Demi Moore tells her assistant to put on Annie Lennox, track six. The music starts. She pulls off her shirt and pants, lets her hair down and begins dancing in front of a full-length mirror. She wraps her index fingers around the strings of her white bikini underwear and pulls them up seductively as she gyrates round and round and round. Her hair flies. Her breasts sway in her black bra. If anyone had any doubts of her next role in Andrew Bergman’s Striptease, they shouldn’t have been concerned. Demi wasn’t.
Although her previous three movies before its June 28, 1996 release could hardly be considered major hits in terms of either box-office receipts or their overall impact, they were still strong enough for the Hollywood grapevine to suggest there was much more than money resting upon the success of this, her next film.
The pre-publicity first announced long before filming even began probably didn’t help either. If anything such a premise was not altogether to the movie’s benefit. Not least of all Demi herself. By then, the reaction, even bemusement, over the fact that she would be paid twelve and half million dollars, making her the highest paid actress of her time, for what initially seemed like another excuse to take her kit off again, this time as a strip artist, had most of the Hollywood grapevine in disbelief. She, of course, remained adamant. ‘It feels good being paid twelve and a half million dollars,’ she would later admit. ‘Other actresses pay jumped as a result of my fee. I’m very proud it has made a big difference for every woman in Hollywood.’
All the same, there were those who remained incredulous. One was Hollywood columnist Martin Grove. He was quick off the mark to note that the movie ‘had to work otherwise Demi may have to get a day job at Planet Hollywood. It’s hard to justify that sort of money when you’re not packing them in, and lately she hasn’t.’ But he also knew, if anyone could make it work, then it would be Demi Moore.
It was something that director Bergman and producer Mike Lobell also recognised. Demi was their first and only choice for the role of Erin Grant. ‘Not only is Demi beautiful like Erin, but she also had the courage and confidence to play this role. And like Erin, Demi is straightforward, determined and resourceful. She has had a lot of adversity in her own life, and has managed, by her pluck and strength of will, to overcome it.’
Well aware of the commercial aspects, the mounting criticism and the amazement concerning her fee, the movie itself would prove both a challenge and a threat at the same time; challenging because there was probably not any other female star on the Hollywood A-list who would have taken it on, and threatening because of the risk to participate in nude scenes for the voyeuristic benefit of the cameras and audiences. But then again, as one observer correctly noted, she had already disrobed in six of her previous movies, and had appeared naked more than once on the cover of Vanity Fair. In terms of shock value, there wasn’t much left of Demi Moore that the cinema-going public hadn’t already seen.
But it wasn’t quite as simple as that. Although the backdrop for the film centered on strip clubs and stripping. And Demi, who by her own admission, knew little enough about that particular subject, still leapt at the opportunity. Maybe that’s what surprised people. She was, after all, best known for her cool, but often hard-as-nails bravado roles of the modern woman, and maybe that’s why she was often seen more feminist than feminine. The very reason, presumably, many would have considered her an odd choice for the part. All the same, she leaped into the role without hesitation, and why shouldn’t she? Her usual cool, tough approach, motivated in part by her vanity, but mostly by her single-minded determination still made her the correct one.
She herself was attracted to the role for a multitude of reasons. ‘The story is grounded in a beautiful relationship between mother and her daughter,’ she explained. ‘It’s supported by a very action-orientated, interesting political agenda and unconventional characters. And the humour that’s derived from all of that makes for an entertaining film. That’s not to say people won’t enjoy seeing the women dance. I enjoy the women dancing. And why can’t we appreciate that as opposed to judging it as something wrong the way so many people do.’
Still, it was not an easy role for Demi to prepare for. The part of Erin demanded that she bond not only emotionally but also physically and intellectually with her character. She did that as well. Although Marguerite Derricks, an on-set choreographer was recruited to take Demi through her paces, she said she also stopped by some strip clubs to consult with real-life strippers. ‘I found that a lot of these places are upscale, and cater to businessmen and women. I think the bars have become more a place of entertainment than sleazy dives, which was my previous perception of them.’
But she learned a great deal more than eroticism. At one club, the very first she went into, ‘one of the strippers said to me, “just remember one thing: always dance for yourself. Because if you don’t, it will be for nothing.” And what I realised when I started to practise by myself and focus on myself, is that women are encouraged to be a little disconnected from the waist down. This kind of dancing encourages you to touch yourself, and to really get in touch with your own sensuality, and what makes you feel good. That’s where the confidence comes in. It’s not about how you look; it’s about how you are feeling. That’s why I think every woman at some point should take time to go and stand in front of a mirror by herself and just move and dance in that way. There’s something really empowering about it.’
Asked whether she had ever been attracted to a woman, Demi was quick to reply. ‘I think women are beautiful, but it’s a tough thing to get into. It’s interesting, because I was asking one of the strippers what percentage of them are gay or bisexual, and she said, “I don’t like to place gender on love.” And I thought, what an amazing place to be in.’ The fact that she was photographed smooching lesbian and Juror co-star Anne Heche at the Emmy awards ceremony that September while Bruce Willis did much the same with Heche’s girlfriend Ellen DeGeneres of television’s Ellen doesn’t seem to matter. Neither did, according to the National Enquirer, the time she allegedly fondled female journalist Diane Sawyer during an interview, or on another occasion, interestingly enough, denied ‘kissing and making out’ with her psychic advisor, Laura Day…