Sharon Stone: Sweet Charity
Sharon Stone’s smiling face graced the cover of the September 1996 issue of Movieline magazine. But when editor Virginia Campbell interviewed the actress for the cover story, Stone didn’t discuss her personal life or her career. She was there to promote her pet cause as the AmFAR’s Chair for the Campaign for AIDS Research. Before you roll your eyes cynically, it should be noted that Stone has continued working to raise money for AIDS research for the last two decades.
It’s a long way from the silent detonation of 1987’s Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold, one of Sharon Stone‘s less achieved, and badly received, contributions to cinema, to the gigantic hoopla of 1992’s Basic Instinct, Stone’s launch to stardom. It’s also a long way from Basic Instinct to 1995’s Casino, for which Stone received a Golden Globe Award and an Oscar nomination. But perhaps the longest way of all is the one from that nameless, beautiful face that glowed through the train window at the beginning of Woody Allen’s 1980 Stardust Memories, signalling all that was unattainable in man’s sexual yearnings, to the willfully radiant, instantly recognizable face that now shares photo ops with Magic Johnson, Carrie Fisher, Dr. Mathilde Krim and anybody else with the clout and will to help the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR).
Sharon Stone was never exactly cut out for the implied passivity of goddessdom. In public, she has always undercut the image of blonde seductress with self-parody. On screen, she has taken roles that brought out the savvy and toughness inside the pinup. And in private, she has dealt with Bismarckian dispatch with those who misjudged her or doubted her no-nonsense approach to fame. So it’s hardly surprising that Stone has finally discovered a suitably aggressive way of exploiting her own exploited image. What is surprising is that Stone, who has played the bad girl so frequently in films (and perhaps in real life), turns out to be, in her own mind, a good girl, and it’s the good girl who’s now getting her way by stepping up as AmFAR’s fund-raising, speech-giving Chair of the Campaign for AIDS Research. There are cynical spins you could put on this, sophisticated ones that encompass both sincerity and scale of effort. Don’t bother. Stone knows about every one of those spins, and her motivation and method outstrip them all.
I spoke with Stone at the West Hollywood offices of her Chaos Productions, which are serenely laid out with sandstone-colored walls and shutters, comfy pine furniture, big sofas, Santa Fe and African art and high technology. She came in cheerful and low-key in the most glamorous black sundress Grace Kelly never wore, and we sat down to talk not about fame, not about movies, not about Hollywood dish, but about charity.
VIRGINIA CAMPBELL: You’ve decided to stop talking to the press about your personal life–and, for that matter, your career–for awhile. For the benefit of all our readers who might be tempted to stop reading right now, can you say something that will encourage them to keep on listening to what you have to say here?
SHARON STONE: I gave this interview in the nude.
Q: Since this is Movieline’s special issue on Hollywood style, could you explain what an interview on your charity work has to do with the price of beans?
A: Well, now that fur is out, I guess we have to start being nice to each other. Hey, doesn’t that leave you guys outta the picture?
Q: Well, no. Although Movieline can be heartless about Hollywood, we’re not heartless about AIDS, the homeless, or a select few other matters, is your transition from the star of Basic Instinct to the star of Casino parallel to your transition from the purported tabloid home-wrecker of the Sliver era to AmFAR’s Chair or the Campaign for AIDS Research?
A: Purported being the operative word here–oh, anyway, fuck ’em–I guess I was always good… on the inside anyway. Sob.
Q: How did you come to be AmFAR’s new spokesperson?
A: Elizabeth Taylor couldn’t go to Cannes back in 1995 and so Dr. Maihilde Krim, who is the cochair of AmFAR and one of its founders, asked me to step in for her and host AmFAR’s event at the festival. At the party, I spoke about the need to step past our sadness and grief and restore the force of a united commitment. Someone later told me that they had never before seen sharks cry. About five or six months later, Dr. Krim flew to my movie location and asked me to accept this post.
