By David Sheff
candid conversation with the red-hot star of “basic instinct” about sex, brains, macho men, killer women and “that scene”
The pantyless shot in this year’s thriller hit “Basic Instinct” was not called for in Joe Eszterhas’ $3 million script, but it ended up being one of the most talked about moments in the film. The upshot: Sharon Stone, who played Catherine Tramell, emerged from the picture with instant stardom, rave reviews and proprietor of the most famous pubis aureus on the planet.
Before she delivered her scorched-earth performance in “Basic Instinct,” Stone was best known for roles in a long list of movies in which she played an assortment of leggy blondes. There were exceptions: She stole “Irreconcilable Differences” from its stars, Ryan O’Neal and Shelley Long, as the actress who successfully sleeps her way to the top. In “Total Recall,” she was the gorgeous and deadly wife of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who ultimately blows her away with the epitaph, “Consider that a divorce.”
But nothing was like “Basic Instinct.” In the wake of the film’s ballyhooed opening, it was reported that stars, including Michelle Pfeiffer, Geena Davis and Julia Roberts, had turned down the movie. Stone’s public response to the actresses’ apprehension was perfectly Catherine Tramellesque: “Be afraid. Don’t turn on the juice. I’ll do it.”
And she did. Yet even before it opened, “Basic Instinct” was at the center of controversy. Gay groups protested the movie’s set in San Francisco, charging that the film was homophobic –just another in a string of Hollywood movies that portrayed homosexuals as psychotic killers. One critic went further, implying “Basic Instinct” was “grounded in men’s hatred and fear of women.”
The protests continued throughout the launch of the movie and, predictably, audiences came in droves. Whether or not they left the theater resolved on the gay issue (or on Eszterhas’ ambiguous ending: Was Catherine a serial killer or a misunderstood sex kitten?), they knew one thing: They’d seen the performance of a lifetime. As the bisexual murder suspect, Stone is alternately sultry, sweet, childlike, conniving, and vulnerable — and as lethal as the ice pick she is suspected of wielding. In another talked-about scene, Michael Douglas, who co-stars as detective Nick Curran, finally succumbs to Stone’s seduction, christening the ensuing sexual gymnastics as “the fuck of the century.” Stone’s Catherine, however, isn’t so easily impressed. “What do you want?” she asks matter-of-factly. “I don’t confess all my secrets just because I have an orgasm.”
The movie, directed by Paul Verhoeven (who made “Total Recall” and “Robocop”), had to have 47 steamy seconds cut from it in order to get an R rating. The offensive bit of action, according to Stone, was a swap of oral sex between Douglas and herself. But what remained still pushed boundaries with its sexual and violent content. Not coincidentally, the movie earned $115 million.
In interviews that followed the movie’s opening, Stone complained that Verhoeven had persuaded her to remove her panties for the interrogation scene, telling her that they reflected light back at the camera. He assured her, she said, that nothing would be seen. Although she charged that she was manipulated and exploited, she happily parodied the scene as the host of “Saturday Night Live” (on which she also did a bit on Taster’s Choice spermicidal jelly). “I think I’d be a little more comfortable if I could sit down,” she said in her opening monolog. The studio audience hooted and cheered, waiting for her to uncross her legs.
Whatever the truth behind the movie’s “flash” scene, Verhoeven’s edit (or lack thereof) has caused a sensation. Stone, whom Rolling Stone dubbed a “sex babe,” is now considered moviedom’s newest superstar. (Of course, this was nothing new to us. Stone posed for a spectacular Playboy cover and pictorial in July 1990.)
Sex symbol was an unlikely outcome for a girl who thought she was a homely geek while growing up in Meadville, Pennsylvania (near Erie), where her father works in the tool-and-die business. “I never felt blonde,” she says, but she was smart. Her IQ tested at 154, and Stone began skipping grades in school, eventually taking college courses when she was 15.
In spite of an aptitude for science, Stone enrolled in acting classes. She graduated from college and supported herself by modeling. On TV, she pitched Clairol, diet Coke, and Charlie perfume before showing up at a casting call for extras to appear in Woody Allen’s “Stardust Memories.”
Allen was taken by Stone and gave her a small part in the film (she is the dream girl who plants a seductive open-mouthed kiss on the windowpane of a passing train). Then began the parade of B and C movies such as “Deadly Blessing,” “Police Academy 4” and “Action Jackson.”
In 1984 she married Michael Greenburg, the producer of one of her less than memorable films, the TV movie “The Vegas Strip Wars.” They were divorced in 1987, and earlier this year Stone began popping up in the press because of her romance with country singer Dwight Yoakam. Today, she has a boyfriend whose name she prefers to keep private.
Her success in “Basic Instinct” has made Stone one of the most sought-after actresses in Hollywood. Regularly deluged with scripts, she has just signed to star in “Sliver” (screenplay by Eszterhas, from the book by “Rosemary’s Baby” author Ira Levin), to be directed by Phillip Noyce. A “Basic Instinct” sequel is said to be in the works. Her fee for the latter, it has been reported, is $7 million.
It thus seemed the perfect time to return Stone to our cover — and to our pages as our “Playboy Interview” subject. Contributing Editor David Sheff, who sparred with Betty Friedan in the 30th anniversary “Playboy Interview,” was sent to meet with Stone in Los Angeles. Here is Sheff’s report:
“What do you say when you meet a woman who once commented, ‘If you have a vagina and a point of view, that’s a deadly combination’? I wondered this as I headed to the St. James Club to meet Stone for our first interview session.
“She arrived in the deco lobby wearing pink leggings and a pink sleeveless T-shirt under a sweater that hung over her shoulders. I told her it was a pleasure to meet her. She smiled as if to say she knew.
“We sat in the corner of the hotel’s dining room next to a wall of George Hurrell photos of movie stars. Coincidentally, the glamour photographer’s last work was a series that included Stone. She ordered a spritzer and a bowl of blackberries, on which she sprinkled Equal.
“It was soon apparent how life is for the ‘hottest thing in Hollywood’ (as one studio executive called her when he stopped at our table to introduce Stone to his friends): An actor came by and told her what a fan he was. Men and women alike approached to gush about ‘Basic Instinct,’ and a waiter brought over a telephone so Stone could field a call from her agent. ‘I can’t help it,’ she apologized, ‘we have to let this director know right away.’ She turned him down.
“Stone sneezed uncontrollably and looked out at the L.A. smog — ‘Air you can really sink your teeth into,’ she said — and discussed with candor and color the movie that launched her into the limelight. At one point, while describing of some of the movie’s sex scenes, she pretended to lose control. Stroking the stem of her wine glass, she moaned and cried — loudly — ‘I want more of that!’ It was the famous deli scene from ‘When Harry Met Sally’ all over again, as a roomful of dumbfounded St. James patrons stared at us.
“In ‘Basic Instinct,’ when Michael Douglas fell in love with Sharon Stone, he knew he was playing with fire, yet he succumbed nonetheless. Before the interview was over, I knew how the guy felt.”
PLAYBOY: How does it feel to be the world’s favorite ice-pick murderer-sex babe?
PLAYBOY: Has it changed your life?
STONE: Well, people fuck with me a lot less than they used to.
PLAYBOY: How close are you to the character of Catherine Tramell? Your director, Paul Verhoeven, said you were Catherine.
