Kim Basinger Said She Felt Manipulated by Mickey Rourke & "9 1/2 Weeks" Director
“After that movie was over, I didn’t want to see anybody I had ever seen on that set," she said.
Before appearing as intrepid reporter Vicki Vale in 1989's Batman and winning an Oscar for playing an alluring femme fatale in 1997's L.A. Confidential, Kim Basinger was best known for starring in the lurid 1986 erotic drama 9 ½ Weeks, co-starring Mickey Rourke and directed by Adrian Lyne (Flashdance, Fatal Attraction).
But though the film, which bombed in the U.S. but was a hit overseas, helped turn Basinger into a famous name, making it was far from a wholly positive experience for the actor. Keep reading to learn why she found working on 9 1/2 Weeks traumatic, even blaming it for problems in her real-life marriage, and how Rourke and Lyne admitted to purposely manipulating her into giving the performance they wanted.
Basinger left her screen test in tears.
As described by film historian Karina Longworth on the podcast You Must Remember This, 9 ½ Weeks tells "the story of what is initially a consensual relationship, in which the line between desired negotiated rough play and abuse disappears, until the woman becomes the prisoner of the man." The film follows New Yorkers Elizabeth (Basinger), a gallery employee, and John (Rourke), a Wall Street banker, as they become involved in an intense love affair that grows more dangerous and damaging as it goes.
Leading ladies including Kathleen Turner, Isabella Rossellini, and Teri Garr were all considered for the Elizabeth role, according to The Telegraph. But it was relative newcomer Basinger, then best known for starring as Bond girl Domino Petachi opposite Sean Connery in 1983's Never Say Never Again, who caught Lyne's eye after a screen test she later described as humiliating.
The audition required her to "act like a prostitute groveling for money in an elaborate sexual game," according to a contemporary article in The New York Times. Basinger left the meeting crying and told her agent she would never do the film. However, she ultimately relented after Lyne and Rourke sent her two dozen roses.
The actors were forbidden to see each other without Lyne present.
From the start, Lyne directed with a heavy hand, controlling the actors' interactions both onscreen and off. They were forbidden from seeing each other before filming began with the intention they'd develop an "ongoing intimacy" during its 10-week production schedule—meant to mimic the 9 ½ weeks of the film, as he told The New York Times.
"I didn't want there to be an easy intimacy between them," he told Rolling Stone. " There had to be elements of fear and danger. Even while we were shooting, I tried to keep them apart so that there was always this aspect of chance when they came together."
Lyne relied on Basinger's "instinctive" reactions.
Lyne employed unusual techniques on set as well. Rather than speak instructions aloud, he would pull Rourke aside to whisper to him when he felt scenes were not working. It was an attempt to engineer the desired response from Basinger, who he described as "an instinctive actress." "You couldn't do this with everyone," he told The New York Times. "Kim is a bit like a child. She's an innocent. That's part of her appeal."
Lyne appeared to rely on provoking Basinger, who he felt was not acting at all. "She was that woman for 10 weeks," he said. "She's not an intellectual. She doesn't read books. She doesn't actually act, she reacts. And she had to plumb the depths in this movie."
For her part, Basinger said that his view of her didn't actually describe her at all. "That was his interpretation," she said. "Another director would act differently. To tell the truth, I deliberately didn't allow myself to see all the games being played to get this picture made. I don't know why, if he wanted some emotion, he went to Mickey and not to me."
The actors had a physical confrontation while filming a crucial scene.
One scene offers a notable example of Lyne's method. The characters come to the edge of a suicide pact in which only Rourke's character knows that the pills they are taking are sugar pills. During filming, Lyne found Basinger's appearance to be too composed for the emotional intensity required. He took Rourke aside and told him that Elizabeth needed to appear more "broken down," according to The New York Times. Rourke tightly held Basinger's arm, refusing to let go until she shouted and even struck him. He responded by slapping her back. After this emotional exchange, Basinger was crying hysterically and Lyne finally proceeded with shooting the scene.
Basinger told The New York Times that the emotional requirements of the scene took a toll on her personal life: "Mickey was egging me on—I hated him sometimes, I got confused. I didn't know who I was after a while. My husband and I had a bad time during this movie." (She and then-husband Ron Snyder-Britton divorced three years later.)
Filming left Basinger literally scarred.
Filming had a physical as well as an emotional impact on Basinger. Recalling a rainy sex scene filmed on a Manhattan stairway, Basinger showed Rolling Stone a mark on her forearm from an injury she received on set. "It was horrid, up against that brick where there were rusty things going into my back. I still have a scar," she revealed in 1986.
"After that movie was over, I didn't want to see anybody I had ever seen on that set," she continued. "If I ran into the guy who brought the coffee, I was going to kill him." At the time, that included Rourke, who she said she hadn't seen again and "never really got to know." The two would ultimately reunite 26 years later for the 2012 action drama Black November.
Lyne later complained about having to use an intimacy coordinator.
As for Lyne, he continued to see success with erotically charged films including Fatal Attraction and Indecent Proposal before taking a long hiatus from filmmaking. When he reemerged to film last year's Deep Water, a thriller starring Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas, he was disappointed to find a new role on many sets.
"One thing that they do have now, which sort of distressed me a little bit was the intimacy coordinator," he told The Times of India. "The idea of an intimacy co-ordinator suggests a lack of trust between a director and his actors."
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