''The Thomas Crown Affair'' star had to struggle against her clean-cut image and Christian beliefs to win the sexy role

Rene Russo
Credit: Stephen Trupp/Star Max

While most A-list actresses are busy finessing their no-nudity clauses and auditioning stunt butts for upcoming movies, Rene Russo found herself at the other end of the spectrum when she went up for the role of a sexy private investigator in ”The Thomas Crown Affair.” The 45-year-old actress had to convince director John McTiernan that she could go bare with bravado. ”I know John had some concerns,” Russo explains. ”At our meeting he said, ‘If you look like what you looked like in ‘Lethal Weapon,’ we’re in trouble.’ And then he said, ‘You’ve neutered yourself in all the films you’ve done.’ So I’m thinking, ‘He doesn’t like the way I look and he says I’m not sexy. What the hell am I here for?”’

Even though McTiernan wanted Russo for the role — he had already turned down several younger actresses who proved no match for costar Pierce Brosnan — he was worried that her personal beliefs might stand in the way of her getting down and dirty in some explicit sex scenes. ”He asked me, ‘Do you have religious reasons that would keep you from doing the role?’ And then I thought, Aaah, he’s heard the whole born-again thing,” says Russo, who is a devout Christian. ”I had to explain to him that the reason I haven’t done this type of role before is because it hasn’t been offered to me, and that, even though I had some (mixed) feelings about the sex in the script, it wouldn’t stop me from doing the film.”

Still, McTiernan wasn’t off base in guessing that the film’s blatant sexuality would bump up against Russo’s faith. ”As a Christian, I didn’t have a problem with taking my clothes off in this film. What was hard for me was that, in my own life, I feel it’s very important to know somebody on a spiritual, emotional, and mental level before you have sex with him, and these characters certainly didn’t.”

But Russo overcame her hesitations, which included stripping down on a beach with 150 crew members milling around: ”We shot the (beach) scene clothed at first, then John said, ‘You know, Rene, she’s a European woman and she would go topless.’ And the truth is, she would. John was right a lot of the time and I hated him for it.”

Once the scene began filming, however, Russo froze. ”Suddenly, I’m stiff as a board. I can’t act. I have no idea where I am. It was a total out-of-body experience. I had to tell John to stop the camera. I was truly that nervous.” By the next day, though, Russo had loosened up. ”You get so sick of trying to cover it up that you don’t care. And nobody else does either. But that first take, boy, you talk about a bad performance!” Funny, but we doubt anyone else was watching her performance at that point.

The Thomas Crown Affair (Movie - 1999)
  • Movie
  • R
  • John McTiernan