Cult hit Wild Things was undoubtedly a formative experience for many teenage viewers in the late 1990s. The erotic thriller starring Matt Dillon, Denise Richards and Neve Campbell features one of the decade’s steamiest sex scenes. But how does Richards feel about that hot poolside action now that she’s a middle-aged mother of three?
Hitting cinemas in 1998, Wild Things was regarded by many as one of the most provocative movies of the year. Dillon appears as high school guidance counselor Sam Lombardo, while Richards and Campbell play the two students, Kelly and Suzie, who accuse him of rape. Of course, there’s more to the story than initially meets the eye.
However, the movie has become far more renowned for its sex scenes than its twisty plot. Firstly, Suzie and Kelly have a threesome with Lombardo in a seedy Florida motel room and then the girls enjoy a tryst in a swimming pool. But while Campbell ensured she had a no-nudity clause when she signed up to the film, Richards was happy to bare all.
Critics didn’t seem to know whether to love it or hate Wild Things. The Washington Post’s Stephen Hunter wrote, “The movie is as tawdry as someone else’s lingerie, yet not without a certain prurient watchability.” TV Guide’s Maitland McDonagh remarked that it was “a sleazy, seamy, flashy, steamy, vulgar exploitation thriller that revels in every minute of its own trashiness and delivers some pretty solid, if prurient, entertainment.”
And few described its guilty pleasures as succinctly as the late Roger Ebert. The celebrated critic wrote, “Movies such as this either entertain or offend audiences; there’s no neutral ground. Either you’re a connoisseur of melodramatic comic vulgarity, or you’re not. You know who you are. I don’t want to get any postcards telling me this movie is in bad taste. I’m warning you: It is in bad taste. Bad taste elevated to the level of demented sleaze.”
Even one of its main stars admits he struggled with the whole concept at first. Kevin Bacon told Entertainment Weekly, “When I first picked up the script, I thought, ‘Oh, my God, this is the trashiest piece of crap I’ve ever read.’ But every few pages, I kept discovering that it wasn’t what it seemed. Every few pages, there was another surprise.”
Although it was often dismissed as trash at the time, Wild Things has been re-evaluated over the years. In fact, some believe that it should now be considered a feminist masterpiece. In a piece for Glamour magazine, Danielle Gibson argues, “the female characters are not only multidimensional, but head-spinningly so. Spoiled Floridian princess Kelly (Denise Richards) and drug-addled swamp priestess Suzie (Neve Campbell) are two of the most well-rounded, fascinating and exciting characters to ever grace the screen.”
Gibson concedes that the film resorts to titillation. But unlike most erotic thrillers, the camera focuses just as much on male flesh as it does female. She writes, “Denise Richards may go topless, but delightfully, Kevin Bacon bares all too… When the gaze is widened from male to everybody’s, then everybody wins.”
The film’s sexual politics is also praised by Gibson, who adds, “All of the female characters enjoy sex, demand it and want actual pleasure, not some gross middle-aged loser pumping them from behind. The attractiveness gap is simply non-existent in Wild Things. Kevin Bacon and Matt Dillon didn’t show up to this shoot with some JV-league dad-bod situation. These guys got cut. They were probably doing push-ups in between takes. And fellas? We appreciate it.”
While Bacon and Dillon had been stars since the mid-1980s, Campbell and Richards were still relative newcomers. The former had first risen to fame in 1994 with the TV drama Party of Five. Two years later she landed unarguably her most iconic role, Sidney Prescott in Wes Craven’s Scream.
Richards, meanwhile, had only just broken through to the mainstream the previous year thanks to her turn in Starship Troopers. The actress had spent much of the 1990s plugging away with bit parts in various TV shows including Seinfeld, Beverly Hills, 90210 and The New Adventures of Superman. And both of the film’s leading ladies continued to enjoy success following Wild Things’ release.
