THE SHOWGIRL MUST GO ON by Dennis Hensley
I’ve just seen the appropriately named teaser reel for Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls and I’m recovering from the experience in a Sunset Boulevard cafe near the screening room. Though I’ll eventually see the whole film--and believe me, I’m counting the minutes--for my first encounter with the film’s star, Elizabeth Berkley, I’ll have to make do with just the 13 minutes of source material provided. But what a magnificent 13 minutes they are. There’s our girl, Elizabeth--as naked as I assume she was on the day she was born though I wasn’t there--shamelessly engaged in such activities as licking a stripper’s pole, refusing to put out on her period, writhing on stage with co-star Gina Gershon, and showing co-star Kyle McLachlan the real meaning of Twin Peaks from atop his ecstatic lap. Based on these few stellar minutes, the 22-year old also looks to be acting and dancing her ass off in the film. This, of course, I mean figuratively, for who wants to see a movie about a stripper with no ass?
Based on what I know about Hollywood and what I’ve just witnessed on screen, I’m half expecting Berkley to sulk in to see me in baggy sweats and no makeup, claim she didn’t know what she was getting into, and get pissed off when I ask about the nude scenes.
What a refreshing surprise it is, then, when Berkley makes her entrance. Dressed to kill in a backless lace top, and shiny drawstring pants that reflect the light in all the right places, the 5’10” stunner appears to have left the straight-laced character she played on Save By the Bell back in high school.
“I was just at the gym,” she says breathlessly, “and the Showgirls publicist calls and says, ‘Elizabeth, you’re on Sunset Boulevard.’ Did you see that over there? It’s the billboard for Showgirls. So I said to my trainer, ‘I’ll be back, I just need to go take a drive,’ so I drove up here and just stood there. I mean, it’s like a dream come true.”
“I can’t see it through the tree,” I complain.
“OK,” she says. “Let’s go on a field trip.”
As I follow Berkley out to the street and enjoy the backlessness of her top, I can’t help but wonder if some lucky journalist didn’t do the same thing with Sharon Stone on the eve of Basic Instinct, for the same team of served up that film, director Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Joe Ezsterhas, are behind Showgirls.
“Here it is,” shouts Berkley of the billboard that features a tantalizing likeness of her nubile body, but cuts her off right below the eves, leaving the top of her head and therefore her mind, on the cutting room floor.
“They cut off your eyes,” I remark. “I know,” she says. “They wanted it more mysterious.”
Back in the restaurant, I notice that the eyes missing from the billboard are, in fact, two different colors. One is brown, and on green--but the both burn with the same unabashed ambition as Berkley talks about life on the edge of NC-17.
ELIZABETH BERKLEY: Now we’re back in the restaurant, folks, and there’s a giant-sized pole right by our table.
DENNIS HENSLEY: It’s too big to do a pole dance with, isn’t it?
Yeah, it is. You can’t grip it.
What’s the operative width?
About half this. Something that your hand can almost go around. (Laughs) So, I’m a connoisseur now.
What’s your favorite pole trick?
I learned this one where you literally go upside-down and slide down bringing your legs together. There are a lot of gymnastic things you can do but I think it’s much more sensual if you use it as if it’s a person. I saw a whole range of people do it. I thought the eye contact with the audience was sexier than doing like an upside down flip like Mary Lou Retton.
Have you seen the finished film yet?
Oh my God, I just saw it like a week ago. You have to understand, I’ve been working at this since I was like five years old so it was pretty overwhelming. I sat in the screening room by myself. The lights went down and I started to cry because it was just overwhelming at first. I’m such a perfectionist, but a certain point, was able to get lost in the story, which was a good sign to me. I really thought that I was watching another girl.
So what’s the story of Showgirls?
It’s about this young girl whose been dealt a really bad set of cards in life and she comes to Vegas to become a showgirl. Ultimately it’s about moral choices, really, like how far would you go to get what you want, what would you give up for love. It’s very dark drama, but it’s also entertaining because of the production numbers. I don’t think there’s ever been anything quite like it.
What’s your character’s name?
Nomi. It’s spelled N-o-m-i but the way I’ve always thought of her is Know Me. She’s not going to obey other people’s rules. She’ll stop at nothing to get what she wants. What drives her is her dancing. It’s the one time that she feels the most alive.
What style of dancing is it?
It’s very harsh and very aggressive. That’s the way she lives her life. I found a lot of the character through the dancing because we had two months of rehearsal before we started shooting.
How much dance training did you have before this movie?
Dancing has always been one of my biggest loves. I’ve always taken class and people have always said to me, “Well, if you’re an actress, why do you take dance class every day?” and now I’m saying to them, “Honey, this is what it was for, this movie right here.”