STONE: Then I guess I did a good job, if that’s how he experienced me. If you convince your director, you must be doing it right.
PLAYBOY: Your performance in Basic Instinct went way beyond work you’ve done in the past. How did that feel?
STONE: Some of it was very difficult, so I just had to push myself. But once I opened the door and went where Catherine lived, I was in. There was no going back. I was living in another kind of world with different kinds of rules.
PLAYBOY: Did it overtake you?
STONE: I certainly had nightmares. Scary nightmares.
PLAYBOY: About ice picks?
STONE: No, but the kind of dreams that shake your core because you’re pushing ethical boundaries. Once you break those boundaries — once you go beyond them without any kind of moral judgment — it has to affect your psyche.
PLAYBOY: Many actors wouldn’t admit that. They would say, “Ah, it was just a role.”
STONE: You cannot immerse yourself in a character and remain unaffected. At least I cannot.
PLAYBOY: Was it exciting to cross those ethical lines?
STONE: We often bury things about ourselves out of simple politeness or fear of facing who we might actually be. But when you play a role like this one, you can’t hide from those things anymore. You have to pull out all your strange and distorted thoughts and feelings and look at them. It’s very frightening. But I learned something interesting: I thought I was worse than I was. I’m not so bad. When it was all over, I thought, That’s it? It’s freeing — and maybe a little disappointing — to find that the dark side of my character was not so dark after all.
PLAYBOY: Was any of it fun?
STONE: The thing that was really fun for me was mirroring male behavior in that interrogation sequence. Catherine’s behavior was shocking but, excuse me, I always thought it was shocking when men acted that way around me. I always thought it was inappropriate. Yet no one made a big deal about it.
PLAYBOY: How were men that way around you?
STONE: Grabbing their balls, throwing their sexuality around, screaming out their car windows, “Hey, baby, wanna get married?” Being patronizing, being . . . men. In the movie, I got to mirror that kind of behavior to a roomful of men who use that as a tool of their profession. And I loved it. I loved the spontaneity of watching them, seeing what their game was and then playing it.
PLAYBOY: What was it about Catherine that so disarmed the men in that room? Her sexuality? Her boldness?
STONE: Ask the men. I felt that they were disarmed by her confidence. The ruse they use — “We have the power, we’re going to show you” — didn’t cut the mustard with her. Her attitude was, “You’re so powerful. Aren’t you cute!” And, of course, she had all the power. These men put her in a position where she was alone in a chair in the center of an empty room — surrounded. That would be a very intimidating position to be in unless she disarmed them, which she did.
PLAYBOY: Would you have been as sure of yourself in real life?
STONE: Yeah, here’s an example: One day I was supposed to be on the set to film the disco scene. My dress was falling apart and the wardrobe people kept trying to fix it. It took forever. Everyone was waiting for me — Michael [Douglas], the director, the other actors, the lighting and camera people, two hundred extras. I waited, sipped tea and read. My best friend was there and she asked me, “How can you not be completely panic-stricken? All these people are waiting for you and you’re sitting here having a cup of tea.” I said, “You can look at it in one of two ways: “They’re all waiting for me” or [sly smile] “They’re all waiting for me!”
So that’s what I learned from Catherine. At the police station she could have been stricken and scared. But instead she thought, This is going to be fun.
PLAYBOY: Fun because she was able to turn the tables on the men?
STONE: Not so much that she got to torture them but that she was in a game with them. [Coquettishly] “Oh, so you want me to sit in the middle of the room here? Oh, charming. Why is that? You want to make sure you can look up my dress? OK, you can look up my dress.” It was a game.
PLAYBOY: Is it true that Verhoeven conned you into wearing no underpants, promising that nothing too personal would be used in the final movie?
STONE: I don’t want to get into that. It’s all resolved now — water under the bridge.
PLAYBOY: Does it bother you that seeing your pubic hair on screen became such a big deal?
STONE: There’s something about being the one who did it that protects you from the reaction. I don’t know how big of a deal it’s become. If you say it’s a big deal, I assume it must be a big deal.
PLAYBOY: Trust us.
STONE: I don’t talk about it with my friends. It doesn’t come up at the parties I go to.
PLAYBOY: If you had been told that it was going to be in the movie, would you have refused to do it?
STONE: I’m not going to talk about this with you. It’s not because I don’t respect your—-
STONE: Your right to ask. But it’s resolved and I’d like to leave it that way.
PLAYBOY: You joked about it on the Saturday Night Live you hosted. In the middle of your monolog, you announced that you would feel more comfortable if you sat down. When you did, the audience went nuts waiting for you to uncross your legs. It was very effective.
STONE: [Smiles] Thank you.
PLAYBOY: Did acting brazenly and manipulatively in Basic Instinct affect your personality?
STONE: I’ll tell you how it changed me. I received a fan letter from a woman who said, “Thank you for your performance. I will never be a victim again.” It did that for me, too.
PLAYBOY: It’s difficult to picture you as a victim.
STONE: Good. But in little ways, women are taught to acquiesce — in ways that chip away at our self-esteem, our integrity and our femininity. I won’t give that away so easily anymore. If you think I should, you better give me a damn good reason why. If I make such a choice in my life now, it’ll be my choice. I won’t bend now just to get someone to like me or to avoid confrontation.
PLAYBOY: Did you once bend easily?
STONE: Yes, like many women. I think certain ways of behaving become a habit. But when you play a different character for a long time, you can break that habit. I now understand power in a new way. Women are taught to be powerful by being coquettish. They are taught to manipulate with their femininity. Instead of saying, “I’m a good plumber” or “I’m smart” or “I’m a good teacher” or “I’m a good homemaker” or “I’m a great athlete,” women are taught to use these weird stereotypical female things to get what they want. I used to do that, but now I’ve learned to get what I want by being direct and fearless.
PLAYBOY: What about the fame aspect? Do you enjoy superstardom?
STONE: Basic Instinct completely rocked my world. People started chasing me down the street, hiding in my car, showing up at my house. Unbelievable. I’ve hidden under the counter in the kitchens of restaurants. Some of it has been like a funny, bad movie. Sudden fame of this enormity is scary. People lunge at you, grab you. They sneak into your hotel room and take your lipstick or sunglasses. It’s just creepy. Some of it’s overwhelming. What drives me crazy is that people really feel a need to touch you. You feel invaded.
PLAYBOY: Did someone really hide in your car?
STONE: A photographer.
PLAYBOY: How did you deal with that?
STONE: By getting used to it. In a restaurant, for example, you sit with your back to the room. It becomes a way of life. At first it was irritating; I wanted to be able to go where I wanted to go with my friends, or just to be left alone. But the more I assimilate to the new rules, the easier it is. I hired a security company to brief me and my best friends about how to function in this situation. We were all getting trampled and run over and pulled at and yanked at and scared.
Still, the cutest part of the whole deal is when these couples come up — they’re like sixty years old — and the lady will whisper, “We just want to thank you. You sure put the spark back in our marriage.” I get that a lot from couples who had a great time after seeing the movie. I’ve become a tall, blonde Dr. Ruth.
PLAYBOY: How did you get the part in the movie?
STONE: A director I had worked with before had a copy of the script. He read it, called my assistant and said, “No one can play this part like Sharon. She has to do it.” My assistant read it and said the same thing: “You’ve got to do this movie.” But I wouldn’t read it.
