Imitation of Love
Now that we're all wised-up to the rampant fakery of moviemaking, it's touching that we still want to believe that the lovers we see on-screen are like Bogey and Bacall in real life. It's also ridiculous. Here are some case studies to sober up on.
Watching a great romantic screen team has always provided one of moviegoing's great kicks. Today's sparkiest duos--Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, or Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, for instance--are part of an honored Hollywood tradition that goes back to such legendary Love matches as Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire or Myrna Loy and William Powell. The chemistry that held these cinematic pairs together and still keeps our gaze riveted to them is so magical it's hard to believe it wasn't real. And yet Hollywood history, not to mention human nature, tells us quite definitively that what masquerades as romantic firepower on-screen is often indifference or downright hostility off-screen. Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable may have romanced ravishingly in Gone With the Wind, but Leigh found Gable's denture odor a trial in real Life and Gable considered Leigh a high-strung priss. Rogers and Astaire were at best excruciatingly polite when asked about their real-life relationship. Hollywood lore is filled with tales of costar antipathy right up to the modern era. Ken Wahl probably represents something of a benchmark in the annals of costar indiscretion for ungallantly telling the press that he got through kissing scenes with Bette Midler in Jinxed by pretending he was kissing his dog, but he was just being honest. The following tales of off-screen strife between memorably romantic screen couples illustrate the truism that seeing, especially in Hollywood, is definitely not believing.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
The rumor mill on director Adrian Lynes 9 ½ Weeks had been churning for a long while by the time the film finally bit theaters in 1986. TriStar, the studio that had bankrolled the tale of erotic obsession starring Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke, had dropped the finished product, and MGM had picked it up only to sit on it for 10 months while Lyne reedited it. While all this was going on, people had wondered aloud whether the movie was as hot as the S&M-tinged novel it was based on, whether the stars were as nakedly out-there as gossip said they were, and especially whether Basinger and Rourke really hated each other as much as reports from the set had suggested. But audiences were too stirred by what they saw on-screen to care about rumored squabbles, what with Basinger bumping and grinding to Joe Cockers "You Can Leave Your Hat On" and Rourke force-feeding the blindfolded blonde strawberries, Jell-O and cough syrup before dousing her in honey. Could such an undeniably compelling couple have hated each other?
You bet, Adrian Lyne admitted in interviews before the film's release that he'd noticed "hostility and sexual energy" between Basinger and Rourke when they auditioned together. Recalling the same audition, which she'd left in tearful humiliation, Basinger said it was "like an earthquake in my life." She'd never been interested in the part to begin with ("I hated it. Thought it was laughable. I've been handed some scripts on my doorstep, but this is the pits"), but Lyne, and Rourke, too, apparently, wanted tension, since the film was going to push the erotic envelope of dominance and submission. Preferring Basinger over Kathleen Turner, Teri Garr, Isabella Rossellini and lots of others, Lyne pursued her all the more when she turned the part down. The actress explained that she finally took the movie because "when you go against your grain you just know that emotions you never knew you had will surface." No kidding.
Coproducer Antony Rufus Isaacs told a reporter before the film's release that the stars "just never really liked each other, period. She said that kissing him was like kissing an ashtray. He said he wanted someone sexier. It was crazy." Harmony had never been the goal, but having sought out "hostility and sexual energy," the director perhaps got more of the former than he bargained for. He seems to have deserved it, too. Early on, Lyne reportedly encouraged Rourke to speak to Basinger only when absolutely necessary. Hardly needing encouragement, Rourke became progressively more hostile toward Basinger as the shooting continued, and blood boiled during preparations to film a suicide scene (eventually cut from American prints) for which Basinger purportedly wasn't delivering the dramatic goods. When Rourke grabbed the actress's arm tightly and refused to let go, she began crying and struck him, and when he struck back, she burst into hysterical tears ("I didn't know who I was after awhile," Basinger told a New York Times interviewer), Apparently Rourke and Lyne were applying guerrilla tactics based on the theory that Basinger was, in Lynes words, an actress "who doesn't actually act, she reacts. And she had to plumb the depths in this movie."
In the end, Basinger had the last word; she would have nothing to do with the much-vaunted sequel. She'd never wanted to kiss an ashtray once, much less twice. Rourke made Another 9 1/2 Weeks with Angie Everhart in 1997.
