Michael Douglas felt an established star was needed to play Catherine, so the movie would be carried by two well-known actors, and the risk of career damage would also be shared. He suggested Julia Roberts for the part, but no actress of name was prepared to go completely nude for the role. Douglas was initially against Sharon Stone being cast, as she was largely unknown, despite her supporting role in Total Recall (1990), but Paul Verhoeven desperately wanted her, since he had been very impressed by her screentest.
Sharon Stone's infamous leg-uncrossing scene was not in Joe Eszterhas' original script. It was thought up by Paul Verhoeven while the movie was being shot. It was based on a memory of Verhoeven's college years, when a woman at a party had done the exact same thing to embarrass him.
According to Sharon Stone, Paul Verhoeven asked her to remove her underwear for the leg-crossing scene, as he said they were too bright, and reflected at the camera. Stone agreed to do so, under the assumption that her genitals weren't visible. It was only at an early preview, that Stone discovered Verhoeven chose to use this specific shot. Stone was mainly cross with Verhoeven for not discussing the matter with her beforehand, but decided to let the scene go without changes, as she felt this conformed with her movie character. However, Verhoeven's version of the conflict, is that he told Stone beforehand about the leg-crossing shot, as it was important for showing Catherine Tramell's free-spirited nature, and her constant drive to toy with people. Stone was reportedly excited about the idea and shot the scene. However, during the early preview, her agents supposedly disapproved of the scene, fearing it would harm her future career. According to Verhoeven, Stone radically changed her mind about the shot, and demanded that he remove it, which he ultimately refused.
The movie completely ignored DNA, which had been used in criminal investigations since the mid-1980s. The film was set in the year of its release (1992), by which time DNA was constantly being used for crime investigations.
Joe Eszterhas wrote the script in ten days in the 1980s while listening to The Rolling Stones non-stop without even having a story outline. It was first called Love Hurts, but he then sold it three days later at auction as Basic Instinct.
Paul Verhoeven shot copious amounts of footage of the sex scene between Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone. Expecting that the MPAA would have problems with the explicit nature of the scene, he shot alternate close-ups, medium shots and wide shots of virtually every shot over five days. This gave him the freedom to edit the scene until the MPAA was satisfied, and no longer demanded that the scene was deleted altogether.
The scene where Michael Douglas has sex with Jeanne Tripplehorn, was filmed unbeknownst to the performers, who were simply rehearsing the scene. Things heated up quickly, as evidenced by the footage in the final film, and Paul Verhoeven liked the performances so much, that he included it in the final film.
In 2002, Joe Eszterhas apologized in an op-ed for The New York Times, for glamorizing smoking in this movie. Eszterhas was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2000, as was Michael Douglas in 2010 (although Douglas later said he actually had tongue cancer).
Just as Catherine manipulates men, Sharon Stone manipulated Paul Verhoeven to get the role. Back then, Stone wasn't a big name, and didn't read for the part, fearing she'd be disappointed. She finally read the script, and knew she was right for the role, but didn't want to call Verhoeven, whom she had worked with on Total Recall (1990), and ask if she could audition for him. "I wouldn't ask, because I didn't want him to test me, just because he felt obligated," she told Playboy. One day, Verhoeven had her come in to dub lines for an airplane version of Total Recall (1990), so she wore a tight Catherine-esque dress to demonstrate to Verhoeven that she could play the maneater part. "I was being cool. Very cool," she said. "I didn't want him to think I was insane, but I did want to give him a general idea that I could transform myself. Men are visually stimulated, and that's usually enough, at least at first." The dress worked, and Stone tested with Douglas and won the role.
Paul Verhoeven was on record when he first signed to do the film as saying that he wanted to make it the first Hollywood mainstream film with an erect penis in it. He didn't get his wish. But he did get a limp penis on-screen, on Boz's (Bill Cable's) cadaver when the police examine his body.
Paul Verhoeven was so intent on making the sex scenes as explicitly as the censors would allow, that he showed the studio executives very detailed storyboards depicting what he had in mind, as to avoid later discussions about the graphic nature of the love scenes.
Catherine's last name comes from Alan Trammell, the longtime star shortstop for the Detroit Tigers. Sharon Stone discovered that a trammell was a Scottish death shroud, and complimented Joe Eszterhas on his subtlety with the choice, not believing the truth.
While appearing on Inside the Actors Studio (1994), Sharon Stone claimed that she had no idea that Paul Verhoeven was filming up her dress during the interrogation scene. She also claims that when she saw the rushes, she slapped the director across the face, and ordered him to remove the shot. Verhoeven denies this.
There was considerable controversy regarding the sex scene between Nick and Beth. Some critics regarded it as rape, while others said he should have used a condom, due to the AIDS epidemic at the time.
This movie, along with RoboCop (1987), Starship Troopers (1997), and Hollow Man (2000), is one of four separate movie franchises in which the first of their respected series (directed by Paul Verhoeven) were successful, but their sequels (not directed by Verhoeven) all either bombed at the box-office (except RoboCop 2 (1990)), or were released Direct-to-DVD.
