Premium

Ghosted by Hollywood: the naked truth about Demi Moore

Demi Moore in a promotional photograph for Striptease (1996)
Demi Moore in a promotional photograph for Striptease (1996)

In September of 1996, billboards and bus shelters across the UK were decorated with movie posters bearing nothing but a nude Demi Moore, the actress cradling her body, her limbs strategically positioned so as not to show anything too X-rated.

But many were soon taken down, not due to offence, but because a spate of bus drivers kept crashing their vehicles after finding themselves distracted by Moore’s physique.

The above may be entirely fictitious. It could be a classic mid-Nineties tabloid tale involving sex, celebrity and the slack-jawed hormonal urges of everyday British blokes - all planted to sell Striptease, the unfortunate lap-dancing comedy Moore earned a reported $12.5 million to star in.

But none of that matters. It's yet another strange, brilliant story in the mythology of Demi Moore, one of the most inescapable faces of 1990s stardom.

Moore isn’t as dominant in Hollywood as she once was, but has become pop culture’s own surprise guest star, endlessly popping up in places you wouldn’t necessarily expect. There she is as a predatory nymphomaniac in the Scarlett Johansson comedy Rough Night; there she is demolishing her ex-husband Bruce Willis at his recent Comedy Central roast; and in 2018, in arguably her weirdest turn, she materialised as one of the A-list attendees at Princess Eugenie’s wedding.

Demi Moore arrives for the wedding of Princess Eugenie of York and Jack Brooksbank  Credit: PA

This curious celebrity friendship isn't quite as strange as it first appears; Moore was friendly with Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew back in the day, and Eugenie has been seen dining over the years with Ashton Kutcher, Moore’s ex, and his wife Mila Kunis. With Moore reportedly remaining friends with Kutcher despite their divorce, it wouldn’t be the biggest leap to assume they all continue to exist in the same circles.

As Moore prepares to release her autobiography, Inside Out – which details her history of drug and alcohol abuse, as well as a rape she suffered at the age of 15 for which, Moore says, her mother was paid $500 – her current status in Hollywood is relatively low-key. But it could also be a relief. For a period of time, Moore was one of the biggest conversation-starters in Hollywood – her acting, her personal life and her body endlessly dissected, in often unflattering terms, by journalists and audiences worldwide.

She was, in many respects, the Nineties movie star version of a Taylor Swift or a Hillary Clinton. Whether it was tenuous or not, mention her in a headline and you’d have yourself a provocative think piece or newspaper column.

She's the inventor of the “nude pregnant celebrity” photo spread, and the original “cougar” (her nude pose for the latest cover of Harper's Bazaar does little to dispel this). She's as responsible for the early-Noughties Kabbalah craze as Madonna.

She's one of Twitter’s first famous users. And she was the first to ask themselves (on film, at least) the Indecent Proposal “question” that we’ve all subsequently pondered late at night when our bank balance is running low.

Moore spun through pop culture’s biggest hot-button subjects for nearly two decades. She was also an actress.

Emerging from the same Brat Pack that launched, to often diminishing returns, the careers of Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez and Rob Lowe, Moore was propelled to the A-list with a series of turns in unexpected smashes at the beginning of the Nineties, even if most of it was by proxy.

Playing the sad, haunted girlfriend in Ghost, the Naval lawyer in A Few Good Men and the objectified “prize” at the centre of the aforementioned Indecent Proposal, she became a magazine cover fixture and fashion icon (Monica was desperate for her haircut on Friends), even if her characters were largely reactive.

That Moore so often played “the girl” in giant movies dominated by big, scene-stealing performances from the likes of Whoopi Goldberg and Jack Nicholson was something of a poisoned chalice.

Over time, an image of Moore as someone who couldn’t actually act that well had emerged, particularly as her marriage to Bruce Willis and her high-profile publicity appearances so often overshadowed her work. (Her two iconic Vanity Fair covers have their own respective Wikipedia pages, to give you some understanding of her cultural significance.)

Moore and her contemporary Sharon Stone were greater lauded as pin-ups than good actors, female stars willing to do nudity and unafraid of sexually provocative projects, who often had to defend themselves from the insinuation that they weren’t especially talented.

Demi Moore's famous Vanity Fair cover Credit: Annie Leibovitz/Conde Nast

Asked of Moore by Dennis Pennis, Paul Kaye’s screamingly Nineties red carpet prankster, in 1995: “Under any circumstances, if it wasn’t gratuitous and it was tastefully done, would you consider keeping your clothes on in a movie?”

And while Stone revamped herself as an Oscar nominee and quasi-intellectual, palling around with the Dalai Lama and telling everyone with a dictaphone that she was in Mensa, Moore arguably had the toughest mountain to climb.

A key example of the inherent misogyny forever underlying the Razzies, Hollywood’s increasingly pointless anti-Oscar award ceremony celebrating bad movies, Moore was a perennial fixture in their Nineties hall of fame. She was nominated nine times throughout the decade, regardless of the actual quality of her performances.

