These Secrets About Fatal Attraction Are Not Going to Be Ignored, Dan

It's been 35 years since Glenn Close scared the hell out of Michael Douglas (and many more spouses) in the of-its-time but also timeless Fatal Attraction, which is being remade into a series.

By Natalie Finn Sep 18, 2022 12:00 PMTags
Watch: Glenn Close Reveals What's Inside of Her Costume Closet

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and no pet rabbit stood a chance against Alex Forrest.

It's been 35 years since the release of Fatal Attraction, a psychosexual thriller with a premise so timeless it's coming to Paramount+ in series form, starring Joshua Jackson as the devoted-except-for-that-one-weekend husband Dan Gallagher and Lizzy Caplan as Alex, the fling who refuses to be flung aside.

But in 1987 it was an unforgettable Glenn Close who terrorized Michael Douglas and family in retribution for his casual dismissiveness. And lest you think the box office hit was more salacious sizzle than substance, au contraire: In addition to making more than $320 million worldwide, the film was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director for Adrian Lyne, Best Actress for Close and Best Supporting Actress for Anne Archer, who played Dan's faultless, lovely, super-supportive (Seriously, what was wrong with you, Dan?!) wife Beth.

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Though left out of Fatal Attraction's batch of nominations, Douglas was the only one from that team who took home an Academy Award that year, Best Actor for his turn as Gordon Gekko in Wall Street.

Meanwhile, movies that are all the rage when they come out and are still cultural touchstones decades later are few and far between (Douglas happened to have been in two in 1987), and you don't put such a film together without all sorts of moving parts, fascinating personalities, pivotal decisions and maybe even a few mistakes.

Here are the behind-the-scenes secrets from Fatal Attraction that you'll want to keep from your spouse but will eventually have to tell them about (beware, spoilers ahead:)

The World According to Studio Executives

Neither Michael Douglas nor Glenn Close was anyone's first pick for straying husband Dan Gallagher and sexy psychopath Alex Forrest. Wall Street hadn't come out yet and Douglas, known best for playing a cop on The Streets of San Francisco and a roguish adventurer in Romancing the Stone, wasn't considered a big enough star to open a movie (also despite having won a Best Picture Oscar as a producer of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest).

Douglas, however, won over producers Sherry Lansing and Stanley R. Jaffe and stoically stayed attached to the project for two years while it cycled through directors and they searched for his leading side-lady. (Lansing also stuck with Douglas while the film was in limbo and Oscar winner Dustin Hoffman expressed interest in playing Dan.)

And the filmmakers have admitted they didn't see the almost 40-year-old Close—already a three-time Oscar nominee, but for playing very different kinds of people—as the damaged siren Dan couldn't resist. 

"I just wanted a character that would demand more of me," she told the New York Times in 2017. "I'd never played a character who was supposed to be sexy. I knew I could do it. They were so sure I was wrong. They didn't even want me to read because they were embarrassed."

Added Douglas, "We were doing a big favor for Glenn's agent by letting her read with me. I don't think any of us had high hopes—she's a wonderful actress, but she always projected a Puritan vision. The moment I saw her, I was like, 'Whoa!'"

Unattractive Prospects

Of course no one wanted to make Fatal Attraction at first—isn't that always the case?

In Stephen Galloway's 2012 biography Leading Lady: Sherry Lansing and the Making of a Hollywood Groundbreaker, Lansing recalled then-new head of production at Paramount (and newlywed) Dawn Steel throwing the script across the room, outraged that they even gave it to her, wondering aloud why anyone should care about the fate of Dan Gallagher.

Lansing said she begged Halloween director John Carpenter to take it on, to no avail, "and it wasn't just him," she said. "I begged everyone." Brian De Palma was then attached for awhile, to a version of the script that had more horror elements (including Alex running around in a mask), but when he exited so seemingly went the movie's last hope.

But when British filmmaker Adrian Lyne, who had a hit with Flashdance and knew from steamy cinema having just made 9 1/2 Weeks, got the script, he thought it could be great.

Jaffe was skeptical, having despised 9 1/2 Weeks, but he and Lyne took a meeting and the rest is history.

