Google Elizabeth Hurley and nearly every biographical account indexed glides right past her three-decade-plus acting career to focus on one of three things: Her yearslong modeling contract with Estée Lauder, her 13-year relationship with Hugh Grant and its protracted public demise, and that one safety-pin dress she wore to the premiere of Four Weddings and a Funeral. Hurley, 57, did indeed star in her fair share of little-seen TV movies (The Shamrock Conspiracy?) and critical flops (Serving Sara, Bad Boy, et al.) over that time. But the good acting work Hurley put out otherwise was overshadowed by a relentless interest in her personal life and classically good looks. She came up during a time when it was appropriate for Larry King to say things like “Do you think you intimidate men with the way you look? And you do that little thing with your fingers in your mouth?” on live television.
Which brings us to Bedazzled, Harold Ramis’s 2000 remake of Stanley Donen’s 1967 movie about a man (Dudley Moore) who makes a Faustian bargain with the devil (Peter Cook). Hurley plays Satan in the form of a saucy bitch whose primary goal is to convince the sad-sack proto-incel Brendan Fraser (typically fantastic and perfectly pathetic here) to give up his soul in exchange for seven wishes, all of which go horribly awry by the devil’s design. Hurley is an irreverent delight in a role that seems written specifically as a commentary on her public image. She’s wickedly funny and slyly mischievous and, yes, glamorously sexy, but in a way that plays with the perception of her as a wanton temptress (and cleverly pivots off of her previous performance as double agent Vanessa Kensington in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery). Stalking across the screen in a series of incredible outfits — a two-piece red-leather suit, a huge red fur coat with matching knee-high boots — she gleefully toys with Fraser and her audience all at once.
At the time, much of that subtext was ignored; reading the press around the film is an exercise in early-2000s absurdity. Here’s one interview intro, in The Morning Call: “The topic is supposed to be Bedazzled. But it’s another ‘B’ word that is on Elizabeth Hurley’s mind this bright, sunny October morning. Breakup.” (She was five months removed from her official split with Grant.) And a line from a review in the Chicago Tribune: “Decked out in skintight leather, snakeskin and sheathes so tight they look poured on, Hurley certainly has the stuff to inspire millions of evil thoughts. But … is she good enough — or bad enough — for Bedazzled?” Some reviewers did nod to Hurley’s undersung comedic skills (“At her frequent best, she comes off as a lip-smacking, feline caricature of Joan Collins,” per Variety) and shrewd sense of pastiche (“Her performance is a sneaky tribute to Mr. Cook’s arch English naughtiness, even as her get-up recalls Raquel Welch’s cameo in the original film as the incarnation of lust,” wrote the New York Times), but Bedazzled still became a relative footnote in the careers of its stars and director. Hurley has since carved out a cozy niche for herself as a TV actress (The Runaways, Gossip Girl) and a star of gentle Christmas rom-coms (her latest, Christmas in the Caribbean, is out now). On the eve of that film’s premiere — and, coincidentally, the premiere of her beloved co-star Fraser’s career-resurgence-vehicle The Whale — I called her up to look back in time and get justice for Bedazzled.
Where were you in your life and career when Bedazzled came your way?
It was not too long after where I’d still been auditioning for things. Gradually, as an actor, there’s this wonderful change where you don’t have to audition anymore and you get offered stuff. Austin Powers, which I’d shot just before this, was a straight offer, and then I had lots of offers in a row. But this was a really big studio film. I suddenly got the call to come have a chat with the now-late Harold Ramis, the director, who was just this wonderful man. “They want you to play the devil with Brendan Fraser!”
I flew to L.A. and had this lovely chat with Harold and we agreed to go ahead. It was a really exciting time. It was such a big part, and Brendan Fraser was such a big star, and Harold was such a huge guy — and it was shooting for Fox, on the Fox soundstage every day. It’s very exciting when you drive through those big studio gates for the first time. It was a long time ago now, just over 20 years. So much has changed and so much has happened since then. But I remember it being such an exciting time of my career to have been offered that — to have been at that stage.
Do you think the role in Austin Powers cemented you as an actress who could do that sort of comedy?
It could well have been, yeah. Because Austin Powers is a very funny movie, and it also had a lot of heart. Even though it was made as sort of a small, slightly strange movie, it really hit a nerve and people loved it. It became very successful, of course, and they went on to make two more. I think it helped a lot.
