Long before Fifty Shades of Grey came out and basically broke the box office, there was another very much-talked-about film: 9 ½ Weeks. The thing about the 1986 film, though, is that it’s still – to this day – shrouded in secrecy. While Fifty Shades had a considerate, female director who made it a point to protect and consult her cast, 9 ½ Weeks was made by a director who reportedly put his lead actress through hell.
Basinger was reportedly terrified during the making of the movie – a film she never wanted to do from the get-go. Not only was the subject matter itself controversial, but so was the method the director used to elicit the performance he wanted from Basinger.
Adrian Lyne, who also directed Flashdance, said he needed to get then 33-year-old Basinger on the “edge of terror” if he was going to succeed in creating a more believable sense of fear, surprise and arousal between her and her lover, played by then 34-year-old Mickey Rourke. But before we get to Kim Basinger’s traumatic experience during the making of this film, it might help to know the inspiration behind the film.
9 ½ Weeks was adapted from a memoir written by a woman – published under a pseudonym – who revealed her dark past through a fictional character. The film was about an art dealer named Elizabeth who had a deep obsession with a man named John, whom she met by accident.
Both the movie and the book contain explicit scenes with overtones of sado-masochism. Elizabeth finally puts an end to their affair, which lasted nine and a half weeks. 9 ½ Weeks started out as a novel by Ingeborg Day, titled Nine and a Half Weeks, and it (like 50 Shades of Grey) became a success with female readers.
The author of this book was no fan-fiction writer of the internet age, but rather a professional journalist hiding a dark past. Published in 1978, it was said to be a memoir by the female protagonist, Elizabeth McNeill (who was renamed McGraw for the film version). So, who is Ingeborg Day?
Day was born in Graz, Austria, in 1940, as the daughter of a policeman who served in the SS during WWII. Day was sheltered from her father’s dirty work, having been sent to live with her grandparents in the countryside for the last two years of the war. Still, she remained haunted by guilt because of her father’s association with the SS well into her adult life.
Eventually, she moved to America and married a pastor named Dennis Day in 1960. She started working as a teacher before giving birth to her daughter, Ursula, in 1963. She had a son named Mark, too, but he died at the age of seven. After the tragedy of losing their son, the Days divorced.
After the marriage fell apart, Day made a complete 180 from her previous life. She and her daughter moved to New York, where she became an editor at the feminist magazine Ms. Slowly, she became something of a style icon – known for her strictly monochromatic wardrobe (wearing exclusively black in the winter and only white in the summer).
At some point during her stint at the magazine, Day became involved in the affair that inspired her novel. Like herself, the heroine of the novel, Elizabeth, was working at a high-powered job as a business executive but surrendered all for a man she named John.
Most of the time she spent with her lover she was tied up or handcuffed. She took pleasure from totally surrendering to his control. In the opening line of the book, the character describes that, “The first time we were in bed together, he held my hands pinned down above my head. I liked it. I liked him.”
But Elizabeth becomes aware of how far this toxic relationship had gone when drops of blood suddenly wake her up and she wonders if her lover has any limits. It takes months for her to recover from the emotional storm of the affair.
Day presented the book as a memoir – and as a part of her healing process – although she offered no excuses and little explanation for her actions. Day chose to use the pseudonym Elizabeth McNeill when publishing the book in order to avoid a scandal that could potentially affect her daughter if the real-life affair were to be made public.
Day never wrote anything similar after that. She expected Nine and a Half Weeks to spark controversy, and it did, especially with all the scenes of dominance coming a little too soon after the heyday of women’s liberation.
It’s a wonder how this book even made it to the big screen as American filmmaking is notoriously squeamish about sex and had never seen a hit movie about sadomasochistic behavior outside of adult films. But that’s where Zalman King came in. He wrote and produced 9 ½ Weeks.