The Scarlet Letter, her unintentionally funny 1995 Oscar hopeful, admittedly didn’t work at all and was most memorably summed up by Emma Stone in Easy A as a movie in which Moore “talks in a fake British accent and takes a lot of baths.”

Likewise her woeful corporate thriller Disclosure, another smash hit built around a hot-button topic, but one that cast her as a deranged man-eater preying on poor, defenseless tech CEOs that look like Michael Douglas.

But dig around Moore’s CV and some true brilliance emerges. Along with producing the Austin Powers franchise and the girlhood classic Now and Then, she is subtle and heartbreaking in the 1996 TV movie If These Walls Could Talk, playing a Sixties widow forced to turn to a back-street abortionist after being impregnated by her brother-in-law.

She is also coolly frightening as the lone woman in a pack of Wall Street investment bankers in 2011’s Margin Call, defiantly clinging on to a world that she long ago had to fight and claw her way into.

GI Jane, Moore’s last big starring role, arguably remains her finest hour. Ridley Scott’s 1997 actioner, which cast her as the first woman to be permitted to train as a Navy SEAL, is frantic, glossy and not particularly good, but Moore is brilliant.

Her incredible physical transformation, which saw her shave her head, gain 20 pounds of muscle and demonstrate impressive one-arm push-up skills on David Letterman’s talk show, would typically have propelled her into Oscar consideration, but was instead viewed as desperate – an attempt to be taken seriously that was mocked rather than seen as something admirable.

Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore in 2010 Credit: reuters

Dubbed “Gimme Moore” by Hollywood hacks on the heels of her enormous salary for Striptease, earnings that briefly saw her become the highest-paid actress in Hollywood, Moore told W Magazine in 2009 that she believed the reaction to GI Jane was partly motivated by industry backlash.

“I think GI Jane got hit because I was paid $12 million to do Striptease,” she said. “In a sense, Striptease was a film where women felt I betrayed them. GI Jane is a film where men felt I betrayed them. The focus went on that paycheck.”

Speaking to the New York Times while promoting her autobiography, Moore says that paycheck "came a lot of negativity and a lot of judgment towards me, which I’m happy to have held if it made a difference.”

Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore in Ghost Credit: alamy

On the heels of GI Jane, a Razzie “win”, a split with husband Willis and aggressive paparazzi intrusion, Moore retreated to a tiny town in Idaho to raise her three children. It would be a period of semi-retirement, one that came to an end when she was cast in the high-profile 2003 sequel Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, playing a vampy Angel-turned-supervillain in a succession of fur coats and high heels. It’s candy-coloured camp of the highest order, with Moore appearing to have a blast.

But it was a comeback that quickly became about something else entirely. There were the tabloid rumours (repeatedly denied by Moore) that she had spent $330,000 on liposuction and plastic surgery in preparation for the movie, while her off-screen relationship with Ashton Kutcher, then a permanently smirking Young Hollywood frat boy 15 years Moore’s junior, proved scandalous.

Married for six years, the pair were by all accounts stable and ordinary, the Moore/Willis/Kutcher unit all befriending one another and becoming a picture-perfect “modern family” of kids, exes and younger husbands. Still, tabloids did their best to make the Moore/Kutcher relationship something vaguely sordid, with Moore written about as a sad Mrs Robinson caricature.

She told W Magazine that she never understood why she was made “the poster girl” for relationships between older women and younger men, and preferred the term “puma” to “cougar.”

Designed to promote The Joneses and Happy Tears, two interesting 2009 indies in which Moore shines, the W interview saw her open up about her past successes, the vitriol often sent her way and how she envisages her career going.

It’s a great piece, but one that was, in an exact replication of so much of Moore’s public profile, entirely overshadowed by her body – this time a widespread controversy over whether her right leg was made digitally thinner on the cover.

Moore tells the New York Times that she felt lost in her 40s, and dispirited by the roles she was being offered - or rather, the lack of them. “They’d say they don’t really know what to do with you, where to place you,” she said. “I was like, oh, well is that supposed to flatter me?”

Charlie's Angels 2

She has always embodied the parallel absurdities of modern Hollywood, someone turned into a star because of her looks, but whose attempts to be seen as anything greater, or paid what she felt she was worth, were widely mocked.

It’s partly why her recent run of appearances have been so refreshing, most notably her surprise, unannounced appearance at Willis’s Comedy Central roast in July. One of her finest zingers? “Our marriage was like The Sixth Sense – you were dead the whole time.”

There’s an enjoyable ease to the Moore of today, a woman free of much of the intrusive, damaging speculation that trailed her through much of her career, who has made her money and now seems perfectly content to do whatever she wants – attempting to murder Taraji P Henson here, a royal wedding there.

Next up is a black comedy from one of the creators of Peep Show, in which she plays a cutthroat business woman trapped in a cave and forced to eat her employees to survive. It’s the exact kind of attention-grabbing, absurdist role that could, and really should, propel Moore back into cultural discussion and make amends for how badly we treated her in the past.

And, in a remarkable turnaround, playing a cannibal should make those pesky questions about her diet and her appearance a lot more fun to answer.