FANGS OF LOVE
The chemistry between Winona Ryder and Gary Oldman in director Francis Ford Coppola's sensual, stylized rendering of Bram Stoker's Dracula helped that film clean up at the box office in 1992. Audiences got pleasantly hot and bothered as Oldman's brooding vampire prince pursued Ryder, the reincarnation of his ancient, long-lost love, through old London, confessing, "I have crossed oceans of time to find you." With the often-filmed story recon-figured as a visually ravishing fairy tale on roofies, it was hard not to get caught up in their blood lust. Ryder and Oldman seemed an unexpectedly cool gothic pairing.
The costars had, as a matter of fact, hit it off nicely in their screen test, which is part of why Coppola chose Oldman over such other possible Dracs as Daniel Day-Lewis, Antonio Banderas, Gabriel Byrne and Viggo Mortensen. And although rumors of difficulties between Ryder and Oldman buzzed around Hollywood during filming, the key players mostly kept mum until the movie had overcome nasty reviews to become a major box-office success. Later, lips loosened a lot. In 1994, when she was asked in a Rolling Stone interview about the rumored strife on Dracula, Ryder explained that while shooting the movie she'd been "in the phase where I chose to play the part of the young tortured artist," and said she'd "had personal reasons for being unhappy during filming." Part of the problem, the same story reported, was that Coppola had tried to get a rise out of her by calling her a "bitch, whore and slut," and had, on occasion, encouraged her male costars to follow suit, but the discreet Ryder would only comment: "I learned a lot on that set about what I'm not able to tolerate." In the best manipulative style of a gifted director, Coppola had apparently encouraged Ryder to express her rage at Oldman, too. Reportedly, she asked, "You mean, I have permission to do whatever?" before leaping at Oldman to pummel and scream at him.
The picture of events that's unfolded over the years is that the once warm, then cordial relationship between Oldman and Ryder degenerated sufficiently during production to have her end up barely able to stand being around him, Coppola said of his stars, "They got along, and then one day they didn't, absolutely didn't get along. None of us was privy to what happened." Ryder claimed, "It wasn't like we hated each other. It's just that we did our own thing." Oldman's thing, though, was to stay in character around the clock and deprive himself of sleep and food to help him maintain a spiritual and literal hunger. Ryder got to the point of referring to her screen lover on the set as the King of Pain. Things got dicey enough that Coppola reportedly urged Ryder to pretend that she was doing scenes with Keanu Reeves or even the director himself instead of Oldman. For his part, Oldman has said, "We got on OK. We had very difficult scenes to do and it comes with a certain amount of tension and friction." Ryder further offered, "He's English and from a different world than I am. He's 13 years older than me."
In the end, the mismatched stars shared an intelligence level that allowed both of them to get their best licks in with snappy wit. Oldman's best line was this: "I read I was having an affair with Winona Ryder. Well of course it makes sense, doesn't it? The truth of the matter is I slept with Johnny Depp and Winona found out." Ryder wins, though, for this dry zinger: "I still don't feel like I ever met Gary Oldman, but I feel like I met everyone else."
The heat on-screen between costars Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson in the 1976 version of the oft-remade showbiz tearjerker A Star Is Born helped ignite the movie into a box-office sensation. Audiences ate it up like butter when Streisand, playing a fast-rising rock star, and Kristofferson, as a fast-falling megastar, bathed together with enough flickering candles to light the Sistine Chapel and ducted poignantly on "Evergreen." But behind even' lovey-dovey frame of that film was classic Hollywood combat. With several directors, screenplays and star teams (Carly Simon and James Taylor, Liza Minnelli and Elvis Presley, for example) already water under the bridge when Streisand entered the scene, the production hardly needed the baggage she was bringing to it. Eager for a hipper image and out to promote her former hairdresser and current lover Jon Peters as the first-time producer of a big movie, Streisand came armed with creative control and put it to work by proposing as her costar Marlon Brando, Elvis, Mick Jagger and even Peters himself, who did a singing audition before withdrawing from the running (only to later offer himself as the potential director). When shooting commenced, singer/songwriter Kristofferson had the part and Frank Pierson was writing and directing. The real bloodletting was about to begin.
