It was twenty years ago this month that Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut began filming. The erotic drama was the last movie of his remarkable career as a director that included 2001: A Space Odyssey, Lolita and Dr. Strangelove.
Eyes Wide Shut starred Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollock…and me. It was my feature film debut after a long, successful career as a fashion model. I originally auditioned for an extra role – not something I’d have normally considered, but it was Stanley Kubrick, so I went for it. Stanley called me in to meet him, and three screen tests later I got the part of Mandy Curran, the high end call girl and victim of circumstance who overdoses at a party at the start of the movie.
The shoot lasted 400 days. I was on payroll for eight months and on set for several months.
I figure that it’s about time I answer some of those questions that have been asked of me time and time again about my truly unique experience.
How was working with Stanley? It was great, fun, hard, funny, intense, trying, emotional, stressful, irksome, frustrating, boring at times, sometimes painful, and tiring.
Stanley didn’t like to talk about himself much. Instead, he was interested in everyone else- their works, thoughts, skills, art and influences. Stanley was like a sponge. He researched things to the nth degree, finding the right people, story, sets, music, clothes, colors, lights, actors and crew.
He’d want to know about everyone and everything else. He’d chat to me about my music which he’d taken the time to listen to and ask me detailed questions about the songs.
Now and then he’d share stuff about his previous films like the war room scene of Dr. Strangelove and how the guy on the right couldn’t stop laughing. We’d also chat about the space programs (my father used to work for JPL/NASA) and about AI – the film he was to have made after EWS.
EYES WIDE SHUT: Cruise, Kubrick, Lighting Camera Man Larry Smith and actress Julienne Davis. pic.twitter.com/jeIdkjdYLS
— WILL McCRABB (@mccrabb_will) October 11, 2013
Interestingly he wore the same thing every day (I’m sure he had multiples of everything). I’m guessing it was so he didn’t have to use any thought deciding what to wear. He was also very cautious when traveling. He never flew and his driver later told me he asked him to drive slowly and carefully, not traveling faster than 50 mph on the motorway.
Although he was friendly, and even at times fatherly, he also had an air about him that you knew if he didn’t agree with something, you would come up against a brick wall… but a nice brick wall.
Stanley was exact in every aspect. For instance, the lighting had to be just so. He took a week just to light the scene early on in the movie where my character passes out in the bathroom.
You should have seen the contraption he had set up in the bathroom scene. There were little bits of card or paper attached to this main base hanging haphazardly from up above screening out or dimming the lighting in certain little areas. It was almost a work of art in itself!
Stanley was concerned with everything from the lighting to the timing of the camera movements, and even down to my exact shade of lip color and the tone of my skin for the morgue scene.
He was meticulous about the mask scenes in Eyes Wide Shut. I recall waiting for the paint to dry on the main mask with the feathers which I think was painted at least 3 times until the exact shades and tones and right color combinations were reached to Stanley’s approval. Oh, and the feather mask?… I chose it. Stanley liked my choice.
The changing of the masks for the twelve girls kneeling in the circle was another story. We had been rehearsing for a month, Stanley was looking at nightly rushes, there were more than 200 extras, [actor] Todd Field had been flown in to play the piano and the incense was burning. But then he decided that the mask choices and who was wearing which mask wasn’t quite right.
Stanley had a plan and a vision, and other things had to fall into place for that. It could be frustrating and painful (I have permanent bone spurs from kneeling on my knees with the twelve girls in the circle for the 3-4 week rehearsals we did, and suffered a fascia injury). There were times I felt emotionally wrecked and fragile. But looking back I respected it all.
Stanley was a true artist. Everything else was secondary to that vision. What I found most interesting about his genius however was the extent of trial and error. He was open to script revisions and trying different shots rather than having his vision set in stone.
You could contribute and get him to see your way of thinking but not by telling him, ‘I think it should be like this’ which would bring up the brick wall. It had to be thinking out loud with no ego attached.
