NL-Zalman King, director of such famous projects as 9 1/2 Weeks and the Red Shoe Diaries passed away recently. Jon talks to Kay Brandt who worked with him.
Kay Brandt talks about Zalman King
1 It must have been a shock to hear about Zalman’s death. Were you aware of his struggle with cancer? It was a shock, and yes, I was aware of the cancer he was fighting. He treated it like an ‘afterthought’ disease, and didn’t give it much attention publicly or at work.
2 When was the last time you saw him? Roughly 5 years ago.
3 How did you first meet Zalman?
I was working in mainstream entertainment as a writer/director/producer for hire and I was looking for a company to get behind a motion picture script I wrote based on my first produced stage play called “Kiss Me Twisted”. Zalman and I were both represented by a well known entertainment attorney, and one day he happened to mention Zalman as someone who might be interested in my erotic stories. I asked for him to make an introduction between Zalman and I, and he did. We clicked over a lunch meeting and went forward from there.
4 What was it like working with him?
He was very laid back, passionate, with a healthy ego and a quirky edginess to his personality. He had some very cool non-erotic projects he wanted me to produce outside of the traditional studios, because it was clear he wasn’t getting the kind of responses he wanted/needed from the executives he normally worked with in regards to his ‘other’ visions. Zalman had this sweet little country western dramatic musical script called “Austin Angel” that he very much wanted to make. I tried for two years to raise money just for that one film and we came close, but unfortunately, not completely. It was frustrating to see just how hard it is to make even a small budget motion picture, even when you have an established name and a successful track record, but he always kept an open mind and a positive ‘see what happens’ attitude.
5 What got him into making softcore films? I don’t know. That’s something I never asked him.
6 He’s been called the high priest of erotic film making. How has he influenced your work as a writer and director?
He’s been quite influential in my work. Most apparent is probably the lighting schemes and pacing. As a writer, my need to delve into dark subject matters, or create characters that are deeply complex definitely got a boost from his similar style. As a director, allowing the sometimes unbearable subtext of the actors to show right through…to not shy away from revealing uncomfortable and vulnerable emotions especially in erotic situations….
7 Why do you think 91/2 weeks became such a cult film?
I almost don’t need to answer this. Anyone who’s seen it knows exactly why. It was the best psychological exploration of a deeply sexual relationship between two star crossed souls since The Last Tango in Paris. Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger turned in staggeringly powerful acting performances and showed painfully real emotions throughout while totally pulling out all the stops sexually. It was mesmerizingly erotic and nearly terrifying to watch on an emotional level. Plus, the purely erotic aspects were just unmatched in the 1990’s, and even perhaps now.
8 Wild Orchid was a flop. Why do you think the magic didn’t work a second time?
I hate to admit it, but it was just too soft. It lacked the intensity of 9 1/2 weeks. Again, he picked a difficult situation with the two main characters…an innocent young man falls in love with a girl who has no choice but to be a professional whore, and can’t ever be the girl she so desperately wants to be for and with him. Another deeply emotional tale without the heat it needed to keep an audience entranced and connected. But I must say that the shame is there are so many beautifully shot scenes in Wild Orchid and fantastic acting performances, too. That will all be overlooked because it didn’t quite measure up and that’s tragic.
9 Were you a big fan of Red Shoe Diaries? What do think the appeal is of it’s leading man David Duchovny?
I was a fan of the early episodes. Zalman totally discovered David and put him on the map with that series. But I bet you don’t remember what the entire series was based on. Can you say, suicide? David Duchovny’s character had the unfortunate fate of finding his beloved fiance dead in a bathtub the night before their wedding from a suicide. A suicide brought on by SHAME…OMG. Shame for her inability to be faithful to him, and her need for wearing the Red Shoes, which made her feel justified in her sexual affairs…and there’s innocent, baby faced David (Ahem, like Mickey Rourke, and Brendan Frasier, seeing the pattern?) Duchovny desperate to heal his heart by learning how to please a woman so he could understand his dead fiance’s inner sexual demons…how could you not find appeal in a character like that? Especially with the type of sincerity David shows when he plays characters like this, I mean, c’mon. He was a slam dunk for that role.
10 What other works by Zalman have you particularly recommend?
I would suggest a dark erotic vampire series we tried to get off the ground together, and as far as I know, never was made, called “Dia De Los Muertos”. The story was exactly like what you expect from Zalman–deep characters trapped in some type of personal hell while engaging fully in explicitly sexual situations–but with the underworld vibe of vampires.
11 You wanted to get Zalman to work for Digital Playground. Would he have been a good hardcore director?
No, I didn’t want him to work for DP, but rather to work with DP. We had a few projects we were interested in collaborating with DP on, strictly to cast the contract girls in the lead roles. It was a mainstream series with highly erotic overtones, and a lead character that would’ve been perfect for a few of the (then) contract stars. We had several meetings with Joone, and he was interested, but for one reason or another, we never sealed a deal and eventually Zalman and I gave up on the projects which happens too often in Mainstream.
12 How was he viewed by Hollywood?
As the King of softcore, for sure and with that came unfortunate limitations for the projects he wanted to do. Hollywood can only see filmmakers as one type of artist sometimes and Zalman knew how he was viewed, for sure.
13 Zalman made several music videos. I believe he wanted to make a musical. Can you tell us about this?
I don’t want to reveal the “Austin Angel” story, in case it ever gets made. It was a country musical and at one time Martin Sheen was attached to the project.
14 Congratulations on your AVN Award. Is there any news about further episodes of Cherry and other projects?
Thank you. Yes, there is news, but nothing can be talked about unfortunately at this point, as DP has been bought by another company, Manwin.