragraph' of His Obituary Will Say About His Career (Exclusive)

The Pope of Trash opens up to PEOPLE about what he considers his best work and the current status of his potential 'Liarmouth' film starring Aubrey Plaza

<p>Stefanie Keenan/Getty</p> John Waters in Los Angeles in September 2023

Stefanie Keenan/Getty

John Waters in Los Angeles in September 2023

For about six decades, John Waters has been making audiences laugh, shriek and think.

Since crafting his first short film in 1964, the iconic Pope of Trash has pushed boundaries with uber-successful (and often controversial) works like Hairspray and Pink Flamingos — making the late drag queen Divine a star in the process — to fan-favorites like Cry-Baby and Serial Mom.

From establishing his own Dreamland collective of actors including Mary Vivian Pearce, Mink Stole, Pat Moran and more to casting high-profile faces like Johnny Depp, Kathleen Turner, Christina Ricci and Selma Blair in his movies, Waters has undeniably become a Hollywood legend without ever fully moving out of his native Baltimore.

Related: John Waters Loves Hosting Mosswood Meltdown Festival Because 'Punks' Have 'Always Been My People' (Exclusive)

<p>Kevin Mazur/VF24/WireImage</p> Selma Blair and John Waters in Beverly Hills in March 2024

Kevin Mazur/VF24/WireImage

Selma Blair and John Waters in Beverly Hills in March 2024

A-list actors are still clamoring to work with him today. Aubrey Plaza has been officially cast to star in the film adaptation of his 2022 book Liarmouth — despite the movie currently having no production company attached to actually execute the project.

Waters hasn't directed a film since 2004's A Dirty Shame, but he's since received a fair share of his flowers. Last year, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and the Academy Museum dedicated an ongoing 12-gallery exhibition to his cultural contributions.

In the midst of gearing up to return as the host of punk music festival Mosswood Meltdown in Oakland, California, in July, PEOPLE sat down with Waters to discuss the potential Liarmouth film, his biggest regret and what he predicts his obituary will say about his career.

<p>Jim Spellman/WireImage</p> John Waters in New York City

Jim Spellman/WireImage

John Waters in New York City

Your fans, myself included, have been buzzing about the potential Liarmouth movie. Is there any update?

Every time I talk about this, it becomes a news story and there is nothing new. We don't have the money to make it, period. That is, today, the answer.

How does John Waters struggle with getting funding for a film after all this time in the industry? I mean, you have an Academy Museum exhibition.

Because have you seen what the film business is going through? Nobody can get a movie made unless it's a $90 million very commercial movie.

What do you think about people like Kevin Costner and Francis Ford Coppola investing millions into their own films?

Well, I think it's great Francis did it. I wonder what his kids think about their inheritance. He got a standing ovation in Cannes, from even people that maybe didn't like the movie, all for him. I don't have $140 million to invest. They always say, don't ever put your own money in your movie, and I kind of agree with that. I did in the old days. I raised the money, and I personally owed it back to people, and all those people got their money back. Not all the studios did later, but that's their business.

<p>VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty</p> John Waters


John Waters

That's not something you necessarily have control over.

No, but most of my films are still in print, and they all did way better than when they came out.

A lot of people are simply excited to see whatever happens with you and Aubrey Plaza.

Oh, she wants to do it, I want her to do it, but we don't have a nickel to pay her. It's all talk. It's speculative. As of now, we are not making the movie because we don't have anyone that said yes.

Are there any other actors you haven't worked with that would be a dream for you to cast?

Sure. But they're going to be in this movie, so I can't talk about it yet. Yeah, there's plenty of them. Meryl Streep I always loved. I met her. She never said, "Let's have a meeting."

<p>J. Vespa/WireImage</p> John Waters in Toronto in 2004

J. Vespa/WireImage

John Waters in Toronto in 2004

You're known as a huge reader. Would you ever adapt anyone else's book into a film?

Never. I have never even read a script that I didn't write. The fun of it for me, if there's ever fun, is thinking it up. I wouldn't know how to direct somebody else's stuff. I'm a writer. Once I think it up, "Oh, now I have to do it." A lot of it to me is writing the script. Then, I've played all the characters in my mind for a year before we even get there. Whoever gets the parts, the stars, don't ever have to read. They just, if they ever use the word ‘journey,’ I never hire them.

Why is that?

I hate that word. It's so overused, especially in LA. You're not on a journey. People that are escaping Ukraine are on a journey, not winning the [Independent] Spirit Award.

When you look back on your career, which film do you think you'll be most remembered for?

When I die, the first paragraph will be Hairspray and then Pink Flamingos.

Related: 'Hairspray' Turns 15! Nikki Blonsky, Director Adam Shankman Reveal Secrets from Set of Iconic Movie Musical

<p>Catherine McGann/Getty</p> John Waters and Divine

Catherine McGann/Getty

John Waters and Divine

Which do you think you should be most remembered for?

They're all exactly the same to me. I think my best movie is Serial Mom. The best Divine movie is Female Trouble. But Pink Flamingos still caused the most trouble. They're all the same to me. They have the same message — "Mind your own business. What people use against you, turn into a style, and you'll win." Every movie's about that.

Do you have any regrets from your career?

One regret in my life is smoking cigarettes. It’s terrible. I know many of my friends are dying of cancer right now.

How long did you smoke for?

Oh, I haven't had a cigarette in 7,782 days — roughly. I write it down every day. But I smoked five packs a day. Not always, but long enough. Camel Cools. Oh, even saying that word makes me cough.

<p>Amanda Edwards/Getty</p> John Waters in Los Angeles in March 2024

Amanda Edwards/Getty

John Waters in Los Angeles in March 2024

You've always been somewhat private about your personal life. Is that a decision you made early on in your career? 

I always did because none of my boyfriends have ever been in the public eye. They don't want to be, and I like that. I don't want a boyfriend who’s dying to walk the red carpet. And they don't want me to talk about it, so I never have. I'm friends with all my exes. I don't think it’s been that many — four or five in my whole life. I don't deny it, but I don't give you details because they don't want me to.

Is there anything at this point in your life and career that your fans would be pretty surprised to learn about you?

Well, I wouldn't tell you, PEOPLE magazine, if I was keeping it secret. I know PEOPLE is where to come though if you do tell secrets, and they treat you fairly. Every time a star is in a scandal, the right press agent will tell them to go to PEOPLE. And I would too.

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