Campbell went on to land major roles in disco drama 54 and rom-com Three to Tango and also returned to the Scream franchise for a third time in 2000. Richards, meanwhile, joined the exclusive club of Bond girls in Pierce Brosnan’s third 007 outing, The World Is Not Enough. She also got to showcase her comic timing in beauty pageant satire Drop Dead Gorgeous.
However, Richards very nearly missed out on the role that would cement her status as one of the decade’s ultimate big screen pin-ups. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Wild Things director John McNaughton revealed that he needed some convincing to cast her in the role of Kelly. “[Richards] was good, but not so good we had to hire her,” the filmmaker said.
McNaughton, whose previous efforts included Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, went on to add, “But when she came back for a second audition, she was a lot better. She’d obviously thought about the character, which we took as a good sign that she could do the role. If worse came to worst, we knew she’d be beautiful.”
Of course, Richards would later become more famous for her turbulent relationship with Charlie Sheen. The pair walked down the aisle together in 2002 but within three years major cracks had started to appear. By 2006 they had divorced and both parties later went on to remarry, with Richards saying ‘I do’ in 2018 to Aaron Phypers.
Former Two and a Half Men star Sheen and Richards also became parents to two children during their four-year marriage. They welcomed daughter Sami into the world in 2004 and then her sister Lola a year later. Following their split, Richards added to her family unit when she adopted a baby girl, Eloise, in 2011.
Richards has continued to act in various TV movies and direct-to-video efforts but she’s become more well-known for her ventures into the reality genre. In 2008 she bagged her own show on the E! network, Denise Richards: It’s Complicated. And then seven years later she joined the cast of the long-running series The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
And during one particular episode of the Bravo show, Richards discussed how she felt about the famous threesome scene in Wild Things. When asked what it was like to film the erotic thriller by her fellow housewives, the actress replied, “It’s uncomfortable… It’s weird but you just have to commit.”
Understandably, Richards’ father was also left uncomfortable with the prospect of seeing his daughter take on such a role. The actress continued, “I told my mom the part because I didn’t want my dad obviously to see me in that situation. So I told my mom we were coming up so she had him leave the theater and she left with him too. He wouldn’t want to see his daughter that way anyway.”
Richards went on to explain that she initially had reservations about signing up to play femme fatale Kelly. She said, “When I did Wild Things that was a tough decision for me because I was raised in a very conservative family and went to church every week. I was raised Catholic, I was a good Catholic girl.”
However, after getting the blessing from her parents, Richards decided to go full steam ahead. The star revealed, “My mom was actually the one that said, ‘If you feel this is something you want to do for your career, then you just do it.’” But the housewives still wanted to know more about the movie and how Richards approached its more risqué moments.
A candid Richards reflected, “Yeah, the language going back and forth to your agents and managers of how many, what nipple.” The actress explained that although both of hers are on show in the film, she was originally only supposed to reveal one. However, Richards became a little more reserved when asked about how the sex scenes would impact her children if they ever saw them.
Richards responded, “Well I hope to God they don’t see it. I don’t want them to have that visual. I didn’t think back then, ‘S***, I wonder one day what my kids are gonna think.’ I really would’ve changed a lot if I did that.” However, fellow housewife Rinna argued that it’s more than likely that Richards’ three kids have already viewed the scenes in question.
And Richards also admitted that she has no desire to discuss such matters with her children, either. She said, “I’ve never talked about a threesome with my child before. I’m not a prude but that doesn’t mean I want my kids or their friends hearing adult conversations at my home.”
“Of course it’s not a thing they haven’t heard,” Richards acknowledged. “I just didn’t want them to hear it from their mom and mom’s friends.” The actress’ viewpoint wasn’t shared by the rest of the Beverly Hills housewives engaged in the conversation. In fact, they believed that Richards was being slightly hypocritical.
This isn’t the only time that Richards has addressed all the cavorting in Wild Things. In her 2011 autobiography The Real Girl Next Door, the star recalled how she prepared for her first on-screen kiss with co-star Campbell. She wrote, “The producers asked if I was okay French-kissing Neve on camera. Usually it’s that pretend movie kiss, but they wanted a kiss. I thought, ‘Okay, I’m sure she has nice lips.’”
