Catching Up With Elizabeth Berkley
By Noah Michelson
An hour before Elizabeth Berkley showed up at Out a few weeks ago, most of the editors were in full-on freak out mode. I tried to explain our particularly frenzied brand of excitement to Out's straight female managing editor by saying, "She's the closest things we've got to royalty," and I'm pretty sure she thought I was kidding. But I wasn't kidding. Or being overly dramatic. For many gay men, Showgirls, the 1995 drama about one dancer's attempt to make it big in Las Vegas, is the best thing that ever happened to celluloid. Almost universally panned (that word might actually be too kind for the kind of evisceration it suffered), the film has become a campy cult classic with Rocky Horror Picture Show-type screenings across the country filled with fans -- most of them gay -- who know every line of the script.
While the film delighted us, it -- and the scalding reviews Berkley received -- sent the actress reeling. But 16 years after Showgirls threatened to ruin her career, Berkley has proven she's a survivor and she has continued to act in films, on Broadway, and on television. She's also found a new passion: reaching out to teenage girls to help them navigate the tumultuous waters of coming of age. With her website, Ask Elizabeth, workshops around the country, and now, a new book, also called Ask Elizabeth, Berkley is reaching out to share her experiences in hopes of offering girls some advice from an honorary big sister who's been through tough times before.
We sat down with Berkley -- an absolute sweetheart who spent her first 30 minutes at Out taking pictures, showing us her (adorable) husband's new clothing line, and reminiscing about that infamous Versace scene in Showgirls -- to chat about her new mission, her new book, the aftermath of Showgirls, the support she received from gay fans, and whether or not she'd ever consider filming Showgirls 2.
Out: How did Ask Elizabeth come about?
Elizabeth Berkely: The Ask Elizabeth book has been a heart and soul mission for me. It's amazing because everything that has to do with Ask Elizabeth really has come from what the girls have been asking me for. I started off with a two-hour interactive self-esteem-based workshop that I began providing in middle schools and high schools. It started out on a grassroots level in New York, and it was amazing to me because word of mouth spread so fast where teachers were telling other teachers, school administrators were telling other school administrators, parents, girls and I started getting incoming calls inviting me to their schools. I do this strictly as a volunteer ' it's an official 501C3, not-for-profit organization -- and I started flying myself. Suddenly I would find myself on a football field in Kentucky with 800 cheerleaders facilitating this workshop. I was in a rental car driving to this cheerleading camp and just thinking, Wow, this journey has lead me to places I've never seen before and I'm having the most magical interactions with extraordinary girls and schools. They've just opened their doors, opened their hearts, and my whole mission is to be of service to these girls, to give them a space to know they're not alone and to let them know that everything they're going through is something that can actually be offered up to help another. So there is value in every experience. That's one beautiful aspect of Ask Elizabeth -- that it's not about me. I don't stand at a podium telling girls how to run their lives. It's about opening up, giving them the platform and then I facilitate. I guide them like a big sister, and that's the beauty of it.
I've worked with almost 40,000 girls in the last five years sharing this meaningful dialogue on their football fields, in their cafeterias, in their libraries and sitting with the girls and just speaking the truth and sharing the truth. I get extremely real with them as well. if I'm expecting them to offer up their truth, I don't hide, and I'm my most authentic self with them as well. And that's the exchange, that's the interaction, that's how everyone gets to transform by the end of the workshop too and then there's that great takeaway. But they kept begging me for a book, and I was blown away by that. In the media, they're always talking about the problems with teenage girls today and the problems we're having, and I'm here to say there are remarkable girls out there. They just want to be heard. They just want the tools to be their best selves.
When they asked for book, I realized it was very clear that this is the book: Take the most asked questions and explore them and weave them into a dialogue across the pages, whether it's me offering up advice, stories from my own life, girls across the country -- and then I have a dream-team of female experts too.