Kim Basinger: Kim Confidential
Kim Basinger’s Oscar win for L.A. Confidential is easily the high point of her career. But the years leading up to that victory were extremely difficult. Basinger was involved in a costly law suit after backing out of the box office bomb, Boxing Helena. She was also caught up in a whirlwind of bad press after declaing bankruptcy when her investment in the town of Braselton, GA didn’t work out. Following those set-backs, Basinger took some time off to have a baby. At the time of this interview from the April 1997 issue of Movieline magazine, Basinger was just coming back into the spotlight to promote L.A. Confidential.
We haven’t heard from Kim Basinger for some time because she’s avoided the media while: fighting a lawsuit regarding her not appearing in the film Boxing Helena that wound up costing her over $3 million; giving up on the town called Braselton in Georgia, which she had hoped to make into a creative arts center; having a baby; making Robert Altman’s Ready to Wear, which left her in tears each night because she had no idea what she was doing (and yet played a TV fashion industry reporter hilariously); and making Curtis Hanson’s adaptation of James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential, in which she plays a mysterious party girl in ’50s noir Los Angeles.
Now that she’s agreed to come up for some public air, we can reassure ourselves that she still retains her sense of humor, her belief in the vegetable as the only proper food to ingest, her ability to turn a phrase and speak her mind, her wackiness, her beauty, and her determination not to let the bastards get her down.
LAWRENCE GROBEL: You’ve had an addition to your family since we last talked. She’s now a year-and-a-half old. How did your pregnancy go?
KIM BASINGER: The first six months of my pregnancy I was really, really seasick–everybody calls it morning sickness, I call it 24-hours-a-day sickness!
Q: Was Alec much help during the seasickness?
A: Alec was in New York making The Juror. I have a wonderful supportive group of women who work in my house with me, but while rocking and rolling in bed late at night, you just say to God, “Help me, this is horrible!”
Q: Did you know it was a girl?
A: No, we didn’t want to know. Subliminally Alec and I both thought it was a boy. When the baby came, my doctor said, “Well, this one ain’t got any balls.” I thought our child might be missing part of his anatomy. Alec was totally ashen. Then he realized and said, “It’s a girl!” I was basically in shock.
Q: Was it a natural birth?
A: No, I had to have a C-section. My baby had been in the vaginal canal with her head down for four months. But three weeks before my due date, she had completely turned. My doctor suggested a procedure where they try to turn the baby [the right way]. Without being dramatic, it was the most painful procedure I’ve ever dealt with in my life. Alec was holding my feet, two nurses were holding my hands. They moved the baby three-quarters down, but they had to stop to give me a rest. Before they got out the door the baby turned all the way back. I just burst into tears. I said, “I am not going home without this baby today! So schedule whatever you have to and get it out!” Two hours later I was in the operating room.
Q: Did you breast-feed?
A: Yes, but I didn’t have milk like these Elsie the Cow women who walk around–I’m sorry! I don’t know what that is about. To me it’s like a fairy tale, these women who talk about having so much milk that they pump it out into bottles. I never had that. I breast-fed for four months and always had to supplement the baby.
Q: Who does she look like, you or Alec?
A: Let me put it this way: how many times a week does Alec come to me and say, “Are you sure she’s mine?”?[Laughs] Does that answer your question? I said to one of my ladies in the house, “How do you think it would feel to be able to kiss yourself on the mouth at the age of 14 months? What is it like to watch you bring up you?”
Q: Whose temperament does she have?
A: I have a temper, but I do not have a temper like Alec. I don’t think two people [like that] could live in the same house, OK? But with these two temperaments, Ireland has started something that every mother has told me happens: tantrums.
Q: Will she ever taste meat?
A: Ah, no. She’s so healthy, and she eats every kind of vegetable on the planet. She eats rutabaga and lentils and black-eyed peas and turnip greens and beets.
Q: So her teenage rebellion will be eating a Big Mac?
