Gina Gershon's agents dropped her for playing another gay character after 'Showgirls.' She doesn't regret forging her own path.

Gina Gershon's agents dropped her for playing another gay character after 'Showgirls.' She doesn't regret forging her own path.

Gina Gershon is a bit of an enigma — literally.

When she appears on Zoom for our interview, she's shrouded in darkness. "It looks like I'm in the witness protection program," she jokes. It's not clear where Gershon is calling in from, though it seems like it may be from her home, given her repeated interjections of "Hey, stop that!" to someone — maybe her beloved cat, Louie? — off-camera.

For someone who's been working consistently for decades since breaking through with a bit part in 1986's "Pretty in Pink," remarkably little is known about her private life. And even more remarkably, people don't seem to pester her too often about stuff like where she lives, whether she's married, or if she has kids.

Gershon has become one of the rare actors — and the even rarer female actors — afforded the opportunity to vanish into her roles. It's exactly the career she always wanted, but not necessarily what everyone else planned for her.

After appearing in Paul Verhoeven's critically panned 1995 movie "Showgirls," which has since become a camp classic, Gershon parted ways with her agents when they disagreed with her decision to take the role of Corky, a lesbian ex-con seduced by Jennifer Tilly's femme mafioso girlfriend Violet in "Bound," the Wachowskis' 1996 directorial debut.

"Everyone at that moment, they wanted me to be in a big studio film and to position me more as a big Hollywood star and all that," Gershon recalls. "I just wanted a script and a part to show and to really act in something I was really passionate about."

Almost three decades later, people are still passionate about "Bound": The Criterion Collection re-released the film in June, just in time for Pride.

For the latest interview in Business Insider's "Role Play" series, Gershon looks back on working with the Wachowskis, inadvertently becoming a queer icon, and being typecast as "motorcycle-riding, real tough women murdering men."

On defying her agents to star in 'Bound' and finding Corky's look in San Francisco lesbian bars

Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon in "Bound"
Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon in "Bound."The Criterion Collection

Lana and Lilly Wachowski have talked about how they struggled to cast Violet and Corky in 'Bound.' Were you hesitant at all to take on the role?

I was hesitant to take on any role coming off of "Showgirls," just because, honestly, I was pretty burnt out. It was a very intense shoot, as you can imagine. I happened to have read the Wachowskis' script, "Assassins," and I really wanted to do that script. And for whatever reason, no one would see me for it.

When the script for "Bound" was sent to us, my agents were pretty clear saying, "Listen, you are not doing this movie. It's a lesbian, and you just played a lesbian." I'm like, "Well, I just played a bisexual person," as we were saying in the day. I said, "That's very different. And who cares? I want to read the script just because I liked those writers."

My agents were like, "Well, it's unknown filmmakers. They've never directed before." And I remember saying, "These unknown filmmakers are geniuses. They're visionaries. They're brilliant. I want to work with them."

Is it true that you fired your agents over them not wanting you to be in the movie?

I mean, "fire" is a harsh word. They said to me very clearly, "We can't represent you if you do this movie. We have other plans for you."

I was anxious to show that I was a pretty serious actress. When I read ["Bound"], A, I had never read women's parts like this. And B, the idea of cutting off my hair, cutting off my nails, taking off 20 pounds of this makeup that I've been wearing for months and months… it was 180 degrees from what I had just played. And I just thought, "Wow, the woman gets the girl. She gets the money. She screws over the mob."

The movie was way ahead of its time in a lot of ways, particularly in having Susie Bright act as a proto-intimacy coordinator.

I can't remember if she was on the set or not. She certainly wasn't there with me and Jennifer [Tilly]. I think the Wachowskis were quite clever in that they brought on Susie as they were writing the script, because she was the sexpert in lesbian love, and she's known for that.

She wasn't in the traditional sense what an intimacy coordinator is. She wasn't there saying, "Do you feel comfortable with this? Do you feel safe? Move this way."

My real direct dealings with Susie were when I was trying to find my look. Coming in, I was so femme — my hair, and my body was like a dancer's body, and I really had to transform myself into the more masculine side of myself, where I'd really been exploiting the feminine side with "Showgirls." So they were like, "Talk to Susie."

I flew to San Francisco to have a night on the town with her, and I said, "Take me to these places. I want to find my look. Take me to these lesbian bars." Although when I got there, I can't remember exactly why, but for some reason, she couldn't go out that night. She goes, "So, I'm just going to point you in the right direction." And I remember going, "Wait, you're kidding, right? I'm going to all these places by myself?"

But it turned out to be one of those kind of after-hours nights, and one thing led to the other. It was a wild experience, but I came back and I had my Corky. Let's just leave it at that.

On her 'Showgirls' PTSD and why she's come around on the movie

Gina Gershon in Showgirls
Gina Gershon in "Showgirls."United Artists

You've spoken a lot about "Showgirls" and defended it in recent years. But did you ever fear its reception would derail your career the way that it derailed Elizabeth Berkley's?

I had that fear I think from day one.

I just watched it again. A friend of mine, Lili Anolik, who is a great journalist and a writer herself, she's like, "You need to come and see this movie and see why people like it." I've just had PTSD with it the whole time, and for several reasons. And seeing it now, I understand it on a bigger level. I can understand why people consciously or unconsciously like it so much.

What ["Showgirls" director] Paul [Verhoeven] was trying to do was just revealing the ugliest side of the American dream. And when you're an actress and you're inside of it, all I kept thinking was like, "Oh, my God, I want to do Chekhov. I want to do the Greeks. How did I get here?"

And it was really my biggest part in my career. I'd been doing theater, I'd been doing independent films, but I also knew, "Wow, I better be really good in this, or else I'm done." And so I worked on it like any part. And I loved the part when I first read the script. I just stuck to doing the best job I could acting it, because I certainly wasn't directing it, and I wasn't producing it.