I got that because Mike Myers had seen me on a talk show, and when he saw the talk show, apparently he said, “That’s my Vanessa Kensington!” I do think things always have a knock-on effect.
Before Austin Powers, you were doing mostly TV, dramas, and period pieces in England, right? Tell me about trying to make the transition to American film.
Very often when English actresses start to work, you have the wide-eyed, innocent, ingenue roles — the English rose. I did a lot of that. I started off working on the BBC, doing mostly period pieces. I was in the pilot of the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles; I did a little bit of theater. Then I came to America and did my first studio film, Passenger 57, with Wesley Snipes playing the villain. I struggled a bit with small parts here and there, some TV, some movies, and I started to produce at the same time. Then I started to get much nicer parts. When I was offered Austin Powers, I was in Morocco with Dennis Hopper filming a show called Samson and Delilah, and I played Delilah. That was fantastic.
You said on Larry King at the time that the role in Bedazzled “horrified” you at first. What horrified you about it?
I think it was because there was a lot of comedy, and it was quite important. It was also a remake. The devil was actually played by a man in that, so there was no correlation to the movie that we made, but it was still out there as a classic for people who happened to love Dudley and Peter. It was daunting.
But once you accept a part, and you start to talk to the director and work on how you think you can play it — work out the look with the costume designer, work out your “lair,” in my case — it’s less so. And Brendan and I ended up having such a good rapport. We were very well cast against each other. He was playing a massive nerd, and I was this very manipulative person. This is where it gets a bit metaphysical and silly — the devil had decided that in order to ensnare Brendan’s character, she should appear as this seductive woman. The whole thing sounds absurd to talk about.
Do you know why Harold cast you specifically?
I think Harold and his writing partner had this vision of how they thought Brendan’s character could be ensnared. They said they wanted me, which was particularly flattering because, I won’t say names, but there were other actresses who really wanted that part. At that time, I was like, I can’t believe you didn’t give it to them! Wow. I don’t know why they wanted me.
So it is out there that you were up against Uma Thurman, Julianne Moore, and Madonna.
[Long pause.] [Grins slightly.] There were other people who wanted the role.
Ramis was quoted as saying: “I was told by Madonna’s agent that Madonna is the devil, which is why she’d be perfect for the role. But I was thinking of who was the baddest, most beautiful woman in Hollywood. And I came up with Elizabeth.”
Thank you, I think? [Laughs.]
What does “baddest” mean to you in this context?
Well, there’s really bad people in movies: child killers, rapists. And then you have “Hollywood glamour bad,” which means they’re naughty and manipulative and cunning. I did go through a very long time, which I’m not entirely out of, where I play people who are “bad” but not killer bad. In Gossip Girl, I did a season where I played a character called Diana Payne, who was definitely bad. I did four years on The Royals on E!, playing yet again that type of character. I played the queen of England, and my queen was bad; she always thought she was doing everything for the greater good but in fact was immoral. I did a season of Runaways for Marvel and played Morgan le Fay, who, again, is bad but with charm. That’s the sort of bad that I can play quite well.
What is it about you that makes directors consistently want to cast you as both charming and naughty?
I don’t know! All those shows and movies are American, and I think Americans can see British people as playing good villains, once you get beyond the English rose age. You’re American — why do we make good villains? We always think Americans could be, in some cases, easier to read in that they tend to say it how it is. Whereas the English character is a little harder to read because we can say one thing and mean exactly the opposite. If you’re not English, you may not necessarily get that. But I think it comes across onscreen sometimes, which means you probably think we’re all duplicitous and not straight-up. And you could be right.
I was reading a lot of the press and reviews around Bedazzled and there were all of these backhanded compliments to you about the interplay between how you look and your acting. For example: “Elizabeth Hurley is more than just a pretty face,” “Hurley gets to deliver her share of zingers, but her main purpose in Bedazzled is to look great in a succession of eye-catching ensembles.” Do you remember noticing that at the time? Were you bugged by it at all?
My mother has kept a roomful of press cuttings about me, and during lockdown, my son and I helped her get everything out. We organized it and put it into years. My son found this absolutely fascinating; he took months and read every single thing. He’d show me things and we were absolutely shocked at the sort of things people used to say. Newspapers used to be so rude about women — they’d call them fat and point out lumps of cellulite with arrows. I’d forgotten, but for my son, who’s only 20, he was like, “My God, they were brutal!” I don’t know if somebody could say that sort of thing now. At the time, because it was the norm, I suppose I didn’t really bat an eyelid. It wasn’t meant as a put-down, I don’t think. Maybe just something people thought and said, and now, maybe people think it and just don’t say it?
