Wednesday, April 17

Sharon Stone’s special concern for the ‘sexy’ women of Florida

By Celia Walden 

It’s a balmy 33 degrees on Sharon Stone’s Beverly Hills balcony, and she and I are lamenting the death of flirting. “I’ve realized that people are just not whistling anymore,” says the Oscar-nominated star of Basic Instinct, Casino – and Netflix’s addictive new drama Ratched. “It was a lot of fun when we were allowed to whistle and flirt, but that era has passed.”

Are we allowed to feel sad about that? “It is sad.” Stone gives an elegant, one-shoulder shrug. “But people just aren’t like that anymore. Technology has taken away the whole interpersonal flirtation thing anyway, so now it’s not even in the air: people just don’t flirt face-to-face. And I don’t think it has anything to do with you or me [getting older].”

It’s definitely got nothing to do with the number currently attached to Stone (62). Hell, even I had to hold back a wolf whistle when an image of the actor on that balcony first filled my Zoom screen. Lounging on a daybed in minimal make-up and a simple white linen shirt, she is even more absurdly beautiful than she was as a jobbing model in her late teens. The spiky pixie cut that saw her through much of her 40s and 50s has been softened into an asymmetrical crop that Stone sweeps impatiently off her face from time to time, and age has only sharpened that enviable bone structure.

Twenty-five years ago the Pennsylvania-born actor told the Los Angeles Times: “I think for a long time people just did not know what to do with me. I looked like a Barbie doll and then I had this voice like I spend my life in a bar, and then I said these things that were alarming.” There’s nothing Barbie-like about Stone now, but that aside, I’m not sure much has changed.

She still sounds like she spends too much time in a bar. She’s even got a raucous saloon-style laugh to boot. And perhaps only now is her industry realizing how much it can do with the small-town girl who “strategically planned” a semi-naked Playboy shoot in order to get “sex symbol”-style roles like that of Catherine Tramell in Basic Instinct. That beyond the vixens and the ice queens, Stone can also do comedy (Susan Walter’s 2017 film All I Wish), tragedy (Steven Soderbergh’s 2017 TV drama Mosaic), and the sinister mix of the two that she carries off in Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan’s new Netflix drama: the One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest prequel Ratched.

Set during the 1940s, in a psychiatric hospital in Northern California where new and unsettling experiments have begun on the human brain, the show is the making-of-a-monster story of Mildred Ratched (played by Sarah Paulson). Ratched is the nurse who has Jack Nicholson’s character lobotomized in Miloš Forman’s classic 1975 adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel.

Stone’s character – an eccentric heiress named Lenore Osgood – is just as deranged, and intent on avenging her son. But she looks glorious in her balloon-sleeved silk gowns, a pet monkey perched on her shoulder, and anyone still questioning “what to do” with Stone in Hollywood will have their answer: anything.

That the actor still says “alarming” things after all these years in the industry makes her a refreshing and substantial interviewee. In Hollywood, “alarming” often means “honest,” and Stone’s honesty can be searing. Three weeks after our conversation, she detailed in a series of emotional Instagram posts how Covid-19 had ravaged her family, claiming the lives of her grandmother and godmother and putting her beloved younger sister Kelly in the hospital, where – at the time of writing – she and Stone’s brother-in-law Bruce are still “fighting for their lives.”

Begging people to “wear a mask!”, Stone urged her 2.5M Instagram/Twitter followers to vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris — and ended with the rallying cry: “With women in power, we will fight for our families.”

In one of the posts late last year, Stone urged the “sexy” women of Florida to vote for Biden/Harris, explaining that her affection for the state evolved from visiting here since she was a teenager — including the filming in Miami of the Stallone action flick The Specialist in 1994.

“I raised money for battered women there,” she said. “What I know about you? You’re resilient, brave, fun, smart, and, yes, you are sexy, if I can be so bold. Your [Covid-19] numbers are scaring me.”

“I’m a longtime infectious disease worker; I helped your families and friends with HIV/AIDS and I will be there to help you recover from this,” added Stone, who has raised millions for AIDS/HIV research chairing international events with the amfAR Global Campaign.

“As a mom, a woman, and someone who sees you, I urge you to believe me when I say trust is why voting for a woman in the White House will save your families’ lives. Vote #BidenHarris to live.”

Stone’s a feminist where it matters. Although she refuses to toe the accepted line on more trivial subjects like flirting and wolf-whistling, being too smart to fear open, nuanced discussion, the actor has vehemently supported Me Too from the outset, having experienced so much toxic masculinity throughout her own career that when a CBS reporter asked in 2018 whether she’d ever been made to feel uncomfortable, Stone just guffawed.

Since then she’s shared some of those moments, from finding out that “the term f–kable was used to see if you were employable,” and hearing one male actor on the crowded set of the 1984 drama Irreconcilable Differences holler, “Would you get out of the f–king way? I can’t even see her t–s,” to working with a director “who asked me to sit on his lap each day to receive his direction.”

