The 1990 horror-thriller Flatliners, about a group of Chicago medical students conducting dangerous experiments to find out if there is life after death, featured an extraordinary cast of young stars, including Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt, and Julia Roberts, who played the literally haunted Dr. Rachel Mannus. But, according to director Joel Schumacher (St. Elmo’s Fire, The Lost Boys, Batman Forever), he came close casting another on-the-rise actor in the role: Nicole Kidman.
“I approached Julia because I saw a picture of her in Vogue,” says Schumacher, who spoke to EW ahead of a screening of Flatliners at this year’s Cinepocalypse festival in Chicago. “That smile just jumped off the page at me. She had been in Satisfaction and she had been in Mystic Pizza. I don’t know if Mystic Pizza was out yet. I certainly hadn’t seen it. She had shot Steel Magnolias, but nobody knew her role was going to win her the Golden Globe. Julia was shooting Pretty Woman and, of course, no one knew Pretty Woman was going to be Pretty Woman. I found out her agent was Elaine Goldsmith, and I called, and I said, ‘Please give me Julia, please.’ Because of St Elmo’s and because of Lost Boys, and now testing Flatliners, I don’t think there was a young person working around Hollywood that I hadn’t met by that time. And I knew one thing. There were a lot off great young actresses, a lot of beautiful ones, a lot of different types — there was absolutely nobody in Hollywood like Julia Roberts.”
The problem? Another Hollywood hitter besides Schumacher wanted Roberts to star in his film. “Tom Cruise wanted Julia for Days of Thunder,” says the filmmaker referring to the Tony Scott-directed action-drama.
With Roberts seemingly out of the picture, Schumacher started considering other casting options, notably Nicole Kidman.
“I met Nicole after that great George Miller [film], Dead Calm,” says the filmmaker. “She had just come to the United States, she was so young, and her manager brought her to my house. I knew when she walked in the door I had met one of the ten most beautiful women I’d ever meet in my life.”
Kidman lost her chance to play Mannus when Roberts decided to make Flatliners rather than Days of Thunder. Instead, Kidman was cast in Scott’s film opposite Cruise, who she later marry.
“When Julia had turned Flatliners down, I was going to offer it to Nicole,” says the director. “When Julia said ‘Yes,’ then Tom got Nicole. And the rest is history.”
Flatliners screens June 14 at Cinepocalypse, whose jury is headed by Schumacher this year. More details about the event, which runs June 13-20, can be found at the official Cinepocalypse website.
Watch the trailer for Flatliners above.
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