From New Jersey, King started out as an actor (appearing in shows like Gunsmoke and Charlie’s Angels), but by the early ‘80s, he was producing and writing films. 9 ½ Weeks was actually his second writing job, but it proved to be an erotic thriller that ended up shaping the rest of his career.
King said that he hated the term “soft core” and preferred to define his work as eroticism or romance. You might recognize King’s name since he was the man behind Showtime’s The Red Shoe Diaries, which happened to be David Duchovny’s breakthrough role.
King took the book Nine and a Half Weeks and adapted it with his wife, Patricia Knop. Despite the fact that he said his wife was “the last person you would expect to write eroticism,” their collaboration was the key to making movies that were marked by female desire and fantasy. You know, ladies, the ones where shirtless men seem to come straight from a Mills & Boon novel.
After writing the script, director Adrian Lyne came on board. Lyne was fresh from the success of Flashdance, which also took risqué material and made it stylish. He loved the idea of “passionately going for broke” and was all in, but he tried to turn the script into a much more conventional love story.
Lyne reasoned at the time that, “Rather than saying here are two strange people doing perverted stuff in a posh New York apartment, I wanted it to be a movie couples might see and argue about.” When it came down to it, most of the arguing occurred behind the camera.
Lyne and Zalman agreed on one thing: They wanted Mickey Rourke. The two zeroed in on then-rising bad boy Rourke as their leading man. Zalman said that “Nobody wanted Mickey because he was a struggle. Everyone thought he was a thug.”
But to Zalman, Rourke was “always beautiful, always dangerous, and always charming.” To the filmmakers, Rourke was the right guy and an obvious choice. However, when it came to finding the leading lady, it was a much tougher battle. They considered Kathleen Turner, Isabella Rossellini and Teri Garr for the role of Elizabeth. And then…
The relative newcomer Kim Basinger obviously landed the role, but it was a challenge from the very beginning. Basinger reportedly found the initial screen test so tough that she ran out of Lyne’s office in tears, saying that she never wanted to see him again.
After a bouquet of roses from her director and co-star, though, she reconsidered. Before 9 ½ Weeks, Basinger had roles in The Natural (with Robert Redford) and Fool for Love (with Sam Shepard). To get the role of Elizabeth, Basinger – like Isabella Rossellini – did a taped audition scene with Mickey Rourke.
Basinger recalls the audition as grueling. She said she was called upon to act like a prostitute begging for money in a dark mind game devised by Rourke’s character, John. Basinger left the audition crying and feeling absolutely humiliated. “It was like an earthquake in my life,” were the words she used to describe the experience.
After running out, she told her agent that she never wanted to hear about the film again and even if she were chosen for the part, that she would never do it. But then, when she returned home, she found two dozen roses with a note from both Lyne and Rourke.
The director continued to pursue her for the part, according to Basinger, and eventually she gave in and decided to take it on. Basinger said that she chose to take on the role because she was convinced that playing such a demanding part would benefit her as an actress.
“I knew if I got through this, it would make me stronger, wiser,” she explained. “I was going against my total grain. I felt disgust, humiliation, but when you go against your grain, you just know that emotions you never knew you had will surface.” She should have listened to her gut because her experience on the film’s set was one she would never wish to go through again.
And that’s despite the fact that she (and Rourke) became extremely famous because of it.
The film was shot over 10 weeks and in chronological order so that it would reflect the affair at its heart. From the beginning, Lyne decided he would take vastly different approaches when it came to directing his lead actors.
Before shooting, Lyne laid down some ground rules. First, he instructed his two stars not to communicate with each other off the set. That way, any real-life friendship wouldn’t impinge on their on-screen tension. And once the film went into production, he didn’t want them to develop an “ongoing intimacy.” But the director went even further.
“She needed to be scared of him,” Lyne explained. “If they went out and had coffee together, we’d lose the edge.” During the actors’ audition tape, the director said he sensed “hostility and sexual energy between them.”
