Why can't we fly to Vegas for this?" she asks. That is her request. Because you are dealing with a Sex Babe who could possibly be the Devil, it would be wise to begin where it is safe. It would be wise to begin where she cannot distract you and weaken your judgment. Because she will try. "Maybe if we just go to Vegas ...," she says. And you see her point, of course. You see her point always. She always has a point, in addition to much else. As she has said, "If you have a vagina and a point of view, that's a deadly combination." This is how she talks, by the way. But then, she is famous for her lack of inhibition. Shame wastes her time, which nothing ever should. "If there's anything I have particularly in common with the character I play in Basic Instinct, it's that I don't have a lot of guilt," she says. "I think I oughta do what I wanna do." For instance, she once went to Vegas and met a man whom she agreed to marry ten days later, because it was what she wanted to do. Vegas has this sort of effect on her, which is important to understand if you are going to end up in Vegas with her. "Maybe we should just go to Vegas and gamble and talk while we're playing blackjack," she says. "Let's do that."
You do gamble, but not in Vegas; not because it is unsafe there, but because she never mentions it again. She drops the idea of Vegas as if it were an unworthy suitor. Like that. As with most Sex Babes, she is mercurial this way. She is like a dice roll, with better and more dangerous possibilities. Thus, whenever you are with her, you are gambling a little. "Pick one," she says, as if to demonstrate, cupping her hands over a pastel pile of candy Tiny Conversation Hearts. You have given her your Hearts, and now she is playing with them, on the table of a swell Los Angeles restaurant where Steve Martin is having lunch right over there. She hides the Hearts from view, and you take turns blindly plucking them out and brandishing their tarty epigrams. (She is the kind of woman who turns candy into a roulette game.) Her first Heart says, COAX ME, and she thrusts it in your face, smiling coyly. (Pitifully, you parry with NICE GIRL.) Before long she issues forth with DIG ME, BE GOOD, BE MINE, SAY YES, SMILE, WILD ("That's mine for sure!"), HOT MAMA and KISS ME. She extends her hand. "Now, this time you have to pick what you wish for," she says at last, and so she picks LUV YA. "Luv ya," she sings sweetly, pushing all of the Hearts away, without having eaten a single one.
Actresses are given to confounding men's hearts. Men who know actresses know this to be true. They tell other men, and eventually most men know that actresses are given to confounding men's hearts. (Of course, this does not stop men from falling prey.) Actresses – especially those of the Sex Babe variety – are born with wiles that are always at work, beguiling and bedeviling. It is a natural phenomenon, probably rooted deep in the psyche, over which the actress has little control. Nevertheless, such women are not unaware of their impact. They watch themselves being watched by others; they watch themselves drive men to despair. They see everything they do, often without feeling a part of it. "Sometimes it's like watching your life at a drive-in movie," she says.
I have watched Sharon Stone, America's Premier Sex Babe, watch herself being watched onscreen. In Basic Instinct – itself the very reason why Sharon Stone has come to our attention – the world was permitted to look up her dress. (The vista, which stares out between her shifting thighs during a police interrogation, quietly upstaged all other erotic histrionics in the movie.) "You can see right through to Nebraaaaaaaska!" she says, a bit unhappily, as though duped by her director. "Fuck! I wanna have the indication of that, but I don't wanna see that!" But that is exactly what the world saw, and as a result, she now owns the world. "That was Malcolm X's Theory of Pussy Power, wasn't it?" she says, seizing all the power anyway, because it is what she wants to do.
If she is the Devil, Hell has improved. Without question, she possesses many of the requisite qualities. "I'm a great deal maker," she says, citing just one, to be helpful. "I think I'd be a great agent." For certain, she has at least played the Devil, if we are to believe the one who wrote Basic Instinct. In a deal Mephistopheles would have envied, Joe Eszterhas was paid $3 million for his improbable screenplay about a blond, frequently nude, bisexual ice-pick enthusiast and the detective who loves her. "Eszterhas's original concept was that she is the Devil," says the film's Dutch director, Paul Verhoeven, adding that the script initially called for "Sympathy for the Devil" by the Rolling Stones to play over the final scene. "If the Devil looks this good," he says, "that's why you have the sympathy, right?" (To becalm the angry homosexuals who have taken his film's dark vision personally, the director says: "The Devil, like God, is probably bisexual, or should be, if he wants to love everybody. I see Satan in the same position as God.")
