Q

Sharon Stone on her mother's love, becoming a movie star and Basic Instinct

Sharon Stone had no idea what to expect when Basic Instinct came out. She chronicles her sudden rise to stardom in the memoir The Beauty of Living Twice.

In a Q interview, Sharon Stone discusses her new memoir, The Beauty of Living Twice

Sharon Stone's new memoir, The Beauty of Living Twice, chronicles her childhood in rural Pennsylvania and her sudden rise to stardom. (Penguin Random House Canada, Michael Muller)

Sharon Stone toiled in Hollywood for years before landing the role that would change her life. Playing the serial killer Catherine Tramell in Basic Instinct, opposite Michael Douglas, launched her into superstardom.

In a new memoir called The Beauty of Living Twice, Stone chronicles her rise to fame, along with memories from her childhood in rural Pennsylvania.

The Oscar nominee joined Q's Tom Power in a Zoom call to talk about the memoir. Here's some of their conversation.

In the book, you write, "when I'm not busy being Sharon Stone, I'm rather shy." And it made me wonder, what does "being Sharon Stone" mean?

Well my friends laugh, you know, when we're hanging out and then I have to go to something, and I run upstairs, I slap on the makeup, I put on the outfit, and then I come down transformed. They always go, "Oh look, she turned into Sharon Stone!" And they laugh. It's like, I go in the phone booth and swirl around and turn into Sharon Stone. I get all dressed up, I put on this stuff and then I come down in this new sort of aura. 

Do you feel like your friends do?

Yeah, in fact, I have like a little section of my closet that has the Sharon Stone clothes in it.

I'll say the book is mainly about the other parts of your closet, not that one part of your closet.

Right. Obviously, there's a million different ways you can do a memoir. You can write about a million different things. And it just seemed to me that before I wrote about a million other things, I should know who's writing it. I should really explore myself and be clear about who I am. So many people in my life have told the story of who I am and decided who I am for me and told so many things that had nothing to do with me and more to do with the characters I've played. I thought a real profound investigation would be in order. It just was really helpful for me to take back my own identity and to get clear about my own identity.

What's something you got clear on about your own self that maybe you didn't know beforehand?

I think the best thing that happened is that I really understand that I do me and you do you. And, you don't do me, so stop it. And I don't do you, so stay over there. And I'm much calmer about it than I was right at the beginning. Even when I started interviewing about the book, I was really argumentative about that. I took a couple weeks off, and I got very calm about it. When people tell me in an interview, they will say, "You are like this," or "Your childhood was like that," or "You are this kind of person." I let them finish their sentence or their paragraph or their thought. And then I can say, "No, that's not correct. This is how it was." I don't have to panic respond, or jump all over them or get upset. I can just let them live it out for themselves. And then I can say what's true for me.

Can you tell me about Meadville?

It's a very small town in western Pennsylvania. Our house was in Meadville, but the city line was just on the other side of our house. I went to school in the even smaller town called Saegertown. It was really tiny. One traffic light. Kids drove their tractors to school and it was a pretty tiny little farming community.

What was your life like there?

In many ways, idyllic. We had a big farmhouse with a beautiful stream in the ravine next to our house and acres of land that my mother planted fruits and vegetables in and canned them for our food. My dad worked in a factory and hunted and fished and we froze what he got, and that was the protein that we ate, the majority of it. I would come home from school and there'd be a deer hanging from my swing in the tree and maybe a turkey clipped on the clothesline with its wings all spread out ... or a big bucket of fish on the doorstep when my dad and my brothers came back from fishing. Very, very rural.

Reading the book, it struck me that it wasn't easy for you growing up there.

Well, I wasn't just that kid that kind of rolled through it and wanted to stay there. Because in that town, most people got married right out of high school, had a bunch of kids and worked in the sort of jobs that were there. That wasn't really ever, to me, how I had hoped that things would end up.

I mean, you went to college when you were like 15 years old?

I went to college when I was really young and that was also really complicated for everybody. Neither of my parents had finished high school. Neither of my parents had parents that they lived with when they were small. My mother was given away because she lived in such horrible, impoverished, violent circumstances. She was given away when she was nine to be a housekeeper and laundress live-in for a family. That was her childhood. It was just not good.

One of the things that I got from the book is, I guess, looking at the different ways people can express love. And if love doesn't come to you, from your mother, in a way that seems very traditional, it can be very confusing. You go through the stages of trying to figure out how your mother expressed love to you. You ended up dedicating the book to your mom.

When I was writing the book, I remember saying to her, "You know, mom, you never let me lean on you." And she said, "That's right. I taught you to stand on your own two God damn feet." And I remember a couple of my friends were here, and they looked at me like, "Wow."

Then as I grew to understand my mother, and I grew to understand the complexities of her life, I grew to understand that was love. She gave me the most loving, the most protective, the most concerned parent, concerned mother to another woman, thing that she could give me. But when I was young, I didn't understand it. But of course, when I was 15, at college, it was a great gift. When I was 19 modelling in New York and in Milan, it was a fabulous gift.

