Dana Delany: Dana-matrix

For her starring role in Garry Marshall's upcoming film version of Anne Rice's S&M love story Exit to Eden, Dana Delany had to learn the tricks of the dominatrix trade. Here she reveals how she learned to handle a whip and what it's like filming in the nude, and she explains what the hell a "jade stalk" is.

"The leather went round my left wrist first, buckled very tight, and then around the right...she went to the wall, and pressed a button that silently made the leather chain above me retract into the ceiling. . . . She picked up something from the dresser. It looked at first glance like a pair of flesh-covered, leather-clad horns. . ."

I'm rereading Anne Rice's S&M love story Exit to Eden in a corner booth at Chaya restaurant in Venice. I don't usually read erotic fiction in public places, but since my lunch date, Dana Delany, is playing the dominatrix in Garry Marshall's film version of the novel, I figured a little boning up might be in order. I met Delany over two years ago when I first interviewed her for Movieline. Best known then for her Emmy-winning work on "China Beach," Delany was just making the transition to the big screen and has since appeared in such films as HouseSitter, Light Sleeper and Tombstone. I'll never forget the tour she gave me of her Santa Monica home, pointing out features like the bidet ("I keep my laundry in it") and "the breast floor," a section of the house named in honor of the numerous pieces of hooter-friendly art on the walls. I'm startled out of this reverie when Delany says, as she sits down to join me, "I see you have the book."

DENNIS HENSLEY: Had you read Exit to Eden before you got the part?

DANA DELANY: I read the script, got the job, then I read the book. I loved it. The two best scenes are Sports Day, which we have in the movie, and . . .

Q: I love that scene. It's like Disneyland for swingers.

A: Yes. We have a human carousel with people riding on slaves. And a roller-blading race, because Paul [Mercurio] is really good at that, and also a "Hit the Butt" game, where there are these sticky balls you throw at the slaves' butts.

Q: How do they stick?

A: Velcro on the ass.

Q: They didn't just pick the slaves with the hairiest asses?

A: No, because there were actually women bending over, too.

Q: And what's the other great scene?

A: The other great scene was where my character, Lisa, dominates Elliot, Paul Mercurio's character--he's tied up and she's in charge.

Q: When I read that scene in the book, I had this idea for the film's poster: a photo of you, Paul, and a double-headed dildo, with this copy line: "Sometimes two heads are better than one."

A: [Laughing] I'll mention that to Garry Marshall. That scene is in the movie and it's very hot, but it does not have a double-headed dildo in it. We use something else. I don't want to give it away. We also have the honey scene in New Orleans, but we use butter instead of honey.

Q: You drip it on Paul?

A: He does it on me, with croissants. I put in a line where I said, "Have you seen Last Tango in Paris?"

Q: Then does he lick it off?

A: Uh-huh.

Q: The book is extremely explicit and in some places very homoerotic. Has that been toned down?

A: Yeah, it's very much a heterosexual island. It's too bad, because Anne Rice has a great homosexual following, but I think that Garry is aiming for a Middle-American audience. There are two things I think about this: In movies, I think, people want someone to have only one lover--they want the hero and the heroine. They get confused otherwise, even though that's reality. The other thing is--well, Dennis, I don't know if you read Penthouse Letters . . .

Q: Love 'em.

A: I do too. I think the fantasies of Middle America have changed over the years. It used to be that the big taboo fantasy was a man with two women, but lately it's been a man being dominated by a woman, or a man having a homosexual affair and then finding he likes it. I think Middle America has changed in terms of fantasies--I mean that's who reads Penthouse Letters, right?

Q: Other than us.

A: So I tried to put a little subtext into the movie with my slave, Diana, but I think it got cut.

Q: What attracted you to the project?

A: It was a lead. That's what I wanted to do next. Also, I like taking chances.

Q: Do you feel it's an enormous risk to your career?

A: No. A lot of people took the script at face value and thought, "Oh my God, I can't do this." They didn't take into account that Garry Marshall was going to be directing it. I haven't seen the movie, but the two things he said to me were, "Remember, I'm the man who brought you 'Happy Days,'" and, "I want you to look really beautiful." I think it will finally make people realize that I'm not the girl next door. I mean, who wants to be 40 and be the girl next door? I'd rather be the other woman at 40.

Q: It's been described as both a sex-comedy and an erotic-thriller. What do you think it is?

A: It's kind of a comic-fantasy. It's kind of like Shakespeare, if I may be so bold. It's like one of his comedies where you have the two lovers, the two clowns and the two thieves.

