Nationality: American. Born: Meadville, Pennsylvania, 10 March 1958. Family: Married 1) the producer Michael Greenburg, 1984 (divorced 1986); 2) Phil Bronstein, 1998; children; adopted Roan Joseph. Education: Attended Edinboro University, Pennsylvania, on a writing scholarship. Career: 1977–80—modeled, mostly for TV commercials, in New York, Paris, and Milan; 1980—film debut in Stardust Memories; 1983—in TV series The Bay City Blues; 1989—in TV mini-series War and Remembrance; co-owner of Chaos Productions. Awards: Women in Film Crystal Award, 1995; Golden Globe, for Casino, 1995. Address: PMK Public Relations, 1775 Broadway, Suite 701, New York, NY 10019, U.S.A.
Films as Actress:
Stardust Memories (Woody Allen) (as dream girl); Deadly Blessing (Craven) (as Lana); Les Uns et les autres (Bolero) (Lelouch)
Not Just Another Affair (Steven Hilliard Stern—for TV) (as Lynette)
Irreconcilable Differences (Shyer) (as Blake Chandler); Calendar Girl Murders (William A. Graham—for TV) (as Cassie Bascomb); The Vegas Strip Wars (Englund—for TV) (as Sarah Shipman)
King Solomon's Mines (J. Lee Thompson) (as Jessie Huston)
Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold (Gary Nelson and Newt Arnold) (as Jessie Huston); Cold Steel (Dorothy Ann Puzo) (as Kathy Connors); Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol (Jim Drake) (as Claire Mattson)
Above the Law (Nico) (Andrew Davis) (as Sara Toscani); Action Jackson (Baxley) (as Patrice Dellaplane); Tears in the Rain (Don Sharp—for TV) (as Casey Cantrell)
Blood and Sand (Elorrieta) (as Doña Sol); Beyond the Stars (Personal Choice) (Saperstein) (as Laurie McCall)
Total Recall (Verhoeven) (as Lori Quaid)
He Said, She Said (Marisa Silver and Kwapis) (as Linda); Scissors (DeFelitta) (as Angie Anderson); Year of the Gun (Frankenheimer) (as Alison King)
Basic Instinct (Verhoeven) (as Catherine Tramell); Diary of a Hitman (London) (as Kiki)
Last Action Hero (McTiernan) (cameo as Catherine Tramell); Sliver (Noyce) (as Carly Norris); Where Sleeping Dogs Lie (Finch) (as Serena Black); Harlow: The Blond Bombshell (as narrator)
The Specialist (Llosa) (as May Munro); Intersection (Rydell) (as Sally Eastman)
Casino (Scorsese) (as Ginger McKenna); Catwalk (Leacock); The Quick and the Dead (Raimi) (as Ellen)
Last Dance (Beresford) (as Cindy Liggett); Diabolique (Chechik) (as Nicole)
A Salute to Martin Scorsese (Horvitz—for TV) (Host)
The Mighty (Chelsom) (as Gwen Dillon); Antz (Darnell, Guterman) (as voice of Princess Bala); Sphere (Levinson) (as Beth Halpern)
Simpatico (Warchus) (as Rosie); Picking up the Pieces (Arau) (as Candy); If These Walls Could Talk (Anderson, Coolidge—for TV); Gloria (Lumet) (as title role); The Muse (Brooks) (as Sarah)
Picking Up the Pieces (Arau) (as Candy); Beautiful Joe (Metcalfe) (as Hush)
By STONE: articles—
"Blonde Starlet No Dummy," interview with Susan Morgan, in Interview (New York), June 1990.
"Hot Cover," interview with Bill Zehme, in Rolling Stone (New York), 14 May 1992.
"The Ultimate Question: Can Sharon Stone Act?," interview with Suzanna Andrews, in New York Times, 16 January 1994.
"The Truly Shocking, Unstoppable Sharon Stone," interview with Stephen Rebello, in Cosmopolitan (New York), October 1995.
"Holding Her Own with the Big Boys," interview with William Grimes, in New York Times, 19 November 1995.
