Twenty years after his last film, the director of ‘Fatal Attraction’, ‘Indecent Proposal’ and ‘9 ½ Weeks’ speaks to Adam White about his new erotic thriller ‘Deep Water’, the short-lived romance between its stars Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas, and why he was always ‘yelling about boners’ around Demi Moore
Dinner parties must have been so boring before Adrian Lyne. The British filmmaker is the king of the provocative scenario, each of his films built upon a leading question. Would you have an affair? Would you totally submit to the desires of another? Would you spend a night with a stranger for a million dollars? A former ad man – he directed commercials in the Seventies for jeans and chocolate bars – Lyne is also unbeatable when it comes to evocative imagery: Fatal Attraction’s boiled bunny rabbit, Mickey Rourke feeding Kim Basinger assorted gloop in front of the fridge in 9½ Weeks, Jennifer Beals drenched beneath a bucket of water in Flashdance, Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson rolling around on a bed covered in money in Indecent Proposal. That pop-video pomp is one of the great pleasures of his work.
But where the hell’s he been? It’s been 20 years since Unfaithful, Lyne’s last film and the sort of big-budget marital potboiler that seemed to vanish from cinemas with him. American studio movies have been in an erotica drought ever since. Lyne may have always tussled with US censors, but his exodus – which has finally been broken with the Ben Affleck/Ana de Armas romp Deep Water, arriving on Prime Video this week – was less to do with puritans and more to do with getting a suntan. “I’ve got a farmhouse in the south of France, and I love it,” the inexplicably baby-faced 81-year-old says today. “I was living there, writing there, working on projects that didn’t happen.” He shrugs towards his Zoom camera, zebra-print cushions giving a sense of the decor in his Manhattan apartment.
He was nervous at first that modern cinema may not have a place for him. When he was prepping for Deep Water, 9½ Weeks weighed on his mind. There are two versions of the 1986 film: a neutered cut released in America that promptly bombed, and a kinkier, more harrowing cut released in Europe. There it played in cinemas for years, inspiring an entire generation to invest in blindfolds and whipped cream. “It was gutted in America – it meant nothing because every trace of sadomasochism had to be taken out,” he remembers. “So I was anxious [about Deep Water]. People tend to want to take out the bumps in the script, whereas the bumps are always what’s most interesting.”
Loosely inspired by a Patricia Highsmith novel, Deep Water is a kinky melodrama about a married couple who despise each other. Affleck’s Vic is a cuckolded scientist with a collection of pet snails in his basement. De Armas’s Melinda is a bored temptress with a litany of lovers, all of whom seem to end up dead. There is something thrilling about Lyne returning after so long to this narrative well, but his involvement is a bit of a monkey’s paw situation, too. Yes, he’s made a film again, but Deep Water is about as arousing as a case of syphilis, while there’s little of the stylish glamour that marked his earlier work. Critics have been divided. Audiences will probably follow suit.
Lyne is proud of it, though. “It’s a very bizarre movie – certainly the strangest that I’ve done.” He was drawn to Highsmith’s novel because it was a “terrific read”, but quickly deconstructed it. For one, it’s set in the present day rather than the Fifties, while Lyne beefed up Vic and Melinda’s mutual antagonism. It’s more of an even-handed affair, if sadly lacking in the queer subtext that made the source material so erotically charged. Highsmith’s violent ending also got chucked out, Lyne choosing to round his film off on an ambiguous note. Some early viewers have already speculated whether an entire third act was lost in the edit, but Lyne says he had final cut on the film, and the handful of scenes left on the cutting room floor – none of which would have factored into a different climax – sound as if they weren’t that important anyway. If he could, he admits, he’d edit his own work “forever”.
Affleck and De Armas have nasty, combustible chemistry at least. Their well-publicised off-screen fling also adds a nice frisson to proceedings. The pair met on set in 2019, then dated for just over a year. Affleck started up again with his ex Jennifer Lopez soon after their split, and he and De Armas haven’t publicly acknowledged one another (or, for the most part, Deep Water) since Affleck’s brother Casey was photographed tossing a life-size cardboard cutout of De Armas into a bin. It was a relationship with far wackier twists than, well, the film they made together. Lyne wasn’t too bothered when they eventually broke up. “On any movie when your actors fall in love, you just pray they don’t fall out of love before the end of filming.”
He sensed they had a shared attraction from their very first screen test, which Lyne filmed in his Los Angeles home. “There was a sweetness between them but with an edge,” he remembers. De Armas was in character while Affleck watched from the sidelines. “She was sitting on the bed putting lotion on and bitching at him, and Ben was so intrigued with her. He was watching and could see that she was good, you know? For the third or fourth take, he just said: ‘I’m going in.’ He wanted to be a part of the scene, and grapple with her. It wasn’t a love scene or anything. He just wanted to be a part of that chemistry.” The rest, much like that poor Ana de Armas cutout, is history.
Despite his initial worry, production on Deep Water ran smoothly, though the on-set presence of an intimacy coordinator – an impartial expert who monitors and advise on physical interaction between actors – perplexed Lyne at first. “It implies a lack of trust, which I loathed,” he explains. “That’s all I have with my actors – they trust me and I trust them, totally. It wasn’t a big deal in the end, though.”
It’s a far cry from how it used to be. In her 2019 memoir Inside Out, Demi Moore recalled Lyne directing her in a sex scene with Woody Harrelson for Indecent Proposal. “He literally didn’t stop talking – practically hollering – the whole time we were shooting the sex scenes,” she wrote. Lyne would cry things like “F***ing raunchy!” and “Oh god, got a boner on that!” Moore was thrown off, but only at first. “Here was this guy getting all sweaty and worked up, yelling about boners. But once I got used to it, I saw its advantages: having Adrian carry on that way took the focus off my own awkwardness.”
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When I mention Moore’s anecdote to Lyne, he blushes. Does it ring a bell? “Yesss,” he replies, timidly. “But I’ve always thought there’s something awful about actors going at it in total silence. Or very glumly, and then wondering whether their arse looks good, or if their thighs are sagging. So I always act as a kind of cheerleader. Sometimes I’ll go, ‘It’s good! It’s good!’” He claps his hands together, like an enthusiastic judge at the sex Olympics. “You sense their confidence mounting, so it’s a better scene. I do that a lot.” He once described his relationship with Glenn Close and Michael Douglas on the set of Fatal Attraction as a “menage a trois”. “Not literally!” Lyne gasps. “But what’s really important is to get so close that you’re sort of like their husband, their wife and their shrink – then it starts to work.”
He wants to do it more often. There won’t be any more extended hiatuses, he promises. He stares down the camera lens and cracks a wry smile. “I mean, I daren’t.”
‘Deep Water’ is available to stream on Prime Video from Friday 18 March