Strong, conniving women: the final frontier

Director Don Roos scripted Hart to Hart and Dynasty 2. No surprise then that The Opposite of Sex is about a bitch from hell.

DON ROOS began his career in Hollywood writing glossy, prime- time soap operas. He ticks off the credits. First was Hart to Hart. Then followed Paper Dolls (trials and travails of teenage fashion models), Dynasty 2 (trials and travails of the Colby family) and Nightingales (trials and travails of student nurses). This last effort, he says proudly, was voted worst television show of the Eighties. "We were hounded off the air by the Nurses' Association of America. They really objected to our depiction of student nurses as ready and willing to jump into the sack with any young doctor who came by."

Watching The Opposite of Sex, Roos's directorial debut, it isn't hard to spot the soap opera influence. With her red lipstick and white bikini, the film's teenage narrator Dedee Truitt (beautifully played by Christina Ricci) looks like a Long Island Lolita. She also behaves every bit as monstrously as Joan Collins's Alexis. She lies, steals and sleeps around, gleefully spreading malicious rumours wherever she goes. "I like strong, conniving women with wicked tongues," Roos explains when asked about the origins of the character. "They're a staple of soap opera. There's a gossipy feel to this movie - it's not a film about ideas. What interests me is two people in a room having a fight."

Dedee fuels The Opposite of Sex with "a sense of energy, drive and sexual recklessness", but she's not the first "bad girl" Roos has created. Back in 1992, he scripted Single White Female, which famously featured the flatmate-from-hell Jennifer Jason Leigh tossing a Labrador puppy out of a skyscraper window. "They're both violent, dark characters," he acknowledges, "but Leigh is full of self-pity. The big difference here is that Dedee never whines or tries to make us like her." In other words, we root for her, whatever she does. To show her in an even more gaudy light, Roos cast Lyle Lovett as the small-town sheriff bumbling along in her wake. "He always reminded me of a face on Mount Rushmore," he says of the lugubrious country singer turned actor. "He has a chiselled, granite quality - he looks really American and solid."

Roos, now 43, grew up in the late Fifties in what he refers to as "a very suburban, middle-class, rigid society." He was eight years old when Kennedy was assassinated, an event that shook his family to the core. "Kennedy was a huge, important, mythic figure for us," he remembers. "His death was the first time I had seen adults shaken and crying."

Roos' first screenplay, Love Field, focuses on the events surrounding the killing. In the film, Michelle Pfeiffer plays Lurene, a Dallas housewife who embarks on an epic trek across country to Kennedy's funeral in Washington. A naive, idealistic busybody with complete faith in the myth of JFK's Camelot, Lurene is the polar opposite of Dedee. Nevertheless, he treats her with sympathy. His own mother was equally obsessed with Kennedy. As you'd expect from the future soap opera writer, he, too, bought into the glamour, show business and gossip surrounding JFK and Jackie: "We didn't go to the funeral but we sure as hell went to see the grave more than once."

There are some unlikely parallels between Love Field and The Opposite of Sex. Both feature strong female characters. Both are road movies, as indeed are Boys on the Side, the film about three women on their way across America which Roos wrote in 1995, and Diabolique, the (very soapy, OTT) remake of the George Clouzot classic which he scripted in 1996. "That is something peculiarly American," he says. "If you have problems in a certain setting, you just get in a car and see what happens."

Even now, Roos admits to a certain embarrassment about The Opposite of Sex. It is far franker than anything he has written before, he half wishes he hadn't made the film, and he is still worried that his mother didn't like it. "She called me up and said, `Don, I saw your movie and you're a genius. The scenery was beautiful.'" He pauses before confiding. "But there isn't any scenery in the movie... three trees at most!"

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