Q: I heard you spoke extemporaneously and started crying. Did you have a prepared speech? And what came over you as you looked out on the audience?
A: That everyone in this room had been touched by the effects of this disease. That we were all worn and weary, and yet that our hearts were strong and well-intended. That after all of the Hollywood bullshit, we were all just people struggling to get through the day. I hadn’t been able to prepare a speech. I was overwhelmed to be speaking about this. I just stood there and said whatever came up.
Q: What appeals to you about AmFAR as opposed to 18,000-plus other AIDS organizations?
A: They asked me. And I admire Dr. Krim tremendously. She is ferociously committed to AmFAR. Her integrity is a force of nature. If she wants something from you that she believes will make a difference, she will risk friendships and reputation to get it. Her humanity is far greater than her need to be loved.
Q: I know you lost your close friend and acting coach Roy London to AIDS, among many other friends. What did Roy teach you that you’re using here and now?
A: That I am enough.
Q: What’s your biggest coup so far in your work for AmFAR?
A: I think I’ve helped wake people up again. I’ve reminded them that they have a commitment to ending this disease, and that it is possible.
Q: The American public has been described as “bored, burned out or convinced that [AIDS] is no longer their problem.” What strategy do you think will once again make the AIDS cause hip, fashionable, important or whatever, in the public imagination and conscience?
A: My approach is a practical, humane one. I tell them that you cannot pro-create with a condom, and I think future generations is a nice idea. Secondly, I tell them that AIDS is not a legacy to leave our children—we must have the [sense of] responsibility to deal with it now.
Q: Are you going after the heart and pocketbook of average Americans?
A: No. I’m going after their integrity and awareness. Certainly the rest will follow.
Q: Are you going to try to bring red ribbons back or invent a fresh image?
A: I’m going to try to give a more informed image, because the truth is now filled with hope. A difference is being made. People with HIV are being helped through the success of research, and, in more cases than not, HIV-positive mothers can now birth healthy babies.
Q: Would you like to put to rest, once and for all, the gossip that you and Elizabeth Taylor, the driving celebrity force behind AmFAR till you came along, have been at odds?
A: I admire E.T. tremendously. Rock Hudson was also my pal. Her loyalty, dignity, and support to him and subsequently to this cause tells me that she is one helluva woman. I am proud to work with her.
Q: You’ve vowed to raise $76 million for AmFAR in three years. What was your start date, and how much have you raised?
A: We started last October or November, so in less than a year we’ve raised nearly a third of our goal, I’m really happy about that and thrilled with the way people have thrown in with me on this.
Q: Reportedly, AmFAR’s fundamental research approach, which is inherently expensive, has helped yield results in the area of protease inhibitors. For the benefit of people who can keep box office returns and little else straight, what’s a protease inhibitor and why should we be excited?
A: We should be very excited, because these protease inhibitors seem to be having an enormous effect. There hasn’t been enough time to tell the long-range story, but as for now this is a wonderful breakthrough, and AmFAR funded some of the initial work that led to this approach. Protease inhibitors tend to reduce the amount of virus in a number of patients. With some patients, the reduction is so dramatic that the virus becomes undetectable. The theory is that if you can reduce the active virus, people will feel better and per-haps live longer. This is what the research community is looking into now.
Q: In a few years when your charity work has been widely successful–if there are still any buildings in Los Angeles not named after David Geffen– what public structure or institution would you like to see named after you?
A: The Sharon Stone School for Pretentious Behavior, Sexual Provocation, and Overall Disregard for Acceptable Conduct.
Q: Was giving to charity valued and emphasized in your family when you were growing up?
A: Yes, my parents gave most of the love and affection that belonged to me to my siblings or the neighbors. Clearly that is why I continue to cloy for the love and attention of strangers.
Q: Did you ever volunteer as a kid or a teen?
