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Kelly Lynch knows why she was cast in 1988’s Cocktail.

“It was one of those parts that models get because my audition was [wearing] various bikinis,” the actress, whose background was in modeling and children’s theater, tells PEOPLE.

After acting opposite Tom Cruise, she got steamy with Patrick Swayze in 1989’s Road House. “To do your first two films with Patrick Swayze and Tom Cruise, who are both — were, in Patrick’s case — really amazing sweet and kind, guys, I loved working with both of them,” says Lynch, now 58. “They were really, really fun.”

But it wasn’t until the Minnesotan received a call from her mom that she knew she’d hit her stride in Hollywood. “My mother called me up when I was doing Desperate Hours with Mickey Cimino and Mickey Rourke, and she said, ‘Kelly you’ve made it!’ ” Lynch explains. “And I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, something really amazing must’ve happened.’ ”

The “amazing” instance: “She went, ‘You’re on the cover of the [National] Enquirer holding hands with Mickey Rourke.”

Despite explaining that the two were simply acting on set in the photo, Lynch’s mom continued to show the magazine to “everyone at the grocery store,” adds the star.

Lynch went on to appear as a drug addict in Drugstore Cowboy, which she calls, “my favorite movie in my career.”

“Really complicated characters where the humor is dark — that’s when I’m in heaven,” she says, adding that critics loved the 1989 crime drama, too. “Roger Ebert almost trampled me trying to get to me at the Toronto Film Festival to say, ‘This is my favorite movie.’ ”

In the midst of her newfound fame, Lynch raised daughter Shane, now 32, which caused her to reconsider her career. “Like Katharine Hepburn said, ‘You can be a wife, a mother or an actor, but you can only be two of the three,’ ” Lynch continues. “That definitely happened [to me]. I would just say no to things to be with Shane.”

Most notably, Lynch passed on the lead role in the 1992 erotic thriller Basic Instinct. “As interesting and titillating as I thought that movie was, with a kid you just make different decisions,” she explains. “But I don’t regret a bit of that.”

Shane, now an actor, writer and animator, was up for a role in a recent David Lynch project — as was mom. “She got the part, I didn’t,” Kelly recalls. “But I was super proud!”

From 2012–13, both Lynch ladies worked together on Magic City, which was created by husband of 25 years, Mitch Glazer. Next up, as star of Mr. Mercedes (based on the Stephen King novel of the same name), Kelly gets to further explore the troubled characters she loves as an agoraphobic widow sleeping with her son (Harry Treadaway).

“When you first meet our characters you’re kind of horrified,” she admits. “But at the end of this story, you feel for both of those. You’ll see the humanity in both of us, even in our relationship.”

Mr. Mercedes premieres Aug. 9 at 8 p.m. ET on AT&T Audience Network.

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Basic Instinct

  • Movie
  • R
  • 127 minutes
  • Paul Verhoeven