When Melanie Griffith was cast in Working Girl, she moved to New York and rented a townhouse in the West Village. For three months, she researched the role. "I do a lot of work on my characters, then I pretend I’m that person, throw all of that work away, and just be what I put into it," Griffith said. "Then, no matter what happens, it works like a computer. You’ve already put the information in, so you just have to push a button and it comes up."
To help Griffith study for her part, screenwriter Kevin Wade took her to the Wall Street firm Bear, Stearns & Co., where Griffith met a couple of female executives and secretaries. The actress concentrated on three secretaries who worked for the firm’s then-vice-president Liam Dalton, an industry whiz kid who Charlie Sheen would model his character after for Wall Street.
Dalton recalled, "Melanie sat with my girls and just got to understand their mindset—what they talked about during the day, their wardrobe, their makeup, everything. She’d have a cigarette with them, go to the ladies’ room with them, walk from the ferry to the office with them and watch them file or type."
Although Griffith "didn’t do the Method thing and get a job" on Wall Street, she admitted to having one other inside source: She dated Dalton himself.
"She knew zero about business, but in a short time you could have put her in front of a monitor and she would have made money," Dalton said. He recalled finding her curled up watching the CNN financial news when he arrived home from a long day at the office. "She picked it up really fast. I’d come home and she’d tell me what happened in the market that day."
Those insights led Griffith to collaborate with screenwriter Kevin Wade and director Mike Nichols to make the part of Tess more sympathetic. She was concerned that audiences would find her character’s ambition too self-serving and her methods unethical. Griffith’s suggestions and contributions were valued by Wade. "I wrote Working Girl about an underdog, not about a woman," he said. "Her lines are boys’ talk. Melanie chose to play against it with that breathy Judy Holliday voice. And that’s not her, that’s smart acting."
A DVD TV enhanced version of Working Girl will screen tomorrow, January 4 at 8 p.m. EST | 7C.
Nikki Finke, "A Working Girl Makes Good," Los Angeles Times, 12/17/88
Alison Leigh Cowan, "How Three Plum Movie Roles Took Shape,"New York Times, 12/18/88
Bob Strauss, "Working Partners: Melanie Griffith & Harrison Ford," Chicago Sun-Times, 12/18/88
Jay Carr, "Melanie Griffith Poised for Stardom," Boston Globe, 12/22/88
Guy Trebay, "Working Girl," Premiere, 12/88
Jesse Kornbluth, "Melanie’s Place in the Sun," Vanity Fair, 4/89
See also "The Staten Island Look of Working Girl."
See also "How NYC Commuters Inspired the Working Girl Screenwriter."