A: Yes. When I was about 14, I was a candy striper in a Catholic hospital. I am not, however, a Catholic and I found the nuns a bit confusing and terse, though quite dramatic.
Q: What was your first involvement in/with charity in Hollywood?
A: My first exercise in charity was the patience I had with casting directors who spoke on the phone while I gave my audition.
Q: How generous is Hollywood in general, considering its mass of wealth?
A: More generous to some than others.
Q: Are stars as generous as studio executives, producers, etc.?
A: Only in the abstract.
Q: Are there people you’ve encountered whom you consider shockingly ungenerous?
A: Yes. Some people live in fear and believe in scarcity. Some people are afraid to give away anything: love, money, friendship, fidelity, old shoes. They are sure they’ll run out.
Q: Are there stars and industry people who give on an astounding level and whom no one realizes are as generous as they are?
A: Yes. And they like it that way.
Q: Given that this is a town of control freaks par excellence, does help and money sometimes come with difficult strings attached?
A: No, usually just a blow job.
Q: How brazen are people about things like having their names writ large and getting the right photo ops?
A: That stuff is generally dealt with by their publicists before they get to me. Thank God!
Q: Do most stars consider that lending their name and/or presence at a charity event is their contribution, or do they deal in cash too?
A: I think stars realize that their name and presence are the most valuable contributions they can give, because that’s what helps draw in the people with money. But a lot of stars do give dollars too.
Q: What are you best at in the many talents called for in charity work?
A: Extracting cash from people who were previously out of touch with their deep generosity.
Q: Some remarkable people have driven AmFAR. What unique personal quality do you bring to the challenge?
A: I am a type A personality. I have that in comedy with them.
Q: In terms of the skills you need, has your charity work called on unexpected corners of your being?
A: I was not prepared for the psychological demands of working on behalf of terminally ill persons. I want not only to make a difference, but to make a difference in time. I look into those eyes and I just never feel I’ve done enough.
Q: Isn’t your sense of humor under some sort of siege with the constant exposure to the facts and figures and concerns of AIDS?
A: Oh, Jesus. If I stopped laughing, I’d go insane–uh-oh, too late!
Q: How hard are you to turn down when you want money or a commitment for one of your charities?
A: A) Harder than most.
B) Commitment? In this town?
C) I get turned down plenty.
D) Some people genuinely care and are very generous.
E) All of the above. None of the above. Kiss my ass.
Q: What can your fans and supporters who are not rich or powerful do to help your charities?
A: Give me one dollar. [Editor’s note: Readers who would like to contribute to Sharon Stone’s “Give Me One Dollar” campaign should read the information at the end of this interview.]
Q: Once you get involved with such worthy causes as AmFAR, and your sister Kelly’s charity Planet Hope, how do you keep this work at bay, and keep it from impinging on the film work that fuels your ability to help in the first place?
A: I do things separately, at the same time. On a movie set, for example, I wait in my trailer for hours each day between setups. I use that time to work by phone or with my staff.
Q: One of the many things Elizabeth Taylor did to raise awareness of AIDS was make a speech before Congress. Would you like to do that?
A: I am going to do that. That should set their hair on fire.
Q: Do you make a lot of speeches?
A: Oh yes. To my dates, my friends, the neighbors, my sister, my parents, poor, poor Chuck [Binder, her manager], who must endure them endlessly. Even my cats are tiring of me… But, oh, I’ve just started on the general public–only about 15 [speeches] or so–so far.
Q: I heard you spoke at the United Nations. What did you say to them?
A: That I was proud and scared to accept this position. That the unknown about HIV scared the shit out of me, That when I wanted to vomit from fear, I look back into the eyes of an 11-year-old girl with AIDS [I met] who looked deep into my eyes and told me about death. And for her alone, sometimes, I restore my locus and commit-ment and will not allow this to be our children’s legacy.
Q: Do you prepare your speeches or just shoot from the hip?
A: A little prep, a lot of shooting from the hip. I see who’s there, whom I’m talking with, and try to speak to them.