One of the main points of disagreement between Paul Verhoeven and Joe Eszterhas concerned Verhoeven's wish to include a lesbian love scene between Catherine Trammell and her lover Roxy, as he considered a movie that only mentioned bisexuality without showing bisexual love, to be overly puritan. Eszterhas considered adding such a scene to be sensationalism. Verhoeven made some attempts, but found that the scene ruined the movie's pace, so he abandoned the idea. The only remnant of the scene in the movie, is when Catherine and Roxy passionately kiss after Nick angrily leaves Catherine's apartment.
Joe Eszterhas and Producer Irwin Winkler walked off the picture after failing to reach agreement with Paul Verhoeven over the script. Verhoeven promptly hired Total Recall (1990) Writer Gary Goldman, to come up with some new scenes, most of which beefed up Michael Douglas's character, and made him less wimpy. These changes were largely made at the behest of Douglas. It was during this later stage, that Verhoeven realized his changes weren't going to work, so he publicly acknowledged his error, and made up with Eszterhas (which Eszterhas admitted to be a rare thing in Hollywood). Problems reoccurred later, when the script had been leaked, and the gay and lesbian communities had serious reservations about the depiction of lesbian and bisexual characters. Eszterhas wanted to make more changes to appease them, but Verhoeven point blank refused to incorporate these changes. Eszterhas again publicly distanced himself from the production, but once again reconciled with Verhoeven when the finished movie was praised by critics and homosexual communities alike.
Joe Eszterhas based Catherine Tramell on a go go dancer he knew in Ohio. One night he picked the stranger up, and they went back to his hotel room to have some fun. "She reached into her purse, and she pulled out a .22 and pointed it at me," he told Nerve. "She said, 'Give me one reason why I shouldn't pull this trigger.' I said, 'I didn't do anything to hurt you. You wanted to come here, and as far as I know, you enjoyed what we just did.' And she said, 'But this is all guys have ever wanted to do with me, and I'm tired of it.' We had a lengthy discussion before she put that gun down."
In an interview with Playboy, Sharon Stone revealed that she didn't feel comfortable around Michael Douglas, and the feeling was probably mutual, but it worked for the movie. "I think that kind of discomfort lends itself to this kind of movie." she said. "Tension is good. I basically didn't get to know Michael. There was something about the mystery of not knowing each other that lent itself to this situation. It's odd, because now I have this very intimate bond with a stranger." Despite that, Stone described working with him as "primal". "It was all about watching him, observing his movements, provoking him. If one were to believe in karma, I would say there is some karmic circle yet unfulfilled between the two of us. Our energy together was strong. It still isn't comfortable for me, but I think it works very well for our work together."
Michael Douglas and Paul Verhoeven both approached the film as if it were a detective novel. Verhoeven wanted to make a modern version of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller, except with a lot more sex, and Douglas agreed with the noir aspect.
The disco scene was felt by many to be inappropriate, given the respective ages of the two stars. The disco was intended for young people, but Sharon Stone was in her mid-thirties, and Michael Douglas was in his late forties.
The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) initially gave this movie an NC-17 rating. The NC-17 was established in 1990 to replace the X rating, due to the latter rating's association with pornography. According to Paul Verhoeven, the MPAA tried to encourage TriStar, the distributor, to not make edits for an R-rating, as they wanted a major film to prove to the American public that the NC-17 rating did not signify pornography. However, TriStar's contract with Verhoeven stipulated an R-rated film; thus forty-five seconds were removed to fulfill these obligations. The NC-17 version was released theatrically overseas, and is available on video in America.
Sharon Stone played the interrogation scene as if she were playing a game. Instead of allowing male law enforcement to intimidate her character, Stone played the role with confidence. "The ruse they use-'We have the power, we're going to show you'-didn't cut the mustard with Catherine," Stone told Playboy. "Her attitude was, 'You're so powerful. Aren't you cute!', and, of course, she had all the power. These men put her in a position where she was alone in a chair in the center of an empty room-surrounded. That would be a very intimidating position, in which to be, unless she disarmed them, which she did. At the police station, she could have been stricken and scared. But instead she thought, 'This is going to be fun. Oh, so you want me to sit in the middle of the room here? Oh, charming. Why is that? You want to make sure you can look up my dress? Okay, you can look up my dress.' It was a game."
When Nick is tailing Catherine Tramell on California Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway), he passes a car bearing the license plate "OUTTA TM", a presumably unintentional reference to the "OUTATIME" license plate in Back to the Future (1985).
In the latter scene, where Beth comes into Nick's apartment and leaves after a verbal altercation, while it seems he is awaken from being heavily intoxicated the movie, Hellraiser (1987) is on the television.
Renée Soutendijk and Amanda Donohoe were considered for the role of Catherine Tramell. Soutendijk had already played a femme fatale in one of Paul Verhoeven's Dutch films, and came very close to getting the part. However, Verhoeven realized that American audiences wouldn't be surprised if a European actress was cast in the part of the wicked and dangerous lady, so he decided that Catherine Tramell should be an "All-American" girl.
