Twenty years after barging into Sundance with low expectations and leaving with a robust stake in festival mythology, Steven Soderbergh joined three-quarters of his sex, lies, and videotape cast for a rollicking anniversary screening.
Despite conspicuous no-shows James Spader ("I think he was embarrassed by the hair," Soderbergh said) and Harvey Weinstein ("This is like a tribute to Dr. Frankenstein and the monster doesn't come"), the director had a good-enough time with Andie MacDowell, Laura San Giacomo and Peter Gallagher, hanging out on the lip of the stage and reminiscing about those heady days of microbudgets, 120-degree Louisiana locations and agents who discouraged the actors from involving themselves with Soderbergh's ostensibly smutty tale of voyeurs, true confessions and infidelity.
"The idea obviously came from watching porn," Soderbergh half-joked during the 30-minute discussion that followed. "I'm happy to say I've never done that in my life. I viewed Graham [Spader's camera-wielding sex inquisitor] as kind of an intimacy junkie, and this was his sort of way of getting intimate information without actually having a relationship. But there's a long history of this kind of behavior, as anyone who's followed porn closely knows. It’s a more sophisticated version of the gonzo stuff that you see going on all the time. His new wrinkle was sort of shrouded in this patina of understanding. He's really nefarious."
It was the first time most on hand had seen the film since the filmmaker hand-carried it into Park City in 1989. Gallagher said it reminded him precisely why he wound up as one of Hollywood's go-to smarmy types for the better part of the '90s. "At the time this movie was released, I was at dinner and Sean Penn was sitting at the table next to us," he recalled. "He leaned over and said, 'Hey, man, nice job. I just wanted to meet the only other guy in Hollywood hated more than me."
But that was apparently the worst of it. The rehearsal and shoot were the fastest and most efficient any of the principals had experienced. MacDowell churned at the prospect of working opposite Spader. "One of my biggest memories from rehearsal was James Spader, because he intimidated me," she said. "I mean, James is kind of weird anyway. He's a great actor, but he's one of those actors who likes to really get into character. So I didn't know who I was meeting when I met him. I think he was kind of already there, sort of. He was weird and kind of sexy at the same time. He was scary as hell, actually."
But she wasn't even supposed to have the role, according to Soderbergh; the producers disliked her, but she returned for another reading with the director. "Remember?" he asked her. "You were in the room alone with me. You did exactly what you did in the film. I came out and said, 'Andie really is great, and I think that's who we should go with. And everyone went, 'Uh-oh. What happened in there?' And I said, 'No, it's not like that. She's really good.' "
San Giacomo arrived in Park City shortly after the 1989 premiere. "By the second screening, that's when it started to sort of catapult. And by the third screening, people were trying to sneak on line with ticket stubs trying to get in. It just blossomed from there; it was exciting. It was very much a darker place then! People were not in sporty clothes all the time! They were New York-looking! And very serious!" Pity! Just imagine all they missed.