Q: Some people might be surprised to know that this ‘90s cult classic has roots in late 18th century France. Can you tell us more about the origins of Cruel Intentions and what about this story made you want to want to direct it?
A: So here’s the deal - the epistolary novel Les Liaisons dangereuses, published in France in 1782, was a scandalous, salacious, and wildly popular piece of writing in its time. It documents the schemes of two fictional French aristocrats as they seek revenge by way of seduction and manipulation of those around them - ultimately resulting in their downfall. This story was and continues to be revolutionary, because it is a morality tale that centers blatantly duplicitous characters with complex and mysterious motivations. Basically, it was popular because it was both hot AND subversive.
(And let’s admit it, we humans have a cheeky affinity for stories that show us our shameless inner demons, let them run amok, and then ensure that they get their comeuppance. It’s satisfying and it’s fun!)
Famously, Christopher Hampton adapted the novel for his award-winning 1985 play Dangerous Liaisons (starring Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan) and subsequent 1988 movie adaptation of that play (starring Glenn Close, John Malkovich, Michelle Pfeiffer, and young Uma Thurman and Keanu Reeves).
Cruel Intentions is an iconically 90’s adaptation of this story, and has achieved a cult following all it’s own. Upon its release, Cruel Intentions had much the same reaction as the original French novel did - it was considered risqué and vulgar, and also everyone was watching it behind closed doors!!! It was the movie you were not supposed to let you parents know you had seen. The movie was provocative, elegant, horrible, sexy, and unashamed. The boldness of it was intoxicating and frankly, a helluva lot of fun! In fact, I was talking to someone just the other day, and the show came up in conversation, and the simple mention of the title brought a huge smile and laugh to their face. They said it was one of their absolute favorite movies! It holds a special place for a lot of people.
In the work of preparing to direct this production, I felt it was important to look at the various adaptations of this story. What stuck out to me was that each time a mainstream variation of Dangerous Liaisons popped up, it seemed to be around or preceding some sort of societal breaking point. Even the original French novel itself only just preceded the French Revolution. In just the past year alone, there has been a modern movie adaptation released on Netflix and also a prequel television series to the original 1782 novel released by Starz. So clearly, we are interested in this story right now - there is a demand for it. Which makes me wonder, what are we as a society interested in getting out of this story? Why is this story back in the zeitgeist? I have many thoughts, some of which have been profoundly personal and others are widely global.
On a practical note, the ‘90s are back in a big way right now in pop culture. I think there is a nostalgia for a simpler time before Twitter and Amazon and Zoom. It is a time that is still fresh enough in our memories, but is also far enough away to conjure feelings for many of childhood comfort and youth - myself included. And how can you not mention the absolutely iconic fashion and music of the 90’s?!
On a more intellectual note, if we are to look at the times we are currently in, it makes sense that this story should reappear now. We are in a time where we acknowledge that we are operating within broken systems that are failing us and they are failing our youth - both the young generations today AND our collective youth, that thing we are nostalgic for. Much like late 18th century France, we are in the middle of a reckoning as a society. (We all know what happened at the end of the 18th century in France, we’ve heard the stories - Les Miserables, Marie Antoinette, the Bastille.) And it is my fierce hope that we can simultaneously be entertained by this story AND listen to the lessons that it has to offer.
This story is a blast!! It allows us to escape into a tale of delicious debauchery with some of the most incredible songs that the decade has to offer. And it also gives us something to think about and consider about ourselves and our society.
We can’t wait to share this production with you. It’s sure to be a night of nostalgic bliss!