Traci Elizabeth Lords has defied all odds and exceeded expectations across the board. This successful entrepreneur in fashion is a talented actor who has really found her sweet spot in recent roles such as Pop network’s curveball comedy Swedish Dicks as well as dramatic and horror genres too.
A multihyphenate powerhouse, Lords rules in many arenas, taking her career on a wild ride through music, fashion design, directing, writing, producing all while continually acting in film and TV.
She has a bestselling memoir under her belt, has enjoyed a moment as Helmut Lang’s muse, is becoming a powerhouse in retail with a sold-out hot as lava sexy dress that she designed…Traci is a Phoenix risen from the ashes of what could have been an ugly end for most people.
Her life was not easy in the beginning. Understatement.
Steubenville, Ohio was ground zero for her personal hell as she suffered a rape at age 10, then even more molestation, all leading to drug addiction to self-medicate. Her underage porn career facilitated by her step-father is now a cautionary footnote in history as her legal case rewrote the laws in the 1980s.
Traci managed to catapult out of that morass and into legitimate acting circles and classes, winning key friendships and fans such as John Waters, who cast her as Wanda Woodward in his 1990 film Cry-Baby alongside Johnny Depp. Numerous TV roles and film roles followed, and awards for her work in the 2012 film Excision, earning her a Fangoria Chainsaw Award for Best Supporting Actress as well as Fright Meter Award and CinEuphoria Award.
Music also earned Lords’ interest, starting in 1995 with Radioactive Records releasing her debut LP 1000 Fires. This also led to voice-over work and more opportunities outside of entertainment, namely fashion and design.
Currently, she is an integral cast member in the comedy series Swedish Dicks on Pop. The hit comedy also stars Keanu Reeves and Peter Stormare. Lords plays Jane McKinney, a major adversary to Stormare’s erstwhile and laconic Ingmar in the P.I. game in LaLa Land.
— Pop (@PopTV) July 22, 2018
We spoke to Traci about Swedish Dicks and working with Peter Stormare, as well as her take on current events, her friend Johnny Depp and more.
Monsters and Critics: How did Peter Stormare approach you for this delightful role in Swedish Dicks?
Traci Lords: The script was sent down by my agent, and it came with this lovely letter that he had written, and he just said that he could think of no one but me to play this role and that he, although we had never met, but he said that he just kept hearing the voice saying ‘Traci Lords, Traci Lords, Traci Lords.’ And he was like, why Traci Lords? He felt like he couldn’t get me out of his head.
I got the script, and it had this strange type and I thought, oh God, what is this? And I read it, and I just started laughing, and I just thought it had me from page two, so that was a really good sign, and I really explored it.
We had a conversation, and I loved everything about what he was doing, the fact that he put it together and put the financing together, that he really believed in this, and he was doing it on a small budget.
It was a labor of love, and he’s an incredible actor, and I think that because it’s his baby and how specific he was with what he wanted to do that he really attracted some great actors to the piece.
It’s kind of Fargo meets John Waters or something. It’s just a little bit off, and it’s really good to laugh…I think that, you know, comedy, we need it right now.
It was a lot of fun. I loved playing Jane because she just has no fear, she has no apologies, she just walks into the room and commands all the attention, and it’s fun to fiddle with those boys.
M&C: You mentioned John Waters, and I know in 1990, Cry-Baby changed your career trajectory in such a profound way. How did you connect with John Waters?
Traci Lords: It’s funny because I think that Cry-Baby [Wanda Woodward] is still one of the most iconic roles that I’ve ever played. At my shows and conventions, appearances, walking down the street, it’s the one role where the fan base is so broad, from little girls that just loved the fact that it’s a musical, and they love those dances and the 50s, and they’re obsessed with that kind of stuff to the rockabilly scene. It just has such a huge, huge following still to this day.
John’s going to be in town next week. It’s the 30th anniversary of Hairspray, which is my favorite John Waters film. So John will be at the big screening in celebration of that, that I’ll be at. It’s funny, over the years John and I have seen each other at different shows across America.