Q: How much leather do we see on the two clowns, Rosie O'Donnell and Dan Aykroyd?

A: Do you want to, or not?

Q: I want to, I want to.

A: You'll see Rosie in leather and she looks damn good. I think there's a scene where Dan tries it and they realize it's not going to work so he decides not to wear leather.

Q: Did you work out before filming began?

A: I went right into it from Tombstone, so I had no time to do anything. I decided it's probably a good thing to be a little voluptuous for this movie because I think that's sexier than seeing a hard body. I look at actors who have these hard bodies and you know that they spent six hours a day at the gym, and I immediately think of; I don't think of the character, Also, my own dominatrix consultant has a very womanly body.

Q: You had your own dominatrix consultant? What was that like?

A: I went to a dinner party at her house and I met a lot of people who are into the S & M scene. We had a round-table discussion, with a slave who served us.

Q: Naked?

A: No, Dennis, dressed. Then afterward we went to her bedroom and a couple of the men stripped down to their underwear and demonstrated whipping to me. They showed me the techniques. It's all in the wrist. She save me a whip to take home so that I could practice.

Q: Do you know where that whip's been?

A: No. She did call me up and ask for it back, though. She needed it.

Q: Right. Like she couldn't go out and get another whip.

A: They're very specific about their equipment and they all know who the best people are to buy from. They make beautiful whips--red and blue and green. The point being, it doesn't have to be black leather.

Q: I learn something new every day.

A: The thing I love about it is that these people are very healthy, normal people. They all like each other. There are extremes of S&M, but most of them are not extremists. They're society they are.

Q: You mean there could be S&M dabblers right here in this restaurant?

A: You can tell.

Q: What are the telltale signs?

A: Spiked stiletto heels on women. That's a big thing. Tight, short skirts. Piercing is a good sign. Like one of the men that I met had his nipple pierced, his scrotum pierced, I mean, a lot of piercings. Do you know that it's called a Prince Albert?

Q: Having your scrotum pierced is called that?

A: Yeah, because they say that Prince Albert had it.

Q: Doesn't a Prince Albert make the equipment considerably less functional?

A: I think it becomes like a French tickler. It serves a purpose.

Q: So, how many nude scenes did you have?

A: The thing about being a dominatrix is, rarely are they naked because then they lose their power. The slave has to be naked so they feel exposed. So the one naked scene that I have was all about me letting go.

Q: Were you ever blindfolded, handcuffed, shackled? In the movie, I mean.

A: There's a wonderful scene when I go to this big mansion. I felt like I was in The Story of O. I'm ushered in and told to wait in the living room. And I'm just sitting there blindfolded, naked, but I don't think you see anything, hopefully. I hated not being able to know who was looking at me. I don't know how people find that sexy. When I'm working, I'm so aware of who's on a set. I can spot an interloper in a minute. One needs to feel that sense of safety and to not have that was very disconcerting. It felt a little bit like I was doing a soft-core, not in the sexual sense, but more in that kind of '70s movie way where everything was soft and beautiful.

Q: If I were ever going to rent a porno, I'd try to get a '70s one.

A: If you were, which you might someday. I was a big fan of Sylvia Kristel. Remember Harry Reams? He was big in New York when I was living there, had a big, thick mustache, and looked like Geraldo Rivera. I wonder how many of those people died of AIDS.

Q: Speaking of which, how is safe sex handled in Exit to Eden?

A: It's handled in the sense that S&M is not really about sex. With most dominatrices, it's all prearranged that they don't have sex with their submissives. If it is part of the deal, they always use a condom. The three S&M buzz words are "safe," "sane" and "consensual."

Q: How do you think this movie is going to go over in the uptight, PC '90s?

A: I hope it is controversial, but actually, I think it's a very '90s movie. You know, a lot of women have gotten to be very tough, and they don't let themselves be victims anymore, which is good. But a lot of women I know have gone too far in that direction. They don't let anybody in. I think the point of the movie is that it's fine to be in control, but you have to let down your guard once in a while. I think it's great that it's about a woman. How many movies do you see where it's about a woman's sexuality? Rarely.

Q: What do you think attracted Garry Marshall to the material?

A: He's a very sexy man. He has a hell of a curiosity about these matters, and I think he wanted to see if it could be made mainstream. People who know him are not surprised by his doing this movie.

Q: Did Anne Rice say anything about your being cast as Lisa?

A: I don't even know if she knew who I was. I met her in New Orleans and she didn't say anything to me. But when she met Paul, she said, "Oh, what a hunk."

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