PLAYBOY: Why not?
STONE: I didn’t want to be disappointed. I knew they’d never give it to me. I didn’t want to have my heart broken again.
PLAYBOY: Why were you so sure you wouldn’t get the part?
STONE: I wasn’t a star, and everyone wants stars. So I wouldn’t read it. I put it aside for a couple months. One night I picked it up and read it, anyway. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know what to do. I instantly knew what it was. I thought, God, I hope no one else sees this. I also knew that Paul [Verhoeven] was directing it, which made it even better. I knew he was a genius. That script and that mind and you’re swinging.
PLAYBOY: Since you knew Verhoeven, couldn’t you have just called him?
STONE: That’s not the way it works. He wanted a star. He had to want me.
PLAYBOY: So how did you convince him?
STONE: I waited. In the meantime he called and asked me to come in to [redub the voice track] for the airplane version of Total Recall. We had to redo the dialog, omitting any swear words. You fit new lines into the movements of your mouth. But when Paul called, I told him that I couldn’t come until the end of the day.
PLAYBOY: You had a plan?
STONE: Mmm-hmm. I wore a tight and elegant cocktail dress. Everyone was saying, “Gee, Sharon, you look great. What’s up?” [Innocently] “Oh, nothing. I’m going to a party after the looping.”
PLAYBOY: And were you acting like Catherine?
STONE: I was being cool. Very cool. I didn’t want him to think I was insane, but I did want to give him a general idea that I could transform myself. Men are visually stimulated — and that’s usually enough, at least at first.
PLAYBOY: You don’t give us much credit, do you?
STONE: [Smiles] Let’s face it: Some women make a lifestyle of it. Some men do, too, of course.
PLAYBOY: And it obviously worked with Verhoeven.
STONE: When I was finished looping he told me he wanted to test me for a part in a new movie he was making. And he did — five nights’ worth of tests.
PLAYBOY: So you manipulated him. Pretty old-fashioned of you, wasn’t it?
STONE: I would have gone directly to him, but at that point I was trying something I thought might work better. I wouldn’t ask because I didn’t want him to test me just because he felt obligated.
PLAYBOY: Did you screen-test with Michael Douglas?
STONE: Not at that point. He wasn’t going to test with somebody like me at that stage of the game.
PLAYBOY: We have read that Michelle Pfeiffer, Geena Davis and Julia Roberts were all considered for the role.
STONE: I read that, too.
PLAYBOY: Michael Douglas, discussing why those other women may have felt uncomfortable with the part, said, “Women are often caught between politics and a [particular] role.” Is that true?
STONE: It’s hard for me to know which women and what kind of political situation he was talking about.
PLAYBOY: His point was that the movie required graphic, relentless sex and violence and that it would be risky for a well-known actress to expose herself as much as you did in the movie.
STONE: No guts, no glory, right? Some very successful actors make very safe choices. That’s not my way. To those actresses who didn’t think that was their way, I’m incredibly indebted.
PLAYBOY: How were you finally cast?
STONE: Five months later, they had tested a number of other women and even offered the part to a few of them — I really don’t know who. But they apparently still kept running my test and saying, “Geez, she seems to have the best handle on it.” Then I tested with Michael.
PLAYBOY: Were you nervous?
STONE: I’m always nervous around people like that. Michael’s a big movie star. He didn’t need me.
PLAYBOY: Did you act out a scene from the movie?
STONE: Every scene from the movie — except for the sex scenes.
PLAYBOY: What were they looking for? Chemistry?
STONE: Chemistry and ability. I don’t think that anyone believed I had the ability to play a character with that kind of range.
PLAYBOY: Did you have doubts?
STONE: No, because I had been in acting class for seven years, doing Chekhov, Shakespeare, Wilde, Mamet. I had worked on every great part for women there is. Then I did every great part there is for men. So I knew I could play Catherine.
PLAYBOY: Did you draw from any other great movie roles for women?
STONE: I don’t think there’s been a character like Catherine before. In Play Misty for Me, Jessica Walter manipulated Clint Eastwood’s character, but that was small time. But because Catherine was sociopathic — because she had no boundaries — she could do so much more. She could manipulate you by being your friend, your child, your lover, whatever it took.
PLAYBOY: Did you think of Kathleen Turner in Body Heat?
STONE: Yeah. And Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity. Both of those women were great. Kathleen Turner is a great, great actress whom I have always enjoyed watching. You never know what she’s going to do. So, yes, I thought of her when I did my part. I thought, If Kathleen Turner did this, she wouldn’t draw a line here, she’d go further. I also thought of Judy Davis. If she did this part, we’d be rocked right out of our seats. I saw Impromptu regularly while I was making the movie, thinking, She has great courage. I want to be like her.
PLAYBOY: What was it about the character that made you want the role so badly?
STONE: I thought she was a damaged person. She was broken, hurt. And she was using power to cover her incredible fragility. I loved the extraordinary dichotomy of that.
PLAYBOY: Could you relate personally to this or was it all just fantasy?
STONE: For an artist, fantasy is reality. Imagination becomes reality in certain ways to us. It’s hard to draw a decipherable line. Does that make sense or does it just sound pretentious and stupid?
PLAYBOY: Let’s try it this way: Do men assume that you’re really like your Basic Instinct character?
STONE: The thing about the character is that a lot of people don’t know whether or not she was a killer. A lot of people really don’t want her to have done it. So the relationship that people have with the character is very individual. It says more about them than about me. I think the role of Catherine met a certain need in society at a certain moment, and it ignited something. In her, everyone saw some person or some fantasy or some monster in their life or in their psyche. Basic Instinct is not the best movie, it doesn’t make the most sense. It’s not the most anything. But it got under a lot of people’s skin.
PLAYBOY: Michael Douglas’, for one — at least his character’s. Off screen, how did the two of you get along?
STONE: I had met him on two or three occasions in social situations before I tested with him for this movie. I really felt that he and I could have a certain strange, dynamic energy together. I was never comfortable around him, and I don’t think he was comfortable around me.
PLAYBOY: Is that good?
STONE: I think that kind of discomfort lends itself to this kind of movie. Tension is good.
PLAYBOY: Was it tough working together?
STONE: It was a primal thing for me. It was all about watching him, observing his movements, provoking him. If one were to believe in karma, I would say there is some karmic circle yet unfulfilled between the two of us. Our energy together was strong. It still isn’t comfortable for me, but I think it works very well for our work together.
PLAYBOY: Do you feel some sort of bond now, having been through this experience together?
STONE: I do. But I basically didn’t get to know Michael. There was something about the mystery of not knowing each other that lent itself to this situation. It’s odd because now I have this very intimate bond with a stranger.
PLAYBOY: Was it also odd to have intimate sex with a stranger in front of a camera and, ultimately, millions of people?
STONE: I suppose I reveal some sort of disturbed part of my personality when I tell you that I’m more comfortable in that situation than in a real intimate situation. For example, Camp Pendleton, the military base, is having its fiftieth anniversary, and James Brown is giving a concert. I’m emcee. There will be thousands of Marines there. I was telling my girlfriend, “That’s so comfortable to me.” See, I know how to be in front of thousands of Marines. I know exactly how to have that relationship. That’s easier for me than being alone with one man in my living room.
PLAYBOY: What does that say about you?