Hard Pass

Harry Potter actress Miranda Richardson said she turned down the role of Alex—and decades later, she didn't regret it in the slightest.

"I couldn't do it really, that demonizing of lady-kind," the two-time Oscar nominee said in a 2010 appearance on the BBC's Good Food Show. "I'm sure people will say to me, 'Oh, lighten up, it was a good movie,' but having just played someone the press is going to call a murderer, i.e. Ruth Ellis [in 1985's Dance With a Stranger], the last thing you want to do is then play somebody brandishing a knife."

The Goodbye Girls

Richardson apparently wasn't alone in feeling that way.

Australian actress Judy Davis apparently was so appalled she tried to talk Lyne out of making the movie altogether, Lansing recalled in Leading Lady.

Barbara Hershey was Lansing's first choice but had a scheduling conflict, after which Isabelle Adjani, Jessica Lange, Debra Winger, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer were all "considered or turned the role down," according to Galloway, not specifying which. Melanie Griffith was also said to be interested, but while certainly sexy enough, they didn't know if she could pull off dead-serious.

Look Who's Taping

Kirstie Alley also read for Alex and, though that didn't work out (she ended up joining Cheers in 1987), she fatefully brought with her a recording of phone calls from a woman who had stalked her then-husband Parker Stevenson. She gave the tape to Lyne.

"You could hear the woman crying," Lansing recalled in Leading Lady, "and you could hear people talking downstairs as she begged to be part of this man's life. Adrian ended up using it verbatim in the scene where Dan listens to Alex's tape."

All Too Real

Fatal Attraction wasn't based on a true story, but screenwriter James Dearden—who also directed the 1980 short film, Diversion, that attracted Lansing and Jaffe to the bigger project—was inspired by real-life toxic relationships.

"I'm not going to say [the story] was autobiographical," Dearden told Galloway, "but everyone has been in situations where they've been harassed. I had an experience where somebody kept calling me, and I got very uncomfortable. And I had a girlfriend who cut her wrists, very theatrically and not to kill herself. Then a good friend of mine was pursued by this beautiful but crazy woman and it was destroying his marriage."

While it had nothing to do with Dearden's script, Lansing recalled to Galloway also being obsessed at the time with the  murder case of Jean Harris, a headmistress at a Virginia boarding school who fatally shot her lover in 1980. She maintained at trial that it was an accident, but was convicted. (Then-New York Gov. Mario Cuomo commuted her prison sentence in 1992 and she was released; she died in 2012 at the age of 89.)

But as she would wonder about Alex Forrest, Lansing thought about Harris, "What did he do to her psyche to make her snap?"

Don't Read So Much Into It

The film's antagonist was originally named Sean before it was changed to Alex, prompting rumors, Dearden recalled to Galloway, that he had based the character on Blade Runner actress Sean Young after the two had an affair.

"I didn't have an affair with her," the writer said, "and I didn't base the character on her." 

Moving Target

The title of the film also changed during production, from Diversion to Affairs of the Heart to, finally, Fatal Attraction.


There wasn't much of a description for Alex's behavior other than "crazy" or "psychotic." Admittedly it's part of the horrific premise, that a person who seemed "normal" can go off the rails in such an extreme way so quickly, but the discussion about mental health and people so obviously in crisis—onscreen and off—has evolved monumentally since 1987. Even when the film was made, however, Close—an advocate for mental health awareness who has talked candidly about depression—knew there was more to her character than what the audience was privy to.

So in lieu of it being in the script, she gave herself a backstory. 

"The research I did with psychiatrists, even though they didn't bring up a particular mental illness, we decided that she had been [a victim of incest] at a very, very early age by her father, long enough to really damage her," Close told People TV in 2018. "That was the woman I was playing."

What a Roller Coaster

Ellen Gallagher, Dan and Beth's bunny-loving daughter who gets unwittingly mixed up in Alex's twisted game, was played by 6-year-old Ellen Latzen, the child making her acting debut after her mom brought her to an open casting call. 

Considering what was asked of her, maybe she should have been Oscar-nominated.

