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Sean Young hasn’t given up on her dream of playing Catwoman — even though she’s never had much luck when it comes to Batman movies. First, she was cast as Vicky Vale in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, only to break her arm during rehearsals and be replaced by Kim Basinger. Then, outfitted in a homemade Catwoman costume, she famously attempted to ambush Burton on the Warner Bros. lot in an attempt to win the role of the feline antiheroine in his 1992 follow-up Batman Returns, only to see the iconic part go to Michelle Pfeiffer.
Spend an hour talking to Young, and you will long for the days when Hollywood was truly uncensored and untamed. After all, here’s an actress who managed to upstage Charlie Sheen in the bad behavior department on the set of Wall Street (director Oliver Stone reduced her part after repeated clashes) and was sued by James Woods for harassment (the two, who starred together in 1988’s The Boost, settled out of court, but Young was awarded $227,000 to cover her legal costs).
The Kentucky native was even more memorable onscreen during her height in the ’80s, shifting effortlessly from comedy (Stripes) to sci-fi (Dune, Blade Runner) to the regrettably abandoned genre of sexy espionage thriller (No Way Out).
After battling alcohol for years, Young got sober following perhaps the most memorable moment ever at a DGA Awards ceremony when she exhorted Julian Schnabel to “get on with it” during a speech (she was promptly tossed out and the incident went viral). Now clean for three-plus years, the 56-year-old actress has mellowed a bit but still admittedly has “a big mouth” when musing on Tinseltown past and present. She continues to work, and her latest film, the horror pic Darling, hits theaters Friday (Screen Media opens the Mickey Keating-helmed film about a lonely girl’s violent descent into madness.) The married mother of two adult sons talked to The Hollywood Reporter about Sheen’s surprising poetry skills, Woods’ “preposterous” lawsuit and how her one-time agent Mike Ovitz didn’t exactly have her back.
You landed the lead in Batman, only to break your arm during rehearsals. You were quickly replaced by Kim Basinger. Seems unfair from today’s perspective?
If [producer] Jon Peters had wanted me I think they could have shot around it. I think he just had a hard-on for Kim Basinger. He had a good excuse to let me go and hire her. It hurt me, but that’s show business.
When you dressed up as Catwoman and approached Tim Burton on the WB lot, what was his reaction?
He wasn’t there. I guess he was hiding in the bathroom. Who knows? If these Warner Bros. executives now were really good businessmen, they’d let me play Catwoman today, and I’d make a smash amount of money. But they’re too stupid. You can lead people to water, but you can’t make them great artists. Nobody wants to take that risk, it’s too scary. If they’re wrong, it can cost them their job. If there were really good businessmen over there, it’d be an obvious no-brainer, but I’m not running the studio.
And if you ran a studio, you would …?
I’d stop accepting money from the Pentagon and making war films, and I’d make films that brought people together instead of dividing people. But they don’t have any plans to stop making war pictures. They’re even hiring women to direct war pictures like Kathryn Bigelow and Angelina Jolie with Unbroken. I was pissed. I loved By the Sea. In fact, I’ve watched it twice, but I hated Unbroken. Hurt Locker was a good movie, but it was a propaganda picture.
There’s nothing new about women getting paid less. That’s not a news flash. It’s worse now. But it’s not just worse for women. It’s worse for everybody, men and women.
But on No Way Out, who got paid more? You, Kevin Costner or Gene Hackman?
Both men got paid more. But I was also a newcomer. I didn’t have three or four films like Kevin. Certainly Gene had more credits. You have to be practical. It’s a supply and demand business. They don’t call it show art for a reason. You have a ton of people who are waiting in line to take your place, and you have to be aware of that.
A Blade Runner sequel is in the works. Harrison Ford will be back. Any idea what happened to your character Rachael?
I’m sure everyone’s going to be wondering that, but they haven’t called me yet so I have no way of knowing.
You famously feuded with Oliver Stone on Wall Street, and he reportedly cut your part. What really happened?
That’s pretty accurate. He cut my part because I wasn’t good at taking shit, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m better at [taking shit] now.
That was the movie that really launched Charlie Sheen’s career. What do you remember about him on set?
He had a funny sense of humor. He wrote very dark poetry. He went in the makeup room one morning and he read his poetry, and we all kind of stood there quietly and we looked at him. I remember saying to him, “That’s like two or three days on Platoon, buddy.” I’d write about flowers, and he would write about the dark night of the soul. I actually like Charlie, but show business is tough. It can whack people out. Its not like sitting out on the back porch where the cornfields grow.
After Wall Street, you were then branded difficult. Fair or unfair?
If you’re in the position where you’re supposed to be taking orders and you don’t, then you’re branded as difficult. There are periods in your career where you’re more willing to take orders than other times and people try to get wise in their negotiations before they do pictures, but everybody’s perfectly clear about what they’re being asked or not asked. I’ve done projects where I’ve had to be nude. Now I don’t want to do that anymore, and I have the freedom to say no. But I don’t have the freedom to say, “Could you write that out? I don’t want that in there. I’ll do the part but I’m not doing that. Can we just write that out?”
During your career, who have been your biggest advocates?