What did you think when you first read the script?
I thought, ‘I have to do this.’ I mean, this role, I would kill for. It’s very rare you read a script where the whole focus of the film is on a woman. Also, I’m so passionate about what I go after and I really felt a lot of connection with the character right away. I just knew I had to get in the room with Paul and show him what I can do so that he could see because I really felt this strong connection. Plus it’s a little scary, you know. I didn’t become an actress to do things that are safe.
Did you read any scenes and think, ‘I can’t do that, there’s no way they can get me to do that?’
No, I didn’t. I thought, ‘Oh, when can I do that?’
It never crossed over the line for you?
No. In the beginning, I was a little nervous about the nudity but after the first day that I did it, it was fine. Paul made me feel really safe. I knew I had to feel that trust with him otherwise half the things I had to do, I could not have done.
Did the other dancers have more experience with disrobing?
Actually, I had to lead them. At the beginning when we were in the rehearsal process we were all dancing in our leotards. Finally, Marguerite (Derricks, the choreographer) said, “Guys, you have to get used to how it feels when you don’t have something to support you” so finally one day the music started and I said, “Okay guys, I’m going, so you have to do this with me,” so then everyone just did it and it was so free. We were giggling like little kids. From then on, it was fine. Between takes we didn’t throw our robes on, you know what I mean.
Did you go to craft services naked?
Yeah, everyone did. People would be sitting there, talking, eating bananas, smoking, whatever. The thing is, the way it was shot is so beautiful. Even though there are 21 pretty much naked bodies on the stage it’s not like you go, “Oh, breasts breasts, breasts.”
Was there any scene that was a lot harder to do than you expected it to be?
The bottom line is the character is so emotional. She’s constantly on the edge of a breakdown so that was hard because what’s two minutes in her life was 17 hours for me. There was one scene in particular where I’m on stage auditioning for the showgirl spot where Alan Rachins’ character is wanting me to put ice cubes on my nipples. That was so difficult. Everyone on the set just felt really upset by it because the fact is that goes when showgirls audition. I mean, it’s part of the process. And also some of the strip numbers were hard. Even though there’s the director, and the DP, there’s and all these wonderful people that I love there, there are still 200 to 300 extras sitting there with me naked and actually doing it.
There must have been a zillion horny extras wanting to appear in the club scenes.
Uh-huh, just as there are guys that go to these strip clubs. Everyone goes in for a different reason. Like some go because it’s a power trip. They can reject any girl they want and take any girl they want if they pay the money. The girls all work there for one reason, the cash.
Who makes more money, lap-dancers or showgirls?
Isn’t that kind of a bummer?
It is. I have no judgment on it because I think they deserve whatever they can get. There’s a girl here in L.A. that sometimes brought in $1000 a night, but that’s not common.
If you weren’t an actress, would being a Vegas showgirl appeal top you as a dancer?
My mind can’t even go to thinking about my life without acting, to tell you the truth.
What’s your favorite style of dancing?
I always did love tap, jazz and ballet, but now I’ve added a couple of new things to my repertoire. (Laughs)
Were you aware that the project existed before you auditioned for it?
Yes. The year before I met Paul I saw an article in the trades that talked about Esterhaus selling the script and what it was about and I thought, “Oh my God, I have to get a hold of this script.” Then they put in on hold for a year and in that time I was so curious about these strip clubs and lap dancing clubs that when I was in New York or Vegas I went to see what it was about. I watched and talked to the girls but I never got up there. I think for a lot of them it’s very hard to disconnect from what’s happening and to not have anger towards men. Sometimes when I would leave there I would be sad.
What are the ground rules of lap dancing?
The girl can touch them, but the guy can’t touch the girl.
Do some of the men have orgasms?
But they can’t whip it out.
Right, it’s a no-no. No whipping.
How many auditions do you have to go through before you got the role?
Four. Plus I just had to get past my agents and people telling me, “They’re definitely going to give this to a big name star.”
Wouldn’t it be hard to find a name that can dance and that would be willing to do that do what the role required?
Believe me, a lot of people wanted to kill for this. Everyone and their mother went in for this.
I know. My mom didn’t even get a callback.
The fact is, they would have used a dance double, so the bottom line was the acting because she carries the movie.
At what point did they ask to see you dance?
The third audition was a dance audition and after that I went to Idaho to do this TV movie for Disney called Cry of the White Wolf.
Is there any lap dancing in that movie?
No, but I was practicing pole dancing in the woods in case I had to go back for another interview.
Did Paul have to go to the studio and fight for you?
