Starry Starry Sight: Sam Irvin Talks Acting on Impulse (1993)

Dave chats to director Sam Irvin about the making of his riotous comedy-thriller, and how he assembled such a star-studded ensemble.

“You’re not a Scientologist are you?” queries director Sam Irvin, before unleashing what could be the hundredth delicious anecdote in a career-encompassing interview that may well have run through the night if we let it. The subject of this latest reminiscence is his divine sophomore outing, ACTING ON IMPULSE (1993), and a location scout that changed the course of one cast member’s life forever.

“We needed a really fancy hotel,” remembers Irvin, “And someone suggested that we should check out the Scientology celebrity centre. A beautiful building. So we went and met with them, and they offered it to us for free! Now, there’s going to be a catch, and that was that they obtained the cast and crew phone numbers and everybody started being deluged with Scientology pamphlets and membership offers. Thankfully, everybody resisted drinking the Kool Aid apart from Isaac Hayes. They are the most evil cult on the planet, but I sort of feel a little guilty that I paved the way for Isaac to get sucked in to that.”

From a story by Solomon Weingarten – who created Blind Side (1993), the awesome Mexico-based Rutger Hauer – Ron Silver – Rebecca De Mornay crime-thriller – Acting on Impulse is unique in the way that it manages to combine the white picket suburbia of Douglas Sirk with the seedy underbelly of low-brow genre filmmaking.

Susan (Linda Fiorentino) is a B-movie actress renown for cinematic delights like ‘Toxic Cheerleaders from Hell’, who, after a row with her producer Yoram (Patrick Bauchau), storms off to a hotel for a little anonymous seclusion. It’s here she meets Paul (C. Thomas Howell), a straight-laced and engaged sales manager for a pharmaceutical company, who, with the addition of his co-worker Cathy (Nancy Allen), form a formidable menage a trois, unaware that Yoram’s body has just been discovered in Susan’s trailer on the set of her last picture, and that she’s the number one suspect.

A prime example of masterful casting, Fiorentino is sublime in Acting on Impulse – although it nearly didn’t happen, as Irvin explains:

“Well, my short [the De Palma homage Double Negative (1985)] had opened with After Hours (1985) in LA – and I’m a HUGE fan of that film, I think it’s one of Scorsese’s best. I thought Linda Fiorentino was brilliant in that movie, so I just wanted her to come in and play the character of Susan. Originally the production company wanted us to hire a bigger name actress, so they had us meet Sean Young – but that didn’t work out. I said to them, “Fiorentino is perfect for this role, so why don’t you put the money you’ve saved into the other two leads?” So they did – and they became Nancy Allen and C. Thomas Howell, and Linda was the cheapest of the three!”

It can be a challenge to pick out the nuances of the journeyman directors that were prolific in the ‘90s, but Acting on Impulse has ‘a Sam Irvin film’ sewn right through it. The style, the influences, the humour and most of all the supporting cast – an intentional ploy by the filmmaker, who was keen to pay homage to the glitzy ensembles that bewitched him during his youth.

“I just love the idea of these all-star casts where everybody is recognisable. I was a whore for that. I always loved movies with so many faces in them, and John Waters was a big influence on me for this. I told the casting director that I don’t want a single face in this movie that isn’t recognisable! Cassandra Petersen I had met at a party, while I had become friends with Zelda Rubinstein a few years prior. Paul Bartel I had gotten to know on the film festival circuit, Isaac Hayes was a carry-over from Guilty as Charged (1991), and of course Nancy Allen had been a friend of mine since I was a production manager on Home Movies in 1978.”

Indeed, Irvin’s bevy of stars extends beyond Bartel, Petersen, Rubinstein, and Hayes to take in the likes of Mary Woronov, Adam Ant, Brinke Stevens, Miles O’Keeffe, and, in his last role, Dick Sargent. All in all, enough cameos to distract you during the rare weak spots in what is generally a riotous delight from start to finish, and a film that has to be regarded among the very best in Irvin’s long and eclectic resume.

Also known as ‘Secret Lies’

Taken from VHS Collector

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