Welder. Stripper. Steel-town girl on a Saturday night, lookin’ for the fight of her life. Alex (Jennifer Beals) really is the female Rocky. And even without Beals’ participation, the new Flashdance: Special Collector’s Edition DVD (out now) is a knockout. We phoned director Adrian Lyne for a few rounds of trivia and, as it turns out, some refreshingly brutal honesty.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I never realized that Flashdance was the female Rocky until someone called it that on the DVD. How did you envision the movie while you were making it?
ADRIAN LYNE: When I first read the script [by Tom Hedley and Joe Eszterhas], I thought it was a bit daft, really. But in the end, it’s a fairy tale. I think that’s why it appealed to people: If you want something enough, you can get it. It’s a sort of naïve idea, but I guess it works. I remember working very hard with [producer] Don Simpson on the inspirational side of it, pushing people’s buttons.
What made you sign on, then?
[Paramount production exec] Dawn Steel went on and on at me about doing the movie, and I finally saw that they were gonna spend $8 million on it and it was actually gonna get made. So many of the things I was developing [in 1983] just weren’t happening, you know…. I was never crazy about the script, but I thought, well, maybe I can do something with the dances, maybe I can make those interesting. That was fun for me, the whole idea of putting a fan in a broken down TV and imagining that these girls could have done the same thing.
There really were women who called themselves ”flashdancers” and performed those sort of elaborate numbers in strip clubs, but the concepts for the routines in the film were all yours, right?
Pretty much. I was always stealing stuff from magazines and things like that. The two blue light bulbs hanging down just before the water pours all over her head — I’d seen those in a magazine. I love that side of directing. I just love the idea of selecting bits and pieces from life, from what you’ve read, from what you’ve seen, and sticking them in the movie. I remember really wanting to do a wet dance, because of all of the possibilities of that. Obviously, water on skin looks sort of erotic and sexual. And when you start doing your wet dance, you realize the water’s going to fly off and hit everybody in the audience. So if it hits a fat guy who’s the owner of the bar, you get a laugh out of that. I love the way things build. I remember trying to explain [the wet dance] to these deeply cynical studio executives before we even cast. They were sitting up on bleachers and I was way down below with this sad girl, and sort of wrapping a hose around her, not knowing what I was gonna do exactly, but just knowing that I wanted to do a wet dance. I remember the look of real depression on these guys’ faces, just thinking it wouldn’t work. I also remember that they were genuinely worried whether the weight of the water falling on her was gonna break the girl’s neck.
But you did tests, obviously.
I’m sure we did tests, but you never quite know. It was a hell of a lot of water. Marine Jahan [Beals’ dance double] was very good, the way she just soldiered on and made it look like it was nice. But it was obviously a nightmare. [Laughs]
NEXT PAGE: ”In the two weeks before Flashdance came out, I literally couldn’t get anybody on the phone. It was like everybody had run for the hills because they thought it was gonna be a total disaster.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You like to pump smoke into the atmosphere when you’re filming a movie. One of my favorite stories on the DVD is how Paramount issued a ”no more smoke” edict midway through production — and you didn’t stop. You just had a lookout so you knew when to hide the machine.
ADRIAN LYNE: Yes, and then we’d find less obvious ways of making smoke. I had these kind of biscuit things that you could burn. To be absolutely honest, I’ve used smoke on all of the films that I’ve done [including 9 1/2 Weeks, Fatal Attraction, Indecent Proposal, Lolita, and Unfaithful]. I like the way it changes the colors. It makes them less garish, more pastoral. If you do it right, it doesn’t read like smoke. But of course, you screw up, and on a couple of takes it will come through like a forest fire or something. Then the executives watching the rushes have hysterics.
Is that because they’re worried that you’ll fall behind schedule if it takes a few extra takes each time to get the level right?
Or, they don’t understand it. They think I’ve gone nuts. There’s so much angst and worry. In the two weeks before Flashdance came out, I literally couldn’t get anybody on the phone. It was like everybody had run for the hills because they thought it was gonna be a total disaster. I didn’t know either. Paramount sold at least a quarter of their interest in the film in those two weeks. In other words, they saw the film, and thought, Well, this is gonna go down the toilet. It’s funny. I remember Giorgio Moroder, the composer, was talking to somebody else after the premiere, and he said, ”But is it any good?” [Laughs] He was obviously panic stricken.
When did you finally breathe a sigh of relief and know your career wasn’t ruined?
When it did $4 million for the opening weekend. It did close to $100 million domestic [ultimately]. It was $3 a ticket then, so that would be like $300 million now.
Here’s my one burning question after watching the DVD: You say you got the idea for Alex to take her bra off under her sweatshirt after you saw Beals do that trick. How does that happen? Were you like, ”Any special talents?”
She was just trying on one piece of clothing after another, and I guess for convenience, rather than rushing out to the dressing room, she took her bra off underneath the T-shirt or whatever, and I was just fascinated by the contortion. To this day, I don’t quite know how she did it. I watched her at the time, and said, ”S—, I gotta use that. That’s wonderful.” Like I said, I adore seeing things and sticking them in the movie. I do that endlessly. I have lists, on bits of paper that I often lose, of stuff that I’ve seen. Like yesterday, I saw this great-looking guy and he was missing a tooth. It just made him way more interesting. So in my next movie, I’m gonna do that.
Do you have your next film lined up?
I’m working on a thing called The Town, that we’re casting at the moment. It’s from a novel called Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan. That’s a crappy title, so we changed it back to the original title, which was The Town. But it’s a terrific read about bank robbers in Boston.
Last question: Were you surprised that Jennifer Beals didn’t participate on the DVD?
Yeah, kind of. I thought it was a pity, really. I have fond memories of it all. I remember so well when she came in [to audition]. I remember trying to get her to cry, because I wanted to see whether she could. She cried quite easily — but I think mainly because she’d just lost all her luggage.