The moment Sharon Stone takes a drag off her cigarette in a white mini dress, crosses her legs, then uncrosses them, is a moment that's likely burned onto many-a-paused flatscreen TV. In fact, the rousing Basic Instinct scene is the most paused movie moment of all time. There's good reason Stone is synonymous with femme fatale — she's portrayed a slew of cinema's most cunning (and stunning) seductresses. Known for exemplifying mystery, danger and chaos in the characters she brings alive on the big screen, Stone is, in her own life, an open book, a humanitarian, and by her own account a bit shy. That's not to say she hasn't traded secrets with the women she's portrayed.
"TJ Hooker was the most fun thing I ever fucking did because they taught me how to drop and roll," Stone says when she sits down for her Badass Questionnaire in the video below. "That comes in handy. I was in the supermarket and a guy came in wearing a ski mask and holding a gun. I was at the checkout counter and he pointed it at me and said, 'Anybody move and I'll blow her fucking brains out.' My amazing, incredibly brave, cool ex-husband grabbed me by the back of my dress, slowly pulled me back, and stepped between me and the gunman. I dropped and rolled back behind the Jiffy Pop and scooted to the back of the store, dropped and rolled across every aisle, went into the meat locker and called the police, who came and saved the day."
Stone is a treasure trove of anecdotes like that, which speaks to her dedication to craft. In preparing for her most iconic role as icepick-wielding novelist Catherine Tramell in the 1992 erotic thriller Basic Instinct, Stone watched serial killer documentaries and read William Styron's Darkness Visible, to better understand the complexities of her character.
"When I first read the script for Basic Instinct, my immediate thought was, this is my part, and they're never going to give it to me," Stone says. "I was the 13th person they offered Basic Instinct to. How about that? I auditioned for nine months." She went on to be nominated for a Golden Globe for "Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama and took home two MTV Movie Awards for her role in the film. At 32, Stone was catapulted to superstardom. The film solidified her standing as the legend she's revered as today.
Along with saving supermarkets with a slick drop and roll and slipping into the skin of the sultriest psychopath cinema has ever seen, Stone immersed herself in the cowboy culture of the Wild West to bring authenticity to her role as Ellen "The Lady."
"Far and away the most badass character I ever played was the gunslinger in The Quick and the Dead," says Stone, who also produced the 1995 Western film. "When it came to doubling me, they wanted to put a man in my clothes to be the fastest quick-draw — that just looked stupid. So I decided to become the fastest female quick-draw in America, which I did, which meant that all the men on the show decided they wouldn't have stunt doubles either. So we all became the fastest quick-draws in America to do our part. Everything you see in The Quick and the Dead is really all of us doing the gunfights and all of us being the fastest quick-draws." Starring opposite Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio, Stone played the central character, "The Lady," who rides into town to avenge her father's death.
In the same year, to research her role as charismatic hustler Ginger McKenna in the 1995 Las Vegas crime epic Casino, which was based on the late real-life Las Vegas showgirl Geri McGee, Stone studied FBI files that director Martin Scorsese acquired for her. She met Geri's old acquaintances on Vegas street corners during the wee hours of the morning to get the nitty gritty on who Geri really was. Stone also listened to Geri's favorite song, B.B. King's "The Thrill is Gone," on repeat. Not only was she nominated for an Oscar for her role as Ginger, she took home a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama. "An item I took from set that I still have to this day is the Pucci shirt that I died [wearing] in Casino," Stone reveals to InStyle. "I really felt like the woman that I played in Casino, who is living her birthdays in heaven now —I felt like she chose me for the part. I felt like she walked with me very specifically through that death scene. So I kept that shirt. Every now and then, I put that shirt on to remind me that it's not the angels on earth that I live and work with, it's the angels above that have their hands on me."
Golden Globes, Academy Awards, Emmys and MTV Movie Awards aren't Stone's only accolades. The Harvard Foundation presented her with its 2005 Humanitarian Award for her relentless advocating and fundraising for AIDS research. She has served as AMFAR's (American Foundation for AIDS Research) Global Campaign Chair for over 25 years and made a name for herself as a boisterous Auctioneer with calls to action like "Who will give me five grand to see if Calvin Klein actually has on Calvin Klein underwear?" Someone did and the crowd got to see what came between the designer and his Calvin's — hopefully it wasn't "nothing."
"I've had the great fortune of conversing with other activists, whether it's the Dalai Lama, or Desmond Tutu, or Amma the Hugging Saint," Stone says. "Mother Teresa sent me a crucifix which, crazily enough, someone stole from me. And that just shows you how compassion and empathy works and doesn't work. But Mother Teresa has a prayer that really helps me, particularly when people aren't compassionate to me in my struggles. And it is 'I love them, I hold them, I forgive them, and I release them.' There are steps between I love, I hold, I forgive, I release and some of those steps are: I'm hurt, I'm angry, I'm confused, and I'm scared. Today I posted a picture of a monk flipping off a garbage truck that was trying to run him down. Because these steps happen between I love them, I hold them, I forgive them, and I release them, even to Mother Teresa, even to a monk, especially to me."
One might assume it was Stone's very public brush with death that inspired her humanitarian ways, but in actuality, she was a busy activist long before she suffered a stroke in 2001 that caused severe bleeding in her brain. She opened up about the health crisis that upended life as she knew it in her memoir The Beauty of Living Twice, published in March of this year. Stone writes with a veracity and vulnerability that showcases how a small-town girl from "nowhere" Pennsylvania can so expertly tap into characters with wide ranges of complexity and depth. With remarkable resilience she's managed to rise to the top, come back from the dead, rise again, and generously open herself up so the world can see just how truly badass Sharon Stone can be.
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