'Showgirls': Who is Elizabeth Berkley and how did playing a nude dancer in the erotic film 'ruin' her career

Berkley, who was known as a teen actor before her 1995 shocker, reportedly spent years trying to detach herself from the Nomi Malone fame. Here's why


                            'Showgirls': Who is Elizabeth Berkley and how did playing a nude dancer in the erotic film 'ruin' her career
Elizabeth Berkley (IMDb)

A lot of people might remember Elizabeth Berkley from the team sitcom 'Saved by the Bell'. She was THAT Jessie Spano. But for the most part of her adult life, she was Nomi Malone — ambitious and crafted with the task of sexual awakening across the planet, but turning out to be a master flop. The protagonist of Paul Verhoeven's 1995 erotic disaster 'Showgirls' was driven towards her goal at becoming Las Vegas' most highly esteemed nude dancer, and in her journey caves into her darkness before realization kicks in and all that jazz.

However, Nomi didn't quite land the way Verhoeven or even Berkley had expected. Instead, playing what was supposed to be her own coming-of-age role, shedding the teen-actor image, ended up becoming a disaster that today results in a google page of 'Why Hollywood won't cast Elizabeth Berkley anymore?' articles. 

In an interview with the Daily News, Verhoeven has open up and profusely apologized for what starring in his over-the-top sexualized cut-film did to Berkley's career. From admitting it was his fault, he has said in as many words that the film "certainly ruined the career of Elizabeth Berkley in a major way", adding, "It made my life more difficult, but not to the degree it did Elizabeth's. Hollywood turned their backs on her."

From reigning at the top of her game after her very well-received appearance as Jessie to recoiling into her shell after rattling criticism and mockery of her work in the film, Berkley suffered it all. Not only were esteemed critics eviscerating her performance, but out of the total record-breaking 'Razzies' (recognition for the worst in the industry) the film won, two were hers alone: a Worst Actress and a Worst New Star.

Elizabeth Berkley in 'Showgirls' (IMDb)

Written by Joe Eszterhas and directed by Verhoeven, 'Showgirls' was meant to turn Berkley from an actor to an overnight legend, but what it did was far more shocking. Overacting, unnecessarily illogical, albeit impassionate decision making, and gratuitous nudity was supposed to be Berkley's holy trinity. Add to the slew, heated lap dances, writhing, and convulsing in a pool sex scene as if she were possessed, and whatnot. Name it, and it's there, being done by her in a film that, as a critic has claimed, is "$40 million of voyeurism."

Director Jeffrey McHale, whose 2020 documentary 'You Don't Nomi' defends the fall and shocking rise of the 1995 faux- erotica, believes Berkley was impressed by what working with Verhoeven had done for Sharon Stone after 'Basic Instinct'. In an interview with the New Zeland Herald, McHale addressed Berkley's reaction to the intense judgment passed by reviewers. "The film was made fun of and her acting was ridiculed. It was definitely hard at the time and she's been open about that," McHale told the outlet, and it makes sense. Regardless of who was to blame, she did a sex scene that looked like she was being "electrocuted", as critics noted. "It halted what career momentum she hoped to have," McHale added. 

The "campy", "tawdry", and "pathetic" sex scene between Berkley and Kyle MacLachlan in a lit pool is still the talk of the town, probably because of the cult following the film has gone on to garner in years to come. After its DVD release, there was an unputdownable craze about the movie that people into religious fanatics of the movie. And even though its a very niche base, they adore the film with every fiber of their being, something that also changed things for Berkley, and her connection with the erotica.

Actor Elizabeth Berkley attends the 16th Annual Chrysalis Butterfly Ball at a Private Residence on June 3, 2017, in Los Angeles, California (Getty Images)

"Kyle McLachlan and Gina Gershon were able to weather the storm," McHale has reflected, adding: "Whereas for Berkley, because it was her first major role, and it was so big and so violently rejected, I can't imagine how hard it was for her." It's true, Berkley did all she could to distance herself as far from the film as possible. She went on to star in 'First Wives' Club'. and TV dramas 'NYPD Blue', 'CSI: Miami' and even the 2013 finalist of 'Dancing with the Stars'.

She is married with a son. Sure she wound a decent way back, but the effort she put into not being associated with the Nomi Malone image was heartbreaking, and as Verhoeven will have you believe, too heavy a price to pay for a decision that wasn't her own. 

"People have, of course, criticized her for being over-the-top in her performance," the Dutch filmmaker has told Rolling Stone. "Most of that comes from me. I pushed it in that direction. Good or not good, I was the one who asked her to exaggerate everything — every move — because that was the element of style that I thought would work for the movie," he explained. Maybe the fanbase that worships the film has been able to see through that, and perhaps that's what reignited Berkley's association with the movie. 

McHale believes "now she is embracing Showgirls publicly, and that's great to see." Speaking of Berkley's active participation with the film's ongoing and recently emerged craze, he has recounted incidents where the actress gets on the stage to introduce the film at outdoor film festivals. "You would never imagine Elizabeth Berkley would be there, introducing Showgirls," he told the outlet about what the movie did to her.

McHale's 'You Don't Nomi' premieres on June 8 on Virtual Theatres.

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