Though it is not difficult to do, Verhoeven can plainly see the Devil in Sharon Stone. "I surely do," he says, having first spotted It while directing her as Arnold Schwarzenegger's evil wife in Total Recall, her other Big Movie. "She's very seducing. She does a lot of flirting. One of the most threatening things about her is that she can change in a split second, so that in her eyes there's either a loving person or the Devil. I have hated her with all my heart, and I have loved her, too. She can be so goddamned mean. She can be very clever with words and hit you [with them], right in front of the whole crew. And if you're not careful, she can be the victor.
"I think you would have to be a really strong guy if you wanted to marry her," he continues, significantly. "Otherwise, she'll blow you away. Like Odysseus, when he was sleeping with the witch Circe, he always had the sword between him and her. I think that's the way to handle Sharon. Have the knife ready." ("He cannot abide that he adores me," she says, gleefully, upon hearing this. "It drives him fucking crazy! Oh, he adores me, the fool!")
Sharon Stone is the kind of woman who always keeps a tube of Krazy Glue in her backpack, and you find yourself worrying about what she might do with it. She is that kind of woman. "I have it in case I fall apart," she explains, but clearly that is not going to ever happen. She is, after all, a woman of great resilience, having withstood for a decade a blighted career of Bad Moves and Worse Movies. Largely, her oeuvre swims in the bowels of cable, where she can be seen as the Blonde in such works as Action Jackson, Police Academy 4, King Solomon's Mines and Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold (both with the great Richard Chamberlain), Above the Law, Scissors and He Said, She Said. "When I came here," she says of Hollywood, "I looked like an inflatable Barbie doll, and nobody wanted me to play anything too edgy. Then it started to become apparent that, you know, I was good at that...." To this end, she adds, "I never thought that I looked on the outside like I was on the inside. On the inside I feel like a dark Semitic girl with curly hair. I have never felt blond."
Here, then, is the kind of woman she is: First of all, she is no Lady; she is a Broad. "I am for sure a Broad," she says. "My friends tell me, 'You're a great Broad.' Nobody ever says I'm a Lady." She keeps a large punching bag in her garage and regularly beats the hell out of it. In life, she fends for herself. ""I've hit a few people, yes," she says. "I've knocked a couple guys across the room." Because she needs a lot of room, she recently knocked down all the walls inside her house in the Hollywood Hills. "I took the sledgehammer and started smashing stuff," she says. "It was very freeing." She is the sort of women who in one moment will say, "Isn't Tourette Syndrome great?" and in the next speak of being moved by a Chet Baker trumpet solo. She is a fight fan and a Lakers fan and aspires to act the way Magic Johnson passes, meaning, "you know, the No-Look Pass," she says. "Almost a Zen-like sensibility about everything going on around you." She owns two double-barreled, pump-action shotguns she will not hesitate to use and has known no greater joy than squeezing off ammunition rounds on an Uzi. "Oh, it's wonderful!" she says. "You put it under your arm and hold it close to your body, and you feel the heat of the bullets as they pass out by your back!" She lists among her rules to live by: "Never play cards with a guy named Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom's. And never fuck anybody who has more problems than you do." She grins and says, "It's Broad wisdom."
HER EFFECT ON ONE MAN: She tells me one day that she has just met the famous neurotic comedian Richard Lewis and found him pleasantly unneurotic. This would be equivalent to commenting on Yul Brynner's magnificent head of hair. I call Lewis, who is still recovering from the encounter, which, he says, took place in the gym at the tony Saint James's Club on Sunset Boulevard, where they are both members. (It was from the façade of the Saint James that she dangled nude for her memorable Playboy pictorial two years earlier.) "So I'm on the Exercycle," says Lewis, "and there are two ladies well into the 400-pound category on the treadmills. Anyway, out of the blue bursts in this meteorite – that's the feminine for meteor. I've been with a lot of actresses, but I'm telling you, she makes Sean Young and Debra Winger look like Mother Teresa's disciples! At least at that moment. I mean, her energy outdistances them all! She might as well wear a placard around her neck that says BEWARE! She zooms in, and she's remarkably beautiful and very thin, and she starts doing her stretching. And while she's stretching, she's talking about her last few days of lovemaking. I'm sitting there, listening, astonished by her bravado. To me, it wasn't rude but amazing how she revealed such intimate things to strangers. Explicit terms about lovemaking and 'Why did I do it? I should never have gone back with him! I never should have slept with him!' I listened to every detail of this beautiful woman's sex life, and it got me horny enough to leave the gym. I darted to a pay phone! I mean, I had to get laid after this conversation. My feeling is, if I could just stand alongside her and listen to her talk about her sex life once in a while, I would never have to date again! That would be plenty for me."