In an interview, Larry King asked you if you think you “intimidated men.” A lot of the reviews hinted at that idea, too.
For my generation, I guess something like that wouldn’t have been meant in a mean spirit. I don’t think he was meaning to be offensive. I think he was a generation older than me; at that time, girls were patted on the head and patted on the bottom. By the way, he never patted me on the head or the bottom. But it was much more of that time.
Watching the film with that context in mind, I was curious if you were intentionally playing with that idea, that perception of you, with your performance.
It’s so absurd to talk about, but the conceit of the film is the devil wants somebody’s soul, and what will they do to get it? You prey on weakness, like you would as a bad person in real life if you wanted something from somebody. And Brendan’s character is a nerd who’s terrified of girls, who’s never had a girlfriend. Therefore, bingo, you get a girl telling him he’s fabulous, licking his ear, and you turn him into putty. That is just the conceit, and that was my part to play. To completely discombobulate him, someone like me heaving all over him with lips and eyes and bosom, to turn this nerd. Would it work in real life? What do you think?
I think you and I both know that we probably could turn a nerd’s eye that way.
I read that you changed the wardrobe — that you wanted it to be different from the original conception and a lot of it ended up being from your own closet. Is that true?
Yes. I think the initial concept on my first meeting with the lovely Deena Appel — who designed the Austin Powers costumes, too, so I knew her very well — they’d had the idea of her being dressed in black and gothic and quite witchlike. And when I thought about that, I just realized that wasn’t going to be the look to get this guy’s soul. When I saw how Brendan was going to play it, I knew that gothic and black would scare him. What he needed was the pinup. He needed the woman he looked at in magazines and went “Cor!” So we went, Let’s do slinky dresses, slinky eye makeup. Let’s be this fantasy woman that he’s seeing on adverts for cars. Versace made some costumes. Fendi made some costumes. Patrick Cox made some costumes. We got some beautiful stuff.
Do you have any of it still?
All of it.
Do you have a costume room?
No. And this is something my son tells me off for. I still have them in the suitcase I flew back from L.A. in, in the attic, 20 years later. “You gotta get them out, they could have moths!”
Tell me about your relationship with Brendan on set. You said in some interviews that you would “torment” him on set. How so?
Yeah, I did a bit. In the best possible way. I just met up with Brendan again in England, when he came over for a screening of The Whale. I haven’t seen him since, but we adored each other. He’s such a great guy and quite shy in real life. Obviously his character is very shy, too, and obviously my character tortured him onscreen, so I did torture and tease him a bit, in the best possible way. In fact, I reminded him of this when I saw him the other day: At the end of the movie, it’s traditional that leading characters give each other little gifts. There was a scene, and I actually can’t remember if it’s deleted, where I gave him a little bell and my line was, “Just call and I’ll appear.” And at the end of filming, he gave me this little Victorian silver bell. I had that little bell on my dining room table — not that I have anyone to call with my bell, by the way — and I see it every single day. I think of Brendan every single day. It just says, “Ring and I’ll be there,” or something else so sweet.
And you hadn’t seen each other since filming until just the other day?
No, we passed some messages between mutual friends, if we had a mutual friend on a job: “Oh, tell him I love him!” It was lovely to see him again.
Are you following the Brendan Fraser renaissance?
The thing is, Brendan never really went away. He always worked. Sometimes that happens with actors — you don’t happen to be doing massive jobs that everyone knows about. But he certainly worked; I had a lot of friends who worked with him on things over the years. Having him now back at the top is just fantastic. He never deserved to leave it. He was and is a brilliant actor. To have that again and to find that part where he really shows everybody what they fell in love with the first time around is just fabulous. That’s a Hollywood story.
There’s a lot going on in Bedazzled in terms of settings and CGI and special effects. Does any scene stand out to you as particularly difficult to film?
