Paul Verhoeven Doesn't Think Elizabeth Berkley Is To Blame For Showgirls' Poor Reception

Paul Verhoeven's 1995 sex-tastic schlockfest "Showgirls" has finally earned cult status after years of reappraisal, but unfortunately, it's too little too late for some of the film's stars, especially Elizabeth Berkley, whose career never quite recovered from the film's disastrous reception. Verhoeven has been vocal over the years about Berkley's performance, repeating in multiple interviews that he felt like she shouldered far too much blame because he had asked her to be as over-the-top as possible. (Verhoeven? Over-the-top? Never.) 

While Berkley's performance is way too much all the time, it makes sense that Verhoeven had asked that of her and was well aware of the effect while calling the shots. There are plenty of other big and ridiculous performances in the film, and the entire thing is an exercise in excess, but Berkley has frequently been the target of the film's harshest criticisms. After all, not only did she give a performance that didn't meet expectations, but she starred as a sexed-up stripper who bared all, which was more than enough reason for a female performer to be written off in 1995. There are plenty of careers that didn't end with "Showgirls," and it's unfair that Berkley took the brunt.

'I was the one who asked her to exaggerate everything'

In an interview with Rolling Stone in 2015, Verhoeven made it explicit that he felt as if he was to blame for Berkley's performance:

"People have, of course, criticized her for being over-the-top in her performance. Most of that comes from me. I pushed it in that direction. Good or not good, I was the one who asked her to exaggerate everything — every move — because that was the element of style that I thought would work for the movie."

Many of the other performances in "Showgirls" are also pretty over-the-top, adding to the heightened, campy Vegas setting. The movie follows Berkley's character Nomi as she tries to become a leading Vegas showgirl, leaving behind a career of stripping, and her obsession with fame and fortune led her to ridiculous behavior that seemed unrealistic to some viewers. In an interview with the New York Daily News, Verhoeven explained that he had hoped reveals in the film that Nomi had struggled with drug use would also explain some of her behavior, but unfortunately, most audiences didn't seem to care and instead went after Berkley's acting chops. 

Unfair and uneven treatment

In that same interview with the New York Daily News, Verhoeven spoke out against the unfairness of Berkley taking the heat when his own career suffered far less:

"Showgirls certainly ruined the career of Elizabeth Berkley in a major way. It made my life more difficult, but not to the degree it did Elizabeth's. Hollywood turned their backs on her. [...] I asked Elizabeth to do all that — to be abrupt and to act in that way, but people have been attacking her about for that ever since. [...] I did consider that people would think she had a borderline personality, but that was because her character had history of drug abuse, so I tried to express that through her abruptness."

Berkley's career had just been gaining momentum and "Showgirls" ended that almost entirely. She was even dropped by her agent and became somewhat of an outcast in the Hollywood circles she had just been breaking into. Verhoeven said that she was relatively happy on set and that the two of them simply had a vision for the character that critics couldn't appreciate. In part, he blamed the nudity, and said that she was given an unfair shake because she pushed the limits farther than "any actress." She was shunned for her performance and for being secure enough to bare it all, and as a result, we never really got a chance to see what else Berkley could do. 

Berkley's not bitter

It would be easy to be bitter about being blacklisted for one movie role, especially when the rest of the cast continued their careers uninterrupted, but thankfully Berkley doesn't have any harsh feelings about the way things turned out. She told Vanity Fair that she didn't mind revisiting the character or the experience:

"I never have had a hard time speaking about it, revisiting it, talking about it. Maybe certain journalists or press wanted to create their own narrative around it, but that's not my narrative."

Nomi is a confusing character whose motivations are never all that clear, but that lays at Verhoeven's feet as surely as it does Berkley's, and it's good the director at least recognizes his responsibility. He's never been shy about controversy or criticism, but it's unfortunate that one of his actors ended up faring so much worse as a result.