"I was instructed not to speak," Latzen recalled to the New York Times in 2017 of shooting the heartbreaking moment when Ellen sees her parents fighting. "I was standing there with Uni, my own stuffed animal. Michael came up to me and said: 'Look at that stupid unicorn. I'm going to throw it in the garbage.' As you watch the scene, you can see I'm trying really hard to fight back tears. Finally, he was just yelling at me. I couldn't hold it in anymore. Adrian said, 'Cut!' Immediately, Michael ran to me and held me, and said, 'I'm so sorry.' It was pretty intense."

Latzen, now 42, added a handful of titles to her resume, including an episode of Family Ties and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, playing Cousin Eddie's daughter Ruby Sue, but her last credit came in 1997 as she moved away from acting—but should nostalgia strike, you can find her on Cameo.

A Real Pot Boiler

Sorry, that was a real rabbit in the pot that Beth finds cooking on the stove. However, it was purchased from a butcher so no live animals were harmed in the making of the film.

But guess what? That iconic scene, referenced countless times by other film and TV characters, let alone whoever's talked about it in real life, could have been even more traumatic!

"Initially, I had her grilling the bunny," Dearden told The New York Times. "But I thought that was too grotesque. So we boiled the bunny instead."

And it was still pretty bad. "The stench was unbearable," Lyne told the Times. "It permeated the whole house."

What Could Have Been—and What Might Still Be

The film's "happy" ending in which Beth Gallagher is the one to vanquish Alex for good was not the original plan for those characters.

In the first, even darker version, Alex dies by suicide in a manner that leads detectives to suspect Dan killed her—though she had also made a recording threatening to kill herself, which she sent to Dan and Beth eventually finds, so we're meant to hope that'll help his case (unless Beth changes her mind on the way to the police station and decides to let her husband rot, whichever). The last shot is a haunting glimpse of Alex starting to cut her own throat while Madama Butterfly plays in the background.

Lyne knew audiences didn't like it but he wonders to this day if it's salvageable. He suggested to Radio Times in March that perhaps the upcoming Paramount+ series could work with the idea.

"The original operatic ending felt flat and, watching it with an audience, it was clear it didn't work," the director said. "Maybe they can improve on it again, who knows?" But in any case, he noted of the streaming remake, "I'm flattered that they've gone back to it."

The Heart Wants What It Wants

Audiences at test screenings were applauding every time Beth told Alex over the phone, "If you come near my family again, I'll kill you," Lansing recalled.

So, higher-ups at Paramount reasoned, they should give the people what they wanted.

Close thought the original ending suited her character, "but I think because Anne Archer was beautiful and so wonderful and Michael was this star that everybody loved," she told People TV, "it was so upsetting to everybody. That even though I killed myself," she added with a laugh, "it wasn't punishment enough."

Also, Close continued, "the audience wanted to believe that that family might be able to survive. So they got their catharsis by shedding my blood."

Seeing the Forrest for the Trees

Close can talk sanguinely about it now, but when she was first called upon to reshoot the ending of Fatal Attraction, six months after they wrapped, she refused.

"I fought it for two weeks," she told the NY Times. "It was going to make a character I loved into a murdering psychopath. I was in a meeting with Michael, Stanley and Adrian. I was furious! I said to Michael, 'How would you feel if it were your character?' He said, 'Babe, I'm a whore.'"

As in, he did what the people paying him told him to do. "Yes, I said something to that effect," Douglas agreed.

But though Close held out the longest, she wasn't the only one who resisted—Lyne didn't want to do it either, saying that was giving in to the "lowest common denominator," Lansing (who agreed with the director) said. The filmmakers were ultimately offered $1.5 million for a reshoot and a promise that, if they didn't like what came out of it, they didn't have to use it.

Archer, for her part, liked the original ending and the performance she'd given in it. "I burst into tears," she told Galloway. "My whole life and career and heart were on my sleeve."

A Pointed Souvenir

Conflicted feelings about her character (and the treatment of her) aside, Close kept the huge prop kitchen knife Alex wields so menacingly in the film.

"It's hanging up behind me as I speak, on the wall of my kitchen," she told the NY Times. "It's beautiful, made of wood and paper. It's a work of art! And it's nice for our guests to see it. It lets them know they can't stay forever."

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