SHARON STONE is shameless. The actress considers it a skill to have no shame. She thinks everyone should try it, though she cautions that if you’re female, shamelessness can cost you. Her refusal to feel guilty, she says, has gotten her labeled difficult, or worse.
“I’m like a Prohibition-era flapper. I’m like a juke-joint hussy,” Stone says over lunch at an Italian restaurant near Beverly Hills. But better to be called names than to be pressured into not being herself. Feeling ashamed, she says, “is not an organic state of being, so shamelessness is closer to godliness. You have to put shame down.”
Minutes later, as if to prove her point, she responds to a question about the watch on her wrist by yanking it off and flinging it onto the cement patio. “That’s the Dior Christal,” she says of the pricey timepiece, made with sapphire crystals, that she’s just tried to kill (Stone says she often does this stunt, which “shocks people but is the reason I am so proudly Dior’s spokeswoman”). She crouches to retrieve her bauble, emerging with a big smile on her makeup-free face. “How about that? It keeps on ticking.”
It’s tempting to say the same about Stone herself. Life has flung her to the hard ground more than once in recent years: She survived a brain hemorrhage in 2001, a bruising divorce in 2004 and, in December, the loss of her 78-year-old father, Joseph, to esophageal cancer. But listen to her tick, tick, tick.
“I’m detached from my celebrity. I don’t need to be ‘it’ anymore,” she says, announcing with what sounds like relief that her days as “a great big movie star” may well be behind her. Not that she isn’t busy. In the spring, she shot a four-episode guest stint on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and headed to Europe to film the sequel to Largo Winch, based on a Belgian comic book series. Still, Stone has a point: Her last movie, Streets of Blood, went straight to DVD. But no matter. When I compliment her poignant portrayal of a hairdresser in Bobby, released in 2006, she pronounces herself happy to be seen no longer as a babe starlet but as “a very fine character actor.” Indeed, Stone reports she is happy with her work, her kids (she has three adopted boys, ages 10, five and four) and her sense of style (“I’m always going to wear leopard; leopard is a neutral for me”). Without sounding too “woo-woo”—a term she invokes when discussing her interest in Eastern -spirituality—she would like you to know she’s been thinking a lot lately about getting older, about womanhood and about lost love. What she’s concluded may surprise you.
“Life and love is like the ocean,” she tells me between bites of a Caesar salad. At 52, she is stunning up close—blue eyed, lithe and radiant in ripped jeans, a white T-shirt sans bra and a linen vest. “Sometimes the tide is in and sometimes the tide is out, and sometimes it’s like the frigging Mojave.” Where’s the tide now? “For me? Mojave! Fortunately, I like the desert. I’m a desert flower.”
Of course, a dry spell in Stone’s life can sound like a torrential downpour to the rest of us. For example, she acknowledges that since her divorce from former San Francisco news-paper editor Phil Bronstein six years ago, “I really get pursued by men in their twenties, like, a lot.” Her theory on why? “They probably know there’s food in the fridge and that somebody’s going to talk to them and ask them how their day was.”
But flattering as it is to be courted by men half her age, right now she says she’s going solo. “I’ve reached this period in my life when I feel particularly feminine,” she says, her eyes suddenly filling with tears. She is thinking of her father, who with her mother moved in with Stone seven years ago, after he received his diagnosis. “He was a very tough cat,” she says fondly, dabbing her eyes with tissues she’s retrieved from her bag. Watching a parent fight to live, she says, has changed her sense of self—in a good way.
“Because I saw in him this intense but vulnerable masculinity, I found an intense yet vulnerable femininity,” she tells me, taking a big breath. “The death of my dad was huge for me. It doesn’t make me feel like a child. In fact, it makes me feel like a woman.”
A woman determined, more than ever, to feel no shame.
SHARON STONE is fine with nudity. Just as she’s always been. Everyone knows about her star turn in the 1992 thriller Basic Instinct, which featured plenty of sweaty sex scenes. She went clothes free again in the 2006 sequel, Basic Instinct 2, which she likes to call “the naked movie” or simply “Naked 2.” Most recently, she was pictured topless on the covers of Paris Match and Italian Vanity Fair, in photos shot by Alix Malka, looking better—fitter—at 51 than most other women ever look.
“Is there an age when one shouldn’t be allowed to do certain things, to show one’s body?” she said in Paris Match. “Midlife is not the end of life.”
But while Stone says she has no hang-ups about nudity, she hasn’t always felt at home in her body. As a child in Meadville, Pennsylvania, she never knew whether she was the right size. “Nobody is in sync with their body growing up,” she says. “As my 10-year-old would say, It’s just awkward.”
Part of Stone’s confusion stemmed from the fact that because she was so brainy, she rarely went to school with people her age. At five, she started school in the second grade. She went to college and high school simultaneously at 15. As a result, she says, “I have no comprehension of what being integrated to normalcy means.”