HER NAILS FORK Michael Douglas's bare back all over town: on billboards and bus-stop signs and such. Well before Basic Instinct opened, her Devil eyes were already ubiquitous, peering over her leading man's shoulder in poster art everywhere. It is the day after her thirty-fourth birthday, and she has never seen so much of herself. She steers her black BMW beneath her enormous billboard gaze on Sunset and turns into the Saint James's Club driveway, listening all the while to job offers on the car phone. It is a vaporous Hollywood moment, now captured forever. "Can you imagine being Julia Roberts when this happened to her?" she says, once she has settled poolside in her capri pants, white blouse, sneakers and shades. "How old was she? Twenty-one, twenty-two? She's a kid, you know, she's a child! Do you remember when you were twenty-one? I couldn't make my bed! You don't know what you're supposed to do. You could think, 'Well, this is just how it goes!' I mean, this is my eighteenth movie, so I'm sure this is not how it goes."
Here in fact is how it goes, if you are Sharon Stone: You are born humbly, to a dye maker and his bookkeeper wife in Meadville, Pennsylvania, a town the size of a shoe. You have three siblings, and you are brighter than you look, since you look extraordinary (but feel homely, anyway). Your IQ measures out as Einstein's superior, so basically you are brighter than everyone looks. You are skipped ahead in school, where you are still mostly bored. You attend local Edinboro State College on a writing scholarship but soon drop out to become a fabulous international model, living in Paris, Milan and New York, where Woody Allen casts you as a fabulous doomed reveler aboard a train in the opening sequence of Stardust Memories. In Irreconcilable Differences you are officially introduced as a Home-Wrecking Starlet who sings badly, which you do very well. Everything you do next, however, is mostly futile or forgettable or both, until you seize the opportunity feared by all the Name actresses, which is to play the Devil and feign great quantities of graphic film sex with Michael Douglas, which you do very well.
"I've spent some quality time with her, yes," Douglas acknowledges, sounding tired still. "To create the illusion of the Fuck of the Century for ten or eleven hours a day, over four or five days [of shooting] – I mean, you're exhausted." To conserve energy, great sacrifices were made, the most prominent of which was Stone's now legendary decision to work without her Crotch Patch. Boldly, selflessly, she and Douglas agreed to expose their genitals to each other for their craft, with nothing between them but molecules! Thus, she would forgo the arduous task of strapping herself into a specially contoured, netted, moleskin G-string pubic shield – the Crotch Patch – for the following reason: "Every time you have to pee," she says, "you have to unglue and reglue it, which is quite painful. Besides, Michael's a real professional, and obviously there wasn't gonna be anything untoward, so I felt very safe. And of course, there isn't anything sexy about doing sex scenes." She shows no mercy, in fact, on those who might imagine otherwise. "Oh, it's incredibly realistic!" she scoffs. "It's clearly some male sex fantasy that the woman's gonna, like, jump down in the bed and have three orgasms in four minutes. You know, that's how it goes at my house. I think they should have cut to Michael at the end of the sex scene, and he should have been smoking an entire pack of cigarettes, like twenty of them all around his mouth."
SHE BEHEADS THE SWANS. With thumb and forefinger, she snaps the necks of tiny butter swans that sit on a plate before her. For accompaniment, she simulates the sounds of strangulation. Then she laughs throatily, and it is precisely there on her throat that you see the long mysterious scar carved across her esophagus. It is a scar whose origin she reinvents every day. Sometimes it's a teen car crash, sometimes a recent car crash, sometimes she just won't say, so as to suggest foul play, a possibility she seems to enjoy the most. "Murder is a very sexual thing," she now says, befitting one who has portrayed a coital ice-pick killer. "And when two people commit murder together, that's the most bonding thing that there is, in a psychological sense." She has read up on the subject. She knows well of sex and death and the primal attributes of each. But did she kill Michael Douglas after the screen went black and the theaters emptied? That is the question on the lips of a restless public. That is the stone left unturned. "No," she says, "I think she wouldn't kill him right then. But if he ever fucked with her, she'd ice him in a second. He doesn't look totally cooperative, does he?"
ON A WHIM, she decides we must go to her favorite secret place, where we will see insects fornicate. She drives. "I wonder if I should drive like I drive when you're not in the car," she says, meaning she wonders if she should drive recklessly, which is what she does, anyway. She weaves through red lights and makes wild U-turns and puts Getz Au Go Go on the CD player and sings in a soft samba, "I feel so gay, in a melancholy way, that it might as well be spring ...," and pedestrians flee for their lives. As we plunge into the Santa Monica Mountains toward our obscure destination, she speaks of passion and how it smells. "You know how you can kind of smell passion?" Stone says, sniffing orange-blossom breeze. "I have this sensation that it's near. It doesn't happen to me that much. But when I am passionate, I am a person who is just completely, totally absorbed and involved and gone." She sighs and says, "It's been years."
