Twenty years after its release, “Cruel Intentions” is remembered as a ’90s cult classic, but in the #MeToo era, would it ever get remade today?
“There are so many things in it that could be perceived as ‘rapey’ or ‘assaulty’ or however you want to put it,” Sean Patrick Thomas, one of the movie’s stars, told Page Six in a recent interview. “But at the same time, It’s very empowering to women in my opinion, especially Sarah Michelle Gellar‘s character. She’s very formidable and a match for any man and … takes ownership of her own destiny and her sexuality and all those things.”
Thomas, 48, added, “I’m sure there are some things that just come off a little bit like … You know, that might be a little bit manipulative, but I think overall the feminist themes I think would win out, to be honest with you, so I think they could do it again.”
Inspired by the French novel “Les Liaisons dangereuses,” “Cruel Intentions” follows high school prep students Kathryn Merteuil (Gellar) and Sebastian Valmont (Ryan Phillippe) who make a bet over whether or not Sebastian can successfully seduce Annette Hargrove (Reese Witherspoon), the virgin daughter of their school’s new headmaster. At the same time, Kathryn works to destroy the reputation of Cecile Caldwell (Selma Blair) after she’s dumped by her boyfriend for good-girl Cecile.
In the film, Thomas plays Cecile’s music teacher Ronald Clifford, who is also in love with her. Ronald gets screamed at and kicked out of the house when Cecile’s mother, played by Christine Baranski, finds out about the affair.
“[Baranski] was so convincing in that role that at the end of the day I thought, ‘Is she really like that?’ because she’s so good,” Thomas joked, adding the pair actually worked together recently on her show “The Good Fight.”
“I said, ‘I worked with you about, let’s say, maybe 20 years ago,’” he recalled of their reunion. “She was like, ‘Really? What was it?’ And I said, ‘Cruel Intentions.’ It all flooded back to her and she was like, ‘Oh my God, I am so sorry. That character was so vile. Oh my God.’ … She was kind of apologetic about it because that character was, like, such an unconscious racist.”
“Cruel Intentions” came out in the beginning of Thomas’ career. He had been in LA for two years at that point and had booked small roles while tutoring kids and substitute teaching on the side.
“The whole magic of Hollywood hadn’t hit me yet,” Thomas said of the majority of the movie being filmed in Los Angeles, when the story was set completely in New York. “I was going to this house in the Hollywood Hills to shoot and I remember thinking, ‘It’s supposed to be in New York and this is weird that I’m in the Hollywood Hills and out the window I can see, you know, the beach.’ I hadn’t wrapped my head around the fact that you can fake anywhere for anywhere if you want.”
The one scene Thomas was in New York for was the climatic Central Park fight between his character and Phillippe’s, which he says was a very long day on set.
“I remember Ryan and Reese … Reese was always reading a book,” Thomas said. “I remember that Reese would sit there and she always had books in her hand and Ryan would kind of, like, you know at that time, have his head in her lap … and then we would shoot when they were ready.”
Thomas added of Phillippe and Witherspoon, who were dating at the time and were later married for eight years, “It was really sweet at the time. They were inseparable and clearly very smitten with each other.”
Thomas has nothing but fond memories of working on the film. He said it’s one of the few movies he did that he would have seen even if he wasn’t in it.
“I was just so happy to be there and having so much fun and doing material that I loved,” he said, adding there was one scene that made him feel uncomfortable.
“I do remember feeling like incredibly self-conscious about that scene where I’m under Kathryn’s bed with that feather and tight little underwear that I had on,” he laughed. “I was very kind of like, ‘Oh God, I have to be in front of the world in these tiny little bikini briefs and a feather.’ But what’s funny is that so many people stop me on the street or when they talk about that movie, they talk about that scene, you know, people just still laugh about it. So I appreciate it.”
Thomas went on to star in “Save the Last Dance” with Julia Stiles, for which he is most commonly known. Most recently, he guest starred in “Madam Secretary” and “The Good Fight” and has a movie, “The Curse of La Llorona,” coming out later this year.
Then and now: The cast of ‘Cruel Intentions’: