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February, 1997

Interview with actress

Sharon Stone

Interview by Ingrid Sischy

INGRID SISCHY: I'd like to start with when you were young. What is It that you wanted out of lifo when you were little?

SHARON STONE: I wanted to be brave.

Then, or in the future, or for your life?

For my life. I wanted to be brave. I wanted to be daring. I wanted to figure out how to take all of my fringe ideas - the ideas my parents said were so eccentric - and express them in a way that could be seen and experienced.

Are you surprised that, Indeed, you did?

Nothing happened very fast for me in my life. Surprises are things that sort of happen out of the blue. With me, things happened so slowly and so gradually that it was a long, slow line of determination. I think I appear to be more of a surprise to other people.

What did you mean when you said your "eccentric ideas"? Do you mean eccentric for the small town in Pennsylvania where you grew up, or universally?

Well, I don't know. I was always creating theater productions. We had a two-car garage where I would produce elaborate plays. One door would come down and the other would go up, and that would be the next set. I would invite the neighbors - they would sit on picnic benches in the driveway, and at the picnic table, which was the next tier up - and make them watch my play.

But they did.

Yes. They put up with me.

When was it that you became conscious that you wanted to be an actress?

I think I was about four or five. I was completely fascinated with old movies - '30s and '40s movies. On Saturday mornings, when all the other kids wanted to go out and play, I wanted to stay in and watch these movies.

Why do you think you were fascinated by them?

I think it was the romance of the whole thing. I would set it up very romantically for myself. There would be a fire going in the fireplace. I'd make myself a tray of Ritz crackers and cheese and lay it all out beautifully so that I could have this big, elaborate experience of watching movies - particularly Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies.

Why did the romance have such a spell on you?

I've always been kind of an escape artist. I think that I thought the day-to-day reality of things was unbearably flat. I wanted to create something that, at the very least, was different, was diversionary.

And eventually that desire got you on the train to New York?

It came to a point in our family where it seemed like the better thing for me to do. It was clear that I was going to get into nothing but trouble if I didn't have a bigger challenge and a bigger life.

I assume you mean emotional, personal trouble as well as local trouble?

As you know, the mid-to-late '70s were a very wild time. My mother, much more than my dad, was really able to address and acknowledge that it was less of a risk for me to pursue a bigger dream than it was to be trapped in that period.

Is: Your mother got her high school diploma the same year you did, right?


Soul mates?

My mother was very young. She and my dad got married when she was seventeen and he was eighteen. They started having children immediately. When I was going through my teenage years, in a way my mother was going through her forgotten teenage years, through me. So, in one way, I could really talk to her because she was so present and fascinated with my situation. But, in another way, my mother never had her own time as a teenager or her own period to discover her dreams and who she was, so she was naive.

Your father - the authority figure - how was he about the fact that his daughter went to the big city? Was he anxious about it, or was he behind you on it?

He was livid. I was in all these advanced scholastic programs when I was in high school. I was going to college while I was going to high school from the age of fifteen. I think he thought that I was throwing all that away, that I was giving up a sure possibility of professional accomplishment for some kind of pipe dream.

When it was tough, did you hide from them how hard it was? I know I did that with my parents.

Definitely. When I went through hell, I didn't tell them. When things weren't going well and I was looking for money in gutters and pay phones to get the subway back to where I lived in a fifth-floor, one-room walk-up over a bakery a block from the Bowery, I didn't tell them.

When I was beginning to try to find my way as a writer and editor, I used to lie to my family about how much money I was making. I knew they'd worry - it was so pathetic. Or maybe worse, maybe their worry would have made me give up my dreams. I didn't even know what they were yet. I just knew I had them. And I didn't want anybody to take them away.

I didn't tell my parents what it was really like, or how hard it really was, or how frightening it really was, or what the sacrifice of it really was, until I made over $100,000. Then I brought my tax return home and gave it to my dad.

There was a time when you were a model, wasn't there?

I never got rich being a model because I was a kid who just blew my money.

You don't seem afraid of blowing things. For instance, you're not one of those who controls their image so that sanctimony can reign about them. You've obviously got no truck with political correctness from the right, from the left, and from the center.

I don't believe in political correctness. I think it's fascist.

I have to confess, my political correctness once made me cross about what I thought was politically incorrect about the movie Basic Instinct [1992] - the movie that got a lot of people obsessed with you. I was aggravated by what I took to he the film's cheap use of lesbianism as a titillation device. I guess that's my bone with Joe Eszterhas as a screenwriter, but I did let my criticism leak over to you, the one who carried the part.