STONE: Well, with the Marines there’s an agreement. You know why you’re there, you know what they want and you know what you’re supposed to do.
PLAYBOY: And with you and a man in your living room?
STONE: It’s just life and anything can happen. That’s scary.
PLAYBOY: What can happen?
STONE: That’s all I have to say about that. I don’t want to discuss the psychology of my personal and intimate life. Let’s move on to something else.
PLAYBOY: How did you respond to Basic Instinct the first time you saw it?
STONE: I was horrified. I was completely appalled.
PLAYBOY: What shocked you?
STONE: I so abandoned myself to this character that when I watched the thing, I couldn’t believe that it was me. I couldn’t remember doing all the things I had done.
STONE: Anything. Just the way I would turn around and give a look. Halfway through the movie, it was as if I were impaled. I was just sitting there, mouth open, staring at the screen, listening to my heartbeat and wondering how long it would be before it was over, wondering who I should call first to tell them never to see this movie.
PLAYBOY: Were you embarrassed because of the sex or were you afraid that the movie wasn’t good?
STONE: Nothing was formed that much in my mind. It was much more of an organic response. It was basic horror. It’s one thing when you take enormous risks and go way out on a limb in life. It’s another thing when someone plays it back for you. And it’s still another when you spend the next year of your life having to take responsibility for your actions. It was a good growth experience for me.
PLAYBOY: Did you reveal sides of yourself that you didn’t want revealed?
STONE: You have to put your ego aside to be good in any form of art. You can’t judge the actions of the person you’re playing.
PLAYBOY: But did you at least imagine how people would respond?
STONE:You can’t. You just want to do the best work you can. Basic Instinct was a tremendous opportunity for me to be good as an artist. I wouldn’t watch dailies because I didn’t want to be self-conscious. I just wanted a chance to do it — I hadn’t had that opportunity before. Remember, this was something like my eighteenth movie. I’d paid a lot of dues, I’d eaten many humble pies. When I got this role, I thought, This is it, the opportunity of a lifetime. I’m either gonna play this part and it’s gonna rock things, or I’m gonna be hanging my head in shame at the supermarket. There was no gray area. It was an all-or-nothing roll of the dice.
PLAYBOY: When you began filming, gay rights groups protested Basic Instinct, charging it was homophobic. Where did you stand as the controversy unfolded?
STONE: I never had any problems with the gay community. I was a model before I worked as an actress, and the gay community is an active part of the fashion business. Many of my dating experiences included me and my date and a gay couple. It was very much the norm. So I am sensitive to issues that would concern gay people. That’s why the flap over Basic Instinct was beyond my comprehension. My perspective of my lesbian relationship in the film was that it was a pure, loving relationship. At the same time, Catherine was clearly not a lesbian. She was a party girl.
PLAYBOY: People said they were tired of seeing gays portrayed as psychopaths. And yet here was another homosexual killer.
STONE: This was a unique opportunity for the gay community to use a big media event as a way to be heard. That was good. I’m enormously sympathetic with the issue that was raised. I’m enormously sympathetic with the fact that it’s always the blonde people in the movies. Where are the interracial relationships? Where are the Puerto Rican men and women? If there weren’t these incredible racial issues, Billy Dee Williams would have been one of our biggest movie stars — a fine, talented, gorgeous, charismatic actor. Why is that? It’s not right. It’s not fair.
So I’m sympathetic in terms of all minority groups. I believe that even though women are not a minority — we are fifty-one percent of the country’s population — we are treated like one. Most films are written so that the female characters are the way men experience women or would like to experience women. But that’s not the way women really are. How often do you go to a movie and see a female character who’s like a woman you actually know? This is a big issue for me.
PLAYBOY: Didn’t you have any qualms about playing into the stereotype? One critic said that the movie was misogynistic — a male writer’s and male director’s vision of exactly how evil women are.
STONE: I don’t agree. I think the movie showed both men and women in the trenches, pitted against one another. Neither was portrayed too lovingly. The other issue is that Catherine survived. Overall, I don’t think films are responsible for political issues unless they’re being made specifically about a political issue. Films are there to inspire your fantasy, to let you escape, identify, live vicariously. Journalism is responsible for telling the truth about the world.
When the movie was opening, I snuck into one of the biggest and first press screenings. I wore a hat and sat in a dark back corner. Regardless of what people thought of the politics, I sat there and saw the audience scream, yell, laugh, talk to the screen, throw stuff, carry on and have a ball. I don’t give a shit what they wrote in their magazines. I watched them have fun.
PLAYBOY: Amid the criticism, it’s ironic that you earned a lesbian following.
STONE: Mmm-hmm. That makes me feel good.
PLAYBOY: And a male fan club as well. Perhaps “the fuck of the century” in the film had more than a little to do with it. What went into creating that?
STONE: I didn’t have a lot of input into the sex scenes. Paul and Michael, very macho men, created them. When I read them and saw the storyboards, I thought they were ludicrous.
STONE: They just were. [Laughs] Certainly in my experience. Do you have sex like that? Do you know women who have orgasms from these anatomically impossible positions? Please. In two minutes? Send them over to my house so I can learn. In the meantime, ludicrous they remain.
Once I realized that was what the guys wanted, I thought, Oh, I get it! No matter how he touches her or where he touches her or what else he does to her, it’s the most, it’s the best, it’s the sexiest! [Stone speaks so loudly that people in the restaurant begin looking.] I want to have some more of that! That’s “the fuck of the century,” according to the macho man mentality.
PLAYBOY: So what would it be for women, or for you?
STONE: Women want men to see them and experience them and take time with them. I don’t think women want to be slammed up against the wall and tied to the sofa. [Laughs] But “the fuck of the century” became a fantasy to women, too, in a way. They thought, He can do that? I heard he got fourteen million dollars to do that! I’d give you fourteen million dollars if you could do that to me, buddy!
PLAYBOY: Was it physically difficult to do those scenes?
STONE: When Paul showed me the storyboards, I said, “Jesus Christ, I’m going to be sitting on my shins! I not only have to do a complete back bend but I also have to pull myself back up without using my hands. And then make it look as if I’m getting off.”
PLAYBOY: But the purpose of the back bend was to give you the chance to use the ice pick, right?
STONE: Yeah. And she does it every time they have sex, so it became this bizarre deal, this athletic feat that took a lot of work. It took some training to get my quadriceps strong enough so that I could manage it. I also had to be flexible enough to be able to do it fifty billion times so we could do all the takes.
PLAYBOY: Do weird thoughts go through your head while filming a scene like that?
STONE: Yeah, like: Why is my ass as large as it is?
PLAYBOY: Do you get embarrassed?
STONE: Sure, though not very often, because that’s just the kind of roguish gal I am. [Laughs]
PLAYBOY: In your first movies, were explicit sex scenes more embarrassing?
STONE: They were scarier. But here’s embarrassing: In Basic Instinct, we were getting ready to do a take, and Michael put his cappuccino down on the side of the bed — not the camera side. At the last second I took off my robe, tossed it over the side of the bed and heard the cappuccino fall over onto the white carpeting. Forgetting the fact that, at that moment, I was supposed to be behaving like a movie star and not like some middle-class girl from Pennsylvania, I leapt over the side of the bed, screaming, “Oh, my God!” Only then did I realize that everybody in the room now knows me better than my gynecologist does.
PLAYBOY: Did the cast and crew handle that event with dignity?
