20 years later and most people still don’t know what to make of Paul Verhoeven’s trash masterpiece Showgirls, the film in which former Saved by the Bell star Elizabeth Berkley attempted to shed her prudish image but instead made audiences — and studios — weary of her presence According to Verhoeven, the same fate could have befallen Charlize Theron, as the director reveals that Theron auditioned for the lead role in the film but was ultimately passed over for Berkley.

In a new interview with the New York Daily News, Verhoeven says that Theron tried out for the part of stripper and aspiring dancer Nomi Malone in his critically-despised 1995 film:

Charlize also auditioned, and I don’t recall her having any problem with the nudity at all. She was good and wanted the part, but basically she was not well known enough at the time and just did not fit the part, so we said ‘no.’

Showgirls earned an NC-17 rating for what some felt was an excessive amount of full-frontal nudity. At the time, Berkley was best known to general audiences for her role as bookish feminist teen Jessie Spano on Saved by the Bell, and — like many young actresses and pop stars before her — was looking to shatter her innocent image with a very adult role.

The film ultimately bombed, leaving audiences turned off by its crude excess and stiff, unsexy scenes of sex and sensuality. Showgirls still has its fans (myself unironically included), and as this year marks the 20th anniversary, Verhoeven has been making the press rounds to clarify his intentions and defend a film loathed by most and hailed as a trash masterpiece by few (again, myself unironically included).

Showgirls tarnished Berkley’s image, and it took her several years to recover from the stigma surrounding her performance. Verhoeven has gone on the record defending Berkley’s part in the film and insisting that he instructed her to play Nomi as wildly, inhumanly melodramatic. Obviously, it’s for the best that Theron didn’t land the role, or she might have never become the star she is today, as Verhoeven notes:

I have full respect for Charlize, but if she had been offered the part then she would probably have been chewed up in the same way they treated Elizabeth [Berkley]. She was very lucky that she did not get the part. I wish Charlize congratulations for that because it would have been a miserable 20 years for her!

Love it or hate it, Showgirls is a singular, peculiar cinematic experience, a bit of crass Cinderella / Hollywood satire that has been misunderstood and despised for the last two decades. But no matter how much I appreciate it, I have to agree with Verhoeven: if Charlize Theron had played Nomi Malone, we might be living in a very different, unpleasant world.