What the Hell Happened to Linda Fiorentino?
Linda Fiorentino was a rising star and a major sex symbol in the mid-nineties. She scored critical acclaim with her role as a femme fatale in the neo noir film, The Last Seduction. And then she achieved mainstream success in the sci-fi comedy blockbuster, Men in Black. A few short years later amid rumors of difficult behavior, Fiorentino’s career had cooled to the point where she essentially retired.
What the hell happened?
Let’s get this out of the way up front. This one is a bit frustrating. Fiorentino is one of those actresses who has a reputation for being difficult. Difficult actors and actresses typically make for the best articles filled with stories about on-set temper tantrums and outrageous demands. These are the articles that are the most fun to write. They keep readers coming back for more. In short, I love out of control actors like Stephen Seagal loves cake.
Unfortunately, despite Fiorentino’s reputation, there really aren’t a lot of stories out there to back it up. Only one person has ever really gone on record to claim that Fiorentino was a pain in the ass to work with. And that person was Kevin Smith. Over the years, Smith has transitioned from a promising film maker into a public speaker who is better known for his feuds than his movies. If Kevin Smith has talked shit about you, you’re in good company. It’s hardly an exclusive club.
So while I will entertain the theory that Fiorentino’s promising career was undone by her difficult behavior, I don’t have a lot of hard evidence to back it up. The truth of the matter is that Fiorentino’s career remains a bit of an unsolved mystery. Most of the internet has latched on to the “difficult” explanation because it’s what we all want to believe and there isn’t a lot out there to contradict it.
With that out of the way, let’s go back to the beginning. Fiorentino was part of a large Catholic family. She was born in Philly and raised in New Jersey. Fiorentino admitted that she was “trouble” in high school where she was banned from senior prom for smoking in school. After high school, she got her BA in political science. She contemplated law school but decided to pursue acting instead. While she struggled with landing her first role, she was a bartender opposite a then-unknown Bruce Willis.
Fiorentino got her big break in 1985 opposite Matthew Modine in the coming-of-age drama, Vision Quest.
Modine played a high school wrestler who decides to drop two weight classes in order to challenge an undefeated opponent. His coach and teammates oppose the idea due to the potential health risks of his radical weight loss routine. Fiorentino plays an older woman who rents a room in his house. Naturally, Modine’s character falls for her and their relationship proves a distraction from his wrestling goals.
Vision Quest also featured Madonna in her big screen debut. She tested the limits of her acting skills by playing a singer who performs the song Crazy for You at a bar. As Madonna was a rising star at the time, her performance was heavily marketed. In some countries, Vision Quest was renamed Crazy For You. Modine has commented that the title Vision Quest was probably more appropriate for a science fiction movie than a coming-of-age story about a romantic wrestler.
Vision Quest was produced by team of Jon Peters and Peter Guber who had a great deal of success two years prior with Flashdance. Vision Quest was clearly intended to duplicate the success of that film. While it did not enjoy the break-out success of Flashdance, Vision Quest was a modest success with critics and audiences. It has developed a cult following among fans of amateur wrestling.
Just a few months later, Fiorentino starred opposite Anthony Edwards in the action-comedy, Gotcha.
Edwards played a college student who plays an assassination game with paintball guns. He and his roommate travel to Europe for vacation where Edwards meets a Czechoslovakian spy played by Fiorentino. They become romantically involved which leads Edwards into a complicated espionage plot.
Reviews were mostly negative and the movie was not a hit at the box office. But like Vision Quest, it has developed a cult following on cable. It even inspired a toy line and a video game.
Starring in two movies would be a big debut year for any actress. But Fiorentino wasn’t done yet. Later that year, she had a small but memorable supporting role in Martin Scorsese’s dark comedy, After Hours.
After Hours starred Griffin Dunne as a meek word processor who meets a girl played by Rosanna Arquette in a coffee shop. Later that night, Dunne decides to pay Arquette a visit in her Soho apartment where he meets her roommate played by Fiorentino, a sculptress who makes paperweights that resemble bagels. From there, Dunne goes on a series of late night misadventures. Spoiler warning, the following trailer gives away an important plot point:
Fiorentino’s role is a small one. As such, she barely appears in the trailer. Here is a clip of Fiorentino and Dunne:
After Hours was at least partially based on a monologue that appeared on the radio show, NPR Playhouse. Plot points and even some dialogue are lifted directly from Joe Frank’s 1982 monologue “Lies”. Frank later sued the film’s producers and received a large cash settlement.
Originally, Scorsese was unavailable to direct After Hours. Tim Burton was the producer’s second choice. However, Burton stepped aside when Scorsese became available due to production delays on The Last Temptation of Christ. At the time, Scorsese was at a career crossroads. In the 70s, Scorsese had made a name for himself with gritty dramas like Mean Streets and Taxi Driver. In the 80s, the director struggled with big budget disappointments like New York, New York, The Last Waltz and The King of Comedy. (The critically revered Raging Bull helped keep Scorsese relevant).
Scorsese said he observed that Hollywood movies were becoming increasingly commercial. So he sought to reinvent himself with the edgy, low-budget comedy, After Hours. He borrows heavily from the likes of Hitchcock and Kafka giving the movie a twitchy paranoia. Despite mostly positive reviews, audiences didn’t know what to make of After Hours. It is largely considered to be one of Scorsese’s most under-rated movies.
Next: The Moderns and Shout
Posted on January 4, 2014, in Movies, What the Hell Happened?, WTHH Actress and tagged dogma, Kevin Smith, Linda Fiorentino, Men in Black, The Last Seduction, vision quest. Bookmark the permalink. 65 Comments.