Iron butterfly

Last Seduction star Linda Fiorentino revels in bitchiness

What she really is is a Philadelphia-born, blue-collar, Italian-American Catholic with a knack for flaunting the rules. She got barred from her senior prom after being caught smoking at school. She bopped around Hollywood and New York throughout her youth, auditioning fruitlessly for movies and TV and doing off-off-Broadway, at one point sharing a tiny Manhattan apartment with an unknown wiseass named Bruce Willis, with whom she worked as a bartender. She finally broke down and took acting classes, only to quit after one of her improvisations--a gleefully enthusiastic masturbation scene--prompted an instructor to brand her disturbed.

Following her breakthrough in Vision Quest and After Hours, she took small roles in small films--some good, some wretched--to pay the bills. She was much pickier when contemplating big parts. "If nobody's gonna see it," she says, "I'll do it if the part is interesting. But when something is high profile, you have to be more careful, because one wrong choice can really stunt your opportunities in the future."

Accordingly, she turned down the Demi Moore part in the ill-fated comedy epic We're No Angels because she thought the script was rotten, and advised its star, Robert DeNiro, to do the same. In 1991, Dutch-born thriller director Paul Verhoven asked her to play the psychiatrist boy toy in Basic Instinct--a part that later made Jeanne Tripplehorn into a sought-after, A-list actress. She told Verhoven she'd rather play Sharon Stone's part.

"Paul told me I didn't want it because it meant I'd have to be naked all the time and on top of Michael Douglas, and that I just wasn't big enough on top," she says, laughing uproariously. "It ended up being a big Hollywood movie that was well-made, but definitely not as shocking as they promised it would be. The most shocking thing in that whole movie was Michael Douglas' butt. That man really shouldn't have taken his clothes off."

She's getting plenty of high-profile offers now, though. She's set to star in the thriller Jade as a shrink accused of murdering a patient. The cast boasts such respected, up-and-coming actors as Chazz Palmintieri (A Bronx Tale, Bullets over Broadway) and "NYPD Blue" fugitive David Caruso, and its director is William Friedkin, whose relentlessly hard-edged, cynical movies she adores. "I've probably seen The French Connection 12 times," she gushes. "The Exorcist, too. I just love that movie. For a Catholic girl, that's the ultimate fantasy, isn't it? Being the devil."

Being the devil also can have perversely positive side effects. Two weeks ago, when Fiorentino went to visit a friend who worked in a Los Angeles office building, the receptionist began raving about her work in The Last Seduction. Fiorentino's trademark throaty chuckle revs up as she remembers the encounter.

"This woman told me, 'I know this is going to sound weird, but your movie made an impression on me. It made me feel strong. It made me want to quit taking so much crap from my boyfriend. It made me feel like it's okay to have an opinion. Since I saw it, when I've been in a position where I feel like things aren't in my control, I try to imagine what Bridget would do. Basically, what I'm saying is that I saw your movie and I've been behaving like a bitch even since.'

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