The creators of flash dance hoped for a hit, but no one felt it would become a generation-defining sensation.
The Paramount film marked the first collaboration between producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, later known for such blockbusters as Beverly Hills agent And Top gun. With a script co-written by Joe Eszterhas (Basic instinct), flash dance centered on Alex, a teenage welder in Pittsburgh who spends her nights performing at a cabaret bar but dreams of becoming a professional dancer.
Bruckheimer recalls that the film’s team struggled to choose the lead role, but that director Adrian Lyne was sold to newcomer Jennifer Beals. “The bosses at Paramount couldn’t make a decision, so they brought in all the secretaries to watch the screen tests, and they all chose Jennifer,” says Bruckheimer. The Hollywood Reporter.
Among the performers in the mix for the male lead of Nick, the steel mill owner who falls for employee Alex, was a young Kevin Costner, who read audition scenes with Beals and other actresses. “He was certainly thought of,” Bruckheimer recalled. As for why Michael Nouri was ultimately right for the role, the producer explains, “He’s handsome and a very good actor, and he did an excellent job.”
As for the audition process, Nouri – who has appeared with Costner Yellowstone — says, “Kevin is a friend, and he’s confirmed in the days since that he did indeed audition for the part.” In terms of overcoming such fierce competition, Nouri adds, “It was a big compliment.”
Beals tells THR that she was working in Paris that summer after graduating from high school and was hoping to save some money when she received a written letter from her agent – as she had no telephone during her trip – asking her to come over to New York City on her way home to Chicago. Upon landing in NYC, the actress spent a night sleeping outside in a park until her mother begged her to stay with a relative in town during the audition process.
When she learned the role was hers, Beals had already briefly started at Yale University that fall before deferring. She was asked to do a nude scene early on, but objected. “Adrian called me and tried to convince me that he would make it tasteful. I just said, ‘No respect for you, but I don’t know you,’” she laughs. Lyne was taken aback and Beals emphasizes that she would like to work again with the filmmaker, who is also known for titles such as Fatal attraction (1987) and last year’s Deep water.
flash dance launched fashion trends, with women imitating Beals’ off-the-shoulder sweatshirt that became one of the film’s signature looks. Beals recalls previously making her own DIY sweatshirt during an early wardrobe adaptation for the film, which helped inspire her character’s unique sartorial choice. “I left my sweatshirt in the dryer too long, so I couldn’t get my head through the hole,” Beals says of the ill-fated fit. “So I cut out the hole to make it bigger. And then (costume designer) Michael Kaplan just made it cooler and better.
THR‘s review praised the film’s “confined, gleeful energy and sensational dance sequences”, but other critics were less impressed. Still, flash dance was an instant hit when it debuted on April 15, 1983, grossing $92.9 million ($280 million today) to become the No. 3 title of the year domestically. It went on to earn four Oscar nominations, including a Best Song win for Irene Cara’s “Flashdance… What a Feeling.”
Nouri recalls the mixed critical response to the film, which has a 35 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Still, he’s proud of the movie’s crowd pleaser: “It didn’t go down well with the critics, and that really didn’t make any difference to the movie becoming iconic.” And Bruckheimer jokes, “One reviewer called it a toxic waste dump and revisited it 20 years later and said, ‘I missed it.'”
For Beals, whose recent credits include Netflix’s 2022 feature Luckiest girl in the world and that of Disney+ Boba Fett’s book, the film’s enduring legacy stems in part from its inclusion of themes not so common to studio films of the era. She says, “When I think of that scene where she’s walking down the hall and all the ballerinas are there, it’s not just a classic image, it speaks volumes about barriers related to race.”
A version of this story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter magazine on March 29. Click here to subscribe.