STONE: Sure, though I was just horrified because I literally dove off the side of the bed. But you know what? We’ve all got the same stuff. I don’t know what the big deal is, really.
PLAYBOY: Did you ever feel that your “stuff” was taken advantage of?
STONE: In life or in the movie?
STONE: In the movie I felt very in control — as compared with real life, where people will just walk up to you and say and do the most horrifying things. Film-making is a controlled environment. It’s safe. That’s one of the reasons that I like it so much.
PLAYBOY: What’s unsafe in real life?
STONE: I evoke strong responses from people. I always have, ever since I was a little girl. That can be scary and make you guarded. It’s a lot more fun, and I can be a lot less guarded, in a protected environment where I don’t have to cloak myself. My best friend said to me on the phone last night, “You’re the only person I know who has to bring herself down in the movies.” I suppose that’s because I’m kind of an extroverted, say-what-I-think, do-what-I-feel-is-right person.
PLAYBOY: Are you more vulnerable without your clothes?
STONE: More honest. I use it as a meter of my concentration. If the camera was on and I was nude and I knew the crew was looking at me, then I knew I wasn’t doing my work. I wasn’t involved in the scene.
PLAYBOY: It’s been said that Bernadette Peters won’t do nude scenes because, once you have no clothes on, you stop being your character. The character’s clothes make you the character.
STONE: I’ve never found my character in the closet.
PLAYBOY: The point is, when you’re nude on screen, it is Sharon Stone, nude, as opposed to the character.
STONE: I think that’s all bullshit. It’s all you and it’s all the character. People come up with seventy billion reasons why they’re not comfortable doing it. You can have intellectual ideas, you can have philosophical ideas, but the bottom line is you’re just not comfortable being nude in a room with people you don’t know. Whether you are wearing a chair on your head or a suit of armor or a black-velvet evening gown, if you’re the character, you’re the character.
PLAYBOY: But was it once scary for you?
STONE: Sure. I don’t go, like, “Oooh, I can’t wait to rip off my clothes and jump around in front of everybody.” I wasn’t comfortable when I had to rip my heart out and cry all day, either. And I was certainly not comfortable when I had to depict murdering someone — violently killing someone. I am infinitely less comfortable with the fact that the public is more concerned with whether or not I was nude or gay than whether or not I was a fucking serial killer. Excuse me very much, but where are your priorities, people?
PLAYBOY: Was wielding the ice pick unsettling?
STONE: Traumatizing beyond belief. Beyond belief.
PLAYBOY: In what way?
STONE: Besides giving me hellacious nightmares? Oh, shit! I made my best friend lie by the bed while I did the scene — just lie there by the camera telling me jokes. God! They had a paramedic with an oxygen mask there because I’d start to feel like I was going to pass out.
PLAYBOY: Why was it so unsettling?
STONE: Because killing is much further from my personal self than taking off my clothes to have sex. I had such a hard time with the killing scenes that Paul screamed at me the entire time we were doing them. He screamed like a lunatic, to evoke or provoke or, I don’t know, he just generally badgered the shit out of me. Eventually, I had to loop the sequence. When I did, it was so disturbing to everyone that they couldn’t deal with it. See, by then I had seen the film and recognized that Catherine was like a carnivorous cat on the kill. That’s how I understood the energy of it. Once I got that — once I understood the roar of the kill — I told them I didn’t want to loop it one bit at a time like they usually do. I wanted to do it all at once. I wanted all the lights in the room turned off. I wanted to just do it. When they turned the lights back on, you could have knocked Paul off his chair with a feather.
PLAYBOY: How did you feel when the whole experience was over? Was it cathartic? Upsetting?
STONE: It just made sense. When a lion jumps on the back of an animal, grabs it by the neck, smashes it to the ground, breaks its back and eats it, it’s not doing a bad thing. It’s doing what is appropriate. That is the nature of the Catherine Tramell animal. Once I looked at her from a distance and understood what she was, it wasn’t so disturbing anymore.
PLAYBOY: And it was easier to become that animal?
STONE: To color that animal. It was like finishing the painting.
PLAYBOY: Was the violence particularly disturbing to you when you watched the movie?
STONE: It was particularly hilarious.
STONE: I don’t know why. Perverse, I guess.
PLAYBOY: Was it hilarious because it was combined with those gymnastic sex moves?
STONE: That was particularly amusing.
PLAYBOY: Were you concerned about the degree of violence in the movie?
STONE: No. I had already done Total Recall, which was certainly as violent as Basic Instinct. Anybody who’s seen any of Paul’s films knows that he is obsessed with violence and the struggle between good and evil.
PLAYBOY: Have ice picks taken on new meaning in your life?
STONE: People make a lot of jokes.
PLAYBOY: The movie had to be cut to get an R rating. Was that because of the violence or the sex?
STONE: It was oral sex from both of us. An exchange of oral sex.
PLAYBOY: There are reports that you and writer Joe Eszterhas have been working on a story of Basic Instinct 2. True?
STONE: I haven’t been working on a sequel, but I had a meeting with everybody who was invited to be involved in one.
PLAYBOY: Do you have any idea what’s going to happen to Catherine?
STONE: [Grins] Mmm-hmm.
PLAYBOY: Michael Douglas reportedly won’t do a sequel. Is that true?
STONE: That’s what I heard — or that he’ll play only a small part. He wasn’t at the meeting. But I’m interested in working with Paul if there is a sequel.
PLAYBOY: Why has it taken you so long to choose a follow-up project to Basic Instinct?
STONE: Before Basic Instinct, I couldn’t get a great part, because they all wanted a movie star and I wasn’t one. At the same time, I couldn’t accept parts like the ones I’d had before because those movies would have come out after Basic Instinct, and that would have been a step backward.
PLAYBOY: So you knew and calculated. Was it worth the wait? Are good scripts coming in now?
STONE: Oh, my God. The number of scripts I have read is astonishing. I have new agents who have a wonderful literary department, so I’m starting to get involved in projects from the ground up. I found one that I love. I thought, God, I could do this in my sleep. My agent called the producer and told him I was interested. He said, “No kidding! I saw her in Irreconcilable Differences and wrote it from her character.” It made me feel as if I’ve been around long enough that the parts were finally coming in. Similarly, I see reviews in the newspapers that describe someone as “like Sharon Stone,” or a performance that is described as “racier than Sharon Stone’s.”
PLAYBOY: People are watching you closely now. Was it easier to take more risks when you didn’t have as much to lose?
STONE: Yeah. I told my boyfriend my next movie will be, like, me nude, tap dancing under a klieg light. I’m aware of that. But I don’t think of that as such a bad thing. I think, OK, so with whom do I want to be tap dancing when the lights come up? I know that it’s going to be an event, so I plan to make it a party.
PLAYBOY: Does the tedium of moviemaking ever bother you?
STONE: No. I love seeing those trucks open their doors and the camera equipment come rolling out the back. It’s thrilling. I feel like I’m home when I’m on a movie set. I feel the most inspired, the most enlivened — both creatively and intellectually — when I’m working on a movie. When you’re the leading lady, you work long hours because you have to come in early for hair and makeup. You’re working fourteen, fifteen, seventeen hours a day. When they say it’s going to be forty-five minutes until the next shot, you don’t say, “Oh, shit.” You say, “Oh, a nap! How fabulous!” I learned to use that time. I learned to play chess. I read, write and sew.
