Why Hollywood won't cast Elizabeth Berkley anymore

Most of the original cast of Saved by the Bell has gone on to do other things—Tiffani-Amber Thiessen was on 90210 and now has her own Food Network show, Mark-Paul Gosselaar had NYPD Blue and Franklin & Bash, Mario Lopez has every hosting gig that Ryan Seacrest turns down, and Dustin Diamond had porn and prison stints. But what happened to Elizabeth Berkley after Bayside High?

Her first post-Saved by the Bell role was a box office disaster

In order to decimate her good girl image of excitable feminist class president Jesse Spano, Berkley starred in Showgirls (1995). Director Paul Verhoeven told Rolling Stone, "It's probably true that casting her in a part so different from how American audiences knew her affected the box office." The movie had an almost unheard of NC-17 rating, with many theaters refusing to screen the film at all. Combine the nudity with the rest of the content, and it was a box office disaster. IMDb reports that Showgirls cost $45 million to produce and made less than half of its budget back, grossing a total of $20 million in ticket sales.

Showgirls was a critical flop

Despite its "so bad it's good" cult classic status, Showgirls only has a 19 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 16 percent Metascore. One of the best reviews for Showgirls was from Time critic Richard Corliss, who wrote, "Showgirls…is one of those delirious, hilarious botches that could be taught in film schools as a How Not To." Berkley's acting was the target of many scathing reviews. Critic Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle called her "an unappealing leading lady playing a woman whose fierce ambition is to do something not admirable, just ridiculous." Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly said, "As an actress, Berkley is, to put it mildly, limited. She has exactly two emotions: hot and bothered." Jay Boyar of the Orlando Sentinel said the starlet "possesses no detectable acting talent. Berkley keeps glaring at the camera with a peculiar intensity that I can only assume is meant to suggest great depth. What it really looked like to me, however, was that she was trying to recall which foot is left and which is right."

Of course, Berkley's acting wasn't the only problem with Showgirls—Meryl Streep could not have saved a script that awful. However, since Berkley was the face (and, uh, naked body) of the film, and it was her first major endeavor after Saved by the Bell, the film hurt her the most.

She was almost too good in Showgirls

Even though Berkley received harsh criticism for her acting in Showgirls, everyone else involved insists she wasn't the problem. Director Verhoeven told the Los Angeles Times, "If somebody is to blame it's [screenwriter] Joe [Eszterhas] or me. I think she did exactly what we wanted and what we thought would be good. And apparently we failed." He added that Berkley's performance was so good that the public couldn't separate her from Nomi Malone. "Her performance that everybody is so against is based on a character," Verhoeven said. "The hate towards her character—an edgy, nearly psychotic character—is actually a compliment to her performance." A source close to Berkeley told the paper, "She's been getting the blame for this movie and it's so unfair. She is an innocent. Paul Verhoeven said, 'Be this way.'"

Surprise! Hollywood is sexist

In the words of Jesse Spano, Hollywood is full of sexist pigs. The world never really seemed to get over the fact that Berkley got naked in Showgirls because this was back in the early '90s, when a sex tape could crumble, not create, an empire. As the star of the film, Berkley bore the brunt of the consequences; not the male screenwriter, director, or producers, even though they admitted that the film's failures were mostly their own doing. Verhoeven explained to the Los Angeles Times, "I never thought this continuous bashing of the movie and of Elizabeth would happen. We're sitting with these ruins in front of us. I realized with the nudity and the fact that critics are essentially Puritan that there would be backlash and anger, but I never thought the movie wouldn't do well. So I never accounted that she would be put in such a bad position and I feel terrible about it."

She hasn't really had a starring role since Showgirls

Berkley has kept relatively busy with television roles for almost 20 years, thanks to brief stints on NYPD Blue, The L Word and CSI: Miami, as well single-episode guest spots on shows like New Girl, Melissa & Joey and Law & Order: Criminal Intent, among others.

She also starred in numerous TV movies, including Lucky Christmas, the Lifetime classic Student Seduction (2003) and Becoming Dick (2000). The problem is that none of these were starring roles on long-running series or theatrical movie releases. So, if viewers missed an episode or two of any of these shows, or just weren't home for a TV movie airing, she wouldn't have made a mark in their consciousness, even if her performances were fantastic.

Berkley's movie roles have been similarly small. Although she's had parts in movies like Rodger Dodger, Any Given Sunday and The First Wives Club, she really wasn't given too much opportunity to make that big of an impression on audiences. These projects, while absolutely respectable for any working actress, unfortunately failed to get Berkley the buzz she may have needed to get a blockbuster shot anytime soon.

She took to theater

Since the big screen didn't exactly pan out for Berkley, she channeled her performance skills through a different medium: the stage. In 1999, Berkley co-starred with comedian Eddie Izzard in a London production of Lenny, a biographical play about controversial comic Lenny Bruce. Critics delivered mixed reviews on the play overall, but the Independent praised Berkley's performance as Bruce's stripper-wife Rusty as "impressive." Though the production was only a limited engagement for a few months, the demands of a stage schedule, from actual productions to previews to rehearsals, is demanding enough to likely have prevented Berkley from working elsewhere, especially in Hollywood, for a good six months, at least.

She was stuck in the middle of a lawsuit against

Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, and Berkley got caught up in a lawsuit that a former boyfriend filed against the now-Oscar winner. The New York Daily News reports that in 1999, Berkley dated actor and musician Roger Wilson, who sued DiCaprio and some of his pals, including Entourage star Kevin Connelly, for $45 million after a member of the Titanic star's posse allegedly attacked him, breaking his larynx and causing other injuries. Wilson alleged that the fight began because DiCaprio was pursuing Berkley repeatedly, despite her telling him that she and Wilson were an item. Wilson allegedly confronted DiCaprio, whom he claimed then sicced his cronies on him. DiCaprio and his pals denied all the allegations.

E! News reports that the lawsuit was dismissed in 2004, by which time Berkley had moved on and married Ralph Lauren's nephew, Greg Lauren—but her association with the case may have hurt her chances at nabbing any more prominent work because of the DiCaprio connection.

How she can turn it around

Berkley is on her way to a major comeback. The actress has become an agony aunt, penning the best-selling Ask Elizabeth in 2011 and serving as a motivational speaker for teen girls. She told Entertainment Weekly, "Everyone just talks about the problems our teenage girls are facing and what they're dealing with. But there was, to me, a void in how they were being served or helped. I thought, 'Wow, I'd love to create something.'" She developed a two-hour workshop series based on her talks with teens. "It spread like wildfire," she gushed. "Schools and administrators and parents, completely word of mouth, totally grassroots, I didn't do any press on it for two years. It was just organic."

Berkley has also expanded her resume. She explained to TV Guide that Showgirls may have been a blessing in disguise. "I see it as the beginning of my film career. At the time, there were obvious controversies and difficulties that arose, but it was a choice, and it set me on a path for a movie career that [has allowed me] to work with people at the highest level…It brought forth the kind of people I'd want to work with, like Oliver Stone or Woody Allen…So it weeded out the kind of people I wouldn't want to work with anyway."

Berkley has also embraced her past, performing an "I'm So Excited" tribute on Dancing with the Stars, and hosting a 20-year anniversary screening of Showgirls in 2015, saying it was a "full-circle moment."