Basic Instinct 1
A candid conversation with the red-hot star of "basic
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: Delectable 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, most of them forgettable, 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 Tayster'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 he 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 those 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 for her romance with country singer Dwight Yoakam. Today, she has a boyfriend whose name she prefers to keep private, though industry gossip identifies the paramour as Chris Peters, son of producer Jon Peters and actress Lesley Ann Warren.
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 aloud 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 precariously 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. She lifted the berries one at a time to her lips, delicately popping them into her mouth.
"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 she became so deeply involved in a description of some of the movie's sex scenes, she actually lost 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."