"Showgirls certainly ruined the career of Elizabeth Berkley in a major way," Paul Verhoeven tells the New York Daily News

By Jodi Guglielmi
Updated October 19, 2015 03:30 PM
Credit: Theo Wargo/NBC/Getty; Everett; Inset: Andrew H. Walker/Getty

That was close.

Nearly 20 years after the release of Showgirls, director Paul Verhoeven is opening up about why he thought critics responded so harshly to the film – it’s been called it one of the worst movies ever made – and who almost took the infamous role from Elizabeth Berkley.

Verhoeven revealed that before Berkley, 43, was cast as the aspiring exotic dancer, Charlize Theron was also a frontrunner for the part.

“She was good and wanted the part, but basically she was not well known enough at the time and just did not fit the part, so we said no,” he told New York’s Daily News. (Theron has previously confirmed that she tried out for the film, and that it was the second audition she had ever done.)

In retrospect, he admits that rejecting Theron probably saved the Oscar-winning actress’ career. “I have full respect for Charlize, but if she had been offered the part then she would probably have been chewed up in the same way they treated Elizabeth [Berkley].”

He added: “She was very lucky that she did not get the part.”

Verhoeven ultimately cast Berkley, who at the time was famous for her role on the hit TV show Saved by the Bell. And after her time as good-girl Jessie Spano wrapped, it seemed she was on the fast-track to Hollywood stardom with a lead movie role. But Showgirls ended up derailing her promising career.

And looking back, Verhoeven takes responsibility for the part he played, admitting that the vulgar, nudity-ridden film made her an outcast in the industry.

“It was all my fault,” he said. “Showgirls certainly ruined the career of Elizabeth Berkley in a major way. It made my life more difficult, but not to the degree it did Elizabeth’s. Hollywood turned their backs on her.”

He added: “If somebody has to be blamed, it should be me because I thought that it was interesting to portray somebody like that.”

Critics ripped the film apart for its seemingly meaningless plot, strange musical numbers, and constant nudity, and it earned a mere $8 million at the box office.

It was deemed a failed attempt by Berkley, then 23, to overhaul her teen-icon image from Saved by the Bell and move on to more risqué fare.

But while Berkley’s performance certainly came under fire, Verhoeven says that ultimately, she was merely following his directing cues.

“I asked Elizabeth to do all that – to be abrupt and to act in that way, but people have been attacking her about that ever since.”

“In retrospect, Elizabeth may have regretted being so heavily involved with the movie and being so vulnerable to her critics, but when we did it we never had the feeling that this would happen.”

Verhoeven stands by the film, and admires the star’s willingness to push boundaries.

“Hollywood was pissed off with her because she went further than any actress has gone or will go and I think they have never forgiven her. Her performance pushed the limits and that worried them,” he said. “They were just so shocked by the movie that they hated her.”

He, in turn, blames the film industry for refusing to give Berkley another shot.

“Elizabeth could only have recovered from the movie by being offered a very different role, but that just didn’t happen for her, otherwise she would have taken the job,” he said. “New roles were never offered, so it was impossible for her to make a comeback.”