"Sharon's Back in Town," interview with Lloyd Grove, in Vanity Fair (New York), March 1996.
"Woman on the Verge," in Time Out (London), 8 May 1996.
Interview with Jess Cagle, in Advocate (Los Angeles), 21 May 1996.
"Wanted Alive!" interview with I. Sischy, in Interview (New York), February 1997.
On STONE: books—
Munn, Michael, The Sharon Stone Story, Jersey City, 1997.
Sanello, Frank, Naked Instinct: The Unauthorized Biography of Sharon Stone, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1997.
On STONE: articles—
Liebovitz, Annie, "Stone Goddess," in Vanity Fair (New York), April 1993.
Schruers, Fred, "Stone Free," in Premiere (New York), May 1993.
Hirshey, Gerri, "The Diva," in GQ (New York), November 1995.
Current Biography 1996, New York, 1996.
Lahr, J. "The Big Picture," in New Yorker, 25 March, 1996.
Campbell, V., "Sweet Charity," in Movieline (Escondido), Septem-ber 1996.
Francke, L., "Someone To Look At," in Sight & Sound (London), March 1996.
Grove, L., "Sharon's Back in Town," in Vanity Fair (New York), March 1996.
Nicastro, N., "Actresses and Ambition," in Film Comment (New York), January/February 1996.
Francke, Lizzie, "Someone to Look At," in Sight & Sound (London), March 1996.
Radio Times (London), 10 August 1996.
* * *
Suddenly, with Casino, the revelation: Sharon Stone can act! Personally, I never doubted it for a moment (though it did not seem to me her most important attribute). I want first to confront the derision that has been heaped upon her by (mostly male) reviewers over the past few years.
Clearly, the crux is Basic Instinct, and specifically the moment when she exposes herself (and her lack of underwear) to a roomful of cops. It is a wonderful moment in a flawed but very interesting film: one of the classic "moments" of modern American cinema, already inscribed in film history. To grasp its significance fully, it is helpful to address an extremely influential article by Peter Baxter, "The Naked Thighs of Miss Dietrich." Baxter analyzes The Blue Angel in terms of castration fears and the resulting fetishism: what terrifies men is the woman's "lack," because it arouses their own dread that they might share it. "Miss Dietrich" repeatedly exposes herself "almost, but not quite," thus at once arousing and assuaging castration fears. Stone in Basic Instinct goes all the way, exposing her lack of the phallus proudly and defiantly (and in a film in which, according to reports, Michael Douglas adamantly refused to expose his possession of it: we might have seen that, after all, it is just a bit of anatomy). The resentment and anger of our male reviewers, and their escape into facile ridicule, is only explicable in these terms, and seems an admirable vindication of one aspect of Freudian theory.
Yes, Sharon Stone can act, she always could, and did not suddenly begin to because she was directed by Scorsese. But she remains less striking as an actress than as a presence. "Acting" is notoriously difficult to talk about except in the most general terms, but "presence" is even harder. It has something to do with the star's relationship to the camera, but that scarcely takes us very far. It has a lot to do with the eyes—their aliveness or otherwise, the way they look within the image, at other characters, the way they confront the camera. Two contemporary comparisons come to mind: Demi Moore (because, like Stone, she specializes in playing strong women) and Madonna (because she is blond, and is primarily associated with a defiant sexuality). I have the impression that Moore is a capable actress, but after seeing her in about a dozen films I still cannot remember what she looks like. As for Madonna, she has neither presence nor acting ability; she has built her career entirely on sheer nerve and a talent for self-promotion.
Reviewers are always impressed by acting (which, like the people who decide the Oscars every year, they usually confuse with certain roles: Stone can be allowed to "act" in Casino because her character goes through various stages of degradation, addiction, and near-insanity). They are not very interested in "presence," because it is either there or it is not, it is not the product of really hard work, and the Protestant work ethic is still a potent fact in evaluating performance. Stone has a lot in common with two actresses of earlier generations who equally bore their share of ridicule, but whose performances survive undimmed: Kim Novak and Jean Seberg. Novak in Vertigo, Seberg in Bonjour, Tristesse: are these not still indelibly stamped in the memory, where so many "great" acting performances have vanished into oblivion? Stone repeatedly reminds me of Novak in particular—perhaps partly because of what Truffaut described as Novak's "carnality," but even more because, whatever character she plays (even, or especially, a bisexual murderess), there is always in her performances an underlying sense of vulnerability. Stone is a Kim Novak for the nineties.
