John says he is just the guy to play Edna. "I grew up with some fantastic women—my mother, my sisters—and they were all performers. So I saw them on Broadway, I saw them in summer theater, and I have mental image pictures of women in these kinds of performances. I probably have the best library of memories for this kind of thing."
One aspect of Edna that John was particularly excited about was her voice. Hairspray gave him a chance to use the distinctive Baltimore accent he learned while shooting 2004's Ladder 49 in Charm City.
"At first … I think that everyone was frightened of the accent, because maybe it wouldn't be understandable or perhaps it would be too eccentric or something," John says. "And I said, 'But it helps me because it's slightly feminine.'"