Denise Richards takes a 'wild' turn -? The actress muses on her steamy scene with Neve Campbell in ''Wild Things''

‘Men love to see two women together,’ observes Denise Richards. ‘Why is that? Explain it to me.’

Ah, sweet mysteries of life — nobody can explain them. But there may be a few clues in Wild Things, the twisty, steamy thriller in which Richards, 25, locks lips with Neve Campbell for a love scene that has turned the Illinois-born, Los Angeles-based actress into a bona fide big-screen sex symbol. ”Neve and I saw the film at a special screening and we were so nervous, we couldn’t stop laughing,” she says, demurely sipping coffee in a Beverly Hills bar. ”I’ll have to ask my guy friends if it’s erotic or not. When you see yourself up there, all you want to do is cringe.”

Richards did some cringing over her last movie as well, although for entirely different reasons. Playing a futuristic fighter pilot in last year’s bugged-out sci-fi dud, Starship Troopers — her first feature lead — she was one of the few actors who didn’t take off her clothes. Still, she offers bluntly, ”it was not my best performance. I had this smile plastered on my face throughout the whole movie. I was so annoying.”

She’s definitely not annoying in Wild Things, playing a bratty high school cheerleader who does more than the backstroke with Campbell in a swimming pool, accuses her guidance counselor (Matt Dillon) of rape — after seducing him by washing his Jeep in a wet T-shirt — and ends up sharing a motel bed with both of them. ”Denise came in for her first audition and was good, but not so good we had to hire her,” recalls director John McNaughton. ”But when she came back for a second audition, she was a lot better. She’d obviously thought about the character, which we took as a good sign that she could do the role.” Besides, he adds, ”if worse came to worst, we knew she’d be beautiful.”

For Richards, who’d been knocking around TV since the late ’80s (she played Loni Anderson’s daughter in two episodes of Melrose Place and went out on a date with Neil Patrick Harris on Doogie Howser, M.D.), her saucy, slightly over-the-top turn in Wild Things is already generating buzz, with scripts arriving almost daily — although she still hasn’t found that ”light romantic comedy” she’s hoping for. ”I did get a script the other day,” she says. ”I was like, ‘This is kind of cool’ — until they got to the bisexual fantasy part. I’m trying to move on from that.”

Another Wild Things dilemma: what to do about her parents, Joni and Irv, who run the Jitters coffeehouse chain in San Diego. ”They definitely want to see the movie,” she says, ”but I don’t want my dad to see my breasts. I’m just hoping he’ll cover his eyes.”

Then again, we should all have such problems. ”When you think about it,” she continues, ”it’s kind of a strange job I have. At one point during Wild Things, we were shooting at night and I just sat there and thought, ‘It’s four o’clock in the morning. I’m half naked in a swimming pool. I’m making out with Neve Campbell. What am I doing here?”’

Wild Things
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