“And if I went to work for three weeks and said, ‘I’m not going to sit on that director’s lap to take direction,’” Stone says, “they just wouldn’t shoot me for three weeks. And if I would tell the studio, ‘I have an 11-day-old baby, so I’m really not available to be sitting on a director’s lap,’ nothing would change.”

Any objections she did make in her early years counted against her, Stone says. “Overall my resistance has made people say that I’m difficult. It’s either ‘difficult’ or, ‘Sharon’s hard to work with.”’

Haven’t things changed now? “I don’t know,” Stone winces. “People can still be condescending to women, and do you really let that affect you?” she muses. “I mean there were times when it used to be more oppressive, but now I think you have to work out what sort of aggression it would require to get back to neutral. Because sometimes it’s just a small thing – a look or a nod – and sometimes you just have to walk away or laugh. And sometimes you really have to put your foot down.”

After a 40-year career, two husbands (Stone was married to producer Michael Greenburg from 1984 to 1990, and journalist Phil Bronstein from 1998 to 2004), three adopted children (Roan, 20, Laird, 15, and Quinn, 14) and a huge stroke at the age of 43, Stone has learned a few things. The main one being that it’s about “fighting the big fights.” “Because listen, I feel like I don’t really need to get into the weeds on all these other things,” she says when I ask whether she minds being called “honey” or “darling.” “I don’t care if people call me those things. Frankly, I don’t really care if they pat me on the rear. I just feel like all of that stuff is such a small victory. And maybe it’s because I’m 62 and have been through so much that I’m able to sort out what really needs my attention – and what are just things and people that are going to fade away anyway.”

As tired as she is of discussing one of the most paused moments in movie history (Basic Instinct was released in 1992, after all), Stone has never, like so many actors, belittled the film that made her. “It was a real sociological game-changer,” she says. “And of course it took a lot of heat, as anything that changes the game does. Any time you’re really a tiger,” she narrows her eyes, “any time you step out and do something different, you take a lot of heat. But it was worth it. It made such a difference in terms of the way we view women in film. Even the way women actually get to direct is so different now. I don’t think women had a voice in film before really.”

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Photo: Sharon Stone as Lenore Osgood in Ratched. (Saeed Adyani/Netflix)

Although she and her co-star Michael Douglas have remained friends over the years, Ratched – which Douglas executive produced – is the first project the pair have worked on together since Basic Instinct. “I didn’t see him on set, but we’ve seen each other many, many times over the years. I mean Michael changed my life. And he’s always been so ahead of the curve in the things he’s produced, always looking at the most intriguing issues, whether it’s nuclear disasters or political issues or mental illness, as in Ratched.”

Stone credits Sarah Paulson, who was an executive producer on the show alongside Douglas, with much of Ratched’s brilliance. As “one of the biggest forces in the TV and film world right now,” Paulson – star of The People v OJ Simpson, Ocean’s 8 and Mrs America – personifies the hopes and ambitions Stone had as a girl, she says.

Growing up in Meadville, Pennsylvania, the daughter of a factory worker and an accountant, and the second child of four, Stone flew through school several years ahead of her peers. “Between the ages of 11 and 14 there were these real female trailblazers out there like Gloria Steinem,” she recalls. “Feminism was the topic when I was 11, 12, 13, 14 – those years when you start to question, ‘Who do I want to be when I become a woman?’ So when I saw those trailblazers, I thought, ‘Well that’s it!”’

Remembering how she would “leave a lot of feminist reading material casually around the house for my mother to find,” Stone gives a low laugh. “Then my mother would put all her books, like [Erica Jong’s] Fear of Flying, on top of the fridge, because that was the more secret place – that was where the more controversial material went.”

Steinem being a hero of Stone’s explains why the actor never felt the need to choose between sexy and serious, winning both the title of Miss Crawford County and a scholarship to Edinboro State University, where she studied creative writing and fine arts.

Having put her degree on hold, however, Stone was signed by a modelling agency in New York. By 22, she’d ditched the modeling and made her acting debut as an extra in Woody Allen’s 1980 comedy Stardust Memories. Her big break didn’t come until 10 years later, when she got the part of a villainous undercover agent posing as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s wife in Total Recall. But even in the busiest decade of Stone’s Hollywood career – in which she made Sliver (1993), The Specialist (1994), The Quick and the Dead (1995), Casino (1995), Last Dance (1996) and Sphere (1998), to name a few – one got the sense that this was not enough to sate her.

Stone soon became an advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness, immersing herself in scientific research. She gave a Hague Talk about peace in 2016 – and at the age of 58, inspired by Hillary Clinton, went back to finish her university degree.

I wonder if Stone’s desire to recalibrate in her 50s was a delayed reaction to the way Hollywood treated her after the stroke and nine-day brain bleed she suffered in 2001 – a treatment she has previously described as “brutally unkind.” “You find yourself at the back of the line,” she has said. “You have to figure yourself out all over again.”

Despite the one per cent chance of survival she was given, a seven-hour surgery in which 22 coils were inserted into Stone’s brain was able to save her. But in the seven years it took for the actor to recover fully, she sometimes felt she’d “lost everything.”