PLAYBOY: What kind of writing do you do?
STONE: All kinds. I’ve written all sorts of journals. Very strange things. Female Jim Thompson kinds of things. It’s been personal, but I’ve been thinking about making a book. Photographs, drawings and some of the weird writing. I’m also writing the preface to a new book for some friends right now.
PLAYBOY: What’s it about?
STONE: Bad Movies We Love. I have my own chapter.
PLAYBOY: What movies are included?
STONE: It’s a long and colorful list. I love the fact that I can make movies, good or bad. I never made a bad movie that I didn’t learn something important from.
PLAYBOY: What was the worst movie you ever made?
STONE: There have been so many — stupid for a variety of reasons.
PLAYBOY: Let’s talk about some of them. Before Basic Instinct, you were in Year of the Gun, directed by John Frankenheimer. Were you a fan of his Manchurian Candidate?
STONE: A big fan. I loved working with him and learned a lot. I really enjoyed the movie.
PLAYBOY: But it bombed. Was that a disappointment?
STONE: I was disappointed that John didn’t have everything he needed to make the picture.
PLAYBOY: In that film, you once again had some steamy, gymnastic sex scenes.
STONE: Even more implausible.
PLAYBOY: How so?
STONE: I just can’t think of any way to talk about it that isn’t horrible, so I think I had just better not.
PLAYBOY: How did you get the part of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s wife in Total Recall?
STONE: I was sent the script and was told, “We’re interested in meeting you for this action movie.” I said, “I’ve done every stupid action movie I’m going to do. No, thank you.” Then they told me that Paul Verhoeven was directing it and I said, “Oh, OK. I don’t need to go to the meeting. If they want me, I’ll do it.” I had seen his films and thought they were terrific. Then I met him and I was completely enamored of him. I was cast and had a great time making it.
PLAYBOY: What was it like working with Schwarzenegger?
STONE: Wonderful. Arnold is the biggest baby you’ll ever meet. He’s just a big, big baby. But he wants you to do the best you can do because he wants his team to win. It’s not an individual sport for Arnold. Arnold is a movie star. I made fun of him right off the bat. We were doing rehearsals in a hotel room. Arnold was lying on the bed and Paul was on top of him, straddling him, caressing his hair, explaining to me how he thought the scene ought to go. I said, “I think I’ll leave you two guys alone. You’re so darn cute together!” Arnold is unbelievably focused and available. He tries harder than most people I’ve worked with.
PLAYBOY: You rivaled Schwarzenegger in the muscle department in that movie. Was it tough getting in such good shape?
STONE: I circuit-trained. I’d do the Lifecycle for half an hour and then the machines, from one to the next. I’d move, move, move for three hours. Then I’d finish with sit-ups and stretching. I’d work my buns off. I took karate. I had already studied tae kwon do, so I was moderately familiar with the martial arts. While we were filming, I’d work out in the hotel gym at the end of the day. I’d work out until the guys would puke, then I would stop. [Laughs] Kind of a macho thing for me. Before it was over, I was big. I was buff. I could kick some ass.
PLAYBOY: And you did, at least in the movie. Were the fighting scenes between you and Arnold difficult?
STONE: They were exhausting but they were a blast.
PLAYBOY: Did you keep working out after the movie?
STONE: No. I’m into a different kind of fitness now. I don’t want big muscles. At the time, though, it saved my life. Really. I had a car accident the week after I wrapped the film — a head-on crash on Sunset Boulevard. A woman was driving on the wrong side of the street. I had months and months of physical therapy in recovery, a back brace and a cervical collar. The doctor told me I probably wouldn’t have walked again if I hadn’t been in such good shape. Even though I don’t try to keep up that sort of routine, I feel the quality of my life has improved enormously from my fitness level. And I learned it all from Arnold.
PLAYBOY: How did your car accident affect you emotionally?
STONE: I spent months afterward sitting alone in my house. That was when I decided that things had to change or I was never going to work again.
PLAYBOY: Did realizing that you could have been killed make you want to do more?
STONE: I had a lot of time to sit around and think. I was tired of it all. I didn’t know what was going to happen next. Coincidentally, I was asked to give the commencement speech at my high school that year, and when I thought things out to write them down, I realized that I had to make changes. One of the things was this: When you’re in high school, your success is measured by how much you’re like everybody else. But from the second you graduate, and on to the end of your life, it’s measured by how much of an individual you are. It helped me realized that it was time to stop accepting things other than what was truly me.
PLAYBOY: Did Total Recall have a big impact on your career?
STONE: It gave me box office viability. Everybody knew who I was then. Not that I was Sharon Stone, I was “that girl in Total Recall.”
PLAYBOY: Your other best-known movie was Irreconcilable Differences, in which you played an actress who sleeps her way to the top. Is it just a coincidence your screen characters are often beautiful unscrupulous seductresses?
STONE: Well, there aren’t very many good parts written for women. You’re lucky if they’re decent at all. I think it was Elizabeth McGovern who once said in an interview that when she read a script and didn’t feel like throwing up, she agreed to do it.
PLAYBOY: Is it really that bad?
STONE: Sometimes it is.
PLAYBOY: Was Irreconcilable Differences a good or bad experience?
STONE: It was too fun. I loved doing it. But even though I got a tremendous amount of attention and great reviews from that part, my career was really improperly managed at the time. The mistakes that were made cost me many years of having to make shitty movies.
PLAYBOY: Let’s quickly run through the rest of them. What do you remember about Deadly Blessing?
STONE: It was Charlie’s Angels Get a Scare in a bad Wes Craven movie. [Laughs] As if there are good Wes Craven movies.
PLAYBOY: The Bay City Blues?
STONE: Hill Street Blues people trying to make a TV series about baseball. Didn’t work.
PLAYBOY: The Vegas Strip Wars?
STONE: I met my husband on that movie — he was the producer — and Rock Hudson and James Earl Jones. It was a special time for me.
PLAYBOY: Did you get to know Hudson?
STONE: We became very good friends. I think Rock was an extraordinarily brave and generous man.
PLAYBOY: Did you know he was sick then?
STONE: Yeah. I went to Africa shortly after that. I was in Africa when he died.
PLAYBOY: War and Remembrance?
STONE: It was a miniseries from the Herman Wouk novel, his sequel to Winds of War. It was a marvelous experience for me, one I was proud to be a part of.
PLAYBOY: Police Academy 4?
STONE: I really needed a job and I really needed a break.
PLAYBOY: A break from what?
STONE: My life. And, you know, Police Academy 4 changed me tremendously — for the good, really for the good. I worked with twelve stand-up comedians every day. Not actors, but stand-up comedians. You’ve no idea what a joy it is to go into a room and hang out with those people — the brilliance and the politically astute, fun, intellectual, strange, inspirational conversations you’ll have with them.
PLAYBOY: Action Jackson?
STONE: When you’re making Action Jackson, you know what you’re making. But it’s awfully nice to be making it with someone who’s so sweet. Thank God for Craig T. Nelson. He played my husband. He’s such a dear, wonderful man.
PLAYBOY: Above the Law?
STONE: I will refrain from comment.
PLAYBOY: Tears in the Rain?
STONE: [Laughs] Fun. Shot in England. Played a horse trainer. I got to ride beautiful, beautiful horses in the English countryside during the making of that picture.
