Berkley Lauren has even kicked around her own ideas about how to have fun with the movie’s unique legacy, keeping them in her back pocket in case she ever appeared on a show like SNL. But nothing felt as right as the Nomi makeover sequence that Saved by the Bell showrunner Tracey Wigfield pitched to her. “She knows me well enough to know that I started in comedy and, you know, I myself have a great sense of humor,” Berkeley Lauren says.
The actor appreciated the bit’s slow build, as well as its surprising depth. “There was nothing random about it. There was a lot of thought and care for how it could actually serve the Jessie character,” a vulnerable type A personality in a transitional moment. “If it had just been like a silly, ridiculous moment for no reason, then I don’t think it would’ve landed in the same way.”
The subplot’s ostensible punch line is actually a kick. Jessie is gearing up for what looks like a full-on Showgirls dance sequence when her foot hits the firefighter square in the face, ending the fantasy before it’s really begun. Berkley Lauren, for the record, was prepared to take the pole if need be; she even asked her friend, choreographer Jennifer Hamilton, to work with her on a number. But in the end, she agrees that it’s funnier to end on that surprise injury. “This just felt like just enough.”
Moving right along also gives the show time for one more metamoment. After her dance break gone wrong, Jessie tells her friend Slater (Mario Lopez) what just happened. “I was trying to be sexy,” she laments, “but I just looked…insane.”
Slater consoles her, using words that would have been nice for Berkley Lauren to hear back in 1995. “At least you put yourself out there!” he says. “And maybe you came off a little extreme, but you followed the directions you were given. And those directions were crazy.” It’s an assessment even Verhoeven couldn’t argue with: “People have, of course, criticized her for being over-the-top in her performance. Most of that comes from me,” he told Rolling Stone in 2015. “Good or not good, I was the one who asked her to exaggerate everything.”
“It’s not something I, at this moment, need for someone to say,” says Berkeley Lauren of Slater’s kind comment. She’s had a full life and career in the years since Showgirls, doing everything from Broadway to writing a New York Times best seller. Just Monday, the trades announced that she’ll costar in The Idol, an HBO drama from Euphoria creator Sam Levinson and The Weeknd. “I guess if I had just done that and then hadn’t worked [again] ’til now, that would be a whole different conversation.”
But even if she hasn’t spent the past 26 years waiting for catharsis, getting it is still meaningful. Critics and industry figures were brutal on Showgirls, and didn’t shy away from making personal attacks on Berkley Lauren. “It was really painful at the time. I was a very young woman,” the actor says. She’s since moved on, and come to understand just how unfair a lot of that criticism was—that it came out of a culture much more comfortable with misogyny than the current climate. “I don’t think that a lot of what went on then would be allowed now,” she says.