Sharon Stone interview: ‘I was a bookworm. I used my intelligence to be sexy’

The actress who bared all as she uncrossed her legs in ‘Basic Instinct’ is back, playing a woman who has to pay for pleasure

“Bare skin is beautiful, I don’t think God was in the clothing business,” chimes Sharon Stone as she explains why she thinks arguments criticising the amount of nudity on screen are invalid. “I don’t think that Hollywood is obsessed with sex. I think that it’s ridiculous to pretend that everyone isn’t obsessed with sex. Isn’t it every 20 seconds that we think about sex? If we didn’t have sex, there wouldn’t be a future. I think there is a reason that we are obsessed with sex, it’s creativity. It’s the way that God made it.”

Ever since the actress uncrossed her legs in Basic Instinct she’s been the epitome of sexiness. This remains true even as she has started taken on mother roles such as playing Deep Throat star Linda Lovelace’s disciplinarian mum Dorothy Boreman in Lovelace. Her new film Fading Gigolo sees her paying for sex.

“It’s intriguing that I came to Fading Gigolo and play a character, Dr Parker, who is interested in sex, having just starred in Lovelace,” she says. “Dr Parker is repressed and is freed... from her repression.” In Fading Gigolo Stone plays frustrated married dermatologist Dr Parker. Frustrated and bored, she satisfies her sexual craving by asking cash-strapped bookstore owner Murray, played by Woody Allen, to act as her pimp. Murray enlists his reluctant florist friend Fioravante, essayed by the film’s writer, director and star John Turturro, to step in as an unlikely Don Juan.

Initially the action toys with gender roles and stereotypes. Stone’s Dr Parker pays for sex to alleviate domestic boredom and then enlists the lothario to take part in a threesome with her best friend Selima, played by Columbian Modern Family star Sofia Vergara. But for romantic Fioravante, as his business booms, the cloud that seems to live above his pate darkens. Stone, a convert to Buddhism, believes that there is a need for men to feel guilt. “I think shame was invented by a man,” she states. “It’s a manipulation of the human spirit.”

Fading Gigolo also offers up the curiosity of giving Stone – at her third go – a chance to have meaningful on-screen dialogue with Allen. In 1980, the New York neurotic gave Stone her first break in the movies with a minor silent role in Stardust Memories. She plays a blonde seen on a train who blows a Marilyn Monroe-esque kiss in the direction of Allen’s Sandy Bates. She also appeared briefly in an uncredited role playing Allen’s wife in Picking up the Pieces in 2000, which was the last time Allen acted as a character in a movie that he himself did not direct.

I meet with the actress soon after she received a lifetime achievement award from Martin Scorsese at the Marrakech Film Festival. While handing out the award Scorsese said of the actress, who gave one of her most memorable performances playing trophy wife Ginger McKenna in gangster opera Casino: “Sharon Stone is incredibly beautiful, she’s also brilliant, fearless, charming, very funny and absolutely wild and she’s a true star. When she walks into a room the energy changes.”

I can testify to the strength of the last statement. Dressed in a slinky long black dress Stone has a gregariousness and gait that makes the molecules dance in the room as she enters. She’s also buzzing off the excitement of catching up with Scorsese: “Lets pray that Marty puts me in a great part again.”

Her mother was an accountant and her father a factory worker. She got into acting by way of modelling. She won a beauty pageant in her native Pennsylvania and was then counselled by a pageant judge to move to New York and pursue a career as a fashion model. The 1980s was a period of acting work that came between modelling assignments, landing roles in work mostly on TV, an episode of TJ Hooker and in Magnum, P.I. before landing a part in Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol.

Looking back over the first 34 years of her movie career she says: “I think that when I was making my choices along my career it was hard for people to understand. Why this movie? Why that? Especially when I had the opportunity to make one blockbuster after another. I think that we have come to a stage now, where people can understand me as whole person. You can look at my films as a whole and say, oh I can see why you made Last Dance [in which she played a woman on death row], because it’s a piece of a puzzle that now fits together for people.”

It was in 1990 that she got her big career breakthrough in Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi extravaganza Total Recall. She played the deceitful wife of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hero Douglas Quaid, who in the year 2084 dreams about life on Mars, where humans now live. In a fabulous role, Stone is a brilliant femme fatale, a martial art expert and double agent.

Surprisingly Stone says it wasn’t so much Total Recall but her appearance in Playboy that sent her career into the stratosphere. She argues that until that moment she was not getting the sexy roles with which she would thereafter forever  be associated.

