I junketed to San Francisco during the summer of 1987 to interview Kim Basinger, Jeff Bridges and Robert Benton for the action-comedy "Nadine." Here's the resulting story from the Basinger interview.
Aug. 7, 1987
By DONALD PORTER
SAN FRANCISCO -- An occupational hazard of a career in journalism is that most reporters are called upon to complete extremely boring and mundane tasks on a regular basis.
Interviewing Kim Basinger, however, isn't one of them.
It's not that the actress happens to be astonishingly beautiful, although she is. Instead, it has more to do with her surprising candor and humorous approach to virtually every topic of conversation. When she's asked a question, she answers. And that, folks, is a rarity in the motion picture business.
Basinger was in San Francisco recently to promote her new film, "Nadine," which was directed by Robert Benton ("Kramer vs. Kramer," "Places in the Heart") and co-stars Jeff Bridges ("Jagged Edge"). "Nadine" is a departure for Basinger, since she's the undisputed star of the film. In past movies -- "The Natural," "Never Say Never Again," "The Man Who Loved Women," "9 1/2 Weeks" and "Blind Date" -- she played doormat roles that took a back seat to male leads.
"Nadine" is a comedy in which Basinger plays the part of Nadine Hightower, an Austin, Texas, manicurist who's in the process of divorcing her husband, Vernon (Bridges). But before the divorce is final, Nadine becomes embroiled in a murder, and uses her soon-to-be-ex-husband to help her out of the mess.
"The whole experience -- from beginning to end -- is probably the reason I'm here today, pushing this film and going out there for it,'" Basinger said as she sat in a suite at the Four Seasons Clift Hotel. "I loved Nadine, I loved her. I could step right into those high heels and those dresses and fit right into (them) ...
"God knows ... ," Basinger said, "people really say this, they really do. Usually you just get paid to say something that makes you choke."
Basinger, who modeled in New York for more than four years before heading to Hollywood and the movies, was raised in Athens, Ga., and her speech still betrays that Southern upbringing. Her sentences are sprinkled with colloquialisms like "okey dokey" and "oh, honey, I'll tell you what," and she's constantly breaking into high-pitched laughter at her own jokes. She knows she's a plain talker, and her bluntness has often been rumored to have contributed to problems on film sets.
Basinger hasn't done many interviews in the past, and stories of her battles with male co-stars and directors are legendary, especially on the films "No Mercy" and "9 1/2 Weeks."
"As far as Richard Gere" is concerned, she said, referring to stories about conflict between the stars on the set of "No Mercy," "I know what you're thinking, but you're wrong -- and I tell ya what, Richard and I had a great relationship. Anything anybody read in the press that was negative was all just bull. It was a very tough film and it's hard to continue doing a film when you know the second or third week it's not working -- it's very difficult for both actors."
The making of "9 1/2 Weeks," she explained, was indeed an ordeal. The controversial film dealt with a sadomasochistic relationship between a young couple. "Mickey (Rourke) and I had
the toughest job I've ever had in my life," Basinger said, tossing her long blond hair back over her shoulder. "And What you ended up seeing as an MTV video was not the movie we shot. ... There were scenes that (the studios) just chickened out on. ... Not to cut either of the studios down, it's just that they consisted of people who should have been selling watermelons by the side of the road."
So traumatic were the eight months of filming on "9 1/2 Weeks," Basinger said, that her relationship with her husband suffered, and she came perilously close to having a nervous breakdown.
"You know, if it'd been a weaker person than myself, many people might not really have gone through it," she said, lowering her voice to a very serious tone. "Because I was really on the verge of feeling more nervous, or whatever a nervous breakdown is -- I don't think it was a nervous breakdown -- but I honestly was just a wreck every day because of the emotional ... hype of that movie and all that it took out of us."
Too, she said, the character was closer to her own personality than she likes to recognize. "She did things she thought she'd never do, which all of us harbor -- I mean, c'mon, we all think of things. You have little fantasies on trips, you're on the airplane and you think about something that you'd never share with even yourself -- in the bathroom -- or anyone else. So it was a fantasy, a crazy, crazy fantasy. I'd do it all over again, too."
Her: experience making "Nadine," though, was a 180-degree turnabout. Her enthusiasm about
the experience appeared boundless.
"I really have to brag about this experience with Benton and Jeff," she said excitedly. "Because the team, the crew -- you don't get this every time, you really don't. Hollywood's not built this way. There are a lot of people in the movie business who just don't belong there at all. ... I've been very spoiled on 'Nadine,' I really have to say that. I'm spoiled rotten."
Actually, the character of Nadine, according to Benton, who wrote the screenplay in addition to directing the film, was based on Basinger after he met the actress. Up to the time of their meeting, the director said, he didn't really have a handle on the character.
"It was so funny, the day I met Benton, when I left he said, 'That's Nadine,'" the actress recalled. "And I later heard this out of his own mouth. I never knew, but he thinks I am her. I think he does. It's so funny. And I think when I met him it was Nadine meeting Benton. It was not me."
Basinger, who turned down a part in "Crimes of the Heart," has worked with an amazing array of the most popular leading men in Hollywood, including Charlton Heston in "Mother Lode," Sean Connery in "Never Say Never Again," Burt Reynolds in "The Man Who Loved Women," Robert Redford in "The Natural," Sam Shepard in "Fool For Love," Bruce Willis in "Blind Date" and now Jeff Bridges in "Nadine."
"I've always said this, that when all these actors grow up and they go into their late 40s and 50s and 60s and 70s, some of them will -- hopefully not die off -- but they'll die out of the business," Basinger predicted. "Jeff Bridges will still be workin'. He will always be hired.
"If you really think about it, who was there in Hollywood that was more perfect for Vernon? I think he was Vernon. I'd look at him and I'd get disgusted just looking at him goin' to the lunch wagon, sometimes, ya know?"
The good experience she had making "Nadine" was so drastically different -- and improved -- from almost all the other motion pictures she's worked on, Basinger said it has affected the way she now looks for other parts.
"You can't have every day be rosy, nobody can, but I do like it to be quality time. I'm not going to take a project with a pain in the butt just because it is what it is, because I don't think it's worth it and I don't think you're going to give your best performance."
And, increasingly, that's what the actress is becoming known for over her classic beauty -- the fact that she's a very gifted performer. She speaks freely of the prejudice facing women with good looks who want to act in films, but says she's finally been able to overcome the bias.
"That's a very unfair part of Hollywood," she said, turning serious again. "Because we've got a lot of very stupid people in high places in Hollywood who decide whether someone gets a part or whatever. And I think it's just disgusting. I think it's highly disgusting. Somebody with blond hair and blue eyes that comes into town right off, if they stick 'em anywhere -- if they're lucky enough to get stuck -- they stick 'em someplace on TV and you see 'em runnin' around in a pair of shorts. It's really sad.
"In the '40s and '50s you couldn't get into the movies unless you were attractive. And now, in the '70s and '80s, you have a lot of the ugliest women I've ever seen getting in the movies and being called brilliant. ... All of a sudden [Hollywood] got scared of attractive women."
As to the competition between the top echelon of Hollywood actresses, Basinger confirmed that jealousies are intense. And although she won't name names, some actresses have even refused to work with her because she is "too attractive" to share the screen with.
But Basinger maintains she doesn't let it affect her. "I could care less about what other people do. ... We all make trash, and we all do good performances, I don't care who you are, you're gonna make some mistakes."