Paul Verhoeven remains quick to defend "Showgirls." Actually, he has a good point about the Razzie award-winning film: 18 years after it's release not only has "Showgirls" achieved cult status, but a number of prominent critics have reevaluated it as good satire. Still, it's not often you hear "Showgirls" compared to Fellini.
To be fair, Verhoeven is quick to talk about pretty much all his films, which makes sense considering that many of them are still very much a part of the zeitgeist. Two of them, "Total Recall" and "RoboCop," are even the subject of remakes. (And, yes, Verhoeven did see the "Total Recall" remake and was less than impressed, as he discusses below.)
Verhoeven is at the Tribeca Film Festival in support of his new directorial effort, "Tricked," a movie about betrayal and blackmail that's more notable for it's creation than for its actual story. Verhoeven and his team only wrote the first four minutes of the film. After that, he crowd-sourced the remainder, basically letting the audience decide, piece by piece, where the story would go.
I met Verhoeven at a Manhattan hotel to discuss his career and how this new project fits in. Verhoeven is extremely animated in person, which brings considerable life to his stories about "Total Recall," RoboCop, "Starship Troopers," "Basic Instinct" and, yes, "Showgirls" -- a movie he admits led to his exit from Hollywood.
If a person didn't know who was behind "Tricked," he could assume it was done by a young director just out of film school -- not Paul Verhoeven trying something different.
Totally different. But also to wake myself up.
Have you felt not awake?
Well, because, let's say, from a style point of view, when you do all of these science fiction movies -- or even a very serious story like "Black Book" -- I really forgot there was another style of filmmaking that I had used in the beginning. The movie is very light, isn't it?
It's not a comedy. But it's also not a heavy, serious drama. You have to smile about these people, I feel. That style, which I have not been using really, unless I used it in a science fiction movie sometimes -- politically. When you think, Hello, what are these people really thinking? That was refreshing, I felt.
Did you feel pigeonholed by the Hollywood science fiction movies? Is that why you're doing this?
Because I got fed up? Kind of.
Why did you get fed up?
I got fed up because I felt that I had done enough in that direction. And I couldn't get out anymore. Especially after the failure of "Showgirls," then trying to do something normal.
Do you still consider "Showgirls" a failure?
It was a [box office] financial failure. Ultimately it turned out not to be a financial failure at all ... with the video and all that stuff. But, at that time, of course it was a bashing on both sides. It's still the best NC-17 ever! The highest grossing.
Was there any part of you then thinking, Just give it 20 years?
I said that, I think. I said, "In 20 years, it might be different." But that didn't help for the coming years. Ultimately, at that time, they were shocked, of course, to a certain degree. They were also a bit pissed off, I think, that it was so overly sexual and so much nudity-oriented.
It was a little bit like being in Hollywood jail, as they call that. And the only way to escape from that was to go back to where people would still trust me, which was science fiction.
Ben Affleck has spoken about being in Hollywood jail.
Sure, absolutely -- and he succeeded. Very well, in fact. But I felt the same. In fact, when I was a child and was 7 or 8, I liked science fiction. It was in all kinds of magazines -- along with like the one Spielberg did, "Tin Tin" -- but Superman was there and many, many American comic books were translated into Dutch. And I grew up with that. But, there was a lot of science fiction, too. And I loved that at that time. When I became a filmmaker in my 20s, I was much more styled by the French -- Fellini, and stuff like that.
You made a Fellini reference in "Tricked."
Yes, I did. Fellini, for me, is a master in choreography. Choreography of camera and actors and how that works together -- especially in "8 1/2." Which I tried to use in "Showgirls" a lot, but nobody saw that.
I did not hear many Fellini comparisons when "Showgirls" was first released.
I mean, I know that I did it. Not that I tried to copy Fellini. But I felt like using the camera that way -- because you see it all the time on the dressing rooms -- it's all camera move. That's why people say "very elegantly shot." But when you say, "I think it's a very elegant movie," people start to laugh because they think it's filthy. I mean, at that time, those were the reviews. People were writing, "I went to see 'Showgirls' and I had to leave the theater because I had to throw up." That's how it was received.
Your movies have a habit of getting sequels that you have nothing to do with.
All of them.
Or a remake. Now with "RoboCop."
And there are two sequels to "RoboCop." Then there's a sequel to "Basic Instinct," of course. And now the remake of "Total Recall" and "RoboCop." There's nothing you can do about it. The Hollywood studio system doesn't allow you to say, "I don't want that." They can do whatever they want. I mean, I worked for a short amount of time on "Basic Instinct 2" and I worked for some time on "RoboCop 2" -- but in both cases, that came to nothing. In fact, I'm not so motivated by sequels because I feel that I did it and now I have to get out of bed to do it again. And I prefer to sleep.
I feel your movies, especially "RoboCop" and "Starship Troopers," had something to say, whereas the sequels could be dumb.
