No stranger to controversy, Gina Gershon is at it again with Killer Joe, director William Friedkin’s ardently NC-17 adaptation of Tracy Letts’ 1993 play. This fiendishly funny, Texas-fried grindhouse noir is an outrageous provocation—and Gershon, as Sharla, Thomas Haden Church’s rotten-as-he-is wife, sets the stage with a boldly bottomless, ill-groomed introduction during the opening moments. The star of stage, screen and Showgirls shared details with PW last week. And that the wig she’s talking about was not worn on her head.
Um, so you make quite an entrance in this picture.
Right? First of all, I love it because I think it sets the tone. It says who she is, who these people are. Listen, if I was playing Don King, I’d have to wear a wig. You’ve gotta wear the proper wig for the role. And that was Sharla’s look.
I hear there was an extensive selection process for the wig?
Friedkin, for some reason, is like: ‘Why are you talking about this so much?’ Because people ask me! But we’re not supposed to talk about it anymore. Billy teases me too much. He’s such a great director, and he’s fearless. Sometimes you have to worry about the envelope. There’s no envelope with him. You can’t go too far, as long as you’re being truthful. These characters are out there. My character especially. She’s so feral. She reminds me of this wild animal. So you have to be spontaneous. Most of these scenes we did in one take. You’re in the moment. Billy wants spontaneity. He doesn’t want perfection, as he says.
You’ve worked with some audacious filmmakers. Paul Verhoven, Robert Altman, Michael Mann, now Friedkin. Who would you say pushed you the furthest?
It’s hard to say. I think Killer Joe is the most intense material I have ever dealt with. But was I pushed that far? I kinda chose to go there.
Yet, you originally turned down the role of Sharla onstage?
I was approached years ago, and they asked me to consider it. But then I got to that ending and thought, I don’t want to go there eight times a week. As I’m sure you can understand.
So you went and did something easier, like Cabaret?
That was pretty draining also, but at least I got to sing and dance.
Was it a drag going through the whole NC-17 flap with the ratings board again?
On one hand, I think the ratings system in America is ridiculous. It’s so arbitrary when you see what’s an NC-17, what’s an R and what’s a PG. That being said, I think out of all the movies I’ve done that have either been NC-17 or toyed with it, this is a hardcore movie. You should know what you’re going into.
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