September 1996

The 15-year-old Swain as the latest incarnation of Nabokov’s teen vamp.

Adrian Lyne, the man who set new standards for steamy screen sex in 9 1/2 Weeks and Fatal Attraction, gets hot under the collar on his remake of Nabokov’s Lolita.

DOMINIQUE SWAIN COOS to Jeremy Irons softly as she sends one petite foot inching up his inner thigh. The fifteen‑year‑old Swain, dressed in a school‑uniform pinafore and plaid skirt, knows precisely the effect her foot is having on the rattled Irons, who is trying to stay stoic while clutching the arms of an overstuffed chair. She must even know how delicious she looks, bathed in the soft light of a Louisiana afternoon, because she is about to follow up the tease with pointed demands.

The scene, from Adrian Lyne's new version of Lolita, pulsates with erotic longing despite the fact that it's being viewed on a video monitor that is only ten inches wide. It's unnerving to watch because the audience is made dangerously complicit in the desire of Irons (as Humbert Humbert). After all, Swain still has a few characteristically girlish features, such as the slight roll around her tummy. But on the tiny screen, she is all Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, "light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo‑lee‑ta…”

"It's sexy, isn't it?," giggles director Adrian Lyne, enchanted with his discovery. "You can get so used to the subject matter. Then you have to pinch yourself and remember it's appalling." The rumpled British director is full of energy, despite the fact that this set at a Masonic temple in New Orleans is only one stop on a four‑month, $50 million‑plus road trip that will take the director and his company (which includes Frank Langella and Melanie Griffith) across the American South in an effort to re‑create Humbert and Lolita's journey.

Audiences certainly expect steam from Lyne after such button pushers as Fatal Attraction and Indecent Proposal. Still, they might be surprised to see Lolita bartering sexual favors for a raise in her allowance, one of the haunting nasty details of Nabokov's book that didn't make it into Stanley Kubrick's cerebral 1962 film version. Lyne wants a Lolita "truer" to Nabokov's brilliant opus, more explicit, but also funnier, a more evenly weighted battle of the sexes. "They're both manipulating events and caught up in them," says Lyne.

The director is banking on the delights of newcomer Swain, a sophomore at Malibu High, who was selected after a more than six‑month search and scores of open casting calls. In Swain, Lyne has found a Lolita who makes you laugh. She has a squishy face, elastic limbs, a comedian's timing, and a total lack of inhibition. Lyne has nicknamed her "Jaws" for the retainer she wears on her teeth and a hilarious onscreen battle she has with Irons over a jawbreaker.

And as mysterious as the young actress is on film, Lyne is certain of one thing: "She doesn't care about the sex," he assures. "Her mother and I care more."

Sweet and lo: script supervisor Leslie Park, Jeremy Irons, Dominique Swain, and director Adrian Lyne on the set of Lolita.