Michael Douglas' character has the same first name ("Nick") as his character in Black Rain (1989), in which he also portrayed a cop. Douglas' character in Black Rain (1989) is Detective Nick Conklin, while his character in this film is Detective Nick Curran.
Joe Eszterhas conceived the screenplay in part because Shane Black replaced him as the highest paid screenwriter in Hollywood with his $1.75 million sale of The Last Boy Scout (1991), He quickly committed himself to take back his record and succeeded when Carolco paid him $3 million for the script.
Four of the crew are European; Paul Verhoeven was born in Amsterdam Noord-Holland, Netherlands, Jan De Bont was born in Eindhoven, Noord-Brabant, Netherlands, Producer Alan Marshall was born in London, England, and Joe Eszterhas was born in Csákánydoroszló, Hungary.
This was Paul Verhoeven's first and only film shot in anamorphic Panavision, plus second overall anamorphic feature since Flesh + Blood (1985). Cinematographer Jan De Bont convinced him to shoot this movie in anamorphic 2.39:1. This film was also originally going to be shot in the taller 1.85:1 ratio, because Verhoeven felt that it was an intimate drama, until he realized that the anamorphic format benefited the film composition wise. For example: the precinct scene where Tramell is interviewed had six actors in the frame.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Sharon Stone, when doing the interview circuit, was really annoyed by the fact that everyone always asked her how she felt about all the nudity, when she had real problems with the fact that her character killed someone on-screen. When filming this sequence, a paramedic had to be on standby, as she kept passing out, and suffered nightmares.
When it was first released, the film confused many audience members, who had wildly different impressions of who the killer really was. It wasn't until the director and stars went public in interviews, telling the public who the killer was, and where the clues could be found, that the debate about the ending finally was put to rest.
Gay rights activists were so against the way the gay characters were portrayed, that they blocked the San Francisco set numerous times. Paul Verhoeven had to issue fake call sheets, to trick the protesters into blocking unused locations. When the movie was released, the activists paraded around San Francisco theaters handing out flyers saying, "Catherine did it", to ruin the plot for moviegoers. This didn't seem to have any impact at all, as the movie opened at number one on that same weekend, and went on to become one of the highest-grossing movies of the year.
To get an R-rating, Paul Verhoeven had to re-cut the movie a total of fourteen times. The four scenes demanding the heaviest re-cuts were the murder of Johnny Boz, the "date rape" of Elizabeth Cooper, the sex scene between Nick and Catherine, and the death of Gus.
During an interview with RuPaul and Michelle Visage, Cassandra Peterson (famous for playing Elvira, who was dating Bill Cable at the time), reported that during the scene Bill is stabbed with the ice pick, the ice pick was only supposed to hit the blood packs on Bill's chest, but Sharon Stone got so into the scene, that the ice pick ended up piercing through the blood packs and penetrated Bill Cable's chest underneath in multiple spots. No one was aware at the time, except for Bill, whose screams of pain were real. Bill was later rushed to the emergency room and treated for puncture wounds varying from half an inch to an inch deep. Thankfully, he didn't sustain any serious injuries, but the incident left him with permanent scars on his chest.
It was Catherine Trammel (Sharon Stone) who stabbed Johnny Boz (Bill Cable) at the start of the film. When Catherine is in bed with Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) at the end of the film, he turns away from her briefly to stub out his cigarette. While Nick's back is turned, Catherine starts reaching underneath the bed. Then Nick suddenly turns around, grabs her, and they start making love. Then the camera swoops down and focuses on the ice pick underneath the bed, and the music soars courtesy of Jan De Bont and Composer Jerry Goldsmith respectively. Catherine was obviously intending to kill Nick.
In the original theatrical version, when the police are questioning her at the precinct, has Catherine Tramell answering the question about being the old rocker's girlfriend. She replies in the original dialogue as saying "I like fucking him, we liked fucking each other." Not "I like having sex with him, we liked having sex with each other." You can see Sharon Stone's mouth move in the more explicit language.
One of two movies where Michael Douglas plays a cop named Nick, who has a partner who gets killed. In Black Rain (1989) his partner Charlie, played by Andy Garcia, is decapitated in a parking garage in Japan, after being led in there from someone stealing his coat, after he did a mock bullfight. In this film, Gus (George Dzundza) is stabbed in the neck in the elevator with an ice pick. In both movies, both Nicks deal with Internal Affairs. In Black Rain (1989), Nick Conklin is accused of stealing money from drug dealers to pay off mounting debt. In this film, Nick Curran was undercover trying to bust a drug buy, and shot two tourists accidentally, due to the fact he was using cocaine.
In Xena: Warrior Princess: The Ides of March (1999), the scene, in which Julius Ceaser (Karl Urban) has a nightmare, in which Xena (Lucy Lawless) is having sex with him in a woman-on-top position, and then stabs him with a knife, was a nod to this film, which Catherine Trammell (Sharon Stone) rides a man, and then kills him with a ice pick.