Triumph of the Ill

Trash Talking With Mad Scientist Paul Verhoeven

Verhoeven, who relocated to the States at 47 after a two-decade career in Holland (he started by making documentaries for the Royal Dutch Navy), says he remains an alienated populist. "I may have judged the American audience wrongly, over- or underestimated them, but never because I'm trying to make movies for an esoteric circle. Even in Holland, I was working for a general audience, and perhaps it was easier because it was my own culture. In the States, it's easier to grapple in the wrong direction—perhaps I'm a bit more different from the audience than is good for my movies."

The potential for misunderstanding could reach new heights if Verhoeven gets around to making his longtime pet project, a movie about the life of Jesus. "That's a dangerous project—beyond the critics, it's physically dangerous, as we know from the people who shoot abortion doctors." The film will attempt to place the life of Jesus "in the political context of Israel at that time being occupied by the Romans," which he intends to parallel with the political climate in Holland under German occupation. He sums it up: "An occupying power, a collaborating elite, the people suffering, and some man who at the moment says, 'Hey, there is a way out of this.' " Other possible undertakings sound almost as controversy-prone. He has optioned the rights to Barbara Goldsmith's book Other Powers, about the 19th-century feminist Victoria Woodhull ("She was a proponent of free love—a promiscuous, vital woman"), with Nicole Kidman attached to star. He is also developing a Cold War thriller titled Official Assassins, has long been toying with the idea of a Young Hitler biopic, and might consider directing the sequel to Basic Instinct.

As Verhoeven is well aware, the blanket critical animosity that greets his movies tends to pave the way for revisionist kudos. "I was at a press junket last week and when I left the room, some of the participants would pass by and whisper, 'I like Showgirls.' They wouldn't say it in public of course. People also seem to appreciate Starship Troopers more now." With a hint of knowing provocation, he offers a suitably outrageous analogy: "There's been a tiny resurrection after the crucifixion."

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