Right away, rumors from the production painted the picture of an acrimonious, chaotic set, and the press labeled the movie "Hollywood's Biggest Joke." Word was that Streisand and Kristofferson (who'd supposedly had a brief romance years before, which Kristofferson ended) were at each others throats. While such rumors are a dime a dozen in Hollywood, the stars in this case so disliked each other that they couldn't manage to keep a lid on it even for the sake of appearances. When 150 journalists were flown in to Arizona to watch the shooting of a big rock concert sequence staged in Sun Devil Stadium, one reporter asked, "What do you think of your costar, Barbra?" Before she could answer, Kristofferson blurted out, "She said I was an asshole." Why had she called him that, the reporter asked? Streisand answered, "I don't know. I forget. He's a beautiful man, let's just stay with that." At which point, Kristofferson quite audibly muttered, "Shit." When Streisand told reporters how Bruce Springsteen's music had inspired the concept of Kristofferson's character, Kristofferson piped up, "You should have hired him for the part." It got worse. During a sound check for the concert sequence, a shouting match between the feuding stars got broadcast through an open mike to the press, the crew and 50,000 extras. "Look, you're not doing what I tell you to do!" Streisand scolded Kristofferson. "Shit! I got Frank [Pierson] telling me one thing and you tellin' me another--who's the director? Get your shit together!" he barked, turning his back. "Listen to me!" she yelled. "I'm talking to you, goddamn it!" To which he replied, "Fuck off!" Peters intervened, demanding an apology to his "lady," which drove Kristofferson to new heights: "If I want any shit from you, I'll squeeze your head." Peters yelled back, "If we didn't have a movie to make, I'd beat the shit out of you!" Reporters furiously took notes.
Published biographies of Streisand and Kristofferson, plus chronicles of Jon Peters's excesses in the book Hit and Run, have filled in many more details of the carnage on A Star Is Born. It was simply brutal. But as the film was about to be released the stars were doing their best to muster some hint of civility. Kristofferson cheerfully told one reporter "Barbra and I would have killed each other if we had the weapons at hand." He tried backpedaling by saying he hadn't been fully aware during shooting how much director Pierson was to blame for being "out to lunch from the first day," and mused that he might write a song about the experience to be called "It's Never Gonna Be the Same Again." What would never be the same again? "My fucking head," he answered.
By 1994, the damned-near irresistible Julia Roberts had proven herself capable of radiating at such high wattage on-screen that she alone could generate more than enough sparks for herself and any costar. No one had come close to the chemistry that Richard Gere had had with her in Pretty Woman. For I Love Trouble, screen writing/directing team Charles Shyer and Nancy Meyers were happy to pair the gritty Nick Nolte with the sparkly Roberts in the romantic comedy about two sharp-witted Chicago reporters hellbent on out-scooping each other until they just have to fall into each other's arms. In the tradition of Tracy and Hepburn, the tale depended on the audience feeling what the soon-to-be lovers didn't yet know--that they were destined for each other. Some moviegoers may have been fooled that Roberts and Nolte were so destined, but many sensed that the couple's hostile, competitive scenes were a little too convincing. Those in the know were well aware that the nasty scenes were close to what went on in real life.
While the movie was in production, early gossip began to leak from the set that the stars weren't exactly hitting it off. By release rime, the studio was forced to can the ad campaign for a crackling romantic comedy and instead present the film as a suspense thriller Even so, the two great-looking, bona fide movie stars looked so ill at ease together that the issue of what had gone on between them had to be tackled. Roberts, the sort of Hollywood pro who simply does not diss her costars, told Entertainment Weekly, "We had great, um, high-spirited needling of each other, trying to get a rise out of each other," then revealed to the New York Times that she and her costar "sort of gave each other a hard time," only finally letting slip that while Nolte could be "charming and nice, he's also completely disgusting." While studio and personal publicists denied any real problems between Roberts and Nolte, the Los Angeles Times ran a story covering some of the juicier rumors that had dogged the production for months. That, for example, Roberts despised Nolte's macho posturing and Nolte, knowing this, would deliberately do things to aggravate her. That Roberts had pitched a tantrum or two. That the stars' animosity was so great they often played to stand-ins instead of to each other. Nolte, for his part, kept mum, though his agent helpfully commented that spats between stars were just typical on-the-set behavior. This mismatch was not, however, just typical, and I Love Trouble became one of the rare Julia Roberts comedies that didn't go gold at the box office.
