Simply irresistible

Gina Gershon once again turns the world on with her smile—and everything else—in Prey for Rock and Roll

BY Alonso Duralde

September 15 2003 11:00 PM ET

To paraphrase the
old Sara Lee ad, nobody doesn’t like Gina Gershon.
She turns everyone on: Lesbians, straight men,
straight women, and gay men alike find themselves
melting under the heat of Gershon’s on-screen
sexuality, particularly in her legendary girl-on-girl love
scenes with Jennifer Tilly in 1996’s
Bound.

Gershon’s
dark sensuality—and of course, her considerable
acting chops—even helped her to rise above the
rubble of her film previous to Bound, Paul
Verhoeven’s famously disastrous Showgirls from
1995. And while the film became a midnight-movie fave
for camp-loving queens, Gershon became an instant
queer icon for fag and dyke alike.

“Gay men
have long embraced strong, sassy women who survive hideous
adversity with wit and style,” says
writer-monologuist David Schmader, who has hosted an
annotated Showgirls at several film festivals.
“For most gay-martyr icons—Judy, Liza,
Tina—this adversity stretched over decades. But
for Gina Gershon, this beloved-martyr status was
earned simply by Gershon surviving the 2 1/2 hours of
Showgirls with her camp-o-meter on high and her dignity
intact—almost.”

In October,
Gershon’s status as a straight “dykon”
will be enhanced even further with the release of
Prey for Rock and Roll, based on Cheri
Lovedog’s autobiographical stage play. Gershon
stars as Jacki, a rocker who’s hitting her
“I’m still here” years and
worrying that she may never make it big. And while the
talented Gershon gives one of her most powerful
performances in the film—along with singing and
playing guitar herself—many of her fans will no doubt
be most abuzz over her steamy tryst with Shakara
Ledard. (Given that Gershon’s ambitious rocker
character takes a phone call in the middle of it, the
encounter can hardly be called a love scene.)

In addition to
Gershon the singer and guitarist, Prey also
introduces Gershon the producer—“I went
and recorded all the music for the movie, and I was really
into it,” she recalls. “And then all of
a sudden it fell apart. At that point I thought, Fuck
it, I’ll just produce it myself.” Gershon
brought fellow producers Gina Resnick and Alexis
Magagni-Seely to the table, and Prey was back
on.

Over lunch in
West Hollywood, Gershon’s enthusiasm for the project
and her character is clearly evident. With refreshing
candor, she also talks frankly about aging in
Hollywood, the fervor of her lesbian following, and
how she completely changed her acting strategy during
Showgirls.

The milieu of the movie is all very lived-in. What
the houses look like and the way people live—the
whole atmosphere really rang true. Did you
research current people or famous acts like the
Runaways at all?

I was hanging out with Joan Jett; she taught me
how to play the guitar for this. Because I
didn’t play rock, so I had to learn to perform in a
different way. It’s more your whole arm instead of
just this [strums]. [Director] Alex [Steyermark]
really knows that world quite well. Everyone who
worked on this movie—it certainly wasn’t for
the money, you know? [Chuckles] It’s
low-budget, and I think people who worked on it did it
because they related to it and they loved the story.
It all felt like we made this group of friends growing up
and forming bands and stuff.

As far as what
Cheri’s character—or my character—shows
in this movie, every artist that I know, whether a
writer or actor or musician, a painter, whoever has
the passion, if you don’t achieve your dreams, if
you haven’t “made it” there’s
that vexation and that drive. There’s that
sometimes myopic pursuit that screws up your
life—“What am I doing?” If
you’re not validated by outside forces, do you give
up doing what you love to do, essentially who you
are?

Do you feel like the industry you’re in
appreciates you less because you’ve got some
miles on you?

I think it seems harder to find roles, but
hopefully they’ll start appreciating us more.
Because then you can play a more substantial role,
even though I don’t think they’re around as
much.

Ideally, yeah.
It came up that she was 40 and they kept saying,
“You don’t look 40—you could play
30. Let’s change it to 35, because why do you want to
age yourself up?” I thought it was important to
keep her at 40 because it’s such a pivotal
moment in a woman’s life. I think for actors 40 is
the big number, but for musicians it seems like 30 is
the big number. And that kept coming up. One of the
pieces that I really was insistent on is the whole
speech about “How old do I look? Well, I’m
not. I don’t want to be a
liar—I’m not a fucking liar.” I thought
that was really important for me to put in.