Yes, of course. You know, my feeling, beginning with Basic Instinct, is best summed up by a phone call my mother got from her girlfriend, who said, "How do you feel about your daughter playing a lesbian?" And my mother said, "You know, somehow I'm much more concerned about her playing a sociopathic serial killer."

Well, now you're talking about It from the other side, from the side that would think there's shame and something dirty about being a lesbian. Of course, from my side, making the lesbian character a sociopathic killer didn't help.

When the movie became a political issue, my only feeling was, Terrific! It's a huge movie, and this is a platform that people can jump on and get heard through. But I personally never thought that the movie was an issue of politics. I don't think that movies should be issues of politics. I don't think that paintings should be issues of politics.

But they can be. And they can be great. They can be both. Isn't your point that they don't have to be political?

Yes, of course. You can't be obliged as an artist. Look at what happened during the whole blacklisting period in Hollywood [in the 1950s]. Political correctness can be frightening if it is used as another way for people who can't think for themselves to be told what to do every day. I think you have to look into your heart and into your conscience and decide deep inside what you know is right, and pursue that. When I was a teenager and a college student, I thought of myself as a feminist; it was a period when young women were defining themselves in that way as a life choice. But I was never raised with any sort of gender segregation. My father was very adamant that gender should have nothing to do with any of my choices in life. If I was outside playing, he would call me aside and say, "Don't let that boy win just because he's a boy. You're letting him win so that he'll like you. Why are you doing that?" He wouldn't let me do that stuff. Today, I don't think of myself as a feminist. I'm like that song "I Enjoy Being a Girl." I don't feel I need to negotiate away my femaleness in order to be a soul-enriched, balanced human functioning in the world. And I won't. And I think when people expect you to somehow hide or disguise your femininity or your masculinity to become equal, you've gotta look at that. I think what happened is that I became a humanist in that I believe in equality, human equality.

When you first started becoming a movie star, people explained the thrall you have over your audience by saying you're the only actress who's a big deal and who still has old-fashioned glamour. I think there's something new about the way you fashion your glamour.

Well, first of all, I just love old-fashioned glamour. I love the whole black-and-white image of Hollywood, the whole top-hat-and-tails kind of thing. That image makes one imagine a swanky, glamorous, smart group of people sitting around having exciting, enthralling, witty conversations. At least that's what it made me imagine. Now to the idea of new glamour. I think that when you get to be a famous person, there is a truth in the old-fashioned saying that, "You belong to your public." Your life and your creation belong to your public. What becomes your choice is what you embody. You can do or be anything you want. For me, these periods of Hollywood glamour in the '30s and '40s were the most inspiring. So it's natural for me to reflect them. But I hope I take the ephemeral part of that old-fashioned glamour and try to change it into something substantial. Things are different today. You don't have the studio system now like they did then, you don't have the protection, or I'm sure the manipulation of that system, where they'd tell you what to do, where to go, who to talk to. You're an independent warrior on you own. It takes fortitude, but you can also do a lot with it. I'm sure in the earlier period of the studio system I wouldn't have been allowed to be a spokesperson for AmFAR [American Foundation for AIDS Research].

Yes. And I'm sure there are people today who also have a problem, for one reason or another, with the fact that you're the chair of AmFAR's Campaign for AIDS Research [a three-year, $76 million fundraising drive], a spokesperson for one of the most important organizations in the world fighting AIDS. I'm sure there are even folks who are telling you it's bad for your career.

Well, when anything I do causes a big wave - when people think I'm being too dangerous, that I'm risking too much - that's when I know I'm close to something that's right. I know that for me, as an artist and as a person, if I'm not doing that then I'm dying.

And here, of course, you're putting your energy, your image, your name, your time, into raising money for research to bring an end to all the dying that has gone on. I have to tell you, when it was announced that you had become the chair of AmFAR's Campaign for AIDS Research, it made instant sense to me. It for very smart. In the early years, the initial brilliance of AmFAR was that they knew to make AIDS fundraisers and benefits very, very hot events. The government, of course, was basically ignoring AIDS. Hardly anybody, other than those directly involved, wanted to get involved. There was Ignorance and hysteria. The integration of AIDS as a social event as well as a social responsibility was a very smart move on the part of AmFAR and other organizations. But in the last few years, one could say that AIDS has gone beck into the shadows as a major issue for everybody. Plus, so many AIDS organizations' fundraisers are tired, very, very tired. Because of the amount of loss, and the amount of pressure, and the amount of energy being used, many in the AIDS-fundraising and research-fundraising community are worn out over a decade later. There's an urgent need for new life. You're part of that. You bring glamour to keeping people on the subject and keeping it a priority. If you can glamorize generosity and caring, that will be a great help. Also, you somehow symbolize AIDS getting out of the "ghettos" it's been in. Of course, everybody knows that AIDS is everywhere, but ultimately it's still been a separating issue.

