Cover Story

GINA Grrrrshon: Cool + Fierce

Actress looks to rebound from the famous flop that was ''Showgirls''

[er, gershon]

''As an actress, I have one rule for myself,'' Gina Gershon is saying, lazily puffing on an enormous cigar. ''F--- the rules.''

As a journalist, I have one rule for myself — never let an interview subject get you drunk. Well, it's not a strict rule exactly. More like a guideline. A suggestion, maybe...

At any rate, Gershon is sitting in the Martini Bar at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York, plying this reporter with a killer, vodka-based cocktail called a Cosmopolitan. Dressed in black, her auburn hair tied in floppy pigtails, she looks a bit like Gina Lollobrigida doing Pippi Longstocking. After a few Cosmos, she looks like two Gina Lollobrigidas. ''Here, have another,'' she purrs, filling my glass from the martini shaker. ''It'll be good for your story.''

In her decade-long film career, Gershon, who's in her 30s, is probably best known for playing Cristal, the Las Vegas super-diva who kissed Elizabeth Berkley right on the mouth in last fall's infamous Paul Verhoeven-Joe Eszterhas sex epic, Showgirls. The role was a tremendously ballsy gamble, requiring her to dance naked in a fake volcano and recite some of the worst dialogue ever typed for the big screen (''You are a whore, darlin'!''). But like the sole survivor of some terrible accident, Gershon managed to walk away from that flaming wreckage with her hair barely mussed. In fact, her ability to rise above the material and keep her dignity, while others around her crashed and burned, pegged her as one of Hollywood's scrappiest, coolest new stars.

And now, this summer, Gershon is taking another big risk, disrobing on screen once more in a film so steamy, so boldly erotic, it makes Showgirls look like The Boatniks. Starring in a smart, stylish thriller called Bound (due from Gramercy Pictures in August), she plays Corky, a tough-but-gorgeous ex-con-turned-handywoman who happens to be a lesbian. Jennifer Tilly (Bullets Over Broadway) costars as Violet, a luscious gangster's moll who, as it happens, is also a lesbian. Together they hatch a scheme to steal $2 million from the Mob and pin it on Violet's boyfriend. ''It's like those old Robert Mitchum movies when he gets out of jail and some femme fatale seduces him,'' Gershon explains. ''Only I'm the ex-con and Jennifer is the femme fatale and we fall in love in the end. I get the girl. I get the cash. I come up a winner any way you look at it.''

It should be noted that Gershon does not always fall for girls in her movies. In 1988's Cocktail, she was the sultry socialite who seduced Tom Cruise. That same year she played an ex-hooker opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in Red Heat. She also had small parts in John Sayles' 1991 urban drama City of Hope and Robert Altman's 1992 Hollywood satire The Player, and this August will start filming Original Sin, Eszterhas' latest script, about a woman obsessed with a previous-life lover. In New York, her home for half the year (she spends the other half in her hometown, L.A., hanging out with boyfriend and restaurateur Sean MacPherson), she performs on stage in productions by the so-hip-it-hurts Naked Angels theater troupe (other Angels include Matthew Broderick and Fisher Stevens; John F. Kennedy Jr. is on the board of directors).

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