That was how the second bathroom scene was totally rewritten and re-blocked with me thinking out loud that “I’m feeling like Mandy would want to say and do this…” to which Tom and Sydney would interject. The entire scene was rewritten by the three of us on the spot. Because everyone else around him was excellent, that made his ideas even greater.
Stanley over-estimated the intelligence of his audience, and because of this, audiences would look on in awe.
What was Tom Cruise was like? Always the second question I get asked.
Tom Cruise is wonderful. The man has charisma. He carries and presents himself as the star that he is, yet he’s incredibly down to earth and friendly and talkative. He’s the opposite of a snob.
Before I met him I used to think that maybe he was an egotistical “sell-out” only wanting to do big blockbuster films to keep himself one of the top movie stars. But he loves those kinds of films. He’d be the guy who would go see a film on its opening night, sitting near the center front with a huge bag of popcorn! He’s utterly true to himself and the person he is.
He loves acting and being a part of telling great stories, works hard, is reliable, never gets angry, isn’t a prima donna in any way and even when the camera is not on him, he always gives it one hundred per cent.
He didn’t use a stand in or a body double and he was always behind that mask. He was respectful and treated everyone equally and with dignity. If, while we were shooting, he had a question or something he wanted to discuss with Stanley, he would say, ‘Stanley, may I speak with you for a moment?’ They would go off set, out of earshot of everyone, have their conversation, and then resume filming.
Tom was incredibly respectful to me too. I was a nobody at the time – just a jobbing fashion model. He could have treated me like I was irrelevant but he didn’t.
‘Is he short?’ everyone asks. No. Not tall, but not tiny either. One day I ran into him when he had just gotten out of the helicopter at the set that was the stately home in Norfolk (where we shot the ritual scenes with the masks.)
We started chatting and I cheekily said, ‘So how tall are you? C’mon… back to back!’ And he did! Answer: he’s a smidge taller than me and I’m 5’7 ¾. Myth dispelled- he’s not 5’2!
Other questions asked of me were, ‘Is he gay?’ and ‘What’s the deal with his Scientology?’ Well, I don’t think he’s gay, and the Scientology we never spoke about. Frankly, I don’t care and neither should you.
But the way he would then talk about Nicole… he still seemed smitten which was impressive after ten years. (What did she do?!) But he IS a great actor…so maybe he fooled me too.
But again, who cares? I’m sure the guy, like everyone, has his quirks and flaws and maybe even has a dark side. But I never saw it, and frankly who are any of us to judge?
I remember my father saying to me at the time, ‘I read that Tom Cruise bought property near Palo Alto recently.’ I repeated that back to Tom to which he replied with a smile and a sigh, ‘If I had a penny for every false thing said about me, I would be WAYYYY more rich than I already am. You have no idea.’ We both laughed.
I discovered what he meant later dealing with my own (limited) fame and notoriety. I once read something along the lines of, ‘Julienne refused to wear a mask at a masquerade party because it ‘brought back bad memories of her spending three weeks on her knees in front of Tom Cruise. She blubbed.’
As if to insinuate that I was performing fellatio on Tom for three weeks! None of that was true. I had lifted my mask to talk to people and made a joke and it had been twisted by journalists.
Tom Cruise and I had some fabulous conversations. I’d love to work with him again one day if I ever got the chance.
THE MASK SCENE:
‘Those scenes with the masks were so bizarre,’ I get asked. ‘Was that you in the feather mask?’
Diaporama : pandorasmovies: Julienne Davis, Abigail Good and Nicole Kidman in Eyes Wide Shut (1999). http://t.co/SBnwxiti6l
— Ben Othmane (@Othmaneben07) October 14, 2013
This is long overdue to be discussed. To be honest I never knew how to address it, as the powers that be at Warners never told me what to say or how they wanted me to respond.
The answer is that it was Mandy Curran in the feather mask. Was it always me? No.
Because I had incurred that fascia injury while we were rehearsing the ritual scene with the girls in the circle, Stanley was worried I would be in pain as I was having trouble kneeling and getting up again with the 4-5 inch heels.
We broke for the weekend and I went to the doctor and had her dose me up with co-proximol so I wouldn’t have any more trouble kneeling and getting up.