As a whole, I really appreciate it in the bigger picture now of what he was trying to do.

Between "Showgirls" and "Bound," how do you feel about being a queer icon?

I think it's pretty awesome. I love it. So many women and girls have come up to me, telling me how [my movies] helped them accept who they were and how it helped them come out because they hadn't seen that represented in a film before, and that makes me feel really great.

On the flip side, after having those two roles back to back, did you have any issues with being typecast?

I definitely would get a lot of these motorcycle-riding, real tough women murdering men. That's come up quite a bit in my career. Ironically enough, right now another movie of mine is being re-released from 20 years ago, "Prey for Rock & Roll" — where, by the way, I have another super hot girlfriend in that.

But for some reason, the best parts I've been offered, they've happened to be lesbian women. Maybe the parts seem better to me!

That being said, to me, with "Bound," it wasn't like, "Oh, I'm playing a lesbian." That movie was always about trust. The big themes in that were how do you trust someone again when you've been really screwed over in the past? And ultimately, that's what Corky and Violet have.

On the one scene she never wants to rewatch and why she thought she'd be written out of 'Face/Off'

Gina Gershon and Matthew McConaughey in "Killer Joe"
Gina Gershon and Matthew McConaughey in "Killer Joe."LD Entertainment

Another one of my favorite more recent roles of yours was in "Killer Joe." You have that one really memorable scene in which Matthew McConaughey's character forces your character Sharla to fellate a fried chicken leg. What was it like filming that moment?

Years before that movie, the script came to me as a play. And I didn't know ["Killer Joe" playwright] Tracy Letts then, I didn't know his work.

I was into the whole thing, and when I got to that chicken bone scene, I really thought, "Wow, I don't know if I could do this eight times a week." I'm pretty tough, but that scene really was like, "Wow." And everyone's like, "No, it's going to be really funny!"

So, when the movie version came up, I finally got to meet [director] William Friedkin, who I was already such a huge fan of. I mean, I think I've seen "The Exorcist" maybe at least 100 times.

Billy wasn't a guy that says, "Hey, we're going to do a zillion takes." If you ask for take two, he's like, "Why?"

But for that particular scene, I remember saying to Billy and to Matthew, "You know what? I don't want to talk about it. I don't want to think about it. We definitely got one big take on this and let's just do it." I didn't want to get into my head because if I thought about it, I don't know. It's such an intense, gnarly scene.

To this day, the movie is so compelling and it's so well done, I feel myself getting nauseous as that scene is coming up. And it's the only scene I've ever done in my entire career where I literally have to look away and go, "Is it over?"

Luckily, Matthew and I work really well together, and there was obviously a lot of trust between us. And he and I never even talked about it. We never discussed it until a year and a half later. We saw each other at a party. We just kind of looked at each other and he was like, "We really did that scene." I said, "Yeah, we sure did." And we finally talked about it, but I didn't want to think about it, to be honest.

Another one of your iconic cult classic roles is in "Face/Off." Is it true that you and Nicolas Cage knew each other in high school before working on that?

We never really hung out, but we were in the same high school, so we knew of each other for sure.

What was it like working on "Face/Off" together?

Nicolas is, as he is so often, just completely brilliant. I was so excited to be working with John Woo… just watching John Woo work.

Originally I kept thinking my part was going to get cut out or something. I mean, it wasn't integral to the story. And so I would just come up with scenes like, "Hey, what about this? What about that?"

It was your idea to do the sibling kiss, right? What was behind that choice?

I think that was me and Nick Cassavetes. Just an incestuous sort of love for each other. [Laughs]

I kept going into Nick Cassavetes' room trying to work on different bits, saying, "Hey, what about this?" Like I was never supposed to kick the guy when I was leaving with the kid, and I kept saying to John Woo, "I'm in a John Woo movie. Let me do stunts. I could do stunts! I'm really into it."

My one idea that didn't fly — and to this day I still wish we had done it — I really love the idea of showing up with a shaved head, since Nick Cassavetes had the shaved head. And in certain cultures, you shave your head when you're in mourning. I wanted to show up with a shaved head, which I thought was so exciting.

That definitely did not fly. Usually, I'd say to John, "What about this?" And he'd be like, "Oh, yeah, yeah.' But I told him this, and he went, "What? No."

You actually told the story about the shaved head idea to my colleague Jason Guerrasio like seven years ago, when you spoke to him for "Inconceivable."

I'm still standing behind it! I still believe it's a great idea. The producers, I remember they didn't seem to be so keen.

I thought it really worked, but I wasn't directing it, so I didn't get to do it. I was just the hired hand. I had to listen to Mr. John Woo on that one.

I'm excited to see you in "Borderlands" coming up. What was it like working on a set of that scale?

Complete bonkersville. It's insane. It's just stupid, fun, crazy, out there. You feel like you're a bit in a video game. I'm happy to have been a part of it. I wish I had more to do in it. I wish I could have been working there all the time, but I really love my time that I was there.

And working with Cate Blanchett, she's just a dream. I love her so much. And Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Hart. I mean, the cast is insane. And it was really special just because we were all in lockdown, and just to be able to enter a new world, even though Pandora's a bit of a shithole and so crazy, it was just nice to be locked down with such a great group of people.

I've never done a Marvel movie. I've never done these big, crazy movies. To be really dressed up in these outfits and entering a whole other world was just a blast.

Totally different experience from things like "Bound" and "Showgirls."

The film is nuts. It's not like anything I've done, so I'm excited about it.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

The new 4K digital restoration of "Bound" is now available from The Criterion Collection.

Read the original article on Business Insider