It's true, though perhaps unthinkable: "I don't have a fella," she tells me resolutely, even though she seemed to have had one when we last met a few weeks earlier. "But I have my eye on someone," she says, giggling. "You know, I'm a girl who really likes boys...." Indeed, she has been as unlucky in love as the next Sex Babe. The death of her three-year marriage to producer Michael Greenburg haunts her still, for he was the man she met in Vegas and about whom she says, "I would lay awake at night and watch him sleep." She laments, "I wonder how many heartbreaks a heart can hold. Mine's like a tightly closed little clamshell." But now there is a smell.
"OH, LOOK! THEY'RE FUCKING!" she says brightly. We have just hiked halfway up one side of Franklin Canyon, where there is a little-known national preserve that is her favorite secret place. It is here that she hides when she needs to hide, amid the rattlesnakes and the bee farms and the audible skittering of unseen paws. "I like to commune with nature," she says. At the moment, we are in fact hunched over a spruce sapling on whose top branch she has spied – from five paces away! – a pair of ladybugs actually copulating, one astride the other's back. (Such is the power of her sex radar!) "They are fucking!" she says, thrilling to the wee spectacle. "I've never seen that before! They're on their high-rise honeymoon. That's what we really call lucky ladybugs!" Thusly inspired, she will soon after skip like a schoolgirl down most of the mountain trail, her hair swinging around her neck, the picture of happy liberation.
IN THE END, THE SMELL SHE SMELLED was not ladybugs but rather country star Dwight Yoakam, although there are obvious similarities. Weeks earlier, she'd met Yoakam when they posed together for a watch advertisement in Phoenix. "He was really the main reason I wanted to do it," she told me two days after that, her eyes dancing. "He's an incredibly smart, very sexy, cool guy. Hell of a lot of fun!" Then, on the day of the ladybugs, she speaks giddily of an upcoming mystery date with Someone We Have Heard Of, not divulging his identity. "He's a serial killer," she teases, laughing hysterically at her fine joke. "I'm just a little squirrelly," she apologizes.
DAYS LATER, SHE IS STILL ELLIPTICAL, as she soaks her hands and feet at Tammie's Nail Salon in Studio City. She has arrived for a manicure and pedicure, to groom the nails moviegoers now love to see rip men's flesh. Her best friend, Mimi Craven, a blond actress who could be Sharon Stone's sister, is with her, helping to select polish colors. It is post-mystery date, and details are surfacing. "Oh, my date?" says Sharon, smiling like the Devil. "Mimi, would you say it went well?" Mimi blushes and says: ""I`d say so. I approve." To which Sharon says: "Think I should go out with him again? How faaasssst? Like nowwwww? Right this second?" Here, the women laugh raucously, as one would expect, then deliver their master's thesis on Sex Babe philosophy. Mimi says of Sharon, "She has a great expression about men she's been involved with: They put her on a pedestal, then never come to visit." Sharon grouses: "It's so stupid. I guess it's that whore/madonna thing, that as soon as men think they love you, they have to idealize you. Then you're lonely. So then you have to go do something really bad, so you can get back into the seat that's more fun. That's what I told my date: You've seen one too many movies! Let me guess which one it was!
"Omigod!" she says, interrupting herself. "I have to tell you what my date showed up driving! A '73 Corvette Stingray convertible, lipstick red, with white sidewalls and major vroooooooom action! I mean, it makes such a rev sound, it sets off car alarms as it goes by! I went a few blocks and started going [squealing], 'Oooohoooohoooo!' And he's like 'What is it?' I say [tinkly],'Oh, nothing.' " Mimi: "It's like every woman's wet dream!" Sharon: "Ohhhh, yes! I'd like to say I wanted him to come in a Mercedes-Benz sedan, but it's not true! Oh, baby!"
FOR A TIME THEREAFTER, SHE CAN occasionally be spotted cruising Los Angeles in Dwight Yoakam's red '73 Stingray convertible with white sidewalls, although at the Oscars they pull up in something elongated and more dignified. One rainy Sunday, she calls to provide a poetic filigree. She had been lounging about listening to Louis Armstrong sing Cole Porter, and she says: "Do you know this lyric from 'Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love)'? It goes, 'Even the most refined ladybugs do it, when a gentleman comes to call.. . .' " She sings it over a few times. "I think it may be a moral to our story," she says finally.
And somewhere another heart is confounded.