No. He just said, “This is who I want.” They really trust him. Look, this is the first director who in his contract, knowing that it’s going to be NC-17 was able to release it as a wide release movie in like 1000 or 1500 theaters.
Where are you from originally?
Farmington Hills, Michigan. Everyone knows everyone. I went from kindergarten through high school with the same people. I finished up high school out here actually. I live with my parents out here
What do your parents think of Showgirls?
They’re excited. Matter of fact, I called my dad at work today and he’s going to drive by to see the billboard. They’re very supportive. They knew what it was before I did it.
Did they come to the set?
No. They’re not stage parents. My mom saw the eight-minute trailer and loved it. She actually had a similar reaction to me. She saw someone else up there. I mean, it’s not gratuitous. The nudity is necessary and essential to the story. To portray her any other way would be a lie, you know. She’s a stripper. You wear a G-string and five inch heels.
Do you have brothers and sisters?
I have a brother named Jason.
Isn’t weird to imagine him watching you doing a lap dance?
Oh my God. Well, he’ll get turned on by the other girls in the movie. He’ll be grossed out by me. His friends, who have seen me grow up, used to tease me about being flat-chested because I didn’t develop until later in life - I was like 17 - so they haven’t seen me since then so they’re going to be in for a surprise. And his friend said, “Okay, I don’t have a lot of cash right now so I’m going to put $7.50 for a movie ticket in an envelope and save it for September 22nd.”
Do you ever get recognized from Saved By the Bell?
Sometimes. I think that it will be fun for the people who grew up watching Saved By the Bell who are now seventeen to be able to watch this movie.
Did you get to keep any of the clothes?
I’m going to get some of it, like these suede hip-hugger pants that lace up the front and of course, the S & M outfit with the thigh-high boots. Where I’ll wear that, I have no idea.
Do you have a boyfriend?
No. There hasn’t been time to meet anyone.
Did you have one at the time of shooting?
No. I was like Nomi. She was a Lone Wolf. I was a Lone Wolf.
Did you ever get turned on while you were shooting?
Oh yeah. Definitely. I can’t tell you which scenes because it was pretty constant. I mean, I’m dancing to amazing music, Prince and Dave Stewart from the Eurhythmics, that’s enough right there. The dancing scenes were a real turn on. The music in this movie really got me. I could hear it twenty-million times and it still gets me. It’s all new and original in the movie. There’s one song by Prince called, “Rip, Pop Go Da Zippa.”
Did you get to meet him?
I met him by chance right there in Tower Records. I was walking down an aisle and he saw me and he went, “Nomi?” because they had sent him a tape of me. And I turned around and it was him.
What did you say?
I didn’t know what to say, because I didn’t know what to call him. So I told him how much I’ve loved dancing to his music.
Did you do any gambling while you were in Vegas?
I wasn’t old enough to gamble plus I was in every single frame. I never had a break. I worked seven days a week, sometimes 17 hours a day. We’d film six days a week and then on the seventh I had to rehearse with the dancers. We had a few days off for the holidays and Marguerite and I, it was so funny, on New Years, we were sitting in this little dance studio in Burbank--they had built a pole there and that’s where we worked--and we said, “Do you realize it’s New Years? Happy New Year.” But I wouldn’t have rather had it any other way. There’s nothing I’d rather do than my work to tell you the truth. The feeling that I had waking up in the morning everyday, I couldn’t wait to get to the set.
I love that they built a pole for you in the dance studio.
Oh I loved it. I wanted it in my bedroom when we were done. I’m still asking where it is. I want it installed.
A few weeks later, I see Showgirls in all its naked glory and I howl with laughter at a hundred or so things I don’t think I’m meant to, I still find myself getting into the characters, appreciating the performances (particularly Berkley’s and Gina Gershon’s) and want to know what’s going to happen next. But then, I had a good time at Exit to Eden, so what does that tell you?
If I said I was upset or offended in any enduring way, I’d be lying. Color me screwy, but I’d rather see a movie that treats lap-dancers like lap-dancers than one that treats hookers like ingenues. Besides, I’ve always been a sucker for the unmitigated tackiness of Vegas. What’s not to love about a film that appears to have been treated head-to-foot by a Ronco Be-Dazzler?
I talk to Showgirls director Paul Verhoeven a few days after I see his film, and despite the backlash I can feel brewing in the media, my thumb’s still turned up. Fittingly, he calls just as I’m about to welcome guests to my annual Miss America party. Though I forget to ask, I have a hunch Verhoeven is in favor of keeping the bathing-suit competition.
Do you remember the first time you laid eyes Elizabeth?