HEART OF STONE
Moviegoers who saw Sliver back in 1993 were not being invited into the usual delusion that on-screen romance offers. It's the story of a woman who falls for a guy in a fit of lust, and finds out later that he's a voyeuristic psycho. But audiences might have been inclined to think that, at the very least, Sharon Stone and Billy Baldwin brought off their edgy up-against-the-wall sex scene so well because they were working with some real-time sexual energy. After all, when Sliver was shot Stone had just made a spectacular global movie-star breakthrough in the sexy psychodrama Basic Instinct, and here she was starring in another sexy psychodrama penned by the same multimillion-dollar screenwriter who'd written Basic Instinct, Joe Eszterhas. Her costar, the hot young star Billy Baldwin, had recently had his own break-through in Backdraft. Reports stoked by the studio claimed that the sex in Sliver went as far, or even beyond, Basic Instinct in raunchiness. Director Phillip Noyce had done nothing to discourage talk when he told the press, "Let's put it this way. When you get right down to it, inch per inch of flesh, Billy Baldwin winds up being more nude than Sharon Stone."
Long before Sliver slid onto screens, though, everyone in Hollywood was talking about just how much the beautiful costars disliked each other. Neither Stone nor Baldwin disappointed when it came to giving the press war-reports about the troubled set. Asked about the joys of working with Baldwin, Stone opined, "I like most people I've worked with in the business. My vote's out on Billy. I never really quite got his trip. He plays a character that was very weird, but I never got up to speed on his deal, like whether he was 'I'm in character' or 'I'm out of character,' know what I mean?" As for Baldwin, he admitted that while making the movie, he'd been forced to deal with "the pomp and pageantry that goes along with Sharon," meaning the bodyguards, the entourage, the star-trip apparatus. But there was so much more going on than that. It soon became tabloid news that Stone had fallen in love with one of the film's producers, Bill MacDonald (who ended up leaving his new wife for Stone, prompting the wife to go public with her tale of Stone's betrayal, just as she her-self hooked up with screenwriter Eszterhas, who then moved out on his wife of 24 years). The bad feeling between the costars of this high-profile movie was too widely reported for director Phillip Noyce to unequivocally deny it at release time. Asked if Baldwin had accidentally or accidentally-on-purpose stomped Stone's foot while shooting a scene, forcing the director to personally carry Stone to the infirmary on the Paramount lot, Noyce gallantly insisted the mishap was entirely accidental, but conceded, "This was not a good moment for their relationship, considering they were mean: to be passionate lovers. This often happens when actors are called upon to be intimate with each other. They develop a bit of animosity and tension towards each other. And these two were no exception.
They certainly weren't. Animosity and tension can work wonders at the box office, though. Sliver never delivered on its promise to match Basic Instinct, but it managed to scare up enough ticket buyers worldwide to take in well over $100 million in theaters.
THE GENTLEMAN MIGHT HAVE PREFERRED A BLONDE
Playing the paper factory girl and the emotionally pent-up naval officer who literally sweeps her off her feet in the unabashedly romantic An Officer and a Gentleman sent the careers of Debra Winger and Richard Gere soaring in 1982. Audiences adored these working-class lovers, and critics cheered the chemistry between the young stars. That sizzling scene in the motel which featured a damp-haired, sexy Winger undulating atop an impossibly beautiful Gere had nearly gotten the film in trouble with the ratings board, but met with rousing public approval. As Wingers character put it so aptly, "I'm candy and it's very hard to get enough." if ever a couple was made for each other, it seemed Winger and Gere were it. Asked about his stars' palpable chemistry, director Taylor Hackford observed while publicizing the movie, "Debra's outward emotional level pulled Richard out, and his holding it inside pulled her out ever further." Years later, when Winger had gained a rep for being a formidable actress and a straight shooter, she admitted what it had been like making An Officer and a Gentleman with Gere. "Oh dear, I am always trying to find diplomatic ways to talk about Richard and that film," she began. "The truth was that the experience I had making it was horrendous. To me, Richard was like a brick wall." On another occasion she described her costar as a "cold fish" who exerted his will on the set by shouting and bullying. The circumspect Gere came to admit that there had been "tension" between him and Winger, but sought to dismiss the bad personal chemistry as something that can happen on any film.
None of this was a surprise to insiders. Word from the set had it that Gere was indeed a brick wall, and that Winger was a jackhammer. Stories published at the time of the film's release had unnamed sources describing Gere's behavior on the set as "arrogant," and that bit of information was interpreted as evidence of Gere's reaction to the realization that Winger had the acting chops and charisma to steal every scene she was in. The rumors were widespread enough to get director Taylor Hackford fretting privately that the animosity between his leading actors would be all too visible on the screen. He needn't have worried. As in so many cases, the imitation of love was quite convincing. In fact, Gere and Winger made for one of the better screen teams of the '80s.
Stephen Rebello interviewed Mena Suvari for the June '00 issue of Movieline.