(*homocinematically inclined)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Reel Thoughts Interview: Showgirls Gone Wild!

If you want something done right, do it yourself. Just ask Rena Riffel, who co-starred in the priceless 1995 gay favorite Showgirls, as well as Demi Moore’s Striptease and David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. In Showgirls, Riffel played Penny, Nomi Malone’s (Elizabeth Berkley) fellow dancer at “The Cheetah who ends up with Nomi’s pseudo-boyfriend James (Glenn Plummer). Riffel says that director Paul Verhoeven mentioned that her character Penny could star in a sequel where she goes to Hollywood, and the thought stayed with Riffel for years.

Seeing how popular Showgirls became after its inauspicious debut, Riffel decided to produce the film, titled Showgirls 2: Penny’s from Heaven, herself. As detailed in Entertainment Weekly, German director Marc Volander attempted to make a competing sequel, called Showgirls: Exposed, that has scored a laughable 1.3 rating on IMDB to date. Unlike Vorlander’s brain-crushing monstrosity, Riffel has written a loving homage/send-up of the original that includes tons of memorable quotes that will tickle Showgirls fans. Riffel also laughs about a drinking game that viewers can play, taking a swig whenever the word “whore” is uttered.

Riffel, who has been self-promoting her film and enjoying the wild responses it is getting, approached Verhoeven with her script, but “he doesn’t like to do sequels or similar films. But he gave me his blessing, so I just kept moving forward with it.”

In Showgirls, Riffel and Gina Gershon are the two actresses who most seemed to “get” the material, so that their humor is all intentional. About the original film’s success, Riffel said, “Part of me thinks it was a happy accident, like a beautiful train wreck that happened, but then another part of me thinks that Paul Verhoeven definitely veered it in a direction to make it more exciting. I think that he got the film he wanted. I don’t think that some of the actors realized that it was going to be a ‘forced motivation’ in certain scenes. That’s what gave it that special magic On Striptease, everyone was playing it for comedy and on Showgirls everyone was playing it thinking that we were making Basic Instinct. At the end of the day, Showgirls turned out to funnier than Striptease.”

Riffel’s work in Mulholland Drive and a pilot called Land’s End with Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) gave her a break from being offered parts with nudity, but she says that if the part demands it, “you have to be a trouper” and go with it. “I don’t think you can be an actress and refuse to do nudity. You have to be uninhibited.”

“I want the audience to be in that (Showgirls) world again,” she said about Showgirls 2.”So I included what I thought were the most loved parts and lines from Showgirls, but we say them in a different way. It speaks in a secret Showgirls language.” She laughed about a scene where the women toast each other with hot dogs in honor of the infamous Spago scene where Nomi and Cristal clink tortilla chips together. “That’s what dancers do, toast each other with food.”

In Penny’s from Heaven, Riffel’s Penny leaves Las Vegas in the hopes of scoring a part on a low budget Hollywood dance program. Along the way, she runs into a crazed Marilyn Monroe impersonator and lands in a gothic love triangle right out of Sunset Boulevard. “Valley of the Dolls was probably my biggest influence. I’ve watched it a million times. I watched a lot of old movies from the 40s and 50s because I wanted it to have that melodramatic feel.”

Showgirls fans will be happy to see Glenn Plummer return as her Alvin Ailey-trained boyfriend, as well as other Showgirls alumni like Greg Travis and Dewey Weber. Ungela Brockman, who played ill-fated dancer Annie, wanted to take part but wasn’t able to. Riffel is hoping to use her in another sequel, which she is now developing pending the success of Showgirls 2.

When the movie Black Swan opened to so much acclaim, Riffel was pleased, since her film already contained a similar ballet-based rivalry between Penny and the aging prima ballerina Katya.

In closing, Riffel stressed how important her causes are to her. "I support GLAAD and the LGBT community and issues. I support the NOH8 campaign. I have lived in West Hollywood for most of my life – twenty years – and am part of the community and encourage donations to Out of the Closet (AHF) which offers the most fabulous "second-hand everything" and also offers free AIDS Testing. Also, I was honored to be a Celebrity Presenter at the We Ho Awards for three years, and look forward to more involvement. I support our US Troops. I am planning to do a USO tour, and would love to bring Showgirls 2: Penny's from Heaven to our Troops, or do a hand shake tour, or anything I can do to let all our Troops know we appreciate their service. I support the Rescue Animal Corp. Animal Rescue Corps supports the rescue of any animals who are suffering.”

Interview by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

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