Of course. She came into my office on the second day of the auditions and said, “Well you can stop looking because I am Nomi.” Of course I was testing everybody in the Central United States that I could get to; actors that can dance or dancers that can act or strippers that can do both but after a certain amount of weeks, it was more and more clear that the surest choice would be Elizabeth.
After seeing the film, it seems to me that you not only needed a girl who was pretty and talented, but one that was completely devoid of inhibitions.
Yes. When I felt that she was confidant in both acting and dancing, I started discussing what was necessary for the movie which was that she should not be inhibited by any of the scenes that were in the script, especially, the pole dance, lap dance and some of the more sexual scenes. But it turned out that she was extremely easy with all of that. She seemed to have no problem and I believed her and I was right.
Were there ever times on the set that she balked?
No. That never happened. Long before we started shooting I described the scenes and tried to prepare her for the fact that she had to face two or three hundred people being completely naked. Ultimately when it happened, she seemed to be prepared because she never was a afraid of doing anything that was written in the script.
Did her lack of inhibitions surprise you?
Yes. Especially for an American woman. You would expect this attitude more from a European actress than an American one. Yeah, I was highly surprised, but of course, it was great that she felt that way about her own sexuality or about her own body. I think she’s very confidant about how she looks and she seen not to be inhibited in any way. I’ve never seen her inhibited in any way throughout the process of shooting.
Did you ask to see her body during casting?
No. You could just tell it was hot? The way she was dressed, yes. I mean, she had a very flimsy dress on and I don’t think she had any bra on so basically, you didn’t need much imagination to check out if she would look good naked or not. And I asked her precisely if she had any scars or things that would be difficult, and nothing was there of that kind.
It seemed that the film paralleled her own life in that the character does morally questionable things to be come a “star” and Elizabeth does what some people would consider morally questionable things in a film that could make her a star.
Yes, it does. Basically, you could even argue at the end of the movie showing her on the road to Los Angeles is exactly what might happen when the movie comes out, isn’t it? The character Nomi is driven by ambition, to a large degree, and Elizabeth is also well aware of the ambition in her life to get to some place.
The ending seems ripe for a sequel. If the film hits, would you like to do one?
I’ve never done one. I’m easily bored when I’ve done a certain kind of movie to do it again. The ending was more winking to the audience what the next step might be. I’m not sure really that any of us is really interested in continuing that story although I know that Joe Esterhaus in some interviews has said that the sequel will be called “Bimbos.” If I would do a sequel, I guess it would be a bout a girl making her way in Hollywood or it could be a movie about Marilyn Monroe. If you study the life of Monroe, then it’s clear that the movie about her life in Los Angeles would probably be expressed the same as we are expressing in this movie about Vegas.
Do you do anything wild or unconventional to coax a certain performance out her?
Not really, no. I’m not that kind of director. I’m not very manipulative in trying to obtain goals. I’m much more into telling them exactly what I want and trying to describe it as precisely as possible. I’m not a director that gives them information that is A but means B. If I want B, I’ll propose B. I’ll try to clarify what B means and how it could be done. The only thing with Elizabeth is that sometimes she’s so thrown into the part that she overachieves so I have to relax her more than anything else. Sometimes she would hang on to the original design and choreography and needed some psychological guidance to loosen her up to say “Forget what you leaned, it’s in your body now. Just give yourself over to the music and it will come.” That is the only thing really where I would say that I did something psychological, but it was in all openness.
What do you see for her future?
The possibility to do other movies, I would say and I think she’s dying to do so. It depends a little bit how the movie is doing. If the movie does very well, then basically she would be a star but she would also have to carry the burden of being a star, which to a certain degree, is something that is enjoyable, but on the other hand, especially because it’s put in such a sexual context, the movie might propel her into a direction that can be a burden as we all know about Marilyn Monroe. Of course, Monroe was a much more unbalanced personality than Elizabeth is, who has much more better support systems with her family and friends, so I think she is certainly much better prepared to deal with the fact that the attention would go to her for some time in a certain direction.
What was it like meeting her parents?
