Who is Jane Hamsher and more important, what was she thinking? The author of Killer Instinct is one half of the team that produced Oliver Stone’s controversial 1994 film Natural Born Killers, and she has decided to do something completely nuts: tell the truth about the madness surrounding the making of the movie. In detailing the drinking, drugging, back stabbing, double-crossing, and bullying by many of the parties involved, she burns at least two major bridges: the mercurial but powerful Stone (”an imposing, intimidating sonofabitch”) and perennial Hollywood It Boy Quentin Tarantino (”a geek”), who wrote the original draft of Natural Born Killers.
The result? Not only does Hamsher deserve a medal for bravery, she’s also written one of the most entertaining books ever about how to ”beat the odds [and] hold out against some of the meanest, greediest, low-blowing mother-f—ers in Hollywood.”
But again, we have to ask why. Unlike producer Julia Phillips, who already had won her Oscar and was washed up when she wrote the ultimate Hollywood tell-all — 1991’s You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again — Hamsher and partner Don Murphy were fresh out of USC Film School when they met the then-unknown Tarantino and bought the rights to NBK for $10,000. When Stone decided that he wanted to hipster up his image and direct the film, Hamsher and Murphy figured he must be ”bored off his skull, and we were like a ball of yarn being tossed around by a very big cat.”
Hollywood tradition dictates that neophytes Hamsher and Murphy would gladly take on the role of Stone’s plaything, indeed even grovel at the chance. Instead they stood up to the combative Stone (who called Hamsher ”difficult,” sometimes banned her from the set — and even, Hamsher says, took psychedelics with her during location scouting), to Tarantino, who comes off as passive aggressive and Machiavellian, and even to the suits at Warner Bros.
Stone is painted as a hard-partying womanizer who pits his underlings against each other and plays mind games. Take this description of how he worked his charms on NBK‘s second screenwriter, Dave Veloz. ”It only took two weeks for Oliver Stone to reduce Dave Veloz from a stable, reliable churchgoing Mormon,” Hamsher writes, ”to a borderline psychotic Pepsi-swilling mess, rolling around the floor in his boxer shorts and wondering if he’d ever be able to do anything right again for the rest of his life.”
Tarantino gets off less easily. Hamsher charges that he betrayed her and Murphy by going behind their backs to keep them from making Natural Born Killers. She also calls Tarantino a ”one-trick pony,” a wildly overrated director. ”Anything he said brought down the house,” Hamsher describes Tarantino’s appearance at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival for Reservoir Dogs: ”He could’ve said ‘shoehorn’ and the agents I was sitting amidst would’ve crippled themselves laughing. I could only imagine what kind of effect this would have on a guy like Quentin, a geek from the Valley who’d never had much attention for doing much of anything.”
Killer Instinct, however, is far from just a hatchet job. Hamsher is almost kind toward the stars of NBK, like Juliette Lewis, who first refused to bow to Stone’s will during NBK but weakened and grew shaky as the film progressed, and Woody Harrelson, who spent his off-camera time doing yoga. Hamsher can also be as tough on herself and Murphy as she is with their enemies; she describes their frequent fights and how they even sabotaged themselves. For example, as a joke, they once sent a Tarantino-bashing letter to The LA Weekly purportedly written by another of their enemies, Tarantino partner Lawrence Bender. The stunt backfired when the letter was traced back to them.
Most impressive, Hamsher refuses to play the victim. She glosses over her bout with breast cancer as if it were a footnote. Her moxie must be a boon to both her immune system and her career: She recovered from the cancer, and despite Hollywood buzz about the book, she and Murphy still have several films in production. ”Killer instinct,” indeed. A