Thank you. What we need in terms of our consciousness is a sense of unity and a sense of a dropping of judgment. That's another reason I have antipathy toward political correctness - it becomes another way to divide and judge. What we really need is a way to unify and accept. For me to go out and raise money and to raise consciousness for AIDS and HIV research is really a gift to me. It's another way for me to walk into the world and say, "Look at the person beside you. Look at your own family. Stop being so afraid." Generosity will quell your fear.

And you've been an incredibly effective speaker so far.

I just try and go and be very present in the room, and talk to the people who are there. It feels like that's my job: to voice things in a way that allows people to look at it all without panicking.

Somehow you representing the fact that it's everybody's issue - there's some kind of girl-next-door quality to you, do you know what I mean?

[laughs] Well, whatever it is, I am so grateful that it's working. In general, AIDS research is working. Over the last decade a major difference has been made. People are living longer and more hopeful lives. There are plenty of people who were literally in the dying phases of AIDS, who are back in their lives, back in their jobs, back in the joy and pain of their lives.

And even that, like everything else about AIDS, is something that people are ignorant about.

It's so sad that there isn't a more intelligent and humane approach to health care and education about health care in general. Not just the health care and allocation of funds for AIDS research. Women's health care is certainly ill-funded and poorly taught. When you look at the kind of money that drag companies make, and the red tape and bureaucracy, you see that people are making a lot of money off of people dying. The greed and the power and the perpetual motion of that machine is a lot to stand against.

But the achievements of those who do stand against it should make them very proud. Because of the progress in AIDS research - for instance, the development of protease inhibitors - people are living with no measurable trace of the HIV virus, something that had been very measurably active in their systems before. Now, it is not known if that means there is no HIV virus, but there is no discernible virus.

Yes, and because of the progress in general there are people who have known they are HIV-positive for ten, twelve years who are living totally full lives.

We're on a roll here. There are ways to address this virus, making it all the more critical that people know that now's the time. If ever there was a time to take that final push, to put an end to this, to create a vaccine, now's the time. Medically the door is open. Success is waiting.

Perhaps the success won't he In the form of a vaccine, but surely it will be in some form.

I think that's what's really happening. A vaccine is really the eye of the focus: like with smallpox or with anything that we have managed to contain and control. [But for people who are living with HIV now], the new drugs have accomplished a lot [in controlling the disease]. But the new drugs are not available to or successful with everyone. That's why we can't take a big sigh of relief and back off, because not everyone is taken care of. Not everyone is O.K.

Do you get letters from people telling you you should just be a movie star, and not get involved in social issues?

I get letters from all kinds of people telling me all kinds of things that I should and shouldn't do. And if I don't do what they want me to do, they're going to do this, and they're going to do that. And you know, as long as they keep talking, then you have their attention. And if I'm going to have people's attention, it had better be for something valuable.

You have to understand that there were people who thought I shouldn't play the part in Casino [1995] because she was unlikable.

It always comes back to the culture police, huh?

You know, I think I worked very hard to please people for a long time in my career, and that's why I made so many crummy movies. I wanted to do the right thing; I was grateful that I was working in movies, I wanted to be able to pay my rent, and I was proud and very blue-collar, and I thought that I should be well-pressed and well-groomed and polite, and do what I was told. And then I came to understand that that was stealing everything I cared about. I was working in my acting class on all this terrific material and investigating and revealing all kinds of interesting and strange things that were never getting out of that room, because I was then leaving and going to do some ridiculous movie. I realized that I would rather wait tables and do work that I really cared about. I committed myself to working with people who I respected and who respected me. My acting teacher, and friend, Roy London, who died of AIDS-related complications, had a profound role in all of this. There isn't any other way for me now. I can't work just to please people now. Fortunately, the work that I do is comprehended, and that, I think, is the stroke of luck of the whole thing.

I have to try to always remember at the end of the day why I'm here. There are rules I have to play by. But all the rest of it, all the lure, all of the stuff - who cares about it to begin with? You just get hooked into it, once you've got the big house, and the privileges, and the good seat at the restaurant. You just have to remember how much you loved the corner booth at the diner.

COPYRIGHT 1997 Brant Publications, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group



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