Very nice. Her mother seemed to be as open to the whole thing as Elizabeth herself. Her father, I saw only once on the set for a moment. It was in the disco so it was pretty much a normal scene. I think her mother might have been a little bit thrown off when she saw the first shots of Elizabeth in the tapes but never expressed that to me and always seemed to be extremely supportive and really, I think, had an attitude like “Go for it. Let’s just do it. This is something that is important. This is something that you can do. This is something that you have been dreaming to do and now you should just do it.” It’s a little bit weird probably for parents to see their child in full natural glory, but hers seem to be liberated enough to not worry too much about that really. I never got a feeling from her mother, who I met really several, that there were any inhibitions from her side. It was like the inhibitions were left behind when she was growing up. I think she probably got an education that made this vision possible. In what ways was working with Elizabeth similar or different that working with Sharon Stone on Basic Instinct? With Elizabeth, in the beginning, it was more finding out what her character was and how she would react on direction and what you should say and what you shouldn’t say and what would propel her in a good direction. With Sharon Stone, I knew much better of course when I did Basic Instinct how to approach her because I had worked with her in Total Recall and had my fights with Sharon already there as I had my fights with Sharon when I was doing Basic Instinct. It’s a different situation because the relationship between me and Sharon was often more antagonistic that it ever was with Elizabeth.
Did you ever fight with Elizabeth?
Yeah. Sometimes I’m a little bit crude, you know. If she’d say, “Can I have 30 seconds of intro to the music?” I would say something like, “Okay, give her ten minutes.” which is kind of irritating to her. And then I’d feel bad and apologize. But I think we never got to any clash on any serious level, ever. While with Sharon doing Basic Instinct, there was an antagonism that certainly, in the second part of the movie, made the set a really tense place.
What did you learn from your ratings battles on Basic Instinct that affected the making of Showgirls?
Basically, that I felt very unhappy at the end of Basic Instinct when I thought that the movie was kind of perfect, at least in my eyes, and then I had to cut it down and tone it down to get an R rating which the studio required. It was like cutting your own flesh a little bit and I decided that if I would ever feel that another movie would require a real NC-17, that I would only do it on that condition that it could be given an NC-17. So when this project came along, it was clear to me that in that environment it would never be possible to tell that story as an R and I said to Joe then, “If you want me to direct that movie, you have to auction it as an NC-17” and so he did. And Carolco and later Charguers bought it and MGM-UA had the audacity to go for that kind of rating.
Looks like there’s no need to Directors Cut on video?
No, there is not. There is no other version. There are no other scenes of any relevance. This is it. This will be the movie that goes to Europe and to whatever country. They might cut it themselves, but not me.
Who do you think is the audience for this movie?
I would say everybody above 17 but I think young people would probably, I think, have a good time. I think that people that are older could really enjoy the dancing and perhaps even the sexual freedom of the movie. Because of the policy that MGM/UA set up, which is a little bit different than the way Joe Esterhaus has expressed it lately, we are of course, in a position where we have to enforce the NC-17. I mean, I think to a large degree it’s possible to argue that a young woman of 16 years old would have enough understanding of the world to see this, but we are now living in a situation where the rules are as such and I think that should be the rule for the moment.
Seeing your movie, I felt, was like a way of rebelling against Bob Dole’s idea of what we should watch. Did you intend it to serve as counter-programming in that way?
Well, we didn't know that this thing would happen. The situation with Dole started to happen six or seven months ago when the movie was almost shot. But I think you could argue that Joe Esterhaus made this movie because he intuitively felt this kind of climate and felt that it would be interesting to put an alternative there. And I think it is an alternative, in so far as it says, if you are an adult, you should be able to see this and you might appreciate it. Instead of saying, like Bob Dole, that sexuality is a wrong thing and that basically seeing sexuality - let’s forget about violence for a moment because that’s such a different issue - that seeing sexuality would lead to depravity or moral decline which I strongly disagree with. I think that people seeing this movie will simply not go in moral decline because of seeing it.
I enjoyed seeing a movie that didn’t seem compromised . It seemed like one clear vision as opposed to something that had been tinkered and test screened and sanitized to death.
It’s not a top heavy movie at all. It’s not trying to make a sexual statement. It just has a certain lightness and freedom in expressing itself in sexual or nudity terms which I feel is refreshing if you see how American filmmakers in general are forced to treat sexuality in their movies because they cannot show anything.
How do you think this film will play in Europe?
I’m sure that it will be much less provocative and much more based on the dancing and the music and the story and the characters than that they would be so much intrigued by the nudity which, I’m not saying completely common in Europe, but it’s a lot more acceptable.
Was it a conscious decision to not have male nudity? I mean, would it have killed you to give a little dick?
To be honest, I could not find a really good actor that wanted to do it. I wanted to show it at that moment that they go to the swimming pool because I felt that it would be natural. I’m sure I could have found somebody that wanted to do the nudity, but I could not find somebody that could do the acting and the nudity. Of course, Kyle is nude throughout the whole scene on the set and I thought that was already pretty audacious for an American actor to spend all night nude in front of a fifty or sixty-man crew. You could argue that male nudity in a sexual situation like that would lead to a erection anyhow and that’s very difficult to show. I mean, you could, but basically, it’s a bit too much to ask from actor to perform that right in front of the camera. I think it’s not that much of an acting thing and as nobody wanted to do the nudity anyhow, it seemed to be a far-fetched situation.
