- The Washington Times - Monday, October 23, 2000

As a sexy Satan, Elizabeth Hurley tempts and torments Brendan Fraser in the new comedy, "Bedazzled." (The film opened Friday at area theaters.) Mr. Fraser is cast as a computer geek who peddles his soul for seven wishes. The devil, however, mischievously meddles with the unspecified details of their Faustian bargain.

If all this sounds familiar, it should. "Bedazzled" is a Harold Ramis-directed update of the 1967 Dudley Moore-Peter Cook cult classic. How did Miss Hurley react to being cast as Old Scratch?

"I was enormously flattered," she says, in a Manhattan hotel suite. "Harold Ramis is one of the top comedy directors of all time, and Brendan is a huge movie star and very talented comedian. I was overwhelmed that they wanted me. I was very surprised."

She is equally surprised that American cinema typically depicts the devil as a Brit.

"It's unfathomable to me," she moans. "I'm sure we always pictured an American. I think we English are perceived as a calculating and evil people, but I never understood that myself."

Miss Hurley is grateful to Mr. Ramis for casting her in "Bedazzled," but it is his wife to whom she is mostly deeply in debt.

"I read the script a long time ago when the devil was originally a man," Miss Hurley explains. "Harold's wife said maybe the devil should be a girl. And that seemed like a new way. I think this puts a different sexual spin on the story."

She also appreciates the relative latitude such a role affords an actor.

"It's very rare that one gets free rein in a movie," says Miss Hurley, 34. "Nobody can say 'The devil wouldn't sit like that.' Normally, you're constrained by a character's salary, whether they have kids, where they live. Here, it's open season. You can go completely berserk. It was heavenly."

In "Bedazzled," Miss Hurley's stunning good looks are abetted by sumptuous and revealing designer fashions. But there was precious little time for wardrobe. There was exactly one week. Miss Hurley knew just where to turn.

"I've got one foot in the fashion camp," she notes. "So when someone says let's make something like that Versace dress we saw you in, well, it just makes sense to get Donatella Versace to make it. I called her up, sobbing, and said that I needed two dresses and pair of boots in three days. And she made it. That's very nice."

Even without the eye-popping outfits, Miss Hurley detonates on the big screen as an icon of smoldering sensuality. But ask if she perceives herself as a great beauty, and Miss Hurley responds, "It's all in the eye of the beholder. I have no idea. But I find that I can't watch myself on the screen anymore. I start wondering why somebody didn't tell me I had an awful twitch or a terrible walk. I just can't watch myself."

If Miss Hurley can no longer watch herself, there is no shortage of volunteers willing to take up the slack. But "Bedazzled" also tweaks common male sexual fantasies. What the actress perceives as camp, her fans may take quite seriously.

"We thought it would be fun to dress as the first page of a 'Playboy' spread, a ludicrous stereotype. There's always the teacher or the nurse who starts ripping things off. But in order to torment poor Brendan's character, I had to be looming there as a meter maid. I actually thought it was quite funny."

It also seems that Miss Hurley's fame of late resides less with her acting and modeling career than with her spectacular run of unflattering press. First, Jane magazine published a supposedly verbatim quote that her former flame, Hugh Grant, was a "less than adequate" lover. The publication recently apologized to Miss Hurley when the inflammatory put-down could not be confirmed in a review of interview tapes.

Miss Hurley cleared one hurdle of bad publicity only to wind up mired in some equally bitter business when she crossed a picket line. With the commercial-TV actor's union embroiled in a lengthy strike over residuals, Miss Hurley filmed a nonunion commercial in New York City for Estee Lauder.

The actress was rebuked by the Screen Actor's Guild, which threatened career-terminating reprisals and monetary fines. She pleaded basic ignorance of the strike (now in its sixth month), offering that SAG is not a subject that the British press reports on. Still, Miss Hurley is bewildered by the attention paid to her personal life.

"It is frustrating on one level," she vents. "Once one's had the experience of one's life dissected in minute detail, almost always in an erroneous fashion, I think one is very careful not to invite scrutiny ever again. The second time around, you learn from your mistakes and make much more effort to guard your privacy. But when you're a public figure, you have to give a little. Something has to give at some stage. Hopefully, not too much."

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