PLAYBOY: Blood and Sand?
STONE: Just horrible. Nobody spoke English, everybody started drinking wine at ten o’clock in the morning. Everybody was bombed during the entire making of the picture. It was more like Drunken Spanish Keystone Cops Make a Bad C Movie.
PLAYBOY: He Said, She Said?
STONE: I had fun working with Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth Perkins. They’re good actors. The movie as a whole didn’t really work, but we had some fun making it.
PLAYBOY: Stardust Memories?
STONE: It remains one of the sweetest experiences I’ve ever had as an actress.
PLAYBOY: You had never acted before that one.
STONE: Right. I stood in line to be an extra. Woody sat with the casting person and watched, and when I walked up, the casting person leaned over and said, “Mr. Allen would like you to stay.” I sat there for a while watching hundreds of extras hand in their pictures. Woody never spoke to me. After a while I thought, Fellini should be shooting this! I’m gonna go now. I left and got called: “You’re an extra. Come. Wear white.” The set was in a high school cafeteria. I was waiting with all the extras, hanging out, reading a book. Woody came up and talked to me for half an hour. We had this weird conversation about infinity, because the book I was reading was a children’s book that explained infinity to a child. Woody left, and his assistant came out and said, “Hey, Woody really liked you. Would you like to have a part in the movie?” I’m like, “All right! When do I start?” They took me over to wardrobe.
PLAYBOY: In your moment of glory in the film, you plant a kiss on the window of a passing train. In how many takes did you have to kiss the glass?
STONE: I did one take, and then Woody came over and said, “Do it like you’re really kissing me, OK?” So, of course, I really laid one on.
PLAYBOY: Moving on. King Solomon’s Mines?
STONE: Hmmm. A bad hairdo running through the jungle.
PLAYBOY: And the sequel, Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold?
STONE: The same bad hairdo running through the same bad jungle.
PLAYBOY: It was reported that you were hated on the set of that movie.
STONE: Yeah. My husband was a producer of the movie. At the time, I was a very uptight girl, a real goody-goody. My marriage was falling apart, and the pressure of that was just tremendous for me. I’m sure I was a bitch. But if you see that I spent a year of my life in Africa and that is what I have to show for it, I have a right to be pissed. So maybe they didn’t like me sometimes. Tough shit.
PLAYBOY: But Verhoeven has also said you’re difficult to work with. He’s said you have a mean streak.
STONE: Don’t you?
PLAYBOY: He also said you flirt, seduce and change in a split second.
STONE: That sounds like a man who is completely captivated, doesn’t it?
PLAYBOY: Do you use flirting and seducing to get your way?
STONE: Women are emotionally complex. Actresses are much more in touch with their emotional range because we constantly have to address it. You need to be aware of the power of your emotional range. Everybody uses whatever assets they have in their business.
PLAYBOY: Let’s back up. What were you like as a kid?
STONE: I was, like, forty at birth. When I wasn’t even a year old, I spoke, I was potty trained, I walked and talked. That was it. Then I started school and drove everybody crazy because they realized I had popped out as an adult. I had adult questions and wanted adult answers. I was a very intense, weird kid. I was the kid in Little Man Tate. My mother would just look at me, horrified. Recently we had a very deep, revealing conversation in which she told me that she had no idea what to do with me when I was a child. I was so different from the other kids that it was frightening, scary for her. She never knew how she was supposed to treat me.
PLAYBOY: Did your rigidity come from your mother?
STONE: My father was very rigid when we were young. Since I had the ability to do things that other kids didn’t, he drove me toward perfection with a whip and a chair. That’s very overwhelming. He’s not like that now. Now he’s the sweetest guy. We’ve all grown.
PLAYBOY: As a child, were you aware that you were special?
STONE: I didn’t think I was special. I thought I was wrong.
PLAYBOY: Wrong because of the things you thought about?
STONE: Just wrong. I never fit in. Everything I did and said made everybody uncomfortable.
PLAYBOY: Because you were intelligent?
STONE: I don’t know. All I know is that I was a weird little kid.
PLAYBOY: Did your parents acknowledge that you were different?
STONE: They knew that I was smart. They tested me like I was a guinea pig or a hamster running on the wheel. I took endless IQ tests and put pegs in holes and matched colors with colors. I took Rorschach tests and evaluative tests about what you’re predisposed to be and do.
PLAYBOY: What did the tests reveal?
STONE: That I had a high IQ and was predisposed to do technical things: science, engineering, math. I’m sure a career as a chemical engineer would have been appropriate for me, though my personality is more fitting for a lawyer.
PLAYBOY: How did the testing affect you?
STONE: It set me up as being even more peculiar in an environment where peculiarities are avoided at all costs.
PLAYBOY: You’ve also said that you felt unattractive.
STONE: I was pretty unattractive. I was tall, unbearably skinny, wore thick glasses and had no sense of myself as a female. My senior year I started to wake up to the possibilities. I looked at magazines, saw all these make-overs and thought, I can do that. I tried to dress cooler. I dyed my hair black, then brown, then red. It was like a math problem: How do you get it to equal what you want?
PLAYBOY: What was it like growing up in Pennsylvania?
STONE: Well, there were eighty-seven people in my graduating class. It was a small rural community. The people would get up early, do their chores and go to work.
PLAYBOY: Did you see a lot of movies?
STONE: There was only one movie theater in my hometown, so I saw whatever was there a million times. I loved movies and painting and literature — everything artistic and aesthetic. It all inspired me.
But my parents did not put me in a private school, so I didn’t have an opportunity to achieve my full potential academically. When I was fifteen, I went to high school half a day and college the other half. Then I went on to a local college, one that was not really very stimulating. The dean let me take course overloads and I didn’t have to be in all my classes all the time, so long as I maintained a certain grade point average. The classes were very helpful to me, but it soon became clear that I could take a course overload and drugs and still be bored. I needed to be in a different environment in order to be inspired to go on with academics.
PLAYBOY: Was there anything in college that inspired you?
STONE: Well, I took a course in the history of modern architecture in which I learned about Christo. I ended up minoring in modern architecture because it was so inspiring to me to think of artists as architects and architects as artists. It was a revelation that an artist wasn’t defined by his medium.
PLAYBOY: So why did you ultimately select acting as a career?
STONE: Of all the arts, I thought I had the least talent as an actor — so I picked it. [Laughs] It was the furthest reach.
In reality, I figure I’ll go back to school at some point. I mean, what am I going to do ultimately? Be a producer? Go back to school and be a lawyer? I’m not going to be a leading lady forever, that’s clear. So I think I’ll sock away the bread now so if I want to go back to school, I can do that. We’ll see.
PLAYBOY: After college, you started off as a model, right?
STONE: Yeah. Being a model was a good gig for me. I’m obviously not like your model chick. I don’t look like those girls. I can get it up and look good, though I look better on film. But I’m not size three, ten-foot-tall perfect. Being in that world always seemed like such a scam to me. I was always uncomfortable. But at the same time, I was able to do it and make great money so that I didn’t have to be a starving artist while I studied acting and lost my Pennsylvania accent.
PLAYBOY: Before long, you were married and acting in B movies. Did you feel trapped at that point?
