Rebecca De Mornay has been locked in a tiny, windowless recording studio for 10 1/2 hours with only a bowl of Cheetos, a quart bottle of tequila, and two engineers, trying to help her old friend Leonard Cohen get one of his new songs down on tape. Cohen, an attractively beaky man in a dark, gangster-style suit, is near-comatose at this point, but De Mornay is wired, one minute sitting in the corner biting her nails, or smoking a cigarette, or guzzling water, or singing unabashedly in Cohen’s deep, dirgey style, the next minute conferring with one of the engineers, then with Cohen. She’s a serious and beautiful blur of long, straight, strawberry-blond hair, porcelain skin, laser-beam blue eyes, killer cheekbones, black jacket, black trousers, black boots, and a shirt the color of blood.
The huge mixing board screws up for the umpteenth time, and the two young engineers leave the room in search of assistance. De Mornay, sitting there with her eyes suddenly sealed shut, her jaw an animated knot, seems poised to do what Peyton, her character in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, might have done in this situation — that is, pick up the nearest blunt object, beat the furniture to sawdust and kindling, and bludgeon the unsuspecting engineers into a mess on the rug. But the next thing you know De Mornay’s in the recording booth, singing quietly with Cohen the melancholy tune he wrote and she coproduced, titled ”Ring the Bells.”
By 11 p.m. the cut is finally complete, but De Mornay is still spinning, unable to come down from a monumental day: Not only did the 29-year-old actress, who hasn’t had a hit since 1983’s Risky Business, find out this morning that her new movie was No. 1 at the box office (over the phone she could hear Disney Studios chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg screaming delightedly in the background), but Cohen unexpectedly invited her to coproduce today’s haunting tune and to help arrange background vocals on it.
They sit very close together now, the movie star and the poet, eyes closed, listening to their recording of the song De Mornay describes as ”beyond lonely”: ”Ring the bells that still can ring/Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in”
Here is the image that has sent American parents everywhere phoning home to check on their sitters, that has made a relatively inexpensive thriller with no household names the first hit of 1992: the brilliant and stony face of Rebecca De Mornay, all senses on fire, lying in wait for her prey. What’s startling about De Mornay’s performance as Peyton Flanders is how fully and completely this otherwise modest actress allows herself to become a woman who would do the unthinkable with such relish: set out to gain another woman’s trust and then systematically try to destroy her marriage, kill her, and steal her babies.