I agree.
Because it is bullshit. Last year I think I lost
a part because somebody said, “Well,
you’re older than our other person,” and
I’m like, “Do I look older than that
person? No! It’s acting.” I love Michael Mann
so much because he just gets it. When I auditioned for
The Insider and he just loved what I did, I was
the jerk saying, “I’m too young for this. She
should be in her mid 40s, and I don’t know how
they can push it if I look too young.” And he said,
“No, no, no, we did Jon Voight in Heat. We
changed his face, and we could do that to you. We can add
lines; we can make you look older.” And I said,
“Oh, yeah—it’s a movie.” I just
loved him for that, because you forget.… People
get so scared, or they forget that it is acting and it
is make-believe and you could look anywhere from 17 to
60 to 101 if you wanted to these days.

And you’ve got that amazing scene where the
camera just gets so close to you, and I thought, My God,
so many actresses would never in a million years
tug on their cheekline and look for wrinkles that
close to the lens.
I did it, and I was into it, but when I saw it later I
thought, Oh, my God, what was I thinking? I guess if I
looked really bad and had a lot of lines, I
wouldn’t dare. [Laughs] But yeah, everyone has it.
Everyone’s phobic about getting older. I think
women, especially now, look cooler in their 40s. I was
thinking, OK, I’m 40, I’m going to be fucking
cool. Forty is the new 30. It really is.

Also cool in this movie is the love scene you’ve
got going.

Isn’t she cute?

She’s adorable. In The Advocate
office we were trying to nail what it is that’s
interesting about your love scenes, and one woman
said, “She always seems to be focusing on
the other woman rather than where her cue light is or
where the camera is.”
Well, yeah—when you’re having sex with
someone, you’re not thinking about your
lighting.

And you’re committed to it. It’s very sexy.
You know what? I like love scenes a lot, because I think
they show a real parameter of who the character is. I
have to say, I didn’t completely do what I set
out to do in that love scene. I didn’t know who
we were going to get, but I said, “She’s got
to be hot.” I kept saying, “I really
want a black chick or a Latino
chick—everyone’s so white in the
movies.” I saw a picture of her, and I thought,
Please, God, let her be able to act. She’s so
incredible-looking, and she’d never acted before,
but I said, “She could do it, she could do
it.” She’s so funny. She said,
“OK—I’ve never acted before;
I’ve never kissed another woman…I’m all
yours, mama.” [Laughs] I felt very responsible, and I
was very protective of her.

At that stage of
the game, Jacki is still bisexual; she’s whatever. At
that point in the movie, I think she’s so centered on
herself. I think she certainly has intimacy issues,
that in my mind…I just wanted to kind of fuck
her. I didn’t want to kiss her; I really just wanted
to be very…fucking, you know?

Not lovemaking.
Not lovemaking, and certainly not kissing.
Because I wanted to play that kiss at the end with
Marc [Blucas], where it’s like, here you have this
sex scene where there’s no kissing and there’s
no intimacy, and then at the end, when you have this
one single kiss, you’ve got to feel a certain
change over that character opening up a little bit. But
she’s so cute—and I couldn’t not
kiss her.[Laughs]

Now you are responsible for three legendary
woman-on-woman love scenes in movies.

I’m in three? Or two? [Remembering] In Showgirls.


Showgirls.

You guys don’t get really far, but the dance
around each other is very sexy. And I know gay
guys who had never even kissed a girl in high
school who saw Bound and were really turned
on by it.

Well, Bound—Jennifer and I
definitely made out to be like, “All right,
let’s make this really hot.” We wanted
straight girls to want to be gay, we wanted gay girls to
want to be us, we wanted guys to
just…“Let’s get everyone in
there.”

When you got the script, could you tell it was as
good as it was, or did you feel at that point that it
was just a noir film with some lesbian stuff going on?

Well, when I read it, I was doing
Showgirls, and I was really tired. That was an
exhausting shoot. I remember when I got the script, my
agent said, “They were really interested in you for
the role, but we don’t want you to do it.”
They were really against it because it was a lesbian
movie—a love-scene movie.

You’re kidding.
When Bound came out, you have to
understand, there were no other “lesbian
movies” that were out. And I’ve got to say,
my agent and everyone was saying, “You are not doing
this movie.” I read the script and I said,
“These guys are great writers.” As soon as I
met them, I could tell they were great directors. The
script was great; I love the characters. But I
wasn’t sure—they were first-time directors, it
was a lesbian movie, “It’s going to ruin your
career”—that’s literally what
people were saying to me.

You mentioned that you had a concern that maybe
they didn’t know enough about women, which is
ironic considering the scuttlebutt about Larry Wachowski.