I don’t remember anything being too complicated. Those were the days when you had a lot of time to shoot a movie, unlike now, when you shoot them really fast. It was all shot on film, not digital yet. It’s funny. On Runaways a few years ago, my first scene was a CGI scene, and I was in my full Morgan le Fay costume, a skintight catsuit, with hair and eyes and all of that stuff. And there was a man putting a wind machine on me. I walked off the set, and he said, “You know what? Exactly 20 years ago, I held a wind machine on you in Bedazzled, and you were wearing a catsuit and I was doing your hair.” I was like, “Oh my God. Nothing changes.”
You clearly have a wheelhouse.
It’s hysterical, isn’t it? When I’m 80, am I going to be in a catsuit getting my hair blown out?
Some of the funniest responses to Bedazzled were from Christian critics. Christianity Today had a roundup of Christian reviewers, many of whom liked the film because it confirmed that God existed and also that the devil was bad. But one critic wrote, “On closer inspection, humanistic theology and spiritual smokescreens turn it into a monster. Quite literally, Elliot conquers Satan and earns his salvation with his own strength. And God is just another guy in the park with a few good ideas.” Did you think or discuss on set at all, “I hope Christians love this!”
Whether it’s God and the devil, or good and evil, it does tap into something which I do think is irrefutably true: Some people are a really bad influence and can really manipulate people. Are they evil? Maybe. And not walking down the path with the devil is probably a good idea. But I’m not sure I thought about what Christians would think. I didn’t get quite that far in my thinking. But actually, there was nothing for them to object to!
What’s a Faustian bargain you would make?
I don’t think I could give up my soul.
After this film, how did you want or see your career going versus the way that it actually went?
I did a movie with Matthew Perry, which, funnily enough, has been talked a little about in the press again because of his book. And after that, I got pregnant. Then I had my baby and retired for eight years. I didn’t work at all. I moved back to England, and I started Elizabeth Hurley Beach, which I still do. I did one other movie after I had my son, which was an independent movie shot in Romania, and it was so difficult having the baby, nanny, granny on-set, six-day weeks. I never saw my son. On my one day off, I was so tired and had to learn all my lines for the next week. I thought, This is not a life for my child. Knowing there was a chance I’d never come back, I said, “I can’t do it. I’m going to wait until he’s 8.” There’s an old Catholic saying: “If you show me the boy at 8, I can show you a man for the rest of his life.” They’re really formative years, and I just didn’t want him to be away, out of school, in trailers with tutors. And I certainly didn’t want to leave him because I was a single mother.
So you stepped back for that whole time? When did you decide to come back?
I didn’t work for eight years. I feel incredibly privileged and lucky that when I said, Okay, I can come back to work again, I could and did. Also, when I came back, I was in my 40s, which is a time when you’re not offered a ton of work. You’ve left the leading-lady age group and you’re looking at mom roles. Some of it is personal luck, but also, the way the times have moved, people are more interested in hearing stories from all age groups. It’s just not as young-centric as it used to be. You have great TV shows, whether it’s Ozark or Dead to Me, where people my age are protagonists leading these fabulous stories. That’s contributed to the fact that since I’ve gone back to work, I’ve worked nonstop. I have tons of projects and I couldn’t be happier. I didn’t expect that to happen.
And now you’re making several Christmas rom-coms. How did you get into that space?
My current film, Christmas in the Caribbean, wouldn’t have been made 20 years ago. This is a woman my age who never found her man or had children. At the top of this movie — which is a light, frothy, easy movie; it’s what it is, a Christmas romance — she’s jilted at the altar, goes to the Caribbean, and she falls in love with someone who’s already got a family. Instead of a girl in her 20s meeting a fabulous-looking boy in their 20s and they get married and bells ring, it’s later on.
There’s so much fabulous TV and movies available at home. This has a lot to do with streaming. It tended to be that young people went to the cinema and older people tended to stay home more. So many movies were driven toward that young and often male market, and now I think everyone is seeing that there are a ton of people who want to watch all sorts of stories. TV movies used to have a really bad connotation; they weren’t as glamorous. But it’s opened up a whole new avenue for my generation of women. It’s no longer just mummies and daddies slapping food in front of the kids who go off to have an adventure while they tie an apron around their waist. Plus there are more female writers, directors, and they’re not going to write screenplays with nine males to one female part. I think that’s a sign of the times. I’m benefitting from it — and I’m loving it.
Do you prefer this era of your career, then, to the earlier years?
I wouldn’t say that’s entirely accurate. I’m having a great time now, but I loved it then.
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