Unbelievably beautiful blonde Rena Riffel has dipped her toe into many aspects of the entertainment industry; modeling, dancing, singing, writing, acting, and directing. She put her classical dance training in ballet, jazz, and tap to very good use opposite Demi Moore in Striptease (1996), and worked with legendary director David Lynch in Mulholland Dr (2001). But it’s her role as Penny in the cult classic Showgirls (1995) that has been the most enduring.
In 1995 director Paul Verhoeven reunited with his Basic Instinct (1992) screenwriter, Joe Eszterhas, to produce a towering contribution to skinema, Showgirls.
Showgirls is not just a Skin Classic; it's Mr. Skin’s single favorite film of all time! It’s a brilliantly berserk send up of showbiz excess and American desires, all mixed up with the most gorgeous girls stripping down and giving explosive lap dances on hyper-kinetic sets. Everything is done to the extreme with fantastic effect, including the splashiest sex scene ever filmed!
Like many films that have gone on to be cult classics, Showgirls was initially a flop in theaters, but soon found the right audience in the home video market, and went on to become one of MGM's top selling releases of all time!
Since Verhoeven distanced himself from the film after its unusual reception, it was up to Rena to carry forward the campy charm of the original, and she finally put forth the ripe fruits of her labor with the sexy sequel Showgirls 2: Penny's from Heaven (2011). Rena reprises her role as Las Vegas stripper and big dreamer, Penny Slot, who sets out to become the star of a dance television show. You’ll get plenty of Penny for your thoughts, since Rena wrote, directed, and starred in this skin-thusiastic feature!
Rena generously took some time to talk to Mr. Skin about the production of her epic opus, her scintillating work in the Czechspoitation genre, and the sexiest scene she’s ever filmed!
Skin Central: It's been almost 20 years since the original Showgirls was released. Why do you think it has such staying power?
Rena Riffel: It's such a fun and entertaining movie. Showgirls is a great film. It's visually beautiful and people always have a good time when watching it. Great characters, it's funny, it's sexy, and we always want Nomi to win the lead in Goddess, because Cristal is always such a bitch, and we love her for that, even though Nomi is a bitch too, but audiences root for Nomi as she has to survives so many obstacles that are in the way of her dreams. I think the dialogue is super fun, and the fans of the film can easily memorize the "doggy chow" scene, and it's fun to say the lines in random places and scenarios. Like when you are grocery shopping with a friend, and you see dog food, it's easy to throw out a few Showgirls lines.
SC: Did you do any research for your role as a stripper?
RR: No, I still don't know how to pole dance. I am planning on taking pole dancing lessons soon. I know, but better late than never. Since it was my character's first day on the job, it worked. My dances were all choreographed jazz technique dances, but done in the nude.
SC: Did your sex life change after Showgirls hit the big screen?
RR: No, not really. But, I did get in really great shape from all the dancing we did, so that felt good.
SC: Tell us about Showgirls 2. When did you decide to make a sequel, and what made you decide to helm the whole project?
RR: Well, when I was doing the overdubs on Showgirls, Mr. Verhoeven mentioned to me he wanted to do a sequel all about Penny. He must have been joking with me, but being young and very naive, I took him seriously. And waited and waited for this to happen. But, it was a seed of desire that was put into my head. And as each year passed by, I kept wishing it would happen. Finally, I came to the realization that the only way this is ever going to happen is if I make it happen. And, cut to- the end of the day- I had to helm the whole project.
SC: You wrote, produced, and directed Trasharella before starting Showgirls 2. What made you want to get behind the camera?
RR: I had always wanted to make movies. I started making little movie type things when I was like 7 or 8 years old, using dolls as my actors- usually Barbie dolls or those big hoop skirt decorative dolls you set on your shelf-, using cameras- still or polaroids usually-, and recording the voices for each character on a tape recorder, with a little bell tone to let you know when to turn the picture album, like those old LP records with Disney stories that came with a picture book. I was raised on those, since we didn't have much TV because we lived so far out in the boonies where the cable wasn't yet hooked up. I had been writing scripts- or trying to- since landing in Hollywood. Well, at first I couldn't get past the "Treatment" stage, but finally I completed my first feature script. I wrote it out with a pencil and paper, then typed it into my computer. This was around 2002. And then from there, I wrote a big huge major script with Bruce Willis playing the lead and he would come up out of a swamp because he had turned into a worm, and... well, anyways, this was never going to happen. So, I started digital videoing some scenes, unscripted improvisation, and I didn't know where it was going, but thought it would maybe be a web series about a Summer Of Love. And then we just kept going, and it turned into Trasharella.
SC: Was there anything too outrageous that you had to cut from the final edit of Showgirls 2?