Oh, no, I just didn’t
understand…you know, you meet these two big
guys—basketball-playing Chicago boys—and I
kept thinking, So how did you guys write this movie
about women, and how are you going to do it about
women? They were so guyish to me, and I wanted to meet their
wives beforehand. I met their wives, I really liked
them, and I got it.

Interesting.
It turns out they have strong female instincts.
There’s a female side to them.

Definitely.
Obviously, they did a great job, and
they’re very sensitive, but they’re
really odd at first, but it all worked out OK.
They’re great directors—that’s
the bottom line. When I met them, I got giggly and I
started asking them zany questions, and I just thought,
These guys are really good. I kept hearing,
“You just did Showgirls, now a lesbian
movie…” And I said, “First of
all, Showgirls is not a lesbian movie. This
could be a great film, and these guys are really
good.” I ended up losing my agency over
it.

Wow.
One of them said, “Showgirls is
going to be a huge movie—you can’t do a
little independent film about a lesbian.” And I
said, “Let me tell you something: Showgirls
is not going to be what everyone thinks it’s going to
be, and this script is great and could be a good
film.” So I did it.

It’s funny that you say that, because one of the
things that people say about Showgirls now is
that you’re the only person who knows what movie
she’s in. Everybody else is operating on
this other plane, and you’re just like,
“This is what I’ve got to work with, folks.”

I kept trying to tell everyone, and no one would
listen to me. I was saying, “No, this is
funny.” I’ve never in my life changed my idea
or the way I was going to work on a character as
drastically as I changed that character as soon as I
walked on the set.

Really?
I thought it was going to be dark and intense,
like Paul Verhoeven’s Dutch films—really
psychologically disturbing—and that my character was
going to be consumed with envy and jealousy and rage. And as
soon as I walked on the set I thought, Oh…OK. I
called my friend and said, “Oh, my God.
Everything we worked on we might as well throw out the
window.” I was in this intense, dark place; I
just turned her into…she was somewhere that
everything was kind of sunny. Because if you stick with a
certain idea and it’s not what’s going
on, you look like an asshole. And I’m dancing
half naked, and I thought, This movie could destroy me. So I
had to make it OK and make it make sense to me.

What was the tip-off for you? Was it the actual
dialogue? Was it the sets?

Oh, many things. [Laughs] I could write a book
about Showgirls if I weren’t so
discreet.

Oh, honey, please.
Honestly, I could write a book about it.

Write it and put it in a safe until everybody dies,
I beg you, because we all want to know. But
you’re obviously OK with your place in the
Showgirls phenomenon.

Well, I think Showgirls would’ve
done really well and it would’ve been
celebrated in the way it should have been, but you
have this movie where I was telling people it was really
funny, and the drag queens are going to want to dress
as me for Halloween—and then suddenly you come
across a rape scene in there, and you think, What is
this scene doing in this movie?

I’m with you on that.
It’s campy, it’s fun, then all of
a sudden there’s this dark side to what I
thought the whole movie was going to be. That
shouldn’t have been there.

But you were told not to do Bound, and you did it
anyway. When Prey came along, did you ever think,
Oh, God, I can’t ever do another lesbian
love scene?

Obviously—well, not obviously—I’ve
gotten a lot of offers to play lesbians. But honestly,
I don’t look at characters as to whether
they’re lesbians or straight; I just look at
the character. It didn’t really occur to me
that I was playing a lesbian; I didn’t look at it
that way. When I saw the first screening of the movie
when they first put it together, and I saw the scene
with Lori and Shelly—they’re really the
lesbian girls of the movie—I literally thought, Oh,
my God, I just did another lesbian movie! [Laughs] But
you know, the thing I like is that a lot of the
reviews—obviously you’ll bring it up because
you’re The Advocate—a lot of the reviews
don’t really mention it, which I really like
because it’s really not about that. I think the
community appreciates it because they’re not
being depicted as, “Cue up the
lesbians.” They’re these girls in a band who
happen to be lesbians. It’s not a big
deal.

But a lot of actors are really conscious about that
sort of stuff, and that dictates how they approach
it.
Right.

If you’re nonchalant about it, you are the future.
I don’t like being pigeonholed into anything. I
probably have been already—“Let’s
get Gina, she’ll do a lesbian movie.”
It’s not about that. I think after this, it
would take a really amazing part for me to do that.
Not that I have anything against it—it’s just
that you do start to get pigeonholed a little bit. I
wanted to play a rock-and-roller; I told my agent,
“Finally, a rock-and-roll script—I’m
going to start singing, I’m going to start
playing.” So she sent it to me, and she didn’t
even mention it.