The stroke had occurred at a particularly vulnerable time in Stone’s life. She and Bronstein were heading for divorce, and a subsequent custody battle over their son, Roan, only made things more painful. The “damaged goods” stigma Stone fought to shake off for years after her illness still visibly enrages her. “It was like I’d been this very bright and shiny thing, and then I got a ding in my fender and suddenly I just wasn’t bright and shiny anymore.”

Had anyone told Stone then that the trauma she was living through would prove useful in the event of a global pandemic, she wouldn’t have believed them. But because trauma’s all about change, she points out, “I now have a much more mellifluous sense of reality. It allows me to understand, ‘Oh, now life is changing again,’ whereas lots of people find change incredibly difficult. But anybody who has had a heart attack, cancer or a really traumatic divorce, for example, knows that those big moments change you exponentially. And then a new life starts: a rebirth.”

Stone looks out over the dazzling blue pool beneath. “And that’s what’s so intriguing right now with Covid, because we’re all going through that rebirth together.”

So fascinated is Stone with the idea of rebirth that she has written a memoir, The Beauty of Living Twice, about the two parts of her life – scheduled to be published this month. “Because once you’ve had your whole life ripped apart, you understand that the one thing that doesn’t change – if you get a grip on it – is your core self. Your integrity, your choices, your boundaries: those are the only things you can really count on.”

It’s true that there’s a zen-ness to Stone’s views on everything from Johnny Depp’s recent court case – “I’ve known Johnny from when he was a kid and he’s a terrific guy: sweet and nice and very warm and generous. So I have a feeling it’s more about this young lady” – to Trump. “Actually, I have empathy for him,” she said before the Inauguration, “because it’s heartbreaking to watch. And I think he’s had some childhood trauma. I look at this man and it feels to me like whatever his traumas are, he is torturing himself and hurting himself. And it’s affecting so many people that are coming out in support [of him], with Nazi masks and all that stuff. Those are also people who have a heartbreaking level of internal rage, and that rage comes from feeling so insecure and so hurt.”

Any insecurities Stone did once suffer from seem to have been banished from this second life of hers. She’s not going to pretend to buy into the “looks don’t matter” narrative. “Because it’s a big, fat, stupid lie,” she says through a burst of laughter, “and by the way you don’t even realize how much they matter until they start to go.” And she does stick to a rigorous daily workout regime “where I’ll do 30 squats a day, and lift these 7 lbs. lead balls when I’m watching TV, just because I can’t get to the gym these days.”

In terms of body treatments or facials, she’s low maintenance, she swears, and more comfortable with herself than ever before. “I’m done letting other people tell me how my face and body are, for one thing: ‘This part is not OK’ – and those big cellulite close-ups. All women’s bodies have those kinds of things, but we’ve looked at too many pantyhose pictures where the models were actually young boys, and seen too many fashion shows featuring 14-year-old Romanian girls.”

She pauses; shakes her head. “You don’t have to stay a beautiful girl forever, and we really have to start dealing with the fact that it’s cool to be a grown-up and intelligent woman. If your partner doesn’t understand that, he’s not an adult and you shouldn’t be with him.”

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Photo: Sharon Stone, photographed by Jay L. Clendenin, Los Angles Times

Finding an intelligent adult male to date hasn’t been easy for Stone, who aside from her two marriages has been linked to model Martin Mica and actor David DeLuise over the years. She even signed up to the dating app Bumble, which temporarily blocked her account, having assumed her profile was fake. “But honestly the whole thing was so dismal that I now want to write a book of short stories about my online dating experiences.” Seriously? “Yes! Dating sites are just not a successful thing. Because real chemistry, that frisson, that happens in the air – not on a site. And people are becoming less socially adept because of those sites,” she insists. “They no longer know how to behave over dinner, be in a relationship or communicate. I don’t want a ‘text relationship’ with someone I’m actually dating, for example. I find that dismal.”

With an eye-roll, she tells me about the punctuation-free text messages she would get – “what are you doing just hanging out” – “because these men are not actually interested in hearing what I’ve been doing.”

Right: because they’re on a date with Sharon Stone. “They don’t care that I’ve been talking to the UN or WHO, or working with Nobel laureates on a petition to create a free Covid vaccine. There’s just no emotional range.”

Stone’s disgust is genuine, but I don’t feel the disappointment runs deep. She gets plenty of emotional range from the three sons she’s always been careful to shield from unwanted attention: “I always had someone else drive them to school so that I didn’t create a stalker situation, and I never went to the park a lot with them because I didn’t want to draw the paparazzi there.” She gets it from them, and the same friends she’s kept “from the age of 22.” “They knew me when we were still pooling for the pizza, and I’m still just as content to sit on their couches and watch TV.” This jogs a memory, and Stone smiles. “But if we do go out somewhere and I run upstairs to get dressed and put some make-up on, they’ll always laugh when I walk back into the room: ‘Oh look,’ they’ll say, ‘you went and changed into Sharon Stone.”’

Celia Walden writes for The Telegraph and The Interview People. Greg Carannante also contributed to this story.

 

Main photo: Sharon Stone, photographed by Kirk McCoy of the Los Angeles Times

 

 

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