It was after the audition that he decided he didn’t want them to meet again until shooting began. “I didn’t want them to have any relationship that would exclude me,” Lynn said. “I wanted to have the 10 weeks of the shooting of the movie be like the 9 1/2 weeks of the relationship.”
This idea of not being friends off set was taken even more seriously than Basinger expected. On the set, she said that Rourke barely spoke to her when they weren’t shooting a scene. Again, the director treated the two very differently.
The director ordered Rourke to lose weight before shooting. And once he arrived on set, he was treated like a prince. “Adrian is a great actor’s director,” Rourke said at the time. “He makes sure you make all the right choices. While filming, he was concerned about me personally, making sure I got enough sleep, ate the right foods and was comfortable with the people around me.”
How Lyne treated Basinger on the set was another story. He made a point to isolate Basinger from any of his decisions, and he would whisper secret instructions to Rourke before each shot. After the film was released, he said of Basinger: “She doesn’t actually act, she reacts.”
What he did on the set was shout and rage at her if he needed her to be upset in a scene. On the other hand, he would instruct Rourke to be friendly if a scene needed to be softer. Basinger later recalled being “like an exposed nerve throughout the filming.”
One of the most glaring examples of Lyne’s controversial strategies is in one scene that was ultimately cut out of the final edit. In this particularly traumatic scene, John comes up with a sadistic game (it’s the scene she initially auditioned with).
He created a sick game where he convinced the spellbound Elizabeth to swallow pills with him. The pills were harmless sugar pills, but Elizabeth really believed that they would kill her. It ended up being the last straw in their game-playing antics and something that forced her to step back from him.
Lyne recalled shooting that scene in which Elizabeth is supposed to be totally devastated. But he said Basinger looked “dewy and lovely.” So, he stopped and called Rourke aside to tell him (in his ear) that the scene wasn’t working. He needed Basinger to be “broken down.”
On the director’s instruction, Rourke grabbed her arm roughly, which made her cry and strike him. Rourke then slapped her on the face, and Basinger began to weep hysterically. That’s when Lyne immediately called for shooting to start. To add insult to injury, that scene was ultimately cut from the film. Why? Because audiences hated it.
During initial screenings, audiences found that scene simply too strong to take. “It made them hate him too much,” Lyne said. “They hated John for doing it. They hated Elizabeth for accepting it. They hated me for making it. It made them hate the whole film.”
There were other moments during shooting where Lyne would instruct Rourke to “Be kind to her now. Don’t let her be so isolated.” This back-and-forth between harshness and kindness was meant to give their relationship a particular sexual tension. In other words, Basinger was a pawn in not just John’s mind games, but the director’s as well.
You see, for Lyne, Basinger’s natural talents and techniques were not sufficient to produce the highly charged emotions he wanted her to portray. The poor thing was not only isolated on set and from her co-star; she was pushed into actually experiencing some of those torturous feelings in raw form before the cameras.
The experience, Basinger said, after all was said and done, was a traumatic one. The tragedy is twofold in that it wasn’t just something that stayed on set – the problems transferred off set as well, impacting her marriage to Ron Britton, the former film makeup artist turned painter.
As distressing as her time was on the set, Basinger does admit that it helped her grow as an actress. She even described it as a kind of exorcism that liberated her to take on new roles. Still, Lyne’s methods are worth debating.
The whole technique of manipulating actors – in ways that they’re not fully aware of in order to achieve the desired result – is one that comes up from time to time in filmmaking. It begs the question: What are the limits for a director? How far can he/she go?
Lyne, now 80, doesn’t see a dilemma in any of his old-school directing techniques. “The limits,” he said, “are defined by your participants. If any of the participants can’t cope, it will show on film.” Lyne wants it to be known that his overall approach was never the result of a “sadistic alliance” between him and Mickey Rourke.
According to Lyne, it was something “she knew was helping her”; he added that it “wasn’t pleasant, but it was useful.” He also insisted that the technique wasn’t planned ahead of time but evolved over the course of production.
