Even coming from the man who brought you an outsize Divine in a dress and the Odoramic scratch-‘n’-sniff smell of dirty sneakers, the Cry-Baby cast is patently absurd — a fitting thing in that absurdity is Waters’ patent. Symbionese Liberation Army recruit and heiress Patty Hearst plays a school crossing guard married to Ozzie and Harriet’s son, David Nelson. Their daughter is ex-teen porn queen Traci Lords. Teen heartthrob Johnny Depp plays a teen heartthrob delinquent whose stepdad is rocker Iggy Pop. Andy Warhol protege Joe Dallesandro is the husband of mattress expert Joey Heatherton. China Beach’s Ricki Lake — star of Waters’ Hairspray — is a proud-to-be-pregnant high schooler named Pepper. Willem Dafoe cameos as a prison guard. ”It’s my dream cast,” Waters says. ”Nobody’s going to think the studio made me use these people.”
Nosirreebob. His movies may no longer be so revolting as to beg pharmaceutical warnings — best seen at least one hour before or two hours after eating — but Director Demento still hasn’t sold out. Lords, whose filmography includes Beverly Hills Copulator, is not an obvious choice for a film produced under Ron Howard’s banner. But Waters, ever-attuned to the tabs, liked Lords’ story: in 1986 it was discovered that she’d been an underage skin-flick star and most of her oeuvre was whisked from video-store shelves and theaters. Lords, trying to shed her X-rated image, wanted to play Cry-Baby’s Hatchet-Face, a character the script says has ”the body of a goddess and the face of a mule.” Instead, she plays the bad girl. ”I told her if she wanted to get rid of the image,” Waters says, ”she should play it for me.” Depp got the same advice about hyper-typecasting. ”Johnny’s shy about being a teen idol,” Waters says. ”So I said to play one so people will know you’re making fun of it.”
Hearst is an old Waters favorite. ”Patty didn’t ask to be famous,” he says. ”She was just doing her homework and the next day she was the Lindbergh baby that lived. Why not have a little fun with it?” Hearst does.
Noticeably absent in Waters’ first ”boy movie,” as his crew calls it, is the late Divine, whose cross-dressing leads made Waters’ mark. Depp’s Cry-Baby doesn’t wear skirts. ”People say it’s so different,” Waters says. ”But both Johnny and Divine were good actors and movie stars. I think it’s the same thing.”