A: You know what? I can’t say what my reaction will be at the time, but I hope I will remember myself when I went through these things, when I wanted to wear short skirts up to my you-know-what. Children need to grow up and make their own decisions–how they want to pierce their bodies or do whatever they need to do.
Q: Are you working on another child?
A: I’d love to have another baby. We’ve also thought about adopting.
Q: Any doubt if you adopted it would be a boy?
A: [Laughs] Most of our dogs are females and Alec is always saying he’s surrounded by bitches.
Q: Have you allowed pictures of Ireland to appear in the press?
A: It’s not really about allowing them. They’ve been everywhere. I kept her in the house for the first three months, away from people. Then I took her to New York and I remember a barrage of paparazzi everywhere we went. It was really frightening for her, very upsetting. And I said, “That’s it.”
Q: Alec got into trouble with a photographer–how crazy did that make him?
A: That was in our neighborhood. It’s all in litigation now so I can’t really talk about it. It was right after her birth. I was very vulnerable. I’ve been stalked before. The last thing I heard was Alec saying, “Stay in the car.”
Q: When were you stalked? Before Alec?
A: Yeah. I don’t like to go back there. It lasted a while, and then creepy things would happen when I’d go on location.
Q: Given the problems you’ve had with Disney, does Ireland have any Disney animals?
A: If she’s drawn to Mickey, so be it. But her favorite is Tweety.
Q: Has Alec changed since her birth?
A: I don’t think the reality hits men as quickly as women. Men have to grow into this maturity. They see their wives slipping away from them and they resent it. And they have a harder time with giving up what they were so accustomed to. I’ve been in awe of Alec’s verbal ability–he’s a very articulate, intellectual guy. I’ve never seen him have any adversarial situations he could not deal with. But there’s one little creature he just can’t seem to master. She has him completely intimidated, baffled. He calls from New York and says, “What’s she doing? Let me talk to her.” So I put him on the speakerphone and she hears, “Is that my little so-and-so?” And she’s on top of the washing machine taking her ride, watching the lights go on. And he says, “She’s just having less and less to do with me.” I know the way he feels, but I say, “Alec, she loves the washing machine this morning, get over it. I can’t get a kiss out of her either.”
Q: You told me your first marriage [to makeup artist Ron Britton] was about protection and your marriage to Alec was about clarity. That still hold?
A: I do believe that.
Q: Is Alec still your life’s focus?
A: Did I say that? [Laughs] My family is the most important thing to me, hands down. It’s a whole new ball game for me now.
Q: Is the passion between you as intense–or have you settled into a more married-life routine?
A: Alec truly thinks the focus is always with the baby. He went on the Rosie O’Donnell Show and said, “My wife and I are separating; she’s fallen in love with another woman–a 14-month-old, bald-headed girl.” The audience was so dumbstruck by his statement that we were splitting they didn’t get the joke. The passion goes through different stages after you have a child. You have some great moments, you have some disagreements. We’ve been together seven years now and have gone through a great deal of ups and downs, which have made me a stronger and better person. We have the real foundation a partnership needs. We’re very different in a lot of ways, but very much alike in the key ways. We’re just normal people like everybody else.
Q: This is what Alec said about you: “There’s a naivete about her. She just doesn’t get it. And that’s what I love about her.” Are you as naive as Alec thinks?
A: I feel the same way about him. Our personalities manifest themselves so differently. Alec is gregarious, vocal, outspoken, and he sees my quiet shyness … maybe I am very naive.
Q: What made you decide to do L.A. Confidential as your reentry to movies after taking time off to have your baby?
A: When I first read the script I said, “No, I don’t want to do this.” I just didn’t see it. I wanted something like Jane Eyre. I’m my own worst enemy sometimes when I pick projects. God knows I’ve made some horrible choices in my life, and I’ve passed up really good offers that other people have become huge stars from. [Laughs] I read L.A. Confidential again at my then-agent’s advice, and I saw what he was talking about. I was nervous meeting with the director, Curtis Hanson, because I had some questions about stuff in The River Wild and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. But he had it in his mind who he wanted as the Veronica Lake character. It’s a wonderful part for me because until now, dramatic, serious pieces have eluded me.