STONE: I did, but I was trying desperately to be normal. My husband was a real straight guy and we had sort of a squeaky-clean little relationship. I wanted us to be the perfect couple. He had been the captain of the football team and the golf team. I wanted to be the perfect wife. Like everyone else, I wanted to be normal, I wanted life to be easier. But I was very rigid — I wanted to be perfect. Maybe I thought being perfect, being better, was being different from whom I actually was. It has taken me a long time to understand that who I am is enough.
PLAYBOY: What were your feelings toward your husband?
STONE: I loved my husband from the minute I laid eyes on him. I think my behavior was a result of wanting to be different, but my love for him was an instantly magical thing that had nothing to do with any of that.
PLAYBOY: Still, you were constantly discontent.
STONE: Yeah. And when we had trouble in the marriage, I tried to negotiate with him for some kind of middle ground, but he wouldn’t negotiate. Because he really was—-
STONE: [Nods] Normal.
PLAYBOY: What was middle ground for you?
STONE: I don’t know. [Pauses] This is getting too private. I don’t really want to talk about it.
PLAYBOY: Let’s not talk about it in terms of your relationship but in terms of yourself. What were you trying to attain?
STONE: I guess this is it: I never, ever thought I was lovable. Ever. I didn’t believe that my husband loved me. That was the worst thing I did in my marriage, because I was perpetually freaked out over it. I’ve had experiences in the past couple years that have let me know the depth of the love and loyalty that I have with my friends and my family. But I never knew that before.
PLAYBOY: How did you figure it out?
STONE: After my marriage, I was alone. It was difficult for me for a long time. There’s a song I heard on the radio the other day that sums it up. It went something like: “If it wasn’t for you, I’d be here right now.”
PLAYBOY: You were devastated.
STONE: I loved him completely. It was very difficult to move on. I wasn’t aware emotionally that it was over even after I was divorced.
PLAYBOY: How did that affect you?
STONE: I went around not having relationships because I thought they would impinge on the possibility of getting back together with my husband.
PLAYBOY: Until when?
STONE: Now. [Laughs] No, about a year and a half ago. I started having relationships again. One ended right after I finished Basic Instinct. I was heartbroken.
PLAYBOY: Were you involved with someone on the movie?
STONE: I am not prepared to reveal that. [Grins] But the person will know. [Laughs] Actually, probably not. There’ll be all these people going, “It was me, it was me!”
PLAYBOY: So you were heartbroken?
STONE: Yes. And that’s when I saw it. My friends were so loving and supportive when I was in so much pain. One day I was just lying on the sofa, crying, and it occurred to me out of nowhere that I was loved. I realized that meant I was lovable. And my life changed.
STONE: Until then I could never figure out what I did wrong in my marriage. I never believed that he loved me. Now I recognize that he really did.
PLAYBOY: Was Dwight Yoakam your next serious romance?
STONE: I occasionally went out with Dwight for a six-week period, during which time we were photographed far too much and quite by accident. I am incredibly disappointed that I still have to see photos of such an unimportant relationship.
PLAYBOY: Who is your boyfriend now?
STONE: I don’t want to put that in the press. Let’s just say I’m very happy in my current relationship.
PLAYBOY: Do you want children?
STONE: I do. I will have children someday.
PLAYBOY: Has your relationship with your parents changed, too?
STONE: Oh yeah. I realize now how peculiar they are. [Laughs] It’s not just me.
PLAYBOY: And what about the future? Do you see yourself staying the “sex babe” of the Nineties?
STONE: Some days you’d like to be able to just shut it all off: “We won’t do that today.” But you don’t get to pick a day like that. It’s very weird.
PLAYBOY: How are men, in particular, affected by you now?
STONE: They know that I know — like, they can’t pull one over on me. They talk to me in a certain way. I was in a room at a press junket when the movie came out. Reporters came in, one after the other, for their seven minutes. They’d seen the movie that morning, so they were still very impacted by it. From the moment they sat down, you could tell exactly where they were at. Men would sit down and start to sweat and shake.
PLAYBOY: In one skit on your Saturday Night Live appearance, men approached you in a bar and suddenly became tongue-tied. How much of an exaggeration is that?
STONE: Not too much, but that happens to any attractive woman. Men make up an idea of who you are. They don’t take the time to find out. It’s a version of, “I love you, you’re beautiful” or “I hate you, you’re beautiful.” Whatever it is, they think they know what you’re all about.
PLAYBOY: In the sketch, you didn’t even have a chance to respond to one guy before he retreated to his friend and said, “She’s a bitch.”
STONE: It’s sad. An attractive woman can find herself in a relationship for three or four months before she realizes that the person not only doesn’t know her but, even more frightening, doesn’t want to know her. They just want her to be the thing.
PLAYBOY: And what is “the thing”?
STONE: It’s different for everybody. For me, I was the diet Coke girl, the Clairol girl, the Charlie girl in Europe. In each, you represent a certain archetypal thing. Men want you to be that. It has nothing to do with who you really are.
PLAYBOY: Are men more intimidated by the Basic Instinct girl than by any of the other beautiful girls you’ve been?
STONE: Well, after the movie came out, I did so much publicity in which I was such a wiseass that people realized that I was and wasn’t Catherine Tramell. After a while it’s hard to be thoughtful and deep when you’re asked the same question endlessly. So, yes, people get in my space in a different way now. They feel like they have to knock before they come in. Carefully.
PLAYBOY: Is that good or bad?
STONE: I kind of like it because it’s less scary than having people charge at you.
PLAYBOY: What about the power that comes from all the attention? Is any of that fun?
STONE: Everybody enjoys the power of sexuality. Actresses are asked to inspire people sexually by the nature of their job. The fun part is that I get to do a lot of good for people. I can step out and say something and have a real effect.
PLAYBOY: For instance?
STONE: If I do a press conference and people ask me my point of view, I know it will be printed in USA Today. It’ll affect somebody.
PLAYBOY: Do new responsibilities come with that?
STONE: Yes. I’ve shaped up. I’m still pretty flip about a lot of things, but I try not to be flip about real things. That’s why I didn’t openly support a presidential candidate. Instead, I decided to campaign for people to get out and vote — to make a choice — rather than use my position to try to influence people to vote for a particular candidate. I’ve also been asked by the United Nations to go to Cambodia with medical supplies. I’m probably going to do that. But it’s scary. I mean, I can understand the distorted feelings of importance that fame brings. But I’m learning. It’s new.
PLAYBOY: Lots of actors achieve stardom in their teens and twenties. You’re in your thirties. How is that different?
STONE: All I know is that I’m really glad to be my age. I always knew older was going to be better. I knew I was growing into my personality. Now I’m old enough that it all makes sense, it’s all fine now. When I had this voice, this attitude, this intensity and these opinions at seventeen, well, people thought I was this fucking vampire.
It’s like my boyfriend once told me: “Looking at you,” he said, “is like looking at a hummingbird. If you stand real close, the wings are going so fast you can’t see them. It’s overwhelming and you don’t know what’s going on. How is this creature staying in the air? But if you step back just a little bit, you can see the wings move, barely. You can see this beautiful thing moving around from flower to flower. And it’s not scary anymore.”
PLAYBOY: Some say that hummingbirds are not supposed to be able to fly — that their wings are too small for their bodies.
STONE: Then I really am like a hummingbird, I guess, because my mind is far too heavy to do what I do. [Shrugs, smiles] Yet here I am.