In director Justin Kelly’s porn world drama King Cobra, Christian Slater plays a suburban, online entrepreneur who takes a young performer (Garrett Clayton) under his wing. The film, costarring James Franco and Keegan Allen as rival porn producers, takes a lurid, real-life twist that draws comparisons to Bob Fosse’s underseen Star 80. Slater’s poignant, career-shifting performance is reminiscent of Burt Reynolds’ in Boogie Nights.
But another unexpected reference point was in the actor’s head while on the set.
“Always in the back of my mind, there was Gypsy,” Slater says of the 1959 musical about a striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee and her show business mother, immortalized by Ethel Merman’s performance in the lead role and her famous rendition of the production’s most well-known tune, “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.”
“My mother was a huge fan of Ethel Merman and that musical especially — and so I kept that as an underlying theme in my head,” Slater says. “And it slipped out a couple of times. I just found out that there’s an outtake now where I did a full-on Ethel Merman impression.”
“We had to swap it out,” director Kelly adds, “because the song rights were out of our reach.”
“Maybe it’ll be on the bonus reel,” Slater says. “That was full-on improv. It was during a take that wasn’t really meant to be used, but when we were doing one of the driving scenes, Garrett and I were just goofing around in the car. And I had that song somewhere, easily accessible, in my brain. And really, I felt like Mama Rose and he felt like Gypsy Rose Lee. And I was excited and he was my star. So I was just like, oh well, “You’ll be swell, you’ll be great! Gonna have the whole world on a plate! Everything is coming up roses!”
So you’ll have to wait for the Blu-ray release to potentially see Slater belt out that tune. In the meantime, any excuse is good enough to revisit this scene from Airplane, where Robert Hays tells his girlfriend about a very sick patient in the next bed who’s suffered such awful PTSD that he thinks he’s Ethel Merman.
Check out for King Cobra below. The film is in theaters and available on demand now.