Playboy, December 1992
A candid conversation with the red-hot star of Basic Instinct about sex, brains, macho men, killer women and "that scene"
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 [
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
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,
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,
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.