Sharon Stone: Wild Thing
Happy Valentine’s Day, readers!
You’ve got a hot date with Sharon Stone. Not present-day Stone, but Stone just before she became a star. Basic Instinct was about to be released and the Hollywood gossips were going to town. The movie was controversial for its depiction of Stone as a bi-sexual psychopath and rumors were flying around about what she had done to get the part. But the buzz was positive enough to get Stone a cover story with Movieline magazine and to get her star treatment at the historic St. James Club.
Dodging traffic on the ritzy end of Sunset Boulevard as I rush to meet bombshell Sharon Stone at the “members only” St. James’s Club, I’m thinking: 18 months can sure make a difference in Hollywood. About that long ago, a Playboy photographer snapped Stone working this same strip, dressed in a bustier, a killer pair of heels, silk lingerie and a raincoat.
She stopped traffic cold–we brake even in this town for a “900” sex-line whack fantasy made flesh–blowing kisses, snaking her hips like Anita Ekberg in La Dolce Vita, hell, practically ramming it in the faces of the Mercedes and Beemer boys who hung out their windows and put their calls on hold. Later that same day, she dangled in her undies from a ladder on the rooftop of the very same faux tony club at which we’re about to rendezvous. Later still, in one of the club’s deluxe suites, she thrashed around on satin sheets and thrust out her silk clad nether parts for all the world to ogle. It was all in a day’s work back then, all part of Sharon Stone’s brand of image-manufacture.
Yessirree bob, plenty can happen fast to a gal as drop-dead gorgeous and calculatedly inhibition-free as Stone. Since she played the devious, karate chopping Schwarzenfrau in Total Recall–the raison d’etre for her Playboy spree–we’ve seen Stone spoof herself on Spy‘s cover as “That Cynically Exploited Sex Object,” we’ve seen her presented as one of “America’s 10 Most Beautiful Women” in Harper’s Bazaar, and we’ve seen and heard her heat up Arsenio, Letterman and Leno. Of course, you’d expect limelight to splash all over a girl for whom Big Things have been predicted since she jumped from modeling and being the “Charlie” girl to acting.
“I know exactly where I’m heading: I’m going to be a movie star,” she declared to pals after her debut as Woody Allen’s shimmery wet dream in Stardust Memories, which she topped with a delectable Cybill Shepherd lampoon in Irreconcilable Differences and a knowing turn as Robert Mitchum’s wayward daughter-in-law in the “War and Remembrance” miniseries. Casting agents called her then “the most beautiful girl in town.” Critics predicted she might become that once-in-a-blue-moon screen phenom: the gorgeous madcap. But Stone’s grand entrance did not lead to instantaneous acceptance by the party at large. In such hits as Action Jackson and Above the Law, she emerged as a gorgeous action toy, before burying herself alive in flicks for which even she wouldn’t be caught dead cruising the bargain video racks: King Solomon’s Mines, Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold, Police Academy 4, Personal Choice, Blood and Sand. In record time, the snappy looker bound for stardom looked like a bimbo bound for the cornfield on “Hee Haw.”
Yet, just when the town that had so quickly heralded her arrival was on the verge of zipping up the body bag over her career, Stone turned up in Total Recall and proved a sexy, campy adversary to the serious Arnold. Heads turned again. And now she’s about to show up in Basic Instinct, playing an omnisexual suspected thrill killer who enthralls a kinky cop hot on her trail. Jam-packed with gleaming ice picks, geysers of blood and more raunch than you’re likely to see this side of a Pussycat Theatre, it may sound like another here-today, gone-tomorrow, steaming gob of Velveeta. But because this racy horror show cost over $30 million–hell, Joe Eszterhas’s script alone cost $3 million–and because it’s Paul Verhoeven (Robocop, Total Recall) guiding Stone and Michael Douglas between the sheets and the red herrings, this time the cheese may be Camembert.
And this may be the movie that finally pushes Stone over the top to a more secure spot among the screen beauties who get offered choice parts. It isn’t like other knockouts haven’t lived down their missteps. Check out Jessica Lange circa How to Beat the High Co$t of Living and King Kong, Melanie Griffith in Cherry 2000 and Fear City, and Michelle Pfeiffer in Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen and Grease 2. It remains to be seen whether Stone can pull off a career salvage job to equal those, but her phone is already ringing with offers that prove there’s life after Steve Guttenberg and Steven Seagal.
