In recent years, Kimila Ann Basinger has been making headlines more for her irascible custody battle with ex-husband Alec Baldwin than for anything she has done on-screen. That, though, has changed with her impressive turn in The Burning Plain, playing a woman whose perspective on life and family have been turned on its head by breast cancer.
Playing Gina in Guillermo Arriaga's film, the 55-year-old actress has been unusually cast in a maternal role as the head of a large family. That said, her character's decision to embark on an affair has more than a hint of the blonde bombshell roles that made Basinger a lad's mag favourite in the 1980s, most notably her pulse-racing turn in 9 Weeks as a raunchy gallery worker who starts an impersonal affair with Mickey Rourke.
Basinger flatly refuses to discuss Baldwin, who she was married to for eight years until 2002. This comes as no surprise given the years battling in court and the very public airing of an ill-advised answer phone message left by Baldwin in which he called his daughter a "rude little pig". Last year he wrote A Promise to Ourselves, a book about their court battle over their daughter Ireland Eliesse Baldwin.
Basinger, who was born in Athens, Georgia has been particularly unlucky when it comes to her ex-husbands' publishing habits. Her first husband, the make-up artist Ron Snyder-Britton, wrote a memoir about their marriage, Longer Than Forever, in which he discussed her rumoured affairs with Prince and Richard Gere. No wonder, The Burning Plain, which focuses on family, a woman's position in society and difficulties with men appealed to the actress.
"There was a universal theme in Gina that I loved," she says. "Yes, she was a woman who had had breast cancer and I realised that I would have to represent that section of people in the world," says Basinger. "But to me there was a much bigger representation – women in general. That drew me. In her case, her husband rejects her and that grew into something that was about more than the physical changes she suffered from her cancer treatment. Rejection is such a universal theme. Inevitably, it's part of the journey of life that we all go through."
One aspect of life that Basinger is obviously content with is the role motherhood. Her daughter Ireland is a frequent source of reference during the conversation. "I've been a mum for 13 years. I think it's such a huge advantage to have when playing a mother, you can't help but carry that wisdom into these roles."
As we talk more about the film, Basinger makes a confession. "I've not seen the movie, so I don't know what I did, or what made the final cut or how what I did on the movie corresponds with the other characters." Surprised, I ask why she has not seen the film. As she remains tight-lipped, I ask if she never watches herself on screen. "That might be a tad true," blurts out the actress. "Once I make these movies, I've lived so deep with the character that it would be too shallow to watch it. I know it's a weird thing. But once I've travelled in those waters and gone to the depths that you need to go to, I don't know that I would get any benefit from watching the film."
She cannot, or rather chooses not, to recall which film of hers she last watched, admitting that she watches herself when she's flicking through channels and catches something by accident or she if hears her daughter laughing at something she's watching on the television. It's never an experience that makes her content, she says. "I don't have a great relationship with myself on screen."
One of her favourite roles was apparently in the 2004 horror, The Door In The Floor. "I loved doing it and I don't know if it was that time of my life when I needed to do a piece like this. I loved working with Jeff Bridges and I think both of us as parents understood that material," she says. "It was a strange time of my life [just after her divorce from Baldwin] and fulfilled me so much."
A movie that she will definitely not be watching is the adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' novel The Informers, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. "On dear, dear, dear, I get myself into so much trouble, I can't even remember the name of the part I play," she quips. It is Laura. "Every day when I get home, all I want to do is shower and never talk about this girl, this woman, again. It was one of the most decadent pieces of material that I've ever read. These people of the 1980s, they were so lost.
"This is a movie I definitely don't want to see, even if Gregor Jordan is the director, who I absolutely adore. When I had to go and do ADR for this film, I was mortified whenever I had to look at the screen."
Rourke also stars in the film and, like 9 Weeks, The Informers pushes the boundaries of taste. But Basinger thinks it might now be time, in her sixth decade, to stop taking her clothes off on-screen: "If something is really well written and has that aspect of sexual da da da, maybe I'll go there again, but I'm not ready to jump into something sexual again. Something would have to be really brilliant. We'll see... I like to mix it up."
Basinger, who first came to prominence as a model in the 1970s, has frequently used her body as a weapon on screen. Her first starring role was in the 1978 made-for-TV movie Katie, Portrait of a Centrefold, in which she played an aspiring actress who comes to Hollywood and ends up appearing in men's magazines. She played a prostitute in From Here to Eternity and was a Bond Girl, opposite Sean Connery in Never Say Never Again. Then came Honey Horné in Wayne's World 2 and the infamous 9 Weeks, not to mention the numerous occasions that she has played the love interest in romcoms. In 1997, she won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar playing a call girl in the neo-noir detective drama L.A. Confidential.
"You can tell the strengths and weaknesses of a woman from the relationship that they have with their body," she sums up. "A woman's relationship with her body is one that no poet has ever captured, nor has any book that I've read."
Strangely, her beauty has become a source of embarrassment of late, especially now that her daughter's friends have been introduced to some of her performances. "At my daughter's school, these boys are now 13 or 14 years old and they know more about my business than they should. Now when I drop her off at school I'm not allowed to get out of the car," she laments. "But it's funny because the boys will recognise me and wave. Sometimes, Ireland will come home and tell me stories that I just don't want to hear." She adds, "Sometimes you do feel vulnerable, especially when you have a movie coming out."
Vulnerability is something that just doesn't seem part of Basinger's make-up. She exudes confidence both on- and off-screen, although the demands of motherhood are making those appearances in front of the camera increasingly rare. Not that you'll catch Basinger complaining.
'The Burning Plain' is out now; 'The Informers' is out later this year
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