In his eyes, this approach was called for because of the kind of actress Basinger was. “You couldn’t do this with everyone,” he asserted. “Kim is a bit like a child. She’s innocent. That’s part of her appeal. She’s an instinctive actress.”
In effect, Lyne credited himself for the success of Basinger’s role in the film. “She was that woman for 10 weeks,” he explained, admitting that he raged at her and Rourke “frightened her.” Lyne went so far as to say that Basinger “is not an intellectual” and that she doesn’t read books…
Basinger, who studied acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York for three years, is aware of Lyne’s description of her. In her opinion, his manipulation was his way of working and not a reflection on the kind of actress she was.
“I don’t identify with that description of me at all… That was his interpretation.” Basinger also confessed that she didn’t fully understand the level of manipulation until after the movie wrapped, although a number of people told her it was happening. She really believed that she had to be the character…
“I thought that for the character, I had to keep myself beaten down and a little naive. If I ever stopped and questioned, if I no longer believed in Adrian [Lyne], I would have been a mess.” During the mind game scene that was eventually cut out, she said Rourke was egging her on.
As a result, “she hated him sometimes.” Rourke stayed in character and followed Lyne’s direction to not talk to Basinger off-screen. The two actors grew estranged, which was complicated for Basinger, who said she wasn’t used to staying in character like that.
As the weeks of shooting progressed, though, she noticed how it “started getting stranger.” She found her character staying with her. “I couldn’t wait to leave her.” Basinger was candid about how the film affected her, saying she got confused. She experienced exaggerated mood swings off-camera, depression, being distant – “not even being there.”
She stated that she “didn’t know who I was after a while,” explaining that it was hard on both her and her husband. The strain of the whole shooting experience and feeling emotionally drained contributed to their marriage problems.
She admitted to having “totally emotionally neglected him” for an entire year. She said she simply had nothing left to give. She and Ron Snyder were able to patch things up… for a while. They divorced in 1989, three years after 9 ½ Weeks came out.
Despite all the trauma, it was still worthwhile for Basinger, who agrees that there is something to “no pain, no gain.” She says that after acknowledging the director’s methods as being unconventional, even cruel. “There were times I was ready to quit, when I wondered if he weren’t a sick human being if we weren’t all sick to do this, but in the end, I faced my own fear and came through it.”
After the film’s release, Basinger forgave the director for his manipulation, saying she had done some of her best work on the film. Lyne went on to direct Fatal Attraction. But it was Zalman King who really capitalized on the film’s success.
He grew into his own niche, and by the end of his life, he said, “Men watch [my work] because it’s sexy, but consistently it is about relationships, and it is about women struggling with their identity and having romance.”
As for the author Ingeborg Day, she remarried and retired from writing, never even giving a public comment on the film. She took her own life in 2011.
Roger Ebert wrote a review of 9 ½ Weeks, focusing on the many sex scenes. Remember the “food” scene? Apparently, Ebert loved that scene, saying it was “the scene that is likely to be the most talked-about in this movie.”
Another talked-about scene was Elizabeth’s strip tease. If you remember, Joe Cocker’s song You Can Leave Your Hat On was featured in that scene. The music video for the song featured footage of the scene, and ever since, the song is considered a striptease anthem and is still used by strippers.
You might already know that Kim’s second husband was Alec Baldwin, to whom she was married from 1993 to 2002. The two stars met in 1990 when they played lovers in The Marrying Man. The couple tied the knot in 1993, and a year later, they co-starred again in a remake of The Getaway.
Basinger and Baldwin also played themselves in a 1998 episode of The Simpsons, where she corrected Homer on the pronunciation of her last name. The now exes have a daughter, Ireland Ellesse Baldwin, who was born in 1995.
In Baldwin’s 2008 book, A Promise to Ourselves: A Journey Through Fatherhood and Divorce, the actor detailed the combative, seven-year custody battle with Basinger over their daughter. He insisted that she had spent more than $1.5 million in trying to deny him parental access.