“I decided because I was a very bookworm person that I had to use my intelligence of how to be sexy. So I was very good friends with the woman who was photo-editor of Playboy magazine and she was always saying that Hugh Hefner wanted me to be in Playboy. I thought, ‘you know what, this would be an intelligent step for me because if I tell people that I’m sexy, they’ll think I’m sexy’. So I showed her some black and white pictures that Man Ray had taken of his wife and said, ‘something like this’. And I got Basic Instinct, like five minutes later.”

It’s a great story, although I find it hard to imagine that Dutch director Paul Verhoeven wouldn’t have given Stone the part anyway following on from the success of Total Recall. Whatever the reason for her casting, Stone would deliver one of the iconic performances of the 1990s in Basic Instinct.

She’s become bored of talking about Catherine Tramell, or the controversy over whether she knew that she would flash her vagina during the infamous interrogation screen. She once said that she didn’t know her vagina would be shown on screen, which let to a public spat with Verhoeven, now though she’s more conciliatory and answers vaguely: “It’s 20 years ago. Plus it was 3 months of my life, and a year that we promoted it. For me it’s really old news. It’s not something I think about ever, unless I’m in these situations. I still sit down with people and that is all they can talk about, I think you need more to do [in your life], if that is all you can think about.”

In sharp contrast she waxes lyrical about playing one of cinema’s great villainesses in Casino, a performance that won her a Golden Globe. “I like it very much when I can play real-life characters,” she explains before going into detail about how she looked at FBI files on Geraldine McGee Rosenthal, read personal letters and met with her children and ex-husband. “It’s very rare for any woman to have such a comprehensive part in cinema. When you play a part like that you have to be completely vulnerable and give yourself totally to the director.”

She says that she wouldn’t mind stepping behind the camera herself given the right financing. She cites Quentin Tarantino and Little Miss Sunshine as a film-maker and film that she’d like to ape. Movies that have a twisted perspective, adding, “I suspect my directing style would be a little bit twisted”.

Another lesser-known talent that she has is that of songwriter. “The first song that I had published was for Hurricane Katrina. There was an album that came out, Come Together Now, and I wrote the title track song. I had a song come out in Argentina last year about a terrific writer and poet who was murdered in his car. I also have a song out in Sweden called Let’s Kiss. My relationship with writing began when I was a young girl. I went to college on a writing scholarship when I was 15 years old. I have always been a person whose loved to write and have had stories published in seven or eight magazines.”

She is keen to remind that growing up she was a brain as well as a beauty. Flying through school and being awarded a writing scholarship to Edinboro University in Pennsylvania where she studied creative writing and fine arts, she left to pursue a modelling career before graduating. In 2007 she was awarded an honorary degree by Edinboro University.

However she overstepped the line when she stated that she was a member of Mensa, a claim that she later retracted.

Stone has been married twice, first to television producer Michael Greenburg in 1984 and then to newsman Phil Bronstein in 1998. Both marriages officially lasted for almost six years before ending in divorce. Stone also had a high-profile relationship with Shep Gordon, which is discussed in Mike Myers’s upcoming documentary on the Hollywood manager of Alice Cooper, Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon. In it she comes off rather well.

She has adopted three children. “My children are at a fantastic age. They are boys, all three of them. They are seven, eight and 13 and this is the first time that as a group they are having experiences that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives. I want them to remember being together in Morocco, running up and down sand dunes, riding camels, and walking through souks.

“I want them to think back to this time when they are older and have to think about more  complicated things.”

In the autumn of 2001 Stone suffered a brain haemorrhage. She left hospital with short- and long-term memory loss. She has now recovered but the week long stay in hospital and recuperation changed her perspective on life – she became less concerned with what others think of her.

So what next for one of cinema’s great dames? Although it may seem to some that Stone has no qualms about transgression on-screen or pushing boundaries, she says there is one thing that she will not do.

“I don’t take parts where the mother is trying to sleep with the daughter’s boyfriend. Because I think it’s a ridiculous cliche and there are other actresses that like to play those parts, so I always suggest they send them those parts.”

What she is excited about is the film she has recently completed shooting, What About Love. “I play this blackout-drinking, but functioning, alcoholic Republican senator’s wife. Andy Garcia plays the senator in the film and our daughter is killed in a car accident and we are having a marriage, which is much of an arrangement anyway, and it’s what happens.”

Unlike when she decided she wanted the sexy roles in the 1990s, now there is no big career plan; “So I’m playing every character that you can think of now, so I could expect anything right now, I’m just playing parts that are compelling.”

‘Fading Gigolo’ is out on 23 May

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