John Waters has never been one to shy away from controversy. In fact, he's more likely to embrace it.
And the director of such love-them-or-hate-them cult hits as "Pink Flamingos," "Polyester," "Serial Mom" and "A Dirty Shame" said he's proud that he's been able to have a 40-year-plus career as the maker of "exploitation films" for art-house theaters.
"It's been a lot of fun. I don't know many other people who can say that about their job and actually mean it," the 60-year-old filmmaker explained during a telephone interview from his Baltimore offices.
He remains amused by the extreme reactions to his films, which haven't gotten any tamer over time. (His 2004 comedy "A Dirty Shame" received an NC-17 rating from the MPAA for its sexual humor.)
"I hope that the worst thing that people will say ever about me was that I was interesting and never boring," Waters said.
The man once described as "the pope of trash" finds himself in the unlikely role as a spokesman for the Sundance Institute, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. He will be one of the featured attractions in a special program of films and other local events this week.
"I guess they couldn't get Robert Redford or the next 300 people who were below him on their wish list," he joked. "But seriously, I'm thrilled about their support for my movies and my ideas. And I'm proud to be representing Sundance, especially in Utah. Its home."
Waters will be introducing screenings of his musical, "Hairspray," which debuted at the 1988 Sundance Film Festival, and the outrageous 1972 dark comedy "Pink Flamingos." He'll also be doing "Cinematic Immunity," a 90-minute monologue featuring Waters reminiscing about his career and other subjects.
He promised that it won't be boring. "I don't exactly hold anything back when I'm talking. And I'm even worse onstage. And no, I'm not simply making it up as I go along."
He also said he's looking forward to coming back to the Beehive State, where he appeared for the 1997 re-release of "Pink Flamingos." "Oh, Utah tends to get such a bad rap from people. But in my experience, conservative communities like it always have fun rebels."
The program will also bring Waters back to one of his favorite movie houses, the Tower Theatre. "I love the Tower. It's so quaint," he said. "I would seriously work there as a janitor if they'd have me. I may have to check into that."
His janitorial side career may have to wait. While Waters still mulls over his next big-screen project, he's been keeping busy. He's co-starring as a character called The Groom Reaper in "'Til Death Do Us Part," a television pilot for cable's Court TV that looks at ill-fated marriages. ("It's not as deadly serious as their usual programs. Well, it's deadly just not serious," he teased.)
And Waters said he's looking forward to seeing next year's remake of "Hairspray," with a cast that includes John Travolta (in Divine's original role), Amanda Bynes, Christopher Walken, Queen Latifah and Michelle Pfeiffer.
"Christopher Walken, singing and dancing. You can't do much better than that," he said, with less sarcasm in his voice than you might expect.
The new version is based on Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan's hit Broadway adaptation, which pleases Waters. "I always thought it would be a natural fit on Broadway. In fact, I've been pitching some of my other movies as Broadway productions. Or maybe they could do 'Polyester on Ice."'However, he's not actively involved in the new film, aside from being credited as its original inspiration. "To be honest, it's nice to be able to collect a paycheck and be completely passive for a change."
E-mail: [email protected]