Q: Given the ’70s nostalgia all around us, have you considered a kind of postmodern version of the old-fashioned telethon appeal that had its heyday in the ’70s? Who, instead of Charo and Lainie Kazan, would you invite on?
A: Harvey Weinstein [Cochairman, Miramax Films] promised to do this. Jim Harmon [Chairman, Schroder Wertheim & Co.] gave a luncheon for CEOs of major companies in New York as a think tank. At that time, Harvey monopolized everyone’s attention and focused them all on this very valuable and important goal. I am sure he is organizing this now. We are all looking forward to it.
Q: Will you do public service announcements soon?
A: Michel Comte, a wonderful photographer and friend, has offered to organize and shoot a series of these with me. A lot of friends in the Hollywood community are helping too, but we’re going to need a full crew for several days and we need more assistance. Anybody out there with professional crew experience want to help? [Editor’s note: If so, see the information at the end of this interview.]
Q: Given that you’re committed to raising $76 million in three years for AmFAR, which is an incredible amount of money that will take an incredible amount of time and effort to raise, if a Middle Eastern potentate made you a Robert Redford/Indecent Proposal offer that gave you the whole amount for spending one night with him, would you do it?
A: Although it seems incredibly time efficient, somehow it seems to lack integrity, don’t you think?
Q: How much of your time is taken up by charity work on behalf of both AmFAR and your sister Kelly’s Planet Hope?
A: Oh, kind of a lot I had no idea when I began what kind of time and effort were involved.
Q: Have you had to double your wardrobe with all the added appearances for charity events?
A: No. I was already a clotheshorse.
Q: Are charity events any good for meeting attractive, datable men?
A: Not so far, but I haven’t given up hope.
Q: What is your sister Kelly’s charity, Planet Hope, designed to do?
A: It’s meant to educate the homeless in a way that prepares people for the workforce, and places them in permanent jobs, housing and schools. Kelly started a project called ‘Computer Hope,’ originally underwritten by Lee lacocca, wherein homeless people could come and learn computer skills. The graduation ceremonies for the first graduating class had to be postponed because most of the students got jobs! Kelly is just so awesome.
Q: How did you and your sister educate yourselves enough to create a charity?
A: We learned while doing it–and by looking into our hearts and taking risks.
Q: How much personal interaction do you have with people being helped by Planet Hope?
A: I interact with these people quite a bit. But it’s very personal. They’ll discuss it, or not, at their discretion.
Q: Does it ever make you uncomfortable moving back and forth between your own existence and the environment of the very poor who are helped at Planet Hope?
A: It makes me proud of my own personal accomplishments, and my ability to be of service.
Q: Even in view of all you’re doing for charity, do you figure you’re going to hell in the end anyway?
A: I ask myself a similar question, and in fact I wrote something about it–a poem, actually–last night.
Q: A poem about whether or not you’re going to hell?
A: Well, something inspired by thinking about that.
Q: Do you remember it?
A: Oh, it’s somewhere here. Let me find it and read it to you. [Stone shuffles through a stack of nearby papers.] OK, here it is:
“What pessimistic survey of tales untold reveals our heart’s desire?–Some choice of ravenous dogs left to feed on ragged scraps from a warlord’s feast?
Please be kinder to an anarchist’s bunion-covered feet left bleeding from an isolated trek to Masada. Who hails? Who reeks with sadness and delirium. Who knows?
Only in the heart of the beast lives the beauty of our love. Why? For the sake of the singing lark … whose language knows no bounds when its song is raspy from overuse.
Hear God’s love in the wind upon your neck as it whispers into the ear of heartache.
A love so large it holds my hand now and moves my pen in service. For you to hear a laughing rhythm calling ‘Hey you,’ Relax a little. Let go of that rock and let the river feed you safely into your future.”
Virginia Campbell is one of the executive editors at Movieline.