BY NOW, ALL HER BROTHER'S buddies know what Elizabeth Berkley looks like naked. And not just the sort of split-second nakedness that turned Sharon Stone into a superstar in Basic Instinct either. In Showgirls, the most recent offering from Instinct creators writer Joe Eszterhas and director Paul Verhoeven, Berkley is the girl who shows—everything: 131 minutes of gyrating, pulsating, no-one-under-17-allowed frontal explicitness. If Berkley hoped this high-risk role would get her noticed, she succeeded...in one way. Rarely has a film opened to such universal vitriol from critics (see page 26). But Berkley, 23, claims to be unaffected. "I don't read reviews," she says. Nor does she blush at more personal "reviews": strangers on the street who sneak knowing glances. Says she: "They all have a body under their clothes too."

Yes, but not her body. As a star of the teen TV series Saved by the Bell from 1989 to 1993, Berkley played prim Jessie with such convincing innocence that her curvaceous 5'10" frame went almost unnoticed—both by fellow actors and students at San Fernando Valley's Calabasas High School. Says one ex-classmate: "She just didn't stand out." That was hardly the case when Berkley read and danced—clothed, though scantly—for Showgirls' Verhoeven last year. "No one else came close," he says. "Elizabeth is one of the ultimate females."

And eager to demonstrate it. During four months of filming, Berkley never asked for a body double or a rewrite—except to ad-lib a little sizzle of her own. "Like the time I took off my bra and tied it to a pole," says Berkley. And that was the tame stuff, by far. The prancing and panting may have aroused mostly giggles in audiences, but not for want of Berkley trying. "She enjoys her sexuality," says Verhoeven. "I have no idea where it comes from. It's just part of her."

Where it does not come from, says Berkley, is experience. Born in the Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills—the daughter of lawyer Fred Berkley and his wife, Jere, who now owns a gift-basket business—she was too devoted to performing to think much about boys. She began dancing lessons at 5 and soon added acting. When she was 13, says her former dance teacher Barbara Fink, she told a local interviewer after a recital, "All I want to be is a star."

When her brother Jason, now 26, was at Michigan State University, 15-year-old Elizabeth—"as sweet as she was ambitious," says Fink—moved with her parents to L.A. A year after arriving she landed the Bell job. She quit four years later, she says, "to explore more complex characters in movies." But rejection was all she got to explore until she landed the Showgirls role. Determined to do the job right, Berkley sought lessons from the pros. "We did a lot of pole work," says Carson, 25, a topless dancer at the Cheetah strip club in Las Vegas, where Berkley practiced, occasionally in front of paying customers. "She was very open-minded."

As was her family. "At first the nudity took me aback," admits Jason. "But you kind of accept it." Her parents, with whom she lives in a modest home in L.A., agree. "They are my friends," says Berkley, who refuses to discuss anyone she's dating. ("I don't want to talk about my personal life. I want to talk about the movie and my work.") Oh, well. In Hollywood just about any publicity is good publicity—and any experience, Berkley would add, good experience. "I already knew tap dancing and ballet," she says. "Now I know-lap dancing too."

KAREN S. SCHNEIDER
ANNE-MARIE OTEY and JOYCE WAGNER in Los Angeles and RENITA ALEXANDER in Detroit

  • Contributors:
  • Anne-Marie Otey,
  • Joyce Wagner,
  • Benita Alexander.