There are a handful of movies where, when you say “that scene,” we all think of the same thing. Many of these scenes are supercharged with sexiness, including Sharon Stone uncrossing her legs in Basic Instinct. However, the last place you normally expect to find such a scene is in the middle of an action comedy.
Nonetheless, the James Cameron movie True Lies, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, is rarely remembered for any of its over-the-top action scenes. Instead, what everyone remembers is Jamie Lee Curtis, America’s girl next door, doing an unexpected strip tease in the middle of the movie!
Everyone knows this famous (or infamous) scene, but few know the truth about it. Keep reading to discover the truth behind True Lies and how it ensures you’ll never view that scene the same way ever again!
‘True Lies’ leaves an impression
First, it’s important to contextualize just how popular True Lies was. This wasn’t simply another Arnold Schwarzenegger action vehicle. Instead, this was a James Cameron blockbuster that really took Hollywood by storm.
The movie came out back in 1994. According to Box Office Mojo, True Lies was the third highest-grossing movie that year. The only films ahead of it were The Lion King and Forrest Gump.
This film was a critical hit as well, and Jamie Lee Curtis ended up taking home a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical. Needless to say, she’s very good in this movie! Nonetheless, there is only one scene with her character that people tend to remember and even fixate on.
The most infamous scene of the movie
Part of the irony of True Lies is that Jamie Lee Curtis plays a woman who is bored with her seemingly-boring husband (played by Schwarzenegger) and his seemingly-boring job: computer salesman. In reality, he’s actually a secret agent, and “computer salesman” is just his cover story.
This secret agent recently discovered his wife was bored with their marriage and was now seeing a car salesman on the side. This leads to a scene where Schwarzenegger’s character sticks to the shadows, pretending to be the other man. With the help of voice recordings from someone else, the secret agent gives Curtis specific instructions to perform a striptease for her audience.
The audiences in theaters loved this scene, as did the legions that later watched it on VHS, disc, or streaming. With her dance moves, Curtis looked like a choreographed professional. But would you believe these hot dance moves were almost entirely improvised?
The director gets involved
Since James Cameron was the director, you might expect him to really micromanage this scene. Instead, he mostly deferred to Curtis on the whole matter. As People reports, Curtis described the process by saying, “There was no rehearsal, there is no choreographer. Jim said to me, ‘What do you want to dance to?’” Continuing, she said that “It was when John Hiatt’s Bring the Family album was out and I said, ‘There’s a song called ‘Alone in the Dark’ that has this really funky rhythm.’ And I said, ‘I really like that song.’ And that’s what they played.”
Cameron did ultimately make one big contribution to the striptease scene. Previously, Curtis was using the bedpost as an ersatz stripper pole. Cameron made a suggestion that Curtis ultimately agreed to: that her character would let go of that bedpost and fall on the ground (or, in reality, onto a mat that protected her from the impact).
Striking the right balance of realism and sex appeal
At first, the idea of having Curtis “clumsily” fall in the middle of a striptease seemed a little odd. Why disrupt the sexiness with such an odd moment? However, Cameron knew this was the best way to strike a balance between being sexy and being realistic.
According to People, Curtis ended up agreeing with Cameron’s assessment. “It’s because Jim knew that the dance was too sexy; it was too real,” she said. “It started to actually be good, and he knew he needed to break the spell of what the husband had put his wife through. I think we did two takes where I let go of the pole.”
In other words, the moment was true to the narrative and also true to the character. Someone who isn’t a practiced stripper likely would have some clumsy moments. Plus, at the end of the day, True Lies is as much a comedy as it is a kickass action movie.
Looking back to the Hollywood premiere, Curtis recalled the theater getting very quiet during that sexy scene. This made her very nervous…right until the audience burst into laughter when she fell. “The place, it was a huge … because you’re anxious. Then the laugh, and it’s all Jim,” she said. “To his great credit, it’s all him. He knew, it’s a comedy. It’s a comedy.”
She may give all this credit to Cameron. But for our money, without the sexy improvised moves of Curtis, True Lies wouldn’t be nearly as memorable!