He’s still got this one-man show where… he’s 71-years old and he is a force to be reckoned with on stage, and I love him, adore him, I consider him a dear friend, and I wish he was making more movies.
But yes, Cry-Baby at the time, I didn’t realize what a big role Wanda would play as far as women still really emulate her. They loved her, and I see it now. I’ve been … This is the second year that I’ve been designing with Pinup Girl Clothing, and I have a line there. And the very first pieces that designed were an homage to Wanda, and I realized just at various appearances and things how important Wanda was to a lot of women.
Surely John Waters just has such a huge, huge following. People just love him. But I think that they really related to Wanda because she was a tough girl, but she had a soft spot underneath, and she was beautiful, and she was a badass, and she sort of didn’t take any prisoners. And she was all of those things, and they wanted to be like her. She was a fierce character.
M&C: Johnny Depp is having a hard time. When you’re on top of the world, you’re on top of the world. When you’re down and out, people tear you apart. Johnny’s kind of there, you know? Just wondering if you have stayed in touch with him. What would you say to him if you could?
Traci Lords: Well, my thought on Johnny is that if you’re going through hell, keep going. Don’t stop and build a house there. Nothing is set in stone. Nothing is forever, and the great thing about life is that it’s constantly changing, and it’s supposed to. We’re supposed to constantly learn and seek things and not be comfortable.
I can tell you that Johnny Depp has never, ever been, in my presence, been anything but kind, and gracious, and lovely. I don’t know what happened to him in his last relationship. I don’t know what that was. I met them together, the last time I saw him, he was at Linda Ramone’s event for her late husband Johnny Ramone at Hollywood forever, and John was there, and I was there, and Johnny was there, and Johnny brought his new girlfriend Amber, and that was the only time I ever met her, and I thought she’s a beautiful young lady.
I think that, that’s the key… ‘young lady.’ I felt like a lot of men and people can get just … I don’t know. Maybe the pretty face is not necessarily the best thing for you.
I don’t know what happened with their relationship. It sounds like it didn’t go really well. I don’t know, I’m sure that there’s more to that story than we know, and frankly, I just feel like it’s their business. It’s not anybody else’s business. And I’ve never known Johnny to be anything but just a really kind, sweet gentleman with his mother, with his sister, with every single crew member. So I found those allegations and whatever that was more really shocking, because that’s not the person that I met or knew.
I think that wherever he is right now, it doesn’t take away from the fact that he’s a tremendous talent, and he is incredibly good at what he does, and he’s accomplished so much. So if I could say anything to him, I would just say simply that, is this too shall pass. You have to want things to be better for them to ever get better. And that’s up to him.
I hope he’s surrounded with some good people that are reinforcing the good stuff, the positive stuff. Addiction is a motherf***er. There’s no two ways about it.
M&C: Yes. The FBI really saved you as a young girl by way of their investigation, and they helped remove those films made in your life that were illegal. And now we have the FBI being discredited by our current President. What is your feeling about the FBI and how they handled pulling you out of that fire, and then now what you hear and see in the news?
Traci Lords: Well, there are so many different aspects to all of it, many different layers I think of things that strikes me is that personally for me then, my first reaction was, “What took you so long?” And I think that that is also really relevant to right now. A lot of people are wondering what’s taking so long.
But I believe in process, and I think that the cream always floats to the top, and I think that it is a huge mistake to make it be against Republicans or against Democrats or dismiss people as liberals or whatever.
I think that it’s really true that this is an American issue and that we are truly all in this together, and the truth is what will prevail. I believe that 100 percent, and I think that we just need to try to breathe, and more power to you, Mr. Mueller. I hope that he dots all the “Is,” crosses the “Ts,” and the truth comes out. And some of this toxic vomit, really, is a thing of the past.
Whatever is going on, I can tell you that I feel like I don’t remember a time in my lifetime where people have been this ugly. And I think that is incredibly sad. Don’t you?
M&C: Yes. This is worse than Nixon. Your film Sweet Pea broke my heart. It had to be a very cathartic thing, watching that young actress basically kind of reenact what happened to you in many ways.