RR: Yes, it was a hard call to cut this stuff. I toned down the movies nudity, actually, to make it more "tasteful". The pool scene had some beautiful stuff I had to lose because my first cut of the scene was 8 minutes long. And my test audience friends told me it should be more like 3 minutes max. I have outtakes of full frontal male nudity, a close up, which dangles around in the other actors face. It's a very funny moment, it's really not erotic at all. But the actor who's face was in the shot didn't feel comfortable with the composition of the shot, because it was too outrageous and he didn't find it as funny as the rest of us did. I will probably put that clip back in one of these days, maybe for our Blu-ray release.
SC: What about a Showgirls 3? Does Penny still have stories to tell?
RR: Yes, there is so much more to tell. I have the Showgirls 3 script written. It reveals a lot of very weird stuff about her backstory. I am kind of afraid it may be too bizarre, so I am holding off until I get the courage to make it. It will be considered a sequel to SG2, and will be further removed from any Showgirls references.
SC: Another Paul Verhoeven classic, RoboCop, just got remade. If Showgirls got a remake, who would you cast in it?
RR: I would want to see Elizabeth Berkley do the remake, it ain't Showgirls without Liz. Bryan Cranston could play Zac Carey (Kyle MacLachlan), although I would really just want Kyle to play Kyle again, as long as he has the same hair style. I would play Cristal Connors, and Gina can play Penny/Hope. Or I can play Nomi, and Elizabeth can play Cristal Connors. It would also be fun to cast Peaches Christ to play Cristal Connors and make it an all drag revue remake, that's how they do it every year in San Francisco at the Castro Theatre show. Peaches plays Cristal, I play a hybrid character called "Nomi/Hope".
SC: Of course we’re huge fans of Lloyd Simandl and the Czechsploitation genre here at Mr. Skin. How did you get involved with him?
RR: I have had such great experiences with Lloyd. I got an audition and read for a role, he kind of offered me the part right then, he was in the USA attending AFM, so I auditioned for him at that office, and then he contacted my agent 6 months later, and said the production is ready to go. I flew over to Czech Republic, and this was in 1999 or so, the movie business was much different, the currency was different, there was more money to be made and budgets were bigger, crews were bigger, we shot on film, we shot for 4-6 weeks. So, we made Dark Confessions (2000), and it turned out to be his most successful movie as far as being profitable or, something to that extent. So, he kept going and I got to make 4 more films in this Czechspoitation genre with him. I hope I get to make more with him, we keep talking about getting me back over there.
SC: What's your philosophy on doing nude scenes?
RR: Make it as beautiful as a dance. Pose yourself with your good side facing the camera, but at the same time, forget the camera is there. And you just have to go for it and play the role, it's part of being an actress to be able to be uninhibited for the sake of art.
SC: Do you have a favorite Hollywood nude scene?
RR: Not really... it's funny, but I get kind of uncomfortable watching nude scenes. Some that stand out to me because they are classy, are Kate Winslet in The Reader, I don't know which scene, but I liked how comfortable she was with it, and it was very artistic. And Julianne Moore in the Robert Altman movie Short Cuts, where she is just standing there full frontal naked, only waist down. It's shocking, but she does it so well and so nonchalantly, it was interesting. I really like the way Juliane Moore does her nude scenes, it's never cheesy, even in Boogie Nights playing it as cheesy and she still is artistic, classy, and brilliant. And I am a big fan of Charlotte Rampling, in Swimming Pool she did a full frontal nude scene, she's very committed. I love all things Charlotte Rampling, she's brilliant.
SC: What’s the first movie and/or TV nude scene you remember seeing?
RR: Blue Lagoon.
SC: What's the sexiest scene you yourself have ever done?
RR: I don't really know, but I think I felt as if it was the sexiest when I played the role of a high-class-prostitute-to-government-senators/dominatrix in my first leading role, a movie that never really came out, called Art Deco, Detective (1994). I am trying to help get it a release now. There are scenes in one of those S&M dungeons with leather and chains everywhere and my character was very strong, I was directed to play it like Lauren Bacall in To Have And Have Not. It's film noir. "You know how to whistle, don't you Steve? You just put your lips together and blow."
SC: What's next for you, any projects coming up?
RR: Yes, lately I have been a whirlwind of new project. I completed a new film titled, Astrid's Self Portrait. It's an experimental avant-guard film-noir/mystery. I am planning to have it viewed as a digital media installation (then also release it on DVD/VOD) in 2014. I also wrote,directed, and starred in this one as well, although it is an art film, not anywhere as "epic" as the Showgirls 2 production. I am pushing for my Marie Antoinette project to go into production, as well. I think Mr. Skin will like it very much, I actually wrote the script for Lloyd Simandl's Bound Heat. I am also working on a new album with Black Gumbo Ent., my new songs have inspirational lyrics and great beats. I am also enrolled in college and some other classes to learn more about technology, communications, and computer programs to help further my filmmaking career, very excited about it!
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