The most expensive refusal - leading to the bankruptcy of Kim Basinger.
“It's been an overwhelming six years,” said Jennifer Lynch at 22.
“I thought five people would see my film
in one small theatre in LA.
And I hoped three might like it.”
She never expected "to feel this naked and vulnerable in front of the world. Not with my first film.”
“I was 18 when they approached me, 19 when I finished it. I was trying to pay the rent by fucking doing fucking phone sales for Vegas trips, cleaning houses, and thinking how am I going to pay my fucking rent, and everyone thinks my father is paying the fucking bills, which wasn’t the case, and then all of the sudden, Madonna was interested, and Ed Harris was interested. Madonna backed out, but paid us all the money back,and was so wonderful I have nothing but nice things to say about her. Then Kim Basinger came in. I have nothing but nice things to say about her, but it was her agency, when she switched agencies, that said ‘We can’t have her do this movie.’ Then I was forbidden to speak with her. I kept saying ‘I don’t care if she doesn’t want to do it now, just don’t tell me she didn’t have plans to.’ I had effects and prosthetics and an entire set built, so don’t tell me she didn’t have intent.”
Kim was not the first star to finally decide against making the directing debut of David Lynch's daughter - never as weird as the overly headlined hype alleged. “You're welcome to laugh at the film,” Lynch reminded her audiences. “There are intentionally funny moments... Certainly, when Nick says: ‘If you were a real woman, you'd lie to me about sex' - that's very funny!”
Producer Philippe Caland asked her to script his bizarre idea of a man who viciously removed the arms and legs of a woman he loved and put her in a box and used her just for sex. Jen understood all the metaphors although “discouraged by the idea that a woman writer would excuse the content.”
She only agreed to write it as a dream. Brought up to respect dreams, she turned the premise into a mythological fairy tale -
“Exorcising our ability for
She had certainly had them, herself. " I've been Nick and Helena! Couples trying to change each other, putting each other into boxes, about self-esteem - forfeited or stolen. And Helena's self-esteem is stolen by Nick - it is her body.”
In something of a casting coup, Lynch interested Madonna in her script. However, in December 1990, the Material Girl quit four weeks before shooting. In July 1991, Kim Basinger fled just before shooting, as well - after the £35m budget had been raised in pre-sales at Cannes more on her name than that of Ed Harris, forever faithful to the role of Nick.
Jen wanted the magic that either sex queen would add to the role. “They're real-life Helenas - people the world was obsessed with. They were desperately interested in changing their careers, and really so brave in wanting to prove something - I think, to themselves. And what better way to prove that you don't need your body to play Helena.”
As proved by the self-exploitation of Body of Evidence and her Sex book, Madonna had not exactly given up on her body and Basinger's withdrawal (soon after getting a new LA agent) cost her an arm and a leg - originally $8.1m, later appealed to an out of court settlement.
Sherilyn Fenn, revelation of David Lynch's Twin Peaks TV series, 1990-91, took over the role; she had been replaced by Kim Blind Date , 1987, and, in turned, succeeded Madonna in Ruby , 1991. Bill Paxton took over from Bill Pullman. (It would still be many years before moviegoers could tell which Bill was which).
Sherilyn had all the strength and verve lacking in the film's weakest link - British actor Julian Sands, complete with his tacky horror image, as Nick. “We lost Ed Harris because he was afraid he was going broke,” explains Lynch. “He'd turned down other work while waiting 18 months through Madonna and Kim's pre-production - we'd gotten a month from shooting each time. He stuck around as long as he could - financially.
“Kim really wanted to spread her wings in a small film - and certainly before the trial, I tried to keep it a small art film. I feel very badly that neither one got the part...
“They were two very excited women -
unfortunately frightened away
because people suggested they might fail.”
“It was this complete rollover and I was like ‘Are you kidding me?’ I was this kid stuck in this world of men in suits who were berating me in a way I had never expected, and all I had tried to do was tell a story. If you will, if I can be very graphic, it was like masturbating for the first time, being discovered, and then being criticized for it. ?I would love to know why people were so mad at me for telling a crazy fairy tale. I’m the first to say I didn’t know what I was doing. I did the best I could at 19, and all these crazy things happened. The idea that the film was faulted when everyone involved worked so fucking hard and believed in me, and there were these adults believing in me, who was essentially a child… when the National Organization of Women slammed me, that was sort of the final straw. It was no wonder I put my legs behind my ears and got pregnant. [Laugh] Not that I didn’t love sex before then, but seriously. It was my child, essentially, who saved my life.”
But even, even her father was frightened of the story. “That's all I needed - a story that scared David Lynch! But he loves the film. He held me in an embrace for 15 minutes after seeing it. He said: ‘You've made a damned good film, Jen.' Now I just want to get away... write a book... and hope I love my next script as much as I love this one.”
She had to wait until 2007 and Surveillance, .