Michael Douglas Yelled at Her on Set Until She Cried, Former Child Actor Said
Ellen Latzen was six years old when she played Dan Gallagher's daughter in Fatal Attraction.
Fatal Attraction was the massive thriller hit of 1987. It stars Michael Douglas as lawyer Dan Gallagher, who has an ill-advised tryst with book editor Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) and then faces her wrath when she becomes determined to destroy his life and marriage to wife Beth (Anne Archer). The Adrian Lyne film made over $156 million worldwide at the box office and spent eight weeks at No. 1. In addition to being big with audiences, Fatal Attraction was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It also spawned memes before there was a word for them, with images of a knife-wielding Close becoming iconic and the phrase "bunny boiler" joining the lexicon.
However, Fatal Attraction was apparently a bit of a nightmare behind the scenes, too. One potential director wanted to switch out the leading man, while producers didn't think they'd ever find a star who was willing to play the increasingly unhinged Alex. And even after those problems were solved, there were still challenges, including getting the right performance out of the child actor playing Dan and Beth's daughter, Ellen, in one of the movie's climactic final scenes. Read on to find out what now-grown-up Ellen Latzen had to say about Douglas shouting at her on set and how he made it up to her.
Finding a director for Fatal Attraction was a challenge.
After seeing the 1980 short film Diversion, written and directed by Fatal Attraction screenwriter James Dearden, producer Sherry Lansing became committed to making a feature film version and soon had Douglas attached to play Dan. However, she struggled to find anyone willing to take on the project. "The film got rejected twice by every studio," she told The New York Times for a 2017 oral history of Fatal Attraction. "They would say, 'A guy who cheats on his wife for absolutely no reason!'"
Director Brian De Palma, who was coming off of Scarface and Body Double, was involved at one point, but he wanted to make Fatal Attraction more of a horror movie than a thriller. He also, according to Lansing, rejected Douglas as the lead. "He said, 'I can't do the movie with Michael. He's unsympathetic. So it's either him or me,'" the producer recalled.
After De Palma left the project, Flashdance and 9 1/2 Weeks filmmaker Lyne signed on. "I really felt it was potentially something that would make people talk," he told the Times.
"Almost every actress" turned down the role of Alex.
But finding a name actor to play a psychotic "other woman" turned out to be just as difficult as locking down a director. "We were turned down by almost every actress, " Lansing told the Times. "Barbara Hershey was seriously considered and wanted to do it, but she wasn't available."
Meanwhile, as Close told Entertainment Weekly in 2017, she was more than willing to throw her hat in the ring after reading the script "in one sitting." However, Fatal Attraction's director and producer worried that the actor, who had been known for more girl-next-door parts, wouldn't be a fit. "She'd done The World According to Garp and always played nice characters," Lyne said to the Times. "So I wasn't sure she was right."
"Producer Sherry Lansing told me about five years ago that they were so convinced I was wrong for Alex that they didn't even want to be in the room when I auditioned," Close told EW on the film's 30th anniversary. "They said, 'Well, can she be sexy?' And I thought, 'Well, you know, yes!'"
Douglas tried to loosen Close up with "off-color jokes."
As Douglas explained to the Times, he didn't have much faith that Close was the co-star they were looking for, either. "We were doing a big favor for Glenn's agent by letting her read with me," he said. "I don't think any of us had high hopes—she's a wonderful actress, but she always projected a Puritan vision."
Obviously, Close nailed the audition and won the role. But her nerves were apparent when filming began. "I just feel it's an actor's responsibility to make the actress comfortable," Douglas said of his efforts to calm her down. "It's predominantly always a male set."
But his well-meaning tactics backfired. "I was intimidated by Michael because he was so suave and so Hollywood," Close confessed to the Times. "I don't mean that negatively. He would tell me these off-color jokes, and half of them I wouldn't get. He was trying to relate to me, but it only made me more nervous."
He also stepped in to help his movie daughter's performance along.
Fatal Attraction was the first acting credit for six-year-old Latzen, though she'd go on to be even better known for playing Ruby Sue in 1989's National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. One of the young actor's most significant scenes happens when Dan and Beth have it out over the affair as Alex's behavior has escalated to a terrifying point. Ellen is supposed to burst into tears as her parents fight, but Latzen struggled to cry on cue.
Douglas took it upon himself to inspire the tears. Latzen remembered the moment to the Times, saying, "I was standing there with Uni, my own stuffed animal. Michael came up to me and said: 'Look at that stupid unicorn. I'm going to throw it in the garbage.' As you watch the scene, you can see I'm trying really hard to fight back tears. Finally, he was just yelling at me. I couldn't hold it in anymore."
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He apologized on the spot.
As Latzen recalled, as soon as the take was done, Douglas dropped the act. "Immediately, Michael ran to me and held me, and said, 'I'm so sorry.' It was pretty intense," she explained.
Thirty years later, Douglas admitted that he "felt pretty guilty" about scaring Latzen to the Times. "But you've got to do what you've got to do," the Wall Street star added.
Latzen left acting behind when she was a teen.
After Fatal Attraction, Latzen continued acting for a time. In addition to her scene-stealing performance in Christmas Vacation, she appeared in TV shows including Family Ties, The Equalizer, and an ABC Afterschool Special. As she explained to HuffPost, she took a hiatus from the business when she went to boarding school and came to the conclusion after graduation that she wasn't interested in going back.
"It would've been a lot of effort to get back into it, and I wasn't really ready to do that," she said in 2015. "And even though I loved acting and was passionate about it, at that point, I really wanted to be another person, and I decided to walk away."