Traci Lords: Yes. That was my directorial debut, and I wrote it. It was based on a chapter in my book. And Haley Hudson, it was one of the first pieces that she’d done. It was one of her first … She was 17 years old, and she was so good. Didn’t she do an amazing job?
And of course, looking back at it, I see how I would’ve directed it completely differently…I appreciated the piece. It was interesting because writing it, writing the book was, that was an incredibly cathartic thing to do.
It was really good for me, and it was really painful for me, but it really helped me. Making the film was a completely different experience, maybe because then I had my director hat on, and it was the first piece that I had done, and I was thinking technically and trying to convey, and I was also … I had my actor hat on, too, because it’s like as an actor directing actors, that’s a whole nother piece.
But I really wanted to direct something just to make myself a better actress. I thought I really don’t understand what the totality of filmmaking is, and I want to know what that is. I want to know what part I’m really supposed to play, meaning ‘what is my significance in all of this?’
So I was questioning all those things then, and it definitely gave me the bug, and I’d taken my time, much to my husband’s chagrin. He’s like, “You need to do more of this,” and I tend to just gravitate toward what moves me, and it can be from music to designing clothing, to whatever. To me, it’s all the same thing.
Once again, I go back to, it’s not happening quite as fast as I had thought, but it was a tremendous experience, so I’m looking forward to following it up. I’m going to direct my first feature film at the end of this year. That’s more of a ghost story.
But it seems like I’m definitely attracted to stories of people and the real underbelly of why they do the things that they do, and especially once again right now, it’s women’s stories I think are so important right now, and I want to be in one of those places.
M&C: Is that the project called The Unquiet Grave?
Traci Lords: Yes. At the heart of it, it’s a thriller, it’s a ghost story, but the center of it is the relationship … It has a love story between two older people, and the relationship between the 85-year-old woman and the 16-year-girl is really what I fell in love with. Just finding mentors in different places, and that’s the gem, I think, in the center of it.
I’m really excited to just see how I can really dig into that and bring that to life. It makes me sentimental. It makes me think about my grandmother that’s no longer on this planet. It makes me think about just that love that doesn’t die, and just that female bond, and just the celebration of our elders.
I wish that society embraced that more. I feel like there’s such a lack of respect, really, given to the knowledge that a lifetime can afford you. But for me personally, that’s something that I really wish that I had more of.
I very often think, “Oh God, I wish my grandmother was here because I don’t remember how to make that pirogue recipe,” or, “I want to ask her about something.” I’m at that point in my life. I lost my father earlier this year. He passed away in January. That really was a tremendous thing for me. And so I found out so many things about him that I didn’t know because he wasn’t really present in my life.
I miss that. I wish that time was there and was allowed, but it’s something that I want to very much explore right now in my work, what we are, why we are, where our memories, how we grow. How do you open it up more? How do you have more heart? How do you grow your spiritual life? How does that all work? That’s the stuff that I’m fascinated with at the moment.
M&C: You also do a tremendous amount of advocacy work. We live in really perilous times for people who are most at risk, whether they’re displaced migrant children, or gay people, and human rights, can you talk a little bit about that?
Traci Lords: I feel like I really want to do more, that I haven’t done enough. It’s really hard to just look around and see what’s going on right now with, yes, with gay rights, and with these children, and all of this stuff and feel like you’ve done enough. I mean, I don’t know how that’s possible. It’s heartbreaking. It really is. And it needs to stop.
It’s constantly looking for ways to lend my voice and to strengthen myself because I feel like we can get so exhausted from it all, don’t you think?
M&C: It’s exhausting. The news.
Traci Lords: Yeah, I’ve stopped, too. Now I just listen to the BBC in the car, the radio, but I really can’t at this point, I can’t watch President Trump at this point. I just can’t. I don’t want to hear his voice. I feel like I don’t believe him, and that makes me so incredibly angry and so sad, because that’s the President of the United States, and I’m so just disgusted and disheartened, and I feel like with this much darkness, the only thing that you can do is try to be a positive light, because we need the balance.
Swedish Dicks airs Thursdays at 10 PM (starting July 26) on Pop TV