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: 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
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?
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
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.
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
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
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.
STONE: I really needed a job and I really needed a break.