Glenn Close hated the new ending. So did Sherry Lansing and director Adrian Lyne. So why’d they change it?
If you hate the ending to Fatal Attraction, you’re not alone. Glenn Close, the film’s villainous star, hated it too—so much that she got into a shouting match with co-star Michael Douglas about it.
Sherry Lansing, the former head of Paramount Pictures, reveals this fascinating Hollywood lore in a new biography of her by Stephen Galloway, Leading Lady, excerpted by The Hollywood Reporter. (Galloway is the magazine’s executive features editor.) The classic thriller, about a man and woman (Dan and Alex, played by Douglas and Close) who have a torrid love affair, only for the woman to go spiraling into obsession, originally had a much different ending: a “redeeming finale” that put the movie firmly on Alex’s side, Galloway writes. In the original kicker, Dan is framed for murder and carted away by police. Alex later leaves Dan’s wife, Beth (Anne Archer), a message that exonerates her husband for the supposed crime without exonerating him for his affair.
But that didn’t cut it with test audiences, according to studio exec Ned Tanen: “They want us to terminate the bitch with extreme prejudice,” he told the Fatal Attraction team—referring to Alex. In other words, viewers did not want to see Alex live to see the end of the movie.
At the time, director Adrian Lyne was repulsed at the idea of changing the ending. The excerpt recalls how Tanen talked him into it with a savvy deal, offering the director an extra $1.5 million to shoot the new concept. Who would reject that? “I would later use that tactic constantly whenever I was at an impasse with a filmmaker,” Lansing says in the book.
Then it was time to convince the actors—a rather more difficult ordeal. Douglas was immediately onboard. Archer, though, __ was “appalled,” Lansing recalls, and “burst into tears.” Close was even more staunchly against the new ending: “She felt sympathy for Alex, a woman battling mental illness, and fiercely resisted cliches about another female psycho. And so she categorically refused to do the reshoot.”
“Glenn said, ‘You can take me in a straitjacket, but you can’t make me do it,’ ” remembers James Dearden, who created the short film on which Fatal Attraction was based. Michael Douglas then tried to persuade his co-star, telling Close that the new ending “may not be the best for your character, but it’s best for the movie.’ ”
That line didn’t work at all. “I remember screaming at Michael, ‘How would you feel if they did this to your character?’ ” Close recalls in Leading Lady. “He said, ‘Babe, I’m a whore.’ [Finally] I called William Hurt, and he said, ‘You’ve made your point. Now it’s your responsibility to buck up and just do it.’
Close went ahead and filmed the new ending—in which her character gets drowned by Dan, then finally shot by Beth—though she still didn’t like it. The star also got the short end of the stick during shooting, getting her head dunked in the bathtub over 50 times, which gave her an infection in her eyes and nose. Fatal Attraction went on to become a box-office success. It also earned six Oscar nominations, including acting nods for Close and Archer, and a best-picture nod.
Of course, Close’s instincts about the film’s negative portrayal of her character (and subsequent violent ending) were spot-on. Fatal Attraction was heavily criticized for its seemingly sexist slant, and was particularly lambasted by feminists for its portrait of Alex as a crazed career woman. All these years later, those critics might be glad to know that Close was on their side the whole time.