Casino is not the first film in which Stone has shown that she can act, but it is the first she has been in of any great distinction, under one of the great contemporary filmmakers. Aside from that, one can make certain claims for Basic Instinct, The Quick and the Dead, and Sliver, chiefly because of Stone's presence in them. In an attempt to illustrate this "presence" (more precisely, presence-plus-acting), however, I shall draw on a brief scene from a film for which no one is likely to make high claims, The Specialist, a very efficient action thriller built upon a strictly formulaic plot (roughly, the pattern long-build-up/big explosion, repeated five times—six if you include the pre-credits sequence). Here, Stone is surrounded by strong actors giving strong performances (notably James Woods and Eric Roberts); the film suffers from an understandable lack of chemistry between Stone and Sylvester Stallone, mitigated by the fact that they do not meet until two-thirds through.
Anyone who wishes to grasp—intuitively, if not intellectually—what is meant by "screen presence" could do no better than examine the brief scene of the second encounter (daytime, in a Miami bar) between Stone and Eric Roberts. (He is one of the three men she watched murder her parents when she was a young child, on whom she has vowed to take revenge). The two-minute scene includes eight full-face shots of Stone as she allows herself to be seduced; they have the effect of close-ups, although the back of Roberts's head is present in most of them, and are intercut with reverse shots as Roberts speaks:
- 1. The face, looking very vulnerable, expresses nervous tension.
- 2. A smile, in response: tense, slightly forced.
- 3. (After he asks to kiss her): the smile becomes more enigmatic and ambiguous as she says "I hardly know you."
- 4. After his "Wait till you try spending the night," the smile has faded, the lips are tense, the eyes seem to probe; there is a slight look of recoil, almost fear.
- 5. The smile returns as she glances up at him, then quickly down into her drink.
- 6, 7, 8. He moves away to help a henchman beat somebody up; she watches in the mirror. The beating evokes (brief flashback) the traumatic night of her parents' murder; her face conveys an extraordinary blend of anger, hatred, and fear.
One might argue that, in such a sequence, the "performance" is constructed in the editing—to which the reply is that nothing can be constructed out of nothing. A suggestion: watch this brief scene on video, then imagine it again with Stone replaced, first by Demi Moore, then by Madonna. The experience should illuminate what is meant by those vague phrases "screen presence" and "star quality."
Since Casino Stone has continued her efforts to prove (to skeptics) that she can act, but most of her choices have been extremely unfortunate. Last Dance gave her the opportunity (as a condemned murderess) for emotional histrionics, but her hard work is not enough to turn a mediocre movie into a good one; in Sphere she more than holds her own in a cast that includes Dustin Hoffman, giving arguably the best performance in the film, but it remains a feeble sci-fi movie on a premise Event Horizon had already tackled rather more intelligently just a year earlier. Her worst errors were surely those of challenging comparison with two of the most famous female performances in world cinema —Simone Signoret in Diabolique and Gena Rowlands in Gloria. Neither remake is even nearly as good as its original (one may hate Clouzot's film, but what it did it did perfectly), provoking predictable sneers from the critics. The best one can say for any of these films is that, if they are worth seeing at all, they are worth seeing for Stone, her presence alone adding distinction.
Two films, and two superb performances, can be salvaged from this period; they also illustrate splendidly two opposite facets of her talent. Stone's supporting role in The Mighty as the troubled, deeply committed mother of a severely handicapped and doomed child is strongly felt and extremely moving. In The Muse she demonstrates quite captivatingly what one had long suspected—that she is a wonderful comedienne. Her role as a (hypothetical) Greek muse, daughter of Zeus, inspiring artists with failing powers and shaky status, is very demanding in that she must be convincingly irresistible or the film collapses. It is difficult to think of another current star could have brought this off so triumphantly.