Is it true that Gina Gershon bought you a lap dance?
Yeah. She and Elizabeth sat on both sides of me while the woman was doing it so they both could see exactly what it was all about.
Did you learn anything from it?
I probably learned to be humble because you feel pretty silly if two women are looking at you while another woman tries to make you come. It was much more for them than for me. I didn't do it for myself because I had been lap danced before in the same club when we started to do our research. The natural reaction would be for me to say, “I’m not going to do that,” but I felt that it would be unfair to not stand in for two or three minutes when they were supposed to start doing this for days.
If the man doesn’t climax, when does the lapdance end?
When the song’s done. You don’t get a second chance unless you pay another thirty of forty dollars. I think it might be rare that you would really come so easily, you know. (Laughs) You might have to spend a little bit more money to get to that point.
What do you make of these rumors that you and Elizabeth are having an affair?
That started from the beginning because of the way that I behave on the set. Normally, I’m a director that when somebody is upset about something, especially if it would be a female, I would just put my arms around them and just try to console them in a very nice and warm way. Of course, if you do that on the set with a naked woman it looks pretty strange and I think that the rumor probably started in Tahoe when there were probably 500 people in the audience sitting there. My behavior might have been a little bit strange to them and I think that probably evoked the idea that there was something going on. I mean, it has been said before in the case of Sharon Stone and other actresses and basically as a rule I feel that if you have a sexual relationship with your actress, I feel that you cannot get to what you want in the movie. I think that’s inhibiting. I think that what you feel in an artistic sexual way for your actress if you would consume that in bed then I think that you cannot portray it very well on the screen anymore. Because that interest seems to be consumed. I felt exactly the same with Sharon where I had the same kind of feeling of sexual attraction to as with Elizabeth but I that if you give in and say “Okay, let’s do that in reality,” then I think that there’s no way that you get it on the screen. So in both cases, I felt that it should be something that is not consumed although it’s clearly something you feel. Sure, I felt a strong attraction to both women. it certainly was there. But for me, if feels like if you go in that direction that you will never be able to transcend it and that’s what you should do because it should not be in my personal life, it should be on the screen.
When you meet actresses that you haven’t worked with socially, how do they react to you?
I think they see me probably as God and the devil, you know. That I’m the person that could do something special with them, but on the other hand ask them to do things that they might not be immediately willing to do. They have to be confident that everything you do with them is something that ultimately they won’t regret. In the case of Sharon, I think she regretted that she had put her trust so much in me and herself at the moment where she opens her legs and she has no panties on. When it happened I think the relationship was such that she felt that it was okay to do so. I think 5 months later when she saw that scene in the presence of her friends her manager and agents, she felt that the situation was so different that she could not accept her openness at the moment that it happened. I think it was feared that people would be abhorred by seeing that and that it would hurt her career. So she tried to make it undone and basically because I felt that it was very important and it had been discussed and she had seen it on the video and had accepted it that it would be too late now to go back. I felt that was not fair. I felt that it should not be taken out and I refused. Ultimately of course, you know that Sharon, after protesting and accusing me of having betrayed her, ultimately the last stand on that story of hers, in the last half year, is that she invented that scene. So now she tells everybody that it was her idea. After two years of accusing me that I betrayed her, she changes her tune and now it’s suddenly her idea. I think she accepts it in her heart because she knows it’s such a strong scene. I think that the strength of the scene is probably proven by the fact that so many people remember that shot of her, and any shot of her sitting in the white dress in the chair is symbolic for sexual power, isn’t it?
It was the defining moment of the movie.
Yes, it was. It turned out to be. It was not when we shot it. I was never aware of that until the movie came out.
Do you set out to make films that are shocking, or are you just exploring what you want to explore and if we find that shocking then it’s our problem?
My movies always have a tendency to be NC-17 even Robocop because of my inclination to go for ultra-violence. It’s not because I want to be that way or I want to get an NC-17. It’s just because my mind goes that way. I never set out really to do something which would be... well, perhaps that’s not even true, I know sometimes when I do these things that people might be upset but I do them anyhow because I feel that it’s exactly what I want to express. I’m not saying that there might not be some provocation, but my idea of provocation in this case would be more like saying “Okay, guys, what you normally see in the movie is not really the truth.” What I want to show is the truth from a sexual point of view. The way sex scenes are portrayed in Hollywood movies has not much to do with reality and I would like to show how I think that reality really is. And I know that of course, to deviate from the normal images to go to a reality that is more real, let’s put it in these words, is always provocative and I might enjoy that aspect of it.
