Sharon Stone has never been especially well-treated by the Hollywood apparatus. As the breakout star of Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct, Stone was instantly accelerated from being a struggling performer with a string of near-misses into a sort of living symbol, embodying, in the part of serial killer Catherine Tramell a particularly vigorous blend of America’s never-ending obsessions with sex and violence. Stone lobbied aggressively for the part, and then—as noted in excerpts from her upcoming memoir, The Beauty Of Living Twice, released by Vanity Fair this week—had to live through the moment at the film’s debut screening, when she learned that Verhoeven had lied when he told her his camera hadn’t captured images of her genitals in the film’s infamous interrogation scene. Surrounded by movie executives and agents who had also just watched the scene in question, Stone did what anyone, understandably, might: “I went to the projection booth, slapped Paul across the face, left, went to my car, and called my lawyer.”
“Yes,” she notes a little earlier, “There have been many points of view on this topic, but since I’m the one with the vagina in question, let me say: The other points of view are bullshit.” Stone goes on to talk through the complicated calculus of the moment—one no male performer is likely to have been asked to make:
Then I thought some more. What if I were the director? What if I had gotten that shot? What if I had gotten it on purpose? Or by accident? What if it just existed? That was a lot to think about. I knew what film I was doing. For heaven’s sake, I fought for that part, and all that time, only this director had stood up for me. I had to find some way to become objective…So I thought and thought and I chose to allow this scene in the film. Why? Because it was correct for the film and for the character; and because, after all, I did it.
By the way, you probably don’t recall, but my name wasn’t at the top with Michael Douglas’s on the poster.
Stone is similarly frank about the many, many other moments in her career where men have talked down to her, used her, or encouraged her to go far past her limits in pursuit of opportunities afforded to male performers as a matter of course. Here she is on the topic of an unnamed film producer:
I had a producer bring me to his office, where he had malted milk balls in a little milk-carton-type container under his arm with the spout open. He walked back and forth in his office with the balls falling out of the spout and rolling all over the wood floor as he explained to me why I should fuck my costar so that we could have onscreen chemistry. Why, in his day, he made love to Ava Gardner onscreen and it was so sensational! Now just the creepy thought of him in the same room with Ava Gardner gave me pause. Then I realized that she also had to put up with him and pretend that he was in any way interesting.
I watched the chocolate balls rolling around, thinking, You guys insisted on this actor when he couldn’t get one whole scene out in the test.… Now you think if I fuck him, he will become a fine actor? Nobody’s that good in bed. I felt they could have just hired a costar with talent, someone who could deliver a scene and remember his lines. I also felt they could fuck him themselves and leave me out of it. It was my job to act and I said so.
It’s bracing, ugly stuff, fascinating dispatches from a performer who spent decades in the trenches ahead of the progress carved out by the #MeToo movement. You can read the full excerpt over at Vanity Fair; The Beauty Of Living Twice is out on March 30.