Sharon Stone on Career, Philanthropy, Stroke, Kevin Spacey 5

Elizabeth Taylor hurt her hip. And Sharon Stone‘s life would never be the same.

It was May 1995, and the Basic Instinct star, then 37, was at the Cannes Film Festival plugging her new movie, The Quick and the Dead, when she was approached by Dr. Mathilde Krim, founder of the American Foundation for AIDS Research. Would Stone consider standing in for the ailing Taylor as host of the charity’s star-studded annual fundraiser on the Riviera?

She said yes, as she had for years for any ask amfAR had of her. But years earlier, it was not an easy decision. In the late ’80s, AIDS was a disease still shrouded in stigma and shame, even as it devastated much of the artistic community. Stone was warned that taking the gig might very well “ruin her career.”

Sharon Stone photographed June 28 at PMC Studios in L.A.

Photographed by Lenka Ulrichova

She took it anyway and ultimately became Taylor’s successor, serving as amfAR’s celebrity spokesperson for the next two decades. In many ways, she was perfect for the job. Like Taylor, she was bold, glamorous and bursting with star power, exactly the sort of larger-than-life figure who could draw a crowd to a cause that desperately needed attention. Of course, over that same quarter century, Stone’s fortunes in Hollywood have followed more twists and turns than a Joe Eszterhas script — a stroke in 2001 knocked her off the screen for a full seven years — but still, even today she’s pretty great at drawing a crowd (albeit sometimes an angry one).

Ahead of her keynote speech at THR‘s joint summit with the Social Impact Fund, we sat down with the 66-year-old cinematic icon for a frank and freewheeling discussion — her favorite kind — not just about her philanthropic endeavors but also about Hollywood’s lingering misogyny problem, her preferred way to be kissed and why she believes it’s time the industry finally forgives Kevin Spacey.

So, who told you that becoming amfAR’s spokesperson would ruin your career?

My publicist at the time, Cindi Berger. We were thick as thieves back then. We were in Cannes and Dr. Krim and her team approached us. Cindi and I talked about it. We were on this little side street in Cannes, in the dark, and she said, “If you do this, it’s going to ruin your career.” And I said, “I know.” And she said, “But if you don’t, I don’t think I could ever talk to you again.”

Other celebrities were attaching their names to causes even back then, no?

Elizabeth did, and prior to her there was Audrey Hepburn for the United Nations. But big stars [still looking to get hired for big roles] weren’t doing anything for any underrepresented groups, especially a group that was stigmatized. I remember Cindi getting hives all over her neck when we talked about it in Cannes.

That stigma has lessened a lot over the years. Now, AIDS medications are being sold in TV commercials.

Like aspirin.

So, what were the consequences back then? Did it indeed ruin your career?

I didn’t get roles. I couldn’t get a job. People would turn me down without me even knowing it. I was up for this beautiful movie by this writer — I won’t say who it was — and I never even got the script. To this day, he doesn’t believe that I didn’t read his script.

Well, the next year, in 1996, you won a Golden Globe and got nominated for an Oscar for Casino

But I was never going to win an Oscar. Not ever. Francis Ford Coppola came to me when I was nominated and said, “You’re not going to win.” He was like, “I want you to be prepared. I don’t want you to fall apart in front of these people.”

You left amfAR in 2015. How come?

I had a close relationship with Dr. Krim, but then she passed away and I still had to deal with Harvey Weinstein, who was involved with amfAR for 10 years. He did not sexually abuse me, but he was physically abusive. Like, he would throw me across the room, he would grab me. When I’d do the amfAR auction, he would come on the stage and put his hand around my neck, then grab the microphone and try to change the bids. Dealing with him took a tremendous amount of patience from me.

You’ve had a lot of experience dealing with misogynists in Hollywood.

Well, Hollywood is set up to be misogynistic. It’s a business run by men. It’s a business where men make the money. Where men write, produce and direct the projects. Where men write the parts that are played by women. And those parts are not written about real women. They’re written to be the fantasy of how women should be. Then, the male critics tell you if you met the fantasy or not, if you behaved in the right way. You know, until Basic Instinct, women had to cross their legs a certain way on the screen, at the ankles. You couldn’t cross your legs like a man. You weren’t even allowed to show your armpits. We had to get permission for me to show my armpits in that movie.

Sharon Stone in Dolce & Gabbana shirt and her own jewelry.

Photographed by Lenka Ulrichova

Wait a second. Paul Verhoeven infamously snuck in a shot of your bare crotch in Basic Instinct — that was OK for him to do? But he needed permission to show your armpits?

That [crotch] shot wasn’t even a full frame. It was only a third of one frame. It’s called a squeeze frame. But the scene with the armpits, we had to deal with that.

Your character in that movie — Catherine Tramell — is controversial to this day. Some critics say she’s an anti-feminist monster, others hail her as a powerful icon of empowered womanhood. Which is she?

I guess it depends on if she scares you or not. I would say MAGA people would probably think she’s scary.

And you? What did you think of her?

