Traci Lords Reflects on 30 Years of Cry-Baby and Why Her Past Keeps Her 'Humble'

Nigel Smith

Traci Lords is having a full circle moment at this stage in her career — and she admits it’s a bit “eerie.”

As Cry-Baby, her John Waters-directed breakout teen comedy, turns 30 this year, Lords, 51, is diving into a new project that the iconic director behind such cult classics as Pink Flamingos and Serial Mom would surely enjoy.

Lords can currently be seen headlining the cast of the play Women Behind Bars at the Montalban Theatre in Hollywood. Originally produced in New York and revived a year later with Waters’ longtime muse Divine (Hairspray), Tom Eyen’s classic comedy hilariously sends up the prison exploitation films produced in the ’50s. Co-starring alongside Lords are Mink Stole, a frequent Waters collaborator, as well RuPaul’s Drag Race competitors Eureka O’Hara and Ginger Minj.

PEOPLE caught up with Lords to discuss her theater debut, Cry-Baby‘s legacy, and the hustle that took her from the adult industry to Hollywood.

Has rehearsing for Women Behind Bars made you reflect on the making of Cry-Baby some 30 years ago?

Well, absolutely. I think about Cry-Baby and those times all the time because I think out of any role I’ve ever played, who knew that Wanda Woodward would be really the most iconic character that I’ve ever played. It’s really kind of amusing to me how much that character resonates with so many people style-wise and everything else.

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Have you stayed in touch with your co-star from that film, Johnny Depp?

I haven’t spoken to Johnny. I know that like everybody, he’s had his ups and downs and I hope he’s doing well today. But other than that we don’t really stay in touch, no.

You’ve been a huge supporter of LGBTQ talent over the years. Why do you feel a connection to that community?

The bottom line here is that the whole concept that men should just be with women is not okay, it’s wrong. I can’t even begin to fathom why anyone would think that love with any people is a bad thing. That is how I feel, that’s how I’ve always felt.

Cry-Baby | Henny Garfunkel/Imagine/Universal/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

You seem to be having a ball in this play.

I’m having some fun and I will be honest with you, it’s been brutal. It’s a beast of a play and I mean that with the utmost respect because I think that Tom Eyen is a genius playwright.

You came from a challenging background and really made a name for yourself on your terms. What do you ascribe that hustle to?

I just really felt like I was 100% like pissed at the deal that I’ve gotten. I felt like I was thrown to the wolves. I felt like I wasn’t going to let anybody write me off, that I was too young and that I had too much going for me and that I really felt like I was out to prove them wrong. That was the fire beneath me that, “You know what? Whatever you guys think label me however you want.”

And you know my, my motto has always been, “Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise.” And it still is.

And how vindicating was it to see all that work pay off? That must have felt incredible at the time.

Yes, every single day. But my past keeps me humble. It doesn’t matter how much great stuff I have. The world people can be mean. There’s all kinds of ways to attack women. I’m constantly reminding myself that while those things can still hurt, you just have to brush it off your shoulders because it doesn’t mean anything.

For tickets to Women Behind Bars, visit the theater’s website.