Adrian Lyne: Magnificent Obsessions

Adrian Lyne became one of the hottest directors of the past decade by pursuing his compulsive enthusiasm for slick surfaces in movies such as Flashdance, 9 1/2 Weeks, and Fatal Attraction. Will the new Jacob's Ladder be Lyne's artistic breakthrough, or just another one of his skin deep pretty pictures?

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Yo, Adrian! What's with you and water? You got soggy subway stations, you got buckets of water falling on strippers, you got ice cubes dripping down breasts, you got people screwing in puddles and sinks, you got more rainstorms than Costa Rica. Even your roads are wet. "Water looks good on skin. It's evocative. And wet roads look better than dry roads." Oh, c'mon, I say, it's gotta be more than that. Isn't there some subliminal message you're sending? Adrian Lyne smiles and shrugs. "It must be some obscure thing from childhood."

You can argue with success, but in Hollywood no one ever does. That's why, despite the drought, no one has told Adrian Lyne to cut back on water usage. In fact, since Flashdance, no one has told Adrian Lyne anything except, "Sign here. You shoot in six weeks."

Lyne's new film is Jacob's Ladder, from a 10-year-old script by Bruce Joel [Ghost_] Rubin. It stars Tim Robbins and Elizabeth Pena. As ever with Lyne, the director of Flashdance, 9 1/2 Weeks, and Fatal Attraction, it's a chancy property from a screenplay that's been knocking around Hollywood for a long time, and Lyne has-as usual-cast the project with low-wattage stars. Lyne says, "There's no full length movie to compare it to. It's like nothing I've ever read. I turned down The Bonfire of the Vanities to do it. I told [Bonfire producer] Peter Guber that I felt stronger emotionally about Jacob's Ladder."

The film is about a Vietnam veteran who was used by the U.S. Army in an LSD experiment. When the soldier returns to New York, he suffers nightmarish visions, and he tries to figure out what has happened to him. Lyne was cutting the film in the Carolco offices on Sunset Boulevard when we met for lunch.

"I think it's working," Lyne says of the film. "We looked at the first few reels today. Everyone's reasonably pleased." Still, Lyne is edgy. He can't seem to get comfortable. He fiddles with the matches. He asks for a glass of wine. Lyne is a young-looking 49, and he's still got most of his blonde hair, which he wears shoulder length. This day he's dressed in a white T-shirt, black sport coat, and black slacks. When I praise Lyne for turning down The Bonfire of the Vanities and taking on the riskier Jacob's Ladder, he says, "It's easy to take risks when you're not in a breadline."

Lyne may be, as some detractors have dubbed him, the poor man's Ridley Scott, but his three hit films have grossed over $200 million. [9 1/2 Weeks was not a success in America, but it was a phenomenon in Europe, and, according to Lyne, it's still playing in Brussels, Amsterdam, and Paris.] When you consider that Lyne has succeeded despite two terrible scripts, third-, or, at best, second-tier players like Michael Nouri, Jennifer Beals, Mickey Rourke, and Glenn Close, and-in the cases of Flashdance and 9 1/2 Weeks--little studio support, you have to admit that the man is doing something right. The question is, what is it exactly?

"Flashdance," says Lyne, "was a little fairy tale that was reviewed as though I were Ingmar Bergman. I knew it was an awful script, and I had turned it down. But the second time it was offered to me, it was a go project with an $8 million budget." At the time, in 1982, Lyne was marooned in development hell. His first film, Foxes, about San Fernando Valley teenagers, had bombed. "So I took Flashdance and tried to do something different with it." I ask Lyne, "If the script was so bad, why didn't you have it rewritten?"

"At the time, my bargaining power was nil."

Both Simpson-Bruckheimer and Guber-Peters have since claimed credit for Flashdance, so I ask, "Who was the driving force behind the movie?"

"Wasn't me, darling," Lyne answers. "I was only the director."

The film supposedly takes place in Pittsburgh, but it wasn't the Pittsburgh at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers. It was the Pittsburgh of the soundstages--a Pittsburgh where mill foremen drive Porsches and welders aspire to be ballerinas.

Lyne says, "I made a choice. I could have done a nuts and bolts story, but I didn't. Instead I made it a kind of fantasy." I ask if the producers understood what kind of movie they were getting. Lyne shakes his head and smiles. "It was tough," he says. "For instance, I knew I wanted to do a number in which the dancer was wet. I'd never seen anything like it before, and I had to convince everyone it would work. So we had a rehearsal, and the producers and the studio executive showed up, and they sat on a dais above the set. And we were hosing down the dancer, and of course it looked awful. I could sense that there wasn't a lot of confidence anywhere. Everyone thought the movie was going down the toilet, including Paramount, which sold off a 25 percent stake in the film a week before it opened."

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