Q: Body Heat-type films?
A: Oh no, I did my 9 1/2 Weeks. I’m talking about what I call “Yea, My Lord” pieces that a lot of women are doing–which are very beautiful. All women want to dress up and do what Nicole Kidman did in The Portrait of a Lady.
Q: So in L.A. Confidential you get to play a serious party girl in a cast that includes Kevin Spacey and Danny DeVito.
A: It’s an amazing cast–those two, plus Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, David Strathairn, James Cromwell. Russell Crowe’s one of the most talented people I’ve ever worked with. James Cromwell plays the bad guy–and I just loved him so much as the farmer in Babe that I hated to see him be bad.
Q: You had a major catastrophe when it came to making you into a Veronica Lake look-alike, didn’t you?
A: Today you put highlights in your hair, but women in the ’40s used to dye their hair solid. Veronica Lake, Grace Kelly, all those girls had really beautiful blonde silk angel-looking hair, but oh, what you had to do to get that! I’ve never dyed my hair, just put highlights in it, but I volunteered to let it be dyed. My hair rebelled. I was there in the sink with this wet hair and my head was burning. I asked if that was normal and they said yes, it’s supposed to tingle. So I lay there for another four minutes and then asked them to rinse it out because it was burning so badly. It continued to burn. By the next morning I had blisters on my head and down my neck. I had to have wigs because my hair started falling off. Not out, thank God. There was no damage to the root. My hair was just breaking off in big pieces. In the last two scenes of the movie we cut my hair short. And at the end of the movie, I told the hair stylist to just cut my hair all off. I was kind of happy with the idea of just getting rid of that hair for a while. And oh boy, did I get my wish. I was almost bald.
Q: You said playing TV reporter Kitty Potter in Altman’s Ready to Wear was the most terrifying thing you’d ever done. Why?
A: No script, no nothing. Fool for Love, which I did with Altman, had a script, and it was a wonderful part for me–it made a difference. [But on Ready to Wear] Altman took us all together and said, “We’re going to go into these fashion shows in Paris and you are going to be in character and not come out of character even if you see somebody you know.” I came from the fashion world and had people coming up to me and I had to be rude to them because the camera was on me the whole time. I felt so horrible. I was doing everything but slapping these people in the face. Plus it was on-the-spot acting. Altman would see someone and tell me to go interview her, and it would turn into these catty conversations as he would stand behind us roaring with laughter. Now we know how it all turned out–the film was just mashed into the wall.
Q: Did you ever know what the film was about?
A: No, I never knew what he was doing.
Q: How disappointed were you with The Getaway?
A: Truly disappointed, but what could we do when God chose to snow the whole nation in the weekend it opened–and it was the same weekend Ace Ventura, Pet Detective opened. We’ve been offered The Getaway 2. The Getaway where? God knows.
Q: For Alec it might be to get away into politics, though hasn’t his liberal bent irritated an East Hampton newspaper, which wrote that he should get out of town?
A: He’s so into politics, with his TCC [The Creative Coalition] organization, which he’s president of in New York. The relationship he has with that paper puzzles me a little bit. They banter back and forth. I think Alec has just worn out his welcome with the column he keeps writing.
Q: Would Alec make a better congressman, governor or senator?
A: I don’t really know, because he changes so quickly. As a kid he wanted to be president. He loves to write columns and sometimes I think he would be best doing that. Or maybe a radio talk show. He would love that, and he’d be great. I don’t know where he might end up, but I wouldn’t be surprised wherever it is.
Q: How might you feel about being a politician’s wife?
A: I knew you weren’t going to let me end it there. Oh God, I just plead the Fifth on that. Alec is always saying, “I can’t do it alone.” I go in my bathroom and lock the door and turn on my stereo real high. [Laughs]