Have you always sung?
You know what? I started out as a singer—more
like a song-and-dance girl. All I did was sing and
dance. I did musicals, and I actually got paid to do
them. My whole life I’ve had a lot of friends who
were musicians. My family are mostly musicians, so I
come from that background. Friends of mine have been
trying to get me to do an album for years, but I put
it away because I wanted to concentrate on being a
really serious actress for a while. Luckily, today you
don’t have to give up one for the
other—although I get kind of selfish about
things.

What musicals did you do?
My first professional show was a play called
Faces on the Wall when I was in high school;
that was my first paid job. I sang in that. I went to school
in Boston and I did another show, Runaways, and
I sang in that. I played a singer on [The Days and
Nights of
] Molly Dodd. My whole life—I
was talking to Prince about doing Purple Rain.
He kept saying, “If you change your name to
this…” For some reason I backed off
then.

You could’ve been Apollonia.
I could’ve been. I wasn’t quite
ready for it yet. I think I got a little nervous. But
then I love his music. He’s been one of my closest
friends ever since. He’s kind of shy, you know.
He’s been trying to get me to do a record for a
really long time, and I love singing with him. So this
movie was great—it blended the acting and my music
together, which was really exciting.

There are a lot of musicians in your family. Did
they know the rock world at all? I know your uncle wrote
the Charlie’s Angels music.
Yeah!

Doo-doo-doo… That’s so cool!
He did that, and he did Barney Miller.
[Gershon imitates the famous Barney Miller bass
line.] He did a lot of that stuff.

I guess my question is, Did you do research? Was
this an area that you were familiar with at all?
No. It really wasn’t my music. When I was growing
up, for a second I thought, Oh, maybe I’ll
be a country singer
. A softer sort of rock.
This sort of music I listened to a little bit. I
wasn’t obsessed with it in the way that I needed to
be, and so of course I started really listening to it
again. I love the Stones and the Clash, but I
hadn’t listened to hardcore, like Patti Smith and the
Sex Pistols. I just opened my mind up to Iggy Pop and
people that I listened to but didn’t really
study.

When you worked with Joan on the singing and the
guitar, did she tell stories? Did she give you any of
her own background that you were able to use for
the character?

She worked with me on the album. Joan was
playing on it.

I know there were some possible litigation threats
going on.
Yeah. Which isn’t Joan. I really dig her. I think
she’s great. I think sometimes people around
her are not giving her the best advice. But I dig her,
I like her a lot, and I think she’s so talented. I
mean, she’s Joan Jett—she’s so
good. When I was learning how to play stuff, she gave
me pointers on how to hold the guitar and what she
did—just her whole attitude. In fact, that
necklace I wear through the whole movie—that was
Joan’s.

Oh, wow.
She was wearing it, and at some point—it was like
the third time we were going to be playing—I
said, “I really like that necklace.” She says,
“Oh, yeah, it’s been with me through
Afghanistan and for the last few years. I sweat in
it,” and she went on and on. She took it off and
said, “I’m giving it to you for good
luck.” I thought, Oh, my God, it’s Joan
Jett’s. So I kept it on. I didn’t take it off
throughout the movie; I kept it on until the
end.

After Bound, did women start hitting on you?
Oh, my God—you have no idea! All the time. My guy
friends really loved going out with me because the
hottest girls came up to me all the time and hit on me
so unbelievably…it’s incredible. Sometimes
it’s really fun, and sometimes I
really…if a guy did to me what a girl does to me, I
would smash him across his face. I’d say, “Get
your hands off me.” They’re so
bold—they just come up and start feeling me up
sometimes, and it really throws me because I’m
just like, “Excuse me…” Women are funny
that way. Actually, it has helped me a lot. It made me feel
a little…not sad for women, but I could see why
guy actors and musicians and stars are kind of fucked
up, because a guy [fan] comes up to you and they’re
very guylike—they think you’re cool and
you’ve got a good career. They’re very
cool about it. And women throw themselves at you. They say,
“Oh, my God, I love you, I’ll do
anything you want—do you want to come to Japan, do
you want to…” And I say, “Honey, you
don’t know me. Don’t do that to someone
you don’t know.” It’s a very
interesting difference—there’s a real
difference between men and women. And I have had some women
whom I’ve just had to tell,
“Don’t do that. Get your shit
together—get help.” When they’ve
been waiting outside and they just want to… I
haven’t seen a guy do that. So I don’t
know what that is. I think they’re more willing
to put themselves out there, or maybe their fantasies are
bigger or something. But on the other hand, the ones
who are cool are the greatest. So I like it—I
love having this big lesbian fan base. I think it’s
cool. The coolest women I know like me.

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