Denise Richards on Playing a Trophy Wife in ‘Paper Empire,’ Being ‘Panned’ as a Bond Girl

Denise Richards has played plenty of trophy wives, both fictional and semi-fictional, but her latest role as the ex-spouse of a high-rolling crypto fraudster in upcoming series “Paper Empire” gave Richards the opportunity to do “something very fun and challenging and very different,” she says.

The show, which premiered at MipTV in Cannes last week, tells the story of financier Laurence Fintch (played by Robert Davi) who finds himself in jail after carrying out a multi-million-dollar cryptocurrency fraud. Fintch has no plans to stay in jail, regardless of what the FBI think, and soon hatches a daring plan to break out. The Robert Gillings-created series also stars Wesley Snipes, Kelsey Grammer and Danny Glover.

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Richards says Gillings sold the role of Fintch’s glamorous ex-wife Bentley to her on the basis of his pitch. “It is the first project I’ve ever done, I believe in my entire career, that I’ve never seen a [full] script for,” she told Variety in Cannes. “I was given scenes with my character, that’s it. Which is the first time that’s ever happened to me.”

“I thought it might be interesting and challenging to do a project where I don’t know what’s happening,” Richards continues. “Because sometimes in life, we really don’t know what’s going to happen. And so I just took every scene that I was ever given and based everything off of that.”

While Bentley might come across as arm candy, Richards says she “didn’t want to play the cliche trophy wife. I wanted to try to bring some depth, as much as I could, to my character.”

It helped there were elements of Bentley’s life she could relate to. “Especially with, you know, Robert Davi’s character being taken off [by the FBI] and having to go away and what that would mean with her entire family falling apart. Which obviously I can relate to as far as a divorce. I’ve been through that. So I really just wanted to find ways where I can bring some empathy and also show that she really loved him.”

“And it wasn’t just about their lifestyle and money,” Richards adds. “Although she loves that lifestyle and would love to keep it. It’s easier to go from poor to rich than rich to poor. You know, I’ve been through it all, I really have. Many levels. So it was something that I thought would be really interesting.”

Richards has undoubtedly been through the Hollywood ringer, not least in the early 2000s when she was a regular on blogs like TMZ and Perez Hilton. Unlike Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, Richards hasn’t yet had her post-#MeToo dues, which has seen her contemporaries’ stories re-examined through a new (less misogynist) lens. Does Richards feel ready to reclaim her narrative? “I have been very quiet about a lot of that stuff,” she says. “I obviously went through a lot in my career early on, when I did ‘Wild Things’ especially. And one day I will talk about that experience. And some stuff right after that and a little before, but it’s, uh… you know, I’m glad that we’re in a time where women are being empowered and being able to have more of a voice.”

Nowhere is that change more obvious than in the James Bond universe (of which Richards was once a part) where the latest film, “No Time to Die,” has even seen a woman – Lashana Lynch – briefly take on the 007 mantle. Richards, who starred opposite Pierce Brosnan in 1999 Bond film “The World is Not Enough,” recalls getting “panned” for her performance as scientist Dr. Christmas Jones, a role in which she sported shorts and a midriff-baring vest. “It broke my heart that people were making fun of me,” she says, recalling some of the barbs: “‘Oh, really? You’re wearing shorts and you’re a nuclear scientist?’”

“I’m playing a Bond girl,” she says in response to the criticism. “If I wore a lab coat and pants and a suit, then [fans] would have been upset, like, ‘Okay, why isn’t she looking like a sexy Bond girl?’”

So with Daniel Craig having finally retired the role, does Richards think it’s time for a female Bond? “Definitely a male Bond, I’m sorry,” she says definitively. “And I might get a lot of flack for this. But the fact of the matter is the Bond franchise was based off of a book franchise and Bond was male in the books and I believe [they should] continue with that. I do, and people may shit on me for it, but I believe it. They could do a spin-off where a Bond girl becomes the female Bond. But I think James Bond is James Bond.”

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