Yeah. That's what I felt, yeah. And it came out of the movie in an organic way -- what it meant. The layers that were there -- especially with the most political movie, "Starship Troopers." It's never that we thought, We're going to do a representation of the United States as a metaphor. On the other hand, many elements of the movie came from American life ... it was all based on things that were vaguely there in American life. Especially in Texas and stuff like that ... but we never set out to do that. We needed something to put our point of view also there, you know? We don't think this is so great in anyway, this kind of, "let's go to war, let's kill."
I'm not convinced you'll never return to movies like this. You get very excited while talking about them.
Yeah, yeah, if you can get that. Clearly, in "Hollow Man," I didn't get get it anymore. Because I wanted an effect and even in post [production] I didn't get it. I wanted, "What would you do if you got away with everything?" They didn't want that. They changed that line that they proposed, "Be afraid, you might not be alone," or something like that. It's Plato, where it's said that [if] people would be invisible, basically they would do everything that God has forbidden. That should have been the theme. But we never got there.
I always loved that you cast Neil Patrick Harris in "Starship Troopers." This was well before he became a big star, he basically just had "Doogie Howser" on his resume.
I didn't even know him from "Doogie Howser." He came in and basically people said, "That's Doogie Howser." And I didn't know what a Doogie Howser was. So I didn't even listen to that. He did the test and I thought, Oh, he's perfect for this part. That's what I thought -- not because he was this or that. The words "Doogie Howser" didn't do anything for me. Then I found out later that he was very famous as Doogie Howser, but I had already cast him.
Why do your movies keep being remade? I feel the "Total Recall" remake only really succeeded in making people re-watch your version. No one really saw the new one.
I saw it.
What did you think?
I thought it didn't work.
It's too serious. They took themselves very seriously and didn't realize that the big story is also strange. And impossible, of course.
But you did it.
But, I felt that it was strange. I felt the movie, in some way, should not take itself too seriously. In fact, ultimately, the casting of Arnold -- he was already cast before I was there. So I had to take Arnold. I liked the script already, but Arnold was playing the main part. So, take it or leave it. I said I wanted to do it with Harrison Ford, like in "Blade Runner." But I might have made a mistake because "Blade Runner" is also very serious. And because Arnold was there, that changed everything. Arnold being there made it really necessary to flip it a little bit. And I think, in retrospect, it was a gift. Arnold was supposed to be an accountant in the original story and it was still in the script. And I'm like, "Arnold an accountant? That's ridiculous." So I proposed, "Let's have him do something physical." What are those things he's using?
Yeah, now that makes sense. And that thinking changed the movie. And we shoot this kind of very weird story ... and at a certain moment we say, "Everything you saw before or what's happening to you," with Dr. Edgemar coming in halfway, "is all nonsense, you're still in the chair." To make that moment, I think is the most dangerous and strange moment of the whole movie -- to tell the audience that everything they had seen was nonsense. And then, still, after that, [to] go forward with a story that had already been laid out exactly by Dr. Edgemar. And then he shoots the guy, and then everything happens exactly as Dr. Edgemar said.
But it's still presented in a vague enough way.
But that's life, isn't it? It's playful. And I thought that was necessary because it was Arnold.
You mentioned that doing "Tricked" was similar to how you felt making "RoboCop."
What I meant, probably, is that I felt like with "RoboCop" I was coming to a new country, culture and language. It was stepping into the unknown. For me it's like, "What is this? We'll dive in and see what's there."
Based on that, I feel "RoboCop" is a personal movie for you.
Why do you think the remake is it happening?
It's to make money. It's like washing fluids: You add some mini changes, give it another color and you sell it again. You know, it's the same. That's what it is. It's like cookies: You change the form and the box and put more modern colors around it and say, "We have new cookies."
Does it upset you?
No, it's the life. It's the industry doing that. If it's good, why not do it again?
So do you take it as a compliment?
No, not even that. I feel it's ... how should I say? I mean, I don't worry about it, but I think it's a bit silly, yeah. In fact, I don't think there has to be a remake. I must say, I'm really curious [to see] what they do. Especially with "RoboCop," which is perhaps more personal than "Total Recall" -- because I was completely in that new American world and it was like a fish in a new water. So I think the film is extremely inspired by things that I had no idea about. And I went to the set and, boom, and tried this and that. And all of that worked very well. By coincidence, by having the good people, by having the enormous protection of Jon Davidson, the producer, and Ed Neumeier, the writer, was always next to me to fill me in on the idiotic concepts I had about American culture -- because what I would propose never made any sense. I was extremely well protected by two people on my side who kept me, more or less, within the American culture.
So I was very inspired and I think that's why it's a unique movie. And it's difficult to repeat that. But, perhaps the guy [director Jose Padiha] feels that way and can do it in a different way, you know? He is an interesting director.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.