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Sharon Stone Reinvented

After a virtual five-year hiatus and armed with a new lease on life, Sharon Stone has returned to her rightful place as a Hollywood star.
Gordon Mott
From the Print Edition:
Sharon Stone, July/Aug 2004

(continued from page 1)

The role marks a departure for Stone. Reading through her filmography, one notices that she played opposite extremely strong, male stars in her most important films. In Total Recall, it was Arnold Schwarzenegger. In Basic Instinct, it was Michael Douglas. In Sliver, it was William Baldwin. Sylvester Stallone and James Woods played opposite her in The Specialist. And, in Casino, it was Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Woods. In Catwoman, she plays opposite Oscar winner Berry. Asked if it was the first time she'd been up against a big female star, she says, "You know, I think you're right. But it's Halle, who is so wonderful."

Stone reflects on her choice of roles. "It's part of living in gratitude and happiness, and not living in fear. I think when I was feeling more afraid, and my energy was more aggressive, you had to put me up against some big tough guy. I needed to be there, too. But now, I have a more mellifluous energy, and I can be with my feminine side more easily."

Woods, one of those tough guys, is glad that Stone is back in the game. A longtime friend, he says it's a pleasure to see her working again. "She's one of the smartest women in show business, one of the most devoted friends and one of the most vivacious forces because she's so in love with the making of movies," Woods says.

There's an encyclopedia of unspoken truths in Stone's comments about her happy state today versus her description of her energy in the past being "aggressive." In that brief genesis of stardom after Basic Instinct, she was transformed from just another pretty face scrambling for her big break, to Hollywood's next, best pretender to the throne of Marilyn Monroe. Her turn in 1992's biggest hit made her Tinseltown's leading lady, a sexy, sultry siren who paralyzed men and silenced rooms whenever she appeared in public. She was the type of actress that Alfred Hitchcock would have loved directing, a blonde ice queen who could burn up the screen with a single look.

Stone did not occupy the femme fatale role with ease, or for that matter, much grace. She was widely described as hard and driven and aggressive, often in very unflattering terms. Her years following Basic Instinct might be described diplomatically as a series of head-butting contests with studio executives, directors and producers. To cast it in a positive light, you could say she fought the inflexible expectations of a movie industry trying to capitalize on her sensual movie persona. She fought for total control over her career with roles that stretched her beyond skin and sex. She succeeded in 1995's Casino, Martin Scorsese's gritty homage to '70s- and '80s-era Las Vegas. But she failed in the western The Quick and The Dead, the remake Diabolique and even in Sliver, the erotic, voyeuristic thriller that followed Basic Instinct, in which she played against type as a bookish editor.

"When I did Casino, it was the hardest thing I ever did. I felt so lucky and grateful to be there, but I didn't know how to act," Stone says. "I didn't know how to even say that I was grateful and lucky to be there, and I didn't know how to go out and get another part like it and keep doing it. I felt like I'd hit some pinnacle, an apex, but I didn't know how to do anything else, to go on. I think it was because I lived in fear. I didn't understand back then it would be OK to say, 'Thanks, Wow. Fantastic. Gee, I'd like to do that again.' That it would be OK to say that."

She admits that many of the characterizations about her were true. "By far, by far. I was very aggressive," she says. But she's also sure of why she's different today.

Sharon Stone was born on March 10, 1958, in Meadville, Pennsylvania, the second of four children. Her father, Joseph, was a tool-and-die maker, her mother, Dorothy, a homemaker. She fell in love with acting at a young age. "My mom says I just started making plays when I was young. But I wasn't the actor. I was always the writer, producer and director. I made my sister, Kelly, be the actor," she says. At 15, she entered Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, guided there by teachers who were impressed with her intelligence (Stone reportedly scored 154 on an IQ test at the age of seven). While still a teenager, she left home for New York to pursue modeling after winning several local beauty pageants.

"It was like I made a landing error when I was born," Stone says. "My interests are so urban and culturally driven; I love the city." After signing with the prestigious Ford modeling agency, Stone was flown to Paris in the late 1970s. "One night, it was my birthday, and I was living in the atelier room of a big hotel there. I received an abundance of flowers in my tiny little room, and I put them all around my bed, and I got in my bed, and put a camera on a tripod and took pictures of myself like I was a corpse," she says, and then starts laughing. "I was so enraptured of the melancholy of Paris that I'd wrap my head in a scarf and put on my raincoat and go walking in the rain. It was so Sylvia Plath, and I thought to myself, I just have to get out of here. I asked myself, What do I want to do? What's this modeling stuff? And, I was a bad model." She returned to New York, where almost immediately, she stood in line to be an extra in a Woody Allen movie. Allen ended up casting her as the beautiful girl seen for a fleeting moment on a train in 1980's Stardust Memories.

It would be nice to say the rest is history, but there is a lot of history between Stardust Memories and what is considered the first role that garnered her any real attention, as Lori, Schwarzenegger's deadly "wife," in Total Recall in 1990. There were minor roles in Deadly Blessing and Irreconcilable Differences, some TV roles in "Bay City Blues" and "The Vegas Strip War," and then a role as Jesse Huston in King Solomon's Mines and Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold, films that may have seemed to be cheap Indiana Jones knockoffs but were actually based on H. Rider Haggard's nineteenth century adventure novels. She also had parts in Action Jackson, Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol and a host of other movies that young actors take to keep working. Even Total Recall didn't jump-start her career as quickly as it might have; she was in a serious auto accident shortly before it finished shooting in 1990 that laid her up for nearly six months. It wasn't long after her recovery, however, that she made Basic Instinct with Michael Douglas, and carved out her place in Hollywood as a star and sex symbol.

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