After penning The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Lawrence Kasdan took advantage of his newfound fame by asking for—and receiving—the opportunity to make his directorial debut with Body Heat. The 1981 neo-noir classic that's celebrating its 35th anniversary starred Kathleen Turner in her feature film debut as Matty Walker, a woman who has an affair with weak-willed lawyer Ned Racine (William Hurt). In true femme fatale tradition, she convinces Ned to murder her husband, Edmund, and make him think it was his idea.
1. GEORGE LUCAS HELPED GET IT MADE.
Though Lawrence Kasdan had made a name for himself as a writer, he was an untested director. So George Lucas agreed to sponsor Kasdan, but he wouldn't put the Lucasfilm name on Kasdan's movie because it was too dirty. Lucas gave Alan Ladd, Jr.—whose The Ladd Company was producing the film—$250,000 to use if Kasdan went over budget. Lucas also helped Kasdan by spending one day in the editing room and giving him "the most useful" pep talk.
"Making movies has nothing to do with the technical stuff," Lucas told Kasdan. "It has everything to do with what kind of person you are." Kasdan said it was the most important thing anyone ever told him about directing.
2. CHRISTOPHER REEVE TURNED DOWN THE ROLE OF NED.
"I put myself down too much," Reeve told The Washington Post of the missed opportunity. "I didn't think I'd be convincing as a seedy lawyer." Reeve later regretted the decision, but was happy that his friend, William Hurt, was cast in the role instead.
3. INITIALLY, KATHLEEN TURNER WAS NOT ALLOWED TO AUDITION FOR IT.
As Turner remembered it later to Playboy, the filmmakers refused to let her audition for the role of Matty. "I happened to be in L.A. to read for some female mud-wrestling film—thank God I was not right for that part at all—and there was a woman casting Body Heat there," Turner explained. "I was able to see her and read for her and she got quite excited."
When Turner came back the next day to read a new scene, Kasdan admitted to her that he never thought he would ever hear the scene as he heard it in his head until just then.
After 20th Century Fox gave up on Kasdan and dropped the project because he wouldn't cast known stars, The Ladd Company wasn't convinced that Turner could handle the "lightness" of the movie. So she had to audition for them, too.
"I went into this room at The Ladd Company," Turner recalled. "It was all white on white on white—white sofa, white rug, blonde wood—and there was this huge ashtray in the middle of the table that was filled with cigarette butts—it was as if they had been sitting there all day, smoking and talking about [macho voice] the girl. I was standing there with the script and one of the vice-presidents said, 'Do drunk.' So I was doing drunk and I threw the script onto the table and it knocked into the ashtray and I watched it fly across the room. The butts went all over this white rug, scattered. I got down on my hands and knees and started picking them up—'This is the most embarrassed I’ve ever been in my life.' And they laughed. I swear to God that turned them around."
4. ALAN LADD DEMANDED THAT WILLIAM HURT SHAVE HIS MUSTACHE.
Kasdan once again showed gumption and stood up to an executive, despite his greenness in the industry. Hurt kept the caterpillar.
5. IT WAS SHOT IN FLORIDA—AND IT WAS VERY, VERY COLD.
The film was shot during a cold Florida winter. Turner and Hurt had to put ice cubes in their mouths before each take so their breath wouldn't show. Their sweat was sprayed on. When the two shot their sex scene, the crew was dressed in duffel coats and scarves.
6. THEY TRIED TO BREAK THE TENSION ON SET, BUT IT WAS SOMETIMES TOO MUCH.
When the tension got to be too much, Turner said that she and Hurt would have races up and down the lawn and/or jump into the water. But she also admitted that she would shake and cry in her dressing room after shooting almost every "heavy" scene. "It was just powerful stuff," she said.
7. RUMORS FLEW ABOUT TURNER, HURT, AND KASDAN.
One day while shooting, Turner was told by her agent that he heard she was having an affair with both Hurt and Kasdan. "I thought, Jesus Christ, this is what people are saying?" she said. "And it ruined something for me. It really hurt, because every time the three of us went off to talk and to rehearse, I’d be thinking, Who’s seeing this? You know—what are they thinking? It was rotten. I’ll never forgive this person for breaking my bubble. But I realized, this is the real world. So I’m much more careful not to allow myself to be in that kind of position anymore. But it hurt a lot then."
8. IT WAS MICKEY ROURKE'S BIG BREAK.
Mickey Rourke had already appeared in 1941 (1979) and Heaven's Gate (1980), but told Larry King that his breakthrough came from playing Teddy Lewis in Body Heat. When Rourke got the one-day gig, he was able to quit his job as a bouncer at a transvestite nightclub.
9. KASDAN HIRED EDITOR CAROL LITTLETON BECAUSE HE WANTED A STRONG FEMALE PERSPECTIVE.
Out of all of the editors Kasdan met for Body Heat, Littleton was the only one who used the term "film noir" in their discussion. That and the fact that Kasdan specifically felt he needed a female editor began a long professional relationship between the two. "The sexual nature of the screenplay convinced me I should have a strong female perspective throughout the process," Kasdan wrote in a tribute to Littleton for Editors Guild Magazine. "As a bluffing novice, I was making up ideas like that as I went along. I didn’t know any better. I wildly underestimated the influence Carol would have on me from that day forward. In the course of doing eight films together, she has been my teacher, moral touchstone, slave driver, confidante and friend."
10. TED DANSON'S ROLE IN THE FILM GOT A SLY NOD ON CHEERS.
Ted Danson, who played the dancing lawyer Peter Lowenstein, started his career-defining run as Sam Malone on Cheers one year after the release of Body Heat. In the series premiere, some of the bar patrons began debating what the sweatiest movie of all time was. Cliff Clavin offered Body Heat as his guess, to the knowing smile of Sam.