When you meet men socially do they ever say like, “Hey, thanks dude. Keep it up."
Some men do, but there are also men that are telling me that from a feminine point of view people could be really offended by this movie. I don’t know if they think that from themselves or if they take that position for the sake of argument. I haven't gotten the feeling that there was a very strong difference between the opinion of men and women. But I hope it stays that way.
One thing I enjoyed about talking to Elizabeth is that she’s not at all coy or ashamed about her work in the movie.
No, because I think that her convictions are real. When she told me that she would be able to handle it, it was based on something that’s internally hers. That was not something that she faked to get the part. It was something that turned out to be the reality of her inner being and I think that’s why she can talk about it and can defend it and strongly stand behind it. I think it’s an essential thing to her. It’s an inner truth of hers; that these things can be shown and that you can behave that way and that it is fine.
You can’t argue with her because it seems organic.
That’s what I feel. To be honest, if it had been different if somebody would have pretended that that attitude then basically we might have worked ourselves into a real big problem during the shoot of that movie. It was a real major possible to do it.
What’s next for you?
I’m going to make a science fiction movie called Starship Troopers.
Would you work with Elizabeth again?
Yes. For sure. I think she’s great. I had great time. I admire her. I like her. She has a great personality. She’s very audacious. It’s difficult to upset her. She’s a very strong independent woman and it’s fun to be with her in an artistic situation where you can really direct her as a director wants to direct actors so that the best things come out for both.
Would you have cast Elizabeth if she wasn’t a strong dancer and used a double for the dance scenes?
No. The dancing was so much a part of the story that you could never have done that with a double like in Flashdance because you couldn’t be close enough. Here you had to express a relationship on stage, where the psychology should be visible in the faces and in the dancing and that would never allow you to do stand-in work.
So, are you gearing up for the Miss America Pageant?
This is the first I’ve heard of it. Probably, I’ll have a nice dinner and relax form the eight hours of interrogation that I have gone through today.
Who needs Miss America when you’ve got Showgirls.
That’s for sure.
The next day, Elizabeth Berkley calls from a limo on her way to JFK airport. She’s been in New York City to do more promotion for Showgirls, and if her lap-dancing love-I with David Letterman is any indication, her enthusiasm for plugging the film show no signs of waning. Berkley gave good letterman.
Not only did she take the uptight Midwesterner to “Lap Land,” but she spoke out herself and Showgirls with the kind of no-apologies bravado that I’ve decided, as Verhoeven said, can’t be faked. And thought David is famous for making pretty young things blush, this time it was he was seeing red.
“So,” I say casually after telling her how much I enjoyed Showgirls, “Did Dave pop a boner?”
For the first time, the actress takes on a tone that says I may have crossed her crass-line. “Oh, come on,” she says harshly and then lightens, unable to say offended for lone. “I was on his knee, I wouldn’t know.”
D.H.: What question are you the most tired of hearing?
E.B.: “Weren’t you nervous about the nudity?” But I can understand why people ask that though, especially in America. When I was at the Cannes Film Festival that was never really a question that was asked because it’s such a natural thing there. They kind of embrace that in movies.
Did you know that in the press kit there’s a picture of you actually licking the pole. Can’t wait to see that turn up in USA Today.
It’s classic, isn’t it. It’s funny because that came literally out of the moment. I mean, how could you choreograph a tongue lick?
What was Kyle McLaughlin like?
Really great. I think people will really see a different side of him, which he hasn’t been able to show in movies yet.
Yeah, like his backside. Speaking of which, some people I saw the film with were kind of bummed that there was no penis in this movie.
Well, you know, it’s called Showgirls, not Showboys. Let me just say that Kyle’s butt looks really great on screen, so they’ll get a good fill of that.
If you weren’t in this movie and went to see it, what would you think about the way young women are portrayed in it?
One of the things I like is that the women in the film are definitely in their power. They’re in control of their destiny and making their own choices. I think that that’s really important to show, especially, within Nomi’s character, this women who’s on this discovery of her self-worth and knowing that she’s enough and kind of tested with the questions of How far would you go to get what you want? What part of your soul would you sacrifice to get what you want? I think these are important issues and I think it’s exciting that it’s explored in a very sexually charged place.
Do you wonder if Showgirls is going to do for you what Basic Instinct did for Sharon Stone?