One thing is for certain: Sharon Stone is no longer on the outside looking in at the St. James’s Club. A member now of that private preserve (whose very walls echo with the witticisms of fellow members Liza Minnelli and Michael Caine), Stone breezes us into its airy dining room, looking subtly spectacular in tailored silks and Kim Novak’s peroxide job from Vertigo. Every neck in the place cranes, every eye tracks this creature who glides across the room, smiling to herself, looking every inch a movie star. A maitre d’ shows us to the best table, where he beckons her to sit in a power spot beneath a huge, framed photograph of Marlene Dietrich. Stone coolly checks out the portrait, looking confident that she won’t wither under the heat of a screen legend, and slides out the chair–which literally falls apart on contact. All bows and apologies, the maitre d’ replaces the broken chair–Lord only knows whose famous rump sat in it last–and, when he’s vanished, Stone observes in a wry, limpid voice that conjures up finishing school and Napoleon brandy, “Since I started Basic Instinct, I’ve been breaking up lots of furniture.”
Ah, yes, here’s a girl known far and wide as the fastest mouth in town, quick with a quip in any situation, especially good at self-deprecation. I’m going to enjoy this one. Crossing her legs and leaning into the back of her chair, Stone requests from our server a cup of coffee, black–“Also something I’ve been doing since Basic Instinct,” she notes. I ask why the movie has sent her seeking a regular jolt of Java. Arching a brow and then leaning forward, she explains in stage whisper: “Paul Verhoeven is a bit violence-crazed. Being a healthy person forced to hit the depth of violence and sickness that this part required, my psyche rebelled. I felt like I was going to snap. It took me weeks to be able to sleep through the night.”
Sleepless nights apparently weren’t uncommon on this movie. Screenwriter Eszterhas and producer Irwin Winkler, for instance, quit the project when Verhoeven decided to push the sex and violence stuff way beyond the script. (Later, Verhoeven and Eszterhas supposedly buried the hatchet.) But only a few weeks into the shooting in and around San Francisco, the movie became the center of a firestorm when protesters from Queer Nation and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation raised hell over the purportedly homophobic depiction of Stone’s bisexual character. Eszterhas proposed changing lines and scenes; Verhoeven refused. Stone, busy playing the part in question, steered clear of the fracas. Meanwhile, rumors flew that Stone and Douglas were barely speaking by the time they returned to L.A. to shoot their full-frontal sex scenes. Talk from the set alleged that the production ended up running way over schedule partly because it had to be shut down for days when mysterious nosebleeds felled Verhoeven–twice.
Well aware that Stone is unlikely to mince words about these and other hot topics, I nevertheless decide to ease into our talk by casually telling her that I can’t wait to see how the movie turned out. “I can,” she says, chortling. “And I couldn’t wait for the movie to be over.” Well, okay, let’s strap in and cut to the chase: Just how crazed did the shooting get? Laughing and saying she’d like to do “an interview my parents can read,” Stone begins detailing the mechanics of shooting the oral sex number she and Oscar-winner Douglas do in the movie. This is your daughter talking, Mr. and Mrs. Stone of Meadville, Pennsylvania. “You see a closeup of my head here,” she says, matter-of-factly wagging a sterling spoon to represent herself miming fellatio on the groin of a fork, Douglas’s stand-in, “with my eyes looking up at him. Then you see him, like, between my legs. So, it’s definitely us, not body doubles. We did everything but anal intercourse, and I don’t know why that isn’t in there because, with so much violence in the characters’ sexuality, that absence seems odd. Michael Douglas and I went as far as anyone could go. So far, in fact, that I don’t know how they’ll ever get a rating.”
And, just to keep the MPAA sex police on the case, Stone and Leilani Sarelle, who plays Stone’s lesbian lover, French kiss in a passionate scene. “Too many times, homosexual love scenes in film or theater are done in safe, unrealistic ways,” explains Stone, looking earnest and sounding politically correct. “I wanted a scene that wasn’t some sick male fantasy, but an example of people who live together and are in love, as in, ‘I want to smell your skin, look into your eyes, taste the way you taste.’ So, when Paul said he’d test anybody I thought would be good, I sent in my best friend, Mimi Craven. If you’re going to do a lesbian love scene, why not have it be with your best friend? Later, when Paul showed me tapes of three other girls and I saw Leilani, I said: ‘That girl’s hot.’ The first day we were supposed to shoot the scene, every crew member I had never seen before showed up on the set. Leilani’s boyfriend came, too, so I went up to him and said, ‘Any special tips you’d like to impart before we roll?’ And he did. Leilani and I had a very personal bond, very deep trust. I mean, I really love that girl and I feel that girl really loves me.”
