Before Showgirls Was Showgirls

There is an absolutely fascinating pair of celebrity interviews (Elizabeth Berkley and Paul Verhoeven) conducted by Dennis Hensley just as Showgirls is about to become, well, Showgirls. Now, personally, I’ve seen Showgirls at least nine times, since the combination of Verhoeven and Esterhaus can be many things, but never dull. There’s plenty wrong with it: the rape scene, Berkley thrashing around in the water on Kyle MacLachlan’s penis, etc., but it’s aged into something really fun. The makers of Striptease famously tried to distance their production from the morass of Showgirls, but who can remember a single scene from Striptease? (Apart from that first time Demi rips off her top, obviously.)

In the interview with Berkley, Hensley has only seen a 13 minute teaser of the film. For all he or Berkley know, she’s about to become a movie star. In a Schrödinger’s cat kind of way, she is equally Sharon Stone and not-Sharon Stone.

“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.”

On watching the finished film:

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.

It’s a remarkable little window onto early celebrity, particularly if the rumors (furthered by Esterhaus) of an affair between Berkley and Verhoeven were true. And, moreover, is Berkley as perkily, determinedly naive as she comes across here, or was this part of her Nomi Malone schtick? Verhoeven tries to draw a real distinction between Berkley (young, game, natural, teachable, in awe) and Stone (combative, antagonistic, less willing to do whatever Verhoeven wanted).

As the interview signs off, Verhoeven is already ramping up to make Starship Troopers. He won’t wind up casting Berkley again, and she will not become a movie star. That’s just how it worked out.