How did all of that prepare you for Hollywood?

I think that I really learned a lot about how to be in a room with people who might not have had my best interests at heart. When I was in Hollywood, I would go to these events or parties or things that I was expected to attend. I would carry a drink around and just pour them in the plants and pretend that I was in the party spirit. But I was not drinking and not getting loaded. I was acting like I was getting loaded so that I could stand on my own two feet.

Sharon Stone in the 1992 thriller Basic Instinct. (TriStar Pictures)

I want to talk about Basic Instinct for a second. You talk a little bit in the book about the toll that inhabiting that role took on you.

It was controversial at the time. I mean, it isn't now. But at the time, it was so controversial to do something like that. And of course, I was terrified. I was terrified going to work with this giant star Michael Douglas, and playing such a controversial role. I was playing a serial killer and I took it very, very seriously. I watched a lot of film of serial killers and why they did what they did. I read a lot of research to try to understand what happens to the mind. I was trying to understand a person who breaks to the point where serial killing doesn't have a big impact on them ... it's like having a sandwich. It's something they do. It's their biggest thing, but it's still not big enough for them. It's not huge. Everything else has a certain kind of flatness to it.

What does that do to you to be that person for so long?

I had nightmares. I walked in my sleep. I woke up dressed in my car a couple times, like fully dressed sitting behind the wheel of my car. I never before or since have been walking in my sleep. Once I woke up and I thought my arm was cracking open like the desert and I called the poison control line. I don't even think I was really awake. I think that my mind was having trouble. While I was acting and while I was at work, I felt like I had a real handle on the character. But when I would go to sleep, my subconscious would take over and it was not OK with my behaviour during the day.

I was in this weird limbo where I was suddenly famous, but didn't have any money.- Sharon Stone

How did your life change after the film came out?

It's Friday and you're you. Tuesday, you're the Beatles. People are climbing all over your car. You try to walk down the street and suddenly 30 people that were shopping are running, chasing you. You're running and locking yourself in stores and the people are like, "Wait, don't lock the door," and you're like, "Oh, I'll buy something. Please help me." Suddenly you're in this weird chase. 

I didn't get paid to do Basic Instinct. I made a little bit of money. Michael made $14 million and has points. I made not enough money to buy my dress to go to the Oscars the next year. I was in this weird limbo where I was suddenly famous, but didn't have any money.

You couldn't afford private security or anything like that. 

I didn't have what I needed. We went to Cannes and the movie just was insanity. I got back to the hotel and all of my belongings had been stolen except the clothes on my back. My contact lenses, my film out of my camera, my toothbrush — everything was gone. My room was just rifled through and we had to get me out of the hotel, but I didn't have the security to do it. The bodyguards got all the kitchen staff and all the busboys to come up and they created this big circle that I and my two girlfriends were inside of and then they try to take me through the lobby. There were so many people, hundreds of people, pulling at us and going berserk. So this was our introduction, "Hello, you're famous." We had no idea.

After that, veteran actors and veteran famous people just start giving you advice about how to navigate this thing. What's the best or what's a piece of advice that you got from someone that sticks with you?

I think the nicest thing that happened was I asked my chiropractor, "Do you know someone that is really famous that could talk to me and help me because I'm just terrorized? And I don't know what to do?" He's like, "Yeah, I do. And I'm gonna have them call you today." I was working at a job, I think at maybe Warner Brothers, and I got a text. Well, I don't even think there were texts, but I got some kind of message from Shirley MacLaine. And she said, "When you're done working, come out to my house and have dinner." And I'm like, "Oh, it's going to be late, late at night. It's gonna be 11 or midnight." She's like, "No problem." 

I drove out to Malibu, and we had dinner on trays sitting on the floor in front of her fireplace. I've never been so happy in my life to have someone understand that I needed to be on the floor. I needed that feeling of being grounded. I needed someone who understood that I needed to sit on the floor, and be in my bare feet, and just have someone talk to me like a human being. Here's this woman, who was the only woman who was part of the Rat Pack, and she told me all about what happened to her, what it was like and how it went. It wasn't like she gave me specific advice, per se. She just told me, this is what happens, this is how it goes.

What do you want people to understand about you, having read this book?

No matter what you see in the public eye and no matter how hard that is for you to cope with, that's not my whole life. Red carpet stuff is so infinitesimal next to what your job is. When you go to work, you're outside in the freezing cold, you're outside in the boiling heat, you're outside in the middle of the night where it's just awful. You're eating off paper plates out of a steam tray. That's your real life. That's how really acting and making film or television is; you're in some crappy location, eating awful food at three in the morning. It's awful, and you're only doing it because this is the thing you love to do.

Sometimes you're just like, "I can't believe I have to do this. I hate every second that I'm here." That's the way that it is sometimes. And sometimes it's just fantastic. And that's the way any great job is.


Interview produced by Jane van Koeverden. Q&A edited for length and clarity.

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