Jim Carrey. He fought for me to have the role in Ace Ventura. They wanted Brigitte Nielsen. I ended up getting the part because he fought for me. It’s interesting. Over the years, the people who have been advocates of mine all have been men. Roger Donaldson fought for me in No Way Out. There was no resistance from Kevin, but there was some resistance from the executives [at Orion Pictures]. On Blade Runner, there was a long discussion with “No, I want this person” and “No, this person is better.” But Charles Knode was the costume designer and he was a very big champion of mine and Ridley [Scott] was very influenced by him.
The ’80s and early ’90s were notorious for bad behavior in Hollywood. How bad was it?
There was so much coke around. People were doing a lot of drugs. I wasn’t, but I watched a lot of people do drugs. I watched John Candy do drugs [on Once Upon a Crime]. Mention every film of mine, and I watched people do drugs. Behind the scenes, in front of the camera, people were doing coke. Executives were doing coke then too. People were also getting paid a lot more money then than they are today. But people’s health got screwed up. People are more health conscious now and are not abusing themselves like they used to. People are a little more afraid of losing their jobs, and what do people do who are afraid of losing their jobs? They say no.
Your “Get on with it” to Julian Schnabel at the DGAs went viral. But it amused people who have endured long-winded awards ceremony speeches. Any regrets?
I totally regret that. The irony of it was I really loved The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. What I regret is getting drunk and going, “Ugh, I can’t take this anymore.” My career had been suffering so many years, and that was my “f— you” moment to Hollywood. “I have just had enough of these. I don’t care. F— you.” My sister was with me that night. She told me the next day, “It took three guards to get you out.” “It took three people to get me out? Three?! Damn, I’m badass!” When I got in the car at the valet I remember getting in the front seat and saying, “Wow, usually these things last forever.” That’s how drunk I was.
I remember Julian told me a couple of weeks later in an interview: “It wasn’t fair that they threw her out. They shouldn’t have done that.” Have you been in touch with him since?
Yeah, I called him up and I apologized to him and he was really sweet. I think what’s great about Julian Schnabel is, like me, he doesn’t take the whole thing so seriously that it turns him into an asshole. That’s the problem with a lot of people; they take it so seriously that it turns them into a mini-monster. I felt terrible about it for years. Let me never do that again. But when you’re in the business for a very long time, awards season is like football season. You need some endurance.
You’ve done the reality show thing with Dr. Drew, appearing on his Celebrity Rehab. Overall, was the experience positive?
I turned them down, and eventually they offered me so much money, and I thought “If I don’t do this, this is dumb. I have a family I have to take care of.” After the DGA, they were left with the impression that I would make a good candidate for [Celebrity Rehab]. I only had to work 10 days on it, and it was over quick. Actually, I did have a really good time on it because I learned a lot and I went on to really [stop] my drinking. I don’t drink anymore, so that made a big difference.
Do you think the Glenn Close character in Fatal Attraction is based on you? The character was originally called Sean, and that was the rumor.
James Dearden wrote the screenplay and he went on to hire me for A Kiss Before Dying and he said he wrote [Fatal Attraction] with me in mind to play it, but not me in mind because he thought that character was me. But that was 1987, around the time James Woods accused me of stalking him …
And Woods’ lawsuit against you had a chilling effect on your career?
For anybody in show business who actually believes that story that I, beautiful Sean Young, movie star on the upcoming rise of fame, would stalk James Woods, is preposterous. But the fact that it was believed is even more preposterous. It makes you think how the game really works, which is, it’s not what is true, it’s what is believed. But the fact that I should be upset that I was accused of this bullshit from Woods made me look even more guilty of it. It didn’t feel good anyway to defend myself. That was the job of my agents. Michael Ovitz was my agent at the time and he didn’t come to my rescue. My other agent didn’t come to my rescue. None of them at CAA came to my rescue, and that was an agency that represented James Woods as well. None of them came to my rescue. It’s not show art, it’s not show home on the range, it’s show business, and that was an eye-opener for me as a young woman. Hopefully the young women coming up will watch their back, be aware of the terrain, and not get too emotional and be calm and collected. It’s not about being right. I was always right. It didn’t matter.
What’s a role you were offered that you most regret turning down?
The Piano. I never got around to reading it and I was too busy flitting around my backyard in Sedona, Arizona, and they moved on before I got around to reading it. That was stupid. That was me being asleep at the wheel.
If you were coming up today, what roles/franchises would you be fighting for?
Ex Machina. That was a really scary movie. It didn’t get nominated like it should have [for best picture]. It touches a little too closely between the difference of human and transhuman and evolution and society at large becoming more and more addicted to electronics.
Are you an Academy member?
What did you think of the diversity controversy?
People gripe. Everybody gripes. One year it’s this, one year it’s that. It’s just another means to bring attention to your picture. It’s politics. It’s meaningless in the scheme of things because it’s a business.
What actress in Hollywood do you see as the heir apparent to Sean Young?
Jennifer Lawrence and Alicia Vikander. Smart, really watchable movie stars.
Who do you still want to work with?
Woody Allen. I just wrote to him recently, I had this idea I wanted to talk to him about. I ended up being edited out of Crimes and Misdemeanors, and he wrote me a letter saying, “It’s not you!” You owe me.
What’s next for you?
I’ve got a film I might direct if I raise the money for that. I’m probably going to do a play in Austin this summer. I have the great [advantage] of getting to relax, but when I want to do something I go ahead and do it. I don’t beat myself up a lot over the aspects of show business anymore.
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