Elizabeth Berkley: Starlet Fever

In the Chinese zodiac, 1972 ought to be known as "The Year of the Starlet."


Consider the Tinseltown lookers who have this birth year in common: Jenny McCarthy, Cameron Diaz, Nicole Eggert, Antonio Sabato Jr., Carmen Electra, Ben Affleck, Jennie Garth, David Charvet, Alyssa Milano, Amy Locane and the London twins, Jeremy and Jason. Plus Elizabeth Berkley. But then, Berkley, despite her lap-dancing, pole-licking turn as a sequined sociopath in Showgirls, chafes at the term "starlet."

"There are a lot of people who view me as a great actress," she says, "or I wouldn't be put in their films." Whether or not the world comes to see things her way when her new movies, The Real Blonde and Taxman, are released is a matter of indifference to Berkley. "Some people may never get it," she concedes. "But I'm not concerned with how people perceive me."

This line of defense had to have come in handy when Berkley was going through the career crash-and-burn that was Showgirls. I cite two other actresses who also got disastrous reviews for their first big Hollywood films and lived to tell the tale--Jean Seberg and Tippi Hedren--but Berkley has other role models in mind. "It happened to Jessica Lange," she states. "In the beginning she was ridiculed [because of King Kong]. Look at Susan Sarandon--_The Rocky Horror Picture Show_ was one of her first forays into film. Look at Vanessa Williams. It took these women a long time to get that respect. But what is time? I'm young, and I'm a fighter."

Berkley says that the directors who asked to meet her in the wake of Showgirls meant a lot to her. "I got very close to getting cast on The Fifth Element, and Luc Besson couldn't have been more supportive. The same goes for Milos Forman when I auditioned for The People Vs. Larry Flynt. I'm sure when I was cast in The Real Blonde, Tom DiCillo got shit from people who didn't yet know what I have to offer."

Happily, Berkley's role in The Real Blonde--as the temptress who encourages Matthew Modine to stray from his marriage--is longer than her cameo appearance as a trophy girlfriend in The First Wives Club ("That movie didn't give me much screen time, but it's gotten me other roles"). Getting beyond being a Showgirls starlet may have more to do with longevity than anything else, Berkley has come to realize. "I didn't have 10 movies for people to compare, so they thought I was that girl, Nomi Malone. Well, I'm not."


Edward Margulies