Richards also revealed that her famous smooch with Campbell was something of a milestone for both actresses. She wrote, “Neve and I went into her trailer and shared a pitcher of margaritas before we did the scene. Neither of us had ever kissed another girl… Everyone has a first time.”
And Richards admitted she found the whole situation very strange in a chat with Entertainment Weekly. She said, “At one point during Wild Things, we were shooting at night and I just sat there and thought, ‘It’s four o’clock in the morning. I’m half naked in a swimming pool. I’m making out with Neve Campbell. What am I doing here?”’
However, Campbell appeared to find the whole experience rather more enjoyable. Speaking to Rolling Stone about the pool scene, the Scream star said, “It was fun. We just sorta went in and did it. Actually, we mixed margaritas and brought a bottle of wine in my trailer and got drunk first.”
Campbell also revealed the diary entry she wrote about the scene. It read, “Okay, I’m gonna make out with a girl for the first time in my life. It’s so interesting that a lot of times you learn things about yourself and have new experiences when shooting a scene, because they’re things you wouldn’t normally do in your life.”
And in 2019 Richards discussed the racier aspects of the movie in an interview with Yahoo Lifestyle Australia. The actress revealed that she’d banned her children from ever seeing the film. And there was one scene in particular that the star was particularly keen to hide from her daughters for as long as possible, the poolside kiss with Campbell.
Richards explained, “I definitely did not give them a copy. I told them, ‘I don’t want you guys watching this,’ because one of my daughters brought it up to me and I was shocked. A couple of friends had told her about it and I just said to her, ‘I would appreciate if you didn’t watch it. It’s not age-appropriate.’”
Although Richards doesn’t want her kids to watch Wild Things, the actress certainly isn’t ashamed of her part in it. Recalling the discussion she had with her daughters Lola and Eloise about the film, she said, “It was a movie I did. It was a script I loved. It’s me being creative.”
“I worked with amazing actors and one day if you do see it, you may not agree with my decision. But that’s what mum decided to do.” That’s how Richards further explained her decision to take on the role to the two girls in question. However, the actress still has a lot of sympathy for her children having to deal with such an issue.
Richards added, “It’s weird for them, to see their mum in something that’s sexy or different. I think it would be very rude for me if it were my parents.” However, she’s still keen to protect her daughters’ innocence for as long as possible. And the star and her husband Aaron Phypers are taking considerable measures to do so.
In a 2019 episode of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Richards admitted to viewers that she and Phypers had installed security cameras outside their house. This was to stop eldest daughter Sami from sneaking out to see boys without her parents’ knowledge. Richards admitted that she used to do the same when she was Sami’s age.
Richards had previously warned Sami that she couldn’t start dating until she was 16. However, perhaps unsurprisingly, her ex-husband Sheen was far more relaxed about the prospect. “I’ll trust your judgment if you think he’s the right person to go with,” the Hot Shots star reportedly told Sami.
In January 2020 Richards appeared to reference Wild Things’ sex scenes in a reunion photo she posted to Instagram. Sporting a pair of ripped jeans and pink top, the actress was pictured linking arms with her one-time co-star Campbell over two decades after they last met. “We couldn’t believe we haven’t seen each other since the premiere,” Richards captioned the image.
And Richards couldn’t stop gushing about the lady she famously once locked lips with. The actress continued, “She’s as grounded and humble as I remember. One of the things I love about the movies and TV shows I have worked on over the years as we move on to other projects, our paths cross again and it’s heartwarming to reconnect.”
So what did the pair talk about after seeing each other for the first time in 20 years? Well, Richards wrote, “Picked up where we left off (well you know what I mean), reminisced about our time filming and shared stories about our kids.” Many followers believed that the words in parentheses were a direct nod to one of the most famous pool kisses in screen history.