By Maureen Lee Lenker
June 07, 2019 at 09:30 AM EDT
Everett Collection
10/04/96
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  • Movie
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Though it only made $3.8 million at the domestic box office, Bound proved to be a major cinematic moment for first-time directors the Wachowskis, and for the LGBTQ community. The 1996 neo-noir follows two women — femme fatale Violet (Jennifer Tilly) and ex-con Corky (Gina Gershon) — who fall in love and team up to steal $2 million from Violet’s mobster boyfriend, Caesar (Joe Pantoliano).

But Bound could’ve been a straight-washed love story with a pairing taken directly from Hollywood’s past. While sitting down with EW to rewatch the film alongside Gershon recently, Tilly recalled that there was an offer on the table to make the film with a bigger budget — with the stipulation that the Wachowskis rewrite the script and make Gershon’s character a man.

Bound, Tilly said, “was a classic film noir, except it sort of [reset] the genre. Film noir is all about deception, and instead of the lead being a male, it was Corky, who was a woman.” She added, “Actually, I want to say Warner Bros. … a studio offered [the Wachowskis] a lot more money to make the movie, but they said that they had to make Corky a man.” (Warner Bros. did not respond to EW’s request for comment.)

The Wachowskis didn’t budge on their vision, however, and were determined to find someone to make the film as they’d written it. “They were like, ‘But Corky’s a woman?!’” Tilly said. “They walked out until they found a studio that wanted to make it the way they had written it. Because they felt like it was really, really, important.”

In the end, Dino De Laurentiis produced the project through his eponymous production company, in association with Spelling Films, and Universal’s Gramercy Pictures distributed it. And it was the script as the directors intended it.

Bound has since become an LGBTQ classic, and it’s taken on even more resonance since both the Wachowskis have come out as transgender. “[When we were making it], I kept thinking, ‘What do you guys [the Wachowskis] know about being women? How did you write this thing?’ And little did I know, at the time, they were really feeling something,” Gershon said. “They really were feeling bound-up inside. So it became that the metaphor had a deeper meaning. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, aren’t they clever writers.’ I thought, ‘Wow, they were going through this, and the world didn’t know.’ It was their way of expressing that.”

Instead of becoming another sexy ’90s neo-noir a la Basic Instinct, Bound set itself apart with its central same-sex relationship and the authenticity of its love scenes, which were influenced by advisor and feminist sex writer Susie Bright. “I really feel like it’s a seminal film, like a turning point for lesbian portrayal in American cinema,” Tilly said.

And although Bound didn’t generate huge returns at the box office, its artistic success proved persuasive enough to land the Wachowskis their next project, with a much higher budget — a little film called The Matrix.

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