People have asked me that. The thing that I would love from it is this is my beginning as a feature actress and I hope that people really love my work in it. Hopefully, it will open a lot of opportunities. It already has. Since I completed the film, I’ve had a few meetings and some offers that were really lucrative but I want to make smart choices about my next thing. I’m not saying, “Oh I won’t play sexy” because sexuality can be explored different ways. It just depends on the script, the directors, the character, the other actors. I’m also going to college. I’m a sophomore English Literature major at a major university. I’m going to have to take this so it’s going to take me a long time to graduate but that’s okay.
Have you suspected that some male producers and directors called in so they could ‘check out the chick from Showgirls?’
If some one wants to meet me because they’re curious about Showgirls or whatever, that’s fine. I don’t let people take advantage of me. I can see through that when that’s happening. Some men are curious just because it’s a young pretty girl, maybe more so with this type of movie, but that’s okay. I mean, if they’re curious, that’s good. Let people be curious.
Joe Ezsterhas has come out and said that young women should do what they have to do to see this movie because it speaks to them. What do you think this movie says to young women?
I think it’s like an everybody kind of a movie, but for some women I think that the message would be that it’s great to have goals and you should go after them and not sacrifice yourself a long the way.
Are you prepared for the backlash if, when this comes out, people argue that it’s exploiting women?
Well, here’s the thing. First of all, I’m a very strong woman. I go after what I want, you know. Paul, in his films, portrays women only in their power. I mean, they’re not victims. Look at Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. No one can say she’s a victim. Nomi Malone, my character, is not a victim. The film itself explores the exploitation that goes on in Vegas which is a reality there, believe me. I talked to showgirls and the things that happen in the film are things that happen to them throughout their careers. Because it is provocative, this kind of movie will evoke a strong reaction.
And you’re prepared for that?
Yeah. I mean, I don’t do things just to get a reaction but I know that it definitely will get a strong reaction, especially with what’s going on right now in the political world, but the reality is these strip clubs are popping up all over the world now. These lap dance clubs are part of the sexual culture of the 90’s.
Do you remember how you learned the facts of life?
I think Dr. Ruth had a show like on Sunday nights when I was growing up and I would listen to it. But my family’s very open about discussing that so I know I could talk about stuff.
What was Joe Esterhaus like?
He’s very intense, really wonderful. First of all, I went up to him and said, “I just want to thank you for creating this woman.”
What did you think of Joe and Paul’s last collaboration, Basic Instinct?
Oh, I loved it. I saw it a few times.
Did you ask Paul or Joe what the hell happened at the end?
Sometimes with Joe’s writing the characters can be ambiguous.
Was the invasion of the Showgirls cast and crew big news in Vegas?
Well, we were there and so was Casino at the same time.
Did you meet Sharon Stone?
Not while we were filming, but I’ve met her before. We had the same acting teacher, Roy London, who passed away two years ago. He was unbelievable. He was one of the biggest nurturing forces in my life.
You still live with your parents, right?
Yeah. I do my own thing. There’s a lot of mutual respect in my family and it’s like I have complete freedom. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be there. It’s great because I can go upstairs and have a lot of love around me.
Was it tricky introducing them to Paul Verhoeven?
No, it wasn’t at all. Are you kidding? Here, I’ve been working at this my whole life and here’s someone who believes in me and gave me a big shot. My parents think he’s wonderful.
How do you feel about the rumors that you and Paul are having an affair?
First of all, it’s not true. I mean, I love him. We have a wonderful artistic and professional relationship and the thing of it is, it’s the nature of the movie. The nature of the movie causes people’s fantasies to go kind of wild. They want to think that things went beyond the work.
Did it hurt having the rhinestones removed from your nipples?
Gina put rhinestones on her nipples. I didn’t.
Were the women in the film curious about each other’s nipples? It seemed to me like every size, shape and color was represented.
Definitely. That’s the beauty of it. You look on the stage, everyone’s body’s are so different. It’s not like they all went for a certain type. It was kind of celebrating the human body in an artistic way. I remember running toward one of my partners and doing a high kick where I put it on his shoulder and do like a back bend and I came up and he’s like, “Wow, they look great!” Everyone was just complimenting each other.
Do you wonder how your having appeared in this movie will affect the guys you date?
Well, put it this way, they’ll know what they’re getting, right? (Laughs) Like there are no secrets, although there are. Actually there are.
What if they expect you to be, say, more sexually adventurous than your average young woman?
(Laughs) Well, who says I’m not?
Have people been telling you, “You’re life is going to change--are you ready?”
I try not to have any expectation of what will be. One thing I am prepared to do is continue working. That’s what makes me happy.
What’s your fantasy scenario for Showgirls 2?
Maybe Nomi’s hitchhiking into L.A. and Paul Verhoeven picks her up and wants to put her a starring role in his next movie.