Sharon Stone Strikes Again

If you think Sharon Stone's movies have been revealing over the years, you should check out her lawsuits. In June 2001, the actress sued the producers of "Basic Instinct 2: Risk Addiction" for $100 million because they had failed to make the movie and (more to the point) failed to pay her. During her deposition, Stone, now 48, said she'd initially been wary of appearing nude again. "I put up 'Basic Instinct' in my projection room in L.A., put up the naked scene, froze it, took off my clothes," she said. "I had my best friend come over, stood in front of it and she said, 'You look fabulous, you're ready to go.' And I felt great."

It's been 14 years since "Basic Instinct" riveted the world with its unabashed voyeurism, its lethal bisexuals and its ice pick. It became the must-see movie of 1992, igniting the rage of gay and lesbian groups--and the fantasies of straight men--and grossing $353 million worldwide. The movie rescued Stone from a career of forgettable babe roles, and turned her, overnight, into a sexual icon and international star. "I'll tell you what it was like," she says, sitting on a rose-print sofa in her home in Beverly Hills. "The Monday after 'Basic' opened, I was driving down Sunset Boulevard. I stopped at a traffic light. And people climbed on top of my car . It was like locusts."

"Basic Instinct 2" finally arrives in theaters on March 31, and will almost certainly be hailed as unforgettable--though not, perhaps, for the reasons that Stone and the filmmakers intended. The movie, directed by Michael Caton-Jones, finds Stone's oversexed ice-queen author, Catherine Tramell, squaring off against a criminal psychologist (British actor David Morrissey) as she goes on trial for the murder of a soccer player. If you expect an erotic thriller, you may be sorely disappointed. But if you expect soft-core camp, you will be rewarded with a showstopper nearly in the league of the weirdly mesmerizing "Showgirls." Stone prowls, purrs and struts through every scene, delivering a performance so over the top that she elevates a bad movie into a must-see diva extravaganza.

In person, Stone has extraordinary blue-green eyes, which the camera hasn't done justice to. She seems warm if slightly manic, with a high, sharp laugh and a tendency to get teary or impassioned at a moment's notice. (Stone has been a major fund-raiser and spokeswoman for AIDS research for a dozen years, and the subject still chokes her up instantly.) As for her home in Beverly Hills, it has a distinct old-Hollywood feel. There's a grand foyer with a black and white tiled floor and a huge, sweeping staircase. The living room, which is sunken and longer than a tennis court, is framed by huge gray columns and decorated with two enormous gold and crystal chandeliers, a grand piano, hundreds of family photographs and a massive framed portrait of the Dalai Lama. There is a gate, to protect the actress's year-old baby, at the top of the steps. Seated on the couch next to Stone, you feel as if she could laugh, cry, scream, kiss you or slap you at any moment. It's exciting, but you're tense as a cat every second.

For the record, the actress doesn't find her role in "Basic Instinct 2" to be a laughing matter. "That part is insidious," she says. "It takes discipline, and it's incredibly invasive. You don't eat when you play Catherine. You're feral. You watch others eat and you feel sorry for them." She also believes the movie makes a geopolitical statement: "Look at our world leaders. People think they can provoke corruption and violence, and then stand back and watch, without compassion, and claim that they have no responsibility. That's what Catherine does. What is that sociopathology? What does it mean? If you can ask a profound question in a popcorn movie, that's a great avenue for discussion."

For years, the profound question was whether the movie should be made at all. Stone's lawsuit against producers Andy Vajna and Mario Kassar claimed that she had been promised $14 million, with the assurance that she'd get paid even if the movie never got made. The producers missed their February 2001 deadline. Stone filed suit, saying that she had gotten in shape, done costume fittings and passed on other movie offers because she was committed to "BI2." In court depositions, the producers and the then director John McTiernan argued that Stone had slowed things down considerably by rejecting a slew of potential costars, including Benjamin Bratt. "She thought he wasn't a good enough actor," McTiernan said in his deposition. "She said that he looked too young and consequently it might make her look old. She then went on at some length about perhaps she shouldn't be doing the movie at all, that she was too old." Meanwhile, the actors whom Stone wasn't rejecting were busily rejecting her: Viggo Mortensen, Kurt Russell, Benicio Del Toro and even Aaron Eckhart, who passed on a $6 million paycheck. The producers finally settled out of court in July 2004. "I think when they realized I was going to be 153 by the time they figured it all out," she says, "they thought maybe we should work something out."

They needn't have worried about Stone's age--she's in amazing shape. "This will probably be my final nude hurrah," she says. "Christ, to say I'm middle-aged would be hopeful. But I'm not terribly self-conscious about being nude. There's a scene in the finale that is quite brazen." No kidding. Stone is entirely naked for part of it, and in a hot tub with her breasts above-water for the rest. It's a violent, rather than sexual, scene, and an unnerving one. "She used to scream before every take--just absolutely scream at the top of her voice," says costar Morrissey, calling from a cab in London. "It was quite strange, to the point where it really freaked me out. I realized it was just to release the tension, and I thought it was very funny, but it's quite an un-British thing to do."

But it is a very Stone thing to do. She has had to deal with a good deal of drama in recent years, including a small brain hemorrhage that left her hospitalized. The actress has two sons, Roan, 5, and Laird, almost 1, though her marriage to San Francisco Examiner editor Phil Bronstein ended in 2003. When the talk turns to dating, she's asked if men have sometimes fallen in love with the fantasy of Sharon Stone, rather than with the woman herself. "I've had that experience," she says, curled up on the sofa. "You date somebody and three months into the relationship you get the flu and he's so furious, and he goes to his front-row seats at the basketball game without you because he doesn't want to be with the person who gets the flu." She pauses. "I stopped dating about a year ago, and decided to take some time to heal myself from a variety of traumas, that being one of them. I've come to recognize that I'm special, and my children are special, and I deserve to be treasured like anyone does." Here's a tip for anyone looking to win her heart. "Guys who think they're cool aren't cool to me," she says. "The kind of guy I'm looking for would want to wear SpongeBob pajamas and sit in the front row at the school play. Do you know what I mean?"

On screen, of course, she doesn't mind indulging in fantasies. Stone did subtle work in last year's "Broken Flowers"--and does a powerful supporting turn in "Alpha Dog," due out this year--but "Basic Instinct 2" is a full-on star vehicle. Regardless of what critics say, there's no denying that at a time when young actors whine about how conflicted they are about fame and show up to premières looking like they just rolled out of bed, there's something refreshing about a movie star who acts like one. No one will say this movie is Stone's best, but the woman knows how to entertain. "I mean, come on," she says. "People want to have fun. We're helping people depart from their conflicted day. Sure, I have conflicted days, but I don't think people in Omaha want to hear about them." So she'll keep the flame of old-Hollywood glamour alive as long as she can. "Hey, if I get to pick, I pick that ," she says, and laughs. "Shine the klieg light over here, baby."