After her divorce from Baldwin, Basinger was said to have been romantically linked to her 8 Mile co-star, Eminem. The rapper, however, denied it in a 2002 interview. 67-year-old Basinger didn’t have another publicized romantic involvement until 2014 when she started dating Mitch Stone, whom she met while he was doing her hair on a movie set. The couple wears matching gold rings and are apparently living together.
Mickey Rourke actually fell into the film industry by mistake. He was a boxer since his teenage years and was fully committed to his sport. But it was after taking part in the play Deathwatch that he fell in love with acting. He then moved to New York City to study at the renowned Actors Studio.
He got roles in critically acclaimed films like Diner, Rumble Fish, and Barfly. His introduction to fame in the ‘80s was something he struggled with. He found himself getting involved in tumultuous relationships, spending money recklessly, and earning a reputation for being difficult on set.
Eventually, Rourke decided to return to his passion, boxing, but since he was considerably older this time around, he sustained heavy injuries. Of course, he made a triumphant return to acting in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler in 2008, which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
But the momentum has faded ever since. It looks like he’s in another slump. There are surely many reasons for it, but one might be his reputation for not being easy to work with. Rourke has been referred to as a “loose cannon” on set.
Director Alan Parker, who worked with Rourke on Angel Heart, told People magazine that, “Working with Mickey is a nightmare.” According to Parker, Rourke is very dangerous on set “because you never know what he is going to do.”
Apparently, when he’s on set, it’s either Rourke’s way or the highway. The actor reportedly has a temper and being on his bad side was “nerve-wracking” for Parker. Sooner or later, multiple top directors decided they didn’t want to put up with it. Sure, Rourke is a skilled actor, but he’s not the only one, and filmmakers chose to go with equally talented, less temperamental actors.
Rourke has been romantically linked to several famous women, including Terry Farrell and Sasha Volkova. He’s been married twice but has no children. In 1991, he married actress Debra Feuer after meeting her on the set of Homeboy in 1988 (she played his love interest).
Their marriage ended the following year, though, and Rourke subsequently commented that making the film 9 ½ Weeks “was not particularly considerate to my wife’s needs.” He then married another co-star, his Wild Orchid co-star, Carré Otis. The two got married in 1992. Two years later, in 1994, Rourke was arrested on suspicion of spousal abuse (the charges were later dropped).
Rourke and Otis reconciled and went on to star together in another film, Exit in Red. Their marriage, however, ended in 1998. When Rourke started falling out of favor in Hollywood, it didn’t do well for his mental health. Excessive drinking became a real problem, and it only exacerbated his existing depression.
When Otis left him, he said it felt like the final straw. In 2007, Rourke was arrested again, but this time for DUI charges in Miami Beach. Nothing seemed to be going right for the guy – he felt as if the world was crashing down on him.
Since 2009, Rourke has been in a relationship with Russian model Anastassija Makarenko. In interviews, Rourke has often attributed his comeback after 14 years to his agent David A. Unger, his weekly meetings with his psychiatrist “Steve,” and a Catholic priest named Father Peter Colapietro.
He has also attributed his comeback to his dogs. The known pet lover participated in a protest outside a pet shop back in 2007 and has made public service announcements for PETA. Rourke even gave his dogs credit when he made his acceptance speech at the 2009 Golden Globes.
He declared: “I’d like to thank all my dogs. The ones that are here, the ones that aren’t here anymore because sometimes when a man’s alone, that’s all you got is your dog. And they’ve meant the world to me.”
Rourke has spoken about the dark period in his life. He told Barbara Walters in an interview that he was not in a good place in his head and heart – that he “just wanted to push a button and disappear.” Rourke confessed that there was one point when he didn’t leave his house for five months.
Rourke is still making appearances. As recent as last year, he appeared on The Masked Singer, donning “The Gremlin” costume. He made a bit of a spectacle as he revealed himself immediately after his first performance rather than waiting to be voted off by audience members.