After the break, the pain was virtually gone, and we had just wrapped for another night when I was told at 2:30 AM that Stanley needed me to come to try on G-strings. I declined.
Another girl (one of the girls in the ritual circle scene) obliged: Abigail Good. The next day, I was told that Stanley made the decision to bring her in as my body double.
She never spoke any lines. She was simply my body double. So,they cut a little chunk of my hair off to rush to make up a wig that matched my hair color and texture exactly, and put it on her (she was actually a bleach blonde). Kudos to Kerry Warn the hairdresser who had the wig made up so quickly. And last, they gave her the feather mask I’d been wearing.
Voilà-Mandy’s body double. It was difficult for me – I’m not gonna lie. My ego was dinged. But I did hurt my leg. What could I do? I knew I wasn’t replaced because my figure wasn’t up to scratch. (By the way… if you are wondering where I am in those scenes, when Mandy/Mysterious Woman walks off with Tom down the corridor, I’m literally right behind ‘me’.)
It was simply that I had the injury and they didn’t want to take any chances. Well… AND I didn’t want to try g-strings on at 2:30 AM in the morning. Maybe that was my grave mistake, but I don’t regret that decision.
Sure, I wish I could have done all of the scenes as Mandy. But fate dictated otherwise.
These kinds of things happen all the time during film shoots … and worse. It was certainly a huge learning experience.
When it comes to the actual movie, I have gotten the full gamut from people, from ‘Wow, what a crap film- Stanley’s worst’ to ‘That film is pure genius… I’ve watched it again and again.’ I’ve even heard people say Eyes Wide Shut is their favorite film of all time!
To me, Eyes Wide Shut is an arthouse film. However, with a budget of $65 million and it being a Warners picture, in order to recoup the money and get wide distribution, the studio needed to market it as a blockbuster and bring in two stars.
The fact that Stanley chose a high level star couple like Tom and Nicole – who at that time had already been married for ten years – was no accident.
The film has a sensational factor with the ritual scenes and gorgeous models walking around virtually naked (and these were fashion models like me, NOT glamour models or porn stars.)
Stanley wanted no fake breasts on set. He even fired one girl who stupidly had implants put in during a hiatus.
But sensation or naked bodies were not the main points of the film. That was how Warner’s needed to market it. But the film, for me, is about Marriage. Intimacy. Partnership. Trust. Sex. Desire. Fidelity….and the duplicitous nature of all of it.
EYES WIDE SHUT: Original poster concept by CHRISTIANE KUBRICK. pic.twitter.com/KeWM0PAinO
— WILL McCRABB (@mccrabb_will) December 3, 2013
The key to that film and the deep message therein is a dilemma in the hearts and minds (and groins) that almost every person faces when in long- term relationships. Take the scene where Nicole’s character (Alice) tells Tom (Bill) about the time she would have gone off with the sailor, had he asked her.
That’s something that people say, ‘What is the big deal? It’s not like she or he actually did anything.’ But for people who take the time to really understand the film, you can see why it is such an important statement to make.
Stanley loved his beautiful and talented wife and his children. He was a family man through and through. But like anyone in a long-term relationship, I’m sure these issues came up eventually. One acts on them or one ignores them. They can bury those thoughts and keep it secret or they can confess them.
Stanley shows us the dilemma in all its high-octane glory with the Warner’s backed blockbuster and the star couple. He offered no solutions or answers but put it out there for all to see and ponder.
Of course the orgy and ritual scenes are nods to The Illuminati and the sordid sex parties of the world’s elite. I’m sure that does go on but Stanley didn’t talk about the meanings behind what he was shooting to me. Frankly, I didn’t ask.
Looking back on the experience, I have huge gratitude to Stanley. He plucked me from obscurity and my life changed dramatically after that.
I’m sure Warners thought he was crazy choosing me. I was a nobody with no track record. I’m thankful that he liked me and saw something in me to cause him to want to give me the pivotal role of the film, the ingenue.
I was privileged. I do very much recognize that and no one can take that away from me.