Speaking of personal bonds, Stone and Verhoeven certainly must have struck some to get her to go as far as she says she has. “Since the script had all these nude scenes and sex scenes,” she muses, coolly rearranging the tableware, then casually folding her hands like Miss Prim, “I said to Paul: ‘If this is going to be Evian water on various body parts under blue light in slow motion, I can’t do it. I’d feel like an asshole. If we’re going to do real sex–exciting, voyeuristic, funny, stupid, clumsy, thrilling–I’m willing to take that risk with you, for you, because I believe in you.'” But all that exposure of flesh, all that heavy breathing, even if it is synchronized with that of a Best Actor Oscar-winner? “I don’t thrive on the concept of being naked at every possible moment, but it’s not the biggest deal in the world to me,” Stone says, with a dazzling smile, then adds sotto voce: “Well, the butt’s not as young as it used to be, so that’s pretty scary, but I had to show some psychological stuff that’s a lot scarier.”
Having read the script of Basic Instinct, I ask Stone if she doesn’t think her “Catherine”–sexually predatory, utterly amoral, the hallucinatory film noir mantrap taken to the limit–makes Kathleen Turner’s “Matty Walker” in Body Heat seem like Mother Teresa. “Lots of people think my character in the movie is bad,” she coos, chiding me for my judgmental nature. “Paul says that she’s the devil. I, not having personally met the devil, can’t say for sure. To me, Basic Instinct is Pillow Talk, only my character is acting out in a different way. She’s just another girl with a broken heart. Maybe that’s why I got the part: I have no value judgment about whether she’s bad or not. I told Paul that anything he wanted to do with truth I would do. If I put limits on him, I’d have to put them on myself. I decided that the way to make me feel wonderful about myself and my body during those nude scenes was to do a mantra in my head while we did it. At a certain point, I stepped back and became the fantasy of Paul.”
Apparently, not every glamorous contender for the role of Catherine was willing to be so malleable. Michael Douglas had allegedly wanted a Grace Kelly type and saw in Michelle Pfeiffer a reasonable facsimile of the cool, ambiguous blondes Kelly played for Hitchcock. But, after what Stone describes as “five angst-ridden months” following her first screen test, which got shot down, and while Pfeiffer’s name was still very much on the lips of the moviemakers, Verhoeven called her to test again, this time with Douglas. Stone says, “I bought a Grace Kelly-like suit, called my hairdresser and said, ‘I want you to watch Rear Window and give me that hairdo when I come in.’ Then, months went by after I tested with Michael when they were saying to me, ‘We’ll let you know next week,’ then ‘We’ll tell you next week,’ and I went back east to shoot a small part in a movie for my acting teacher [Hit Man, directed by Roy London] an hour from where I was born. I came back late one night to find messages from Paul and from my manager. I’m thinking, ‘Obviously, I’m getting one of those ‘You’ve been such a good sport’ calls that usually ends with ‘…but we really want a star.’ The phone rings. It’s Chuck, my manager. ‘It’s a pass, right?’ ‘No,’ he says, ‘you’ve got it, but you can’t tell anyone until we’ve got the deal set.’ I said, ‘Chuck, it’s been eight months, what do you mean you don’t want me to tell anyone?’ And he says, ‘I don’t want Michelle Pfeiffer to change her mind!'”
How exactly did Stone land the movie over such alleged contenders as Pfeiffer, Lena Olin, Joanna Pacula, Amanda Donohoe, Renee Soutendijk, even–why not?–Julia Roberts? “Actually, I just stood in the lobby and–” she breaks off, miming that she’s lining up her competitors and gunning them down, “picked the other actresses off as they came out of Paul’s office. The truth is, I ask myself the same question.” Perhaps, I suggest, Pfeiffer and Roberts, arguably our biggest women stars at the moment, are too control-happy and image-conscious to let it all hang out for the cameras. “Whenever I play something, everybody just thinks that’s who I am,” Stone says, sounding miffed. “I don’t think Julia Roberts is as innocent as her image suggests. You have to be a really smart cookie to create an image as clean and pure and on-the-money as hers. I understand that, in order for Michelle Pfeiffer to have done the piece, it would have had to change.”
Change, as in way less skin and kink? In fact, I suggest to Stone, if Eszterhas’s script hadn’t come Verhoeven’s way, couldn’t the project have been downright–“Stupid?” she offers, laughing throatily, and adds, “I think Paul and Joe were relieved that they had created a piece that worked as it was and then found someone who could do the piece as it was. I don’t think a lot of the other women wanted to do that.” So, to the bigger names who are reluctant to take on genuinely controversial roles, Stone leans into my tape recorder and growls a message: “Stay home. Be afraid. Don’t turn on the juice. I’ll do it.”