I wanted to play her so badly that I had the script on top of my refrigerator for eight months. I just kept thinking, “I’m going to manifest this, I’m going to get this part,” as they offered it to everybody else on the planet …

Yeah, many actresses turned it down …

I was the 13th choice. The line producer told me that relentlessly though the entire shoot while he called me Karen. “You, Karen, were the 13th choice.”

And then the movie comes out and suddenly you’re one of the biggest stars in the world.

Which I didn’t really get for quite a while, because when I did Total Recall, I had fame for like three months. But with Basic Instinct, four months went by, five months, six, and the fame wasn’t going away.

How did that make you feel? Did you like being famous?

Yes! It felt like a relief. It was so crazy. As I walked down the carpet in Cannes and a thousand people started chanting my name, I had such a surge of relief come over me, such a feeling of calm.

Relief from what?

When I was little, growing up in Meadville, Pennsylvania, I had this feeling that I was going to be a movie star. This is who I was going to be. I was going to live in a house that had a spiral staircase. It was weird because I was super shy. When I read from the Bible in church, I was so shy my tears would drop on the Bible pages. I was the sort of kid who sat in my closet with a flashlight and read. But I just knew I was going to be a star. So, when it happened, I just suddenly felt like I was in my body.

You grew up relatively poor, no?

My dad made $14,000 a year and had four kids, and we were considered wealthy in our community because I had school shoes and play shoes. I grew up in a place with no stoplights. There were 87 people in my class. Kids drove their tractors to school after they did their chores. But you know what, I just found out that I’m French royalty. I just did that show on PBS, Finding Your Roots, and it turns out I’m related to Charlemagne. I am from a long line of royalty in France.

From left: Valentino, Stone and Martin Landau at the 1995 amfAR party in Cannes. Stone was a last-minute replacement for Elizabeth Taylor as host of the annual charity event.

Pool ARNAL/PAT/GARCIA/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

We were talking about misogyny in Hollywood. Do you think the environment has improved at all? Has the #MeToo movement made any difference?

I think men are men and women are women. And I think that’s something we should want. I think we should want men to flirt with us. Now, these days, there are some women who don’t like certain things that I still like. For instance, I don’t want a man to ask me if he can kiss me, I really don’t. I want him to just grab me and kiss me …

But only if it’s the right man, I presume. You obviously want to be able to say no.

Yes, if I don’t want it, I want to say, “No, thank you,” and for it to stop. But if he’s the right man and he throws me against the wall and kisses me — yes, please, to that. I really miss passion. I really miss sexual expression. I find this whole thing very stifling. Also, we really need to delineate between what’s a misdemeanor and what’s a felony. That needs to happen. There’s a difference between a slap on the ass and rape. They aren’t the same thing.

You got into a little hot water recently for defending Kevin Spacey.

People are mad at me for that. I said that after being in therapy for seven years, not being allowed to work, losing his home, losing everything, he should be allowed to come back. He’s reached out to everybody he’s offended and said he’s sorry. Kevin grabbed people by their genitals. Many people. But nobody [has publicly said] he’s raped them or forced them into a sexual encounter. But there’s so much hatred for him because in his case it was man-on-man. That’s why he’s not allowed to come back. Because he offended men. But can I tell you how many men have grabbed my genitals in my lifetime? A lot more than Kevin Spacey has grabbed men’s genitals. And none of them has ever apologized to me.

Do you think you’re more forgiving of canceled people because you’ve so often teetered on the edge of cancellation yourself?

Oh, I’ve been canceled left and right. But now I’m back in fashion again. All the things that I said and did in the ’90s that were so outrageous are now in fashion. Here’s the thing — I’m a dark horse. I love dark horses. I don’t want to be a white horse or wear a white hat. And I get that not everybody thinks I’m a good person. I get that people think I’m difficult. But I’m the person who wants to make sure you have water to drink and wants to make sure you have books to read and somewhere to read them.

Can we talk about your stroke in 2001? You were given a 1 percent chance of survival. You lost hearing in one ear. You had 23 platinum coils surgically implanted in your brain. In the middle of it all, there was the divorce from your husband at the time, Phil Bronstein …

That was the good part. That was the upside.

Did the stroke change the way your brain worked? Did it change how you think?

Totally. One hundred percent. A Buddhist monk told me that I had been reincarnated into my same body. I had a death experience and then they brought me back. I bled into my brain for nine days, so my brain was shoved to the front of my face. It wasn’t positioned in my head where it was before. And while that was happening, everything changed. My sense of smell, my sight, my touch. I couldn’t read for a couple of years. Things were stretched and I was seeing color patterns. A lot of people thought I was going to die.

And it took you seven years to fully recover, right?

Yes, and people took advantage of me over that time. I had $18 million saved because of all my success, but when I got back into my bank account, it was all gone. My refrigerator, my phone — everything was in other people’s names.

You were left completely broke?

I had zero money.

How do you recover from that?

I decided to stay present and let go. I decided not to hang onto being sick or to any bitterness or anger. If you bite into the seed of bitterness, it never leaves you. But if you hold faith, even if that faith is the size of a mustard seed, you will survive. So, I live for joy now. I live for purpose.

This story first appeared in the July 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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