MINK STOLE
The American actress speaks about women in Hollywood and her career to date


Mink Stole has adopted an individualistic career since the 1960s, working mainly in independent and offbeat films that demand versatile performances. She has played some characters that include angry, defiant women, such as Connie Marble from Pink Flamingos and Dottie Hinkle from Serial Mom. Her roles have created an eager following, particularly through Twitter and her Think Mink website, and Miss Stole represents the spirit of an older generation of strong actresses who have shunned the traditional Hollywood route.

 

Her career in film and music as Mink Stole and Her Wonderful Band has overtaken her association with John Waters, with whom she worked since the mid-1960s. This loyalty and collective of actors and actresses was akin to Warhol's Factory scene of around the same time, but Waters' films and the characters that he devised differ wildly to Warhol's abstract creations. However, both share an appreciation of characters that don't fit societal expectations.

 

Miss Stole speaks to us over the phone from her native Baltimore, where she was born Nancy Paine Stoll and was one of ten children. The actress has alternately lived in both New York and Los Angeles, but she moved back to Baltimore fairly recently. "Well, I moved back because my mum was getting old and I wanted to spend time with her. I was very fortunate because I got there two months before she died so I was in time. I was also just ready to leave Los Angeles. I love Los Angeles, I'm not one of those LA haters and I have a lot of good friends there. Every now and again I like to jump off a cliff, I like to make a big, big change and coming to Baltimore was the obvious choice."

 

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The actress has played a number of characters, but has particularly connected with Taffy Davenport, the enfant terrible from Female Trouble. "I identify with Taffy more than with any other," she says. "She was an only child, but yes, very much. I was never abused but yes, I felt very misunderstood and very isolated." The actress has recently been supportive of President Obama and was asked if some of her negative feelings towards Nixon's term in office transmuted into some of her earlier roles. "Not specifically. I was angry about a lot of things back in those days. I was angry about Nixon, I was angry about Vietnam, I was just plain angry. I was angry at Catholicism, I was angry at my mother. Being able to play angry characters was a wonderful release for me. I was angry at my on life as well as the politics of my generation." She considered how working on the set of an independent film differed when she began her career. "When I was younger I was able to tolerate the difficult conditions. I mean a lot of films are independent now, but they are not low budget. Working conditions were difficult, were long hours and often not a place to go to be quiet and private. I physically can't be in that situation anymore."

 

She worked with the notorious Waters stalwart Edith Massey up until Polyester and explained what the eccentric lady was like to work with. "Edith was a complicated yet simple woman. She was game for anything. I mean obviously, she sat in a birdcage with her hands in a hook in Female Trouble. I don't think she was really an actress in that she created characters as her character was created by someone else. She sometimes had trouble remembering her lines, but that's a bit unfair as most actors have trouble learning their dialogue. I don't think she was always aware of what she was actually doing. She learnt her lines, but I don't think she knew exactly what she was saying." Mink also worked with Susan Lowe, aka Mole McHenry, on the set of the raucous Dangerous Living and laughed continually when asked if there was an animal-named rivalry on set. "Between Mink and Mole? She is still a good friend. That's a funny question!"

 

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The black and white image of Miss Stole that accompanies the interview is reminiscent of studio portraits of the stoic actress Lillian Gish. Miss Stole recalls which actresses she has admired: "Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck. They stood out because they played comedy and drama and played very strong women. I would say those two very specifically. Joan Crawford. There's nobody working today that makes me really excited. I mean, Meryl Streep is amazing, but it's so different today. You guys have some of the great ones. Judi Dench is amazing, also capable of comedy and drama, Maggie Smith and Helen Mirren. A lot of them get to work as older women and they still get wonderful parts." In an era of possibilities for any woman working at any age, she elaborated on what parts she would still like to play. "I think it's going to be too late, but I'd love to play Hilary Clinton, I can't think of anybody else off-hand. That won't happen as we're too close to age, but I'd love to play young Hilary!"

 

Music has been an important component in her career, but this hasn't always been the case. "Well, sadly I really didn't listen to much music as a child as we didn't have much music in the house. I've always loved the old torch songs, all the sad songs of love and loss. I don't sing those songs much anymore because they are very anti-feminist, most of them. That's what I grew up listening to and then into my teen years I listened to a lot of rhythm and blues, a lot of Sam Cooke and Motown."

 

Her songs feature titles such as Born of a Restless Spirit and God, If Any, which both feature on new album Do Re MiNK that was released earlier this year. Born of a Restless Spirit sounds like a joyous Ella Fitzgerald partying with surf-guitar stylist Dick Dale, but she was asked whether these songs reflect her opinions on religion or spirituality. "Some call them covers, I call them versions. God, If Any was written as an ode to agnosticism and I'm not really an agnostic, I'm pretty much an atheist. I'd love to be and prefer to be an agnostic. All of those songs have significance for me, i.e. how I've performed them and how they came to me, when I started working on them. More or else circumstantial and situational also well as philosophical, if that makes any sense?"

 

Her desires do not extend to directing or self-financing a film as she has done with the Kickstarter campaign for her new album. "No, I have absolutely no desire of being a film-maker. I really enjoy the creative process and that I have control of this CD, but I would be very happy to have someone else direct me and have somebody else do all the clerical work."

 

 

Words by Tim Woodward (@landoftheego).

“Bette Davis and Barbara Stanwyck stood out because they played very strong women.”

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