No wonder she became an actress. Her long slog toward stardom has become the stuff of legend: After moving to L.A., Stone toiled for years in B movies without breaking through. “I couldn’t get hired because no one thought I was sexy,” she says, recalling how her manager diagnosed the problem. So, without shame, she set them straight by posing for Playboy.
Her big break came in 1990, when director Paul Verhoeven featured her in his futuristic thriller Total Recall. But it was his next film, Basic Instinct, that finally put her on the map. She’d won the part by arriving at the screen test with Michael Douglas wearing an Armani pantsuit and a sheer blouse with no bra underneath. The message: I’m proud of—and comfortable with—my body.
What’s interesting, though, is that Stone says it wasn’t until Basic Instinct that she began to realize she was pretty. She remembers the moment, at a prerelease screening of the film for several pals on her birthday. “I turned to one friend, and I was like, ‘Look how great they made me look. It’s unbelievable.’ He goes, ‘That’s how you look.’ I’m like, ‘No. No. Really, look what they did!’ He says, ‘Would you shut up? I’m trying to watch the movie. That’s how you look.’”
But it was her willingness to expose herself emotionally, not physically, that earned her a Golden Globe Award and an Oscar nomination for Casino, Martin Scorsese’s 1995 film, in which she played the wife of a Vegas mobster (Robert De Niro). Somewhere along the line, Stone had grown into herself enough to really get naked.
Today she says she isn’t vain about her body. She takes care of it: She is a devoted student of Pilates and consumes very little caffeine. But fundamentally, she sees her physique as an instrument of her work.
“If I’m in an action movie and I’m holding the gun and my elbow is right in the camera, I will say, ‘I think my elbow looks baggy or bad,’” she says matter-of-factly. “Or I say, ‘I have cellulite today.’ I tell them what I think is the problem. Because I’m looking for the better visual, the right thing.
“You know,” she continues, “I’m still wearing a bikini. That’s my bathing suit.” Stone doesn’t believe that “this is what you wear when you’re 40, 50, 60. I wore leather pants when I was 20. I’ll be wearing leather pants when I’m 70. Because that’s my style.”
But she is aware she’s aging—who isn’t?—and lately she’s been looking for clues on how to do it gracefully. In the supermarket and at cocktail parties, she has walked up to complete strangers and asked them about their lives. “I’ve actually started filming elderly women with my Flip video: ‘Can I sit down and talk to you and your friends? I want to talk about what it’s like getting old. How is your sex life? How is friendship? Do you date?’” she says. “I want to see the anthropology of aging.”
SHARON STONE is not “Sharon Stone.” Or, rather, she is—but not the one you see in public. That persona was created, she said, to mask her shyness.
“I could cry telling you about it, because people don’t know that Sharon Stone character is an invention,” she says. “My friends and I laugh so hard, because our joke is, ‘Baby, you do Sharon Stone better than anybody else.’” If only, she says ruefully, she’d given her alter ego a different name.
Stone-the-topless is also Stone-the-shy? Can that be true? Apparently, just as Stone-the-stone-cold-fox has also been Stone-the-insecure. It was just a few years ago, she says, in the wake of her divorce, when loneliness and self-doubt caused her to get something—she doesn’t recall exactly what—injected into her lips.
“Nobody loves me. I’m 103. My life would be better if I had better lips,” she says, recounting the thoughts that went through her head preinjection. Just one thought occurred to her after: “What the hell?”
Her lips were so overplump, lip gloss wouldn’t stay put, she recalls. What’s more, her lips no longer matched. When she put color on her lower lip and pressed it to the upper—her usual application method—nothing lined up. She looked “like a trout,” she says, pooching out her lips in a distinctly fishy manner. She adds that she’s shunned plastic surgery ever since.
On other fronts, though, Stone acknowledges that her feelings have evolved. Two years ago, she told More that it hadn’t been her idea to marry Bronstein but that he’d been “hounding” her to tie the knot. In discussing their split, she’s had a sort of tough-as-nails demeanor. But today she admits she’s been heartbroken in the wake of her divorce. Since her father’s death, she says, she’s let herself feel a lot of things she’d kept tamped down.
Her brain hemorrhage, she believes, was a manifestation of her disintegrating marriage. “When I understood that my reality was not as I had perceived it, my body had a gigantic reaction. It took a year for my basic recovery. And then my husband filed for divorce.”
But here’s the thing: She says she married him “with every best intention for every good and wonderful thing.” And when it was over, it crushed her.
“It takes a long, long time to come to the point where you can actually say”—she dabs her eyes again—“that you got married because you were in love with the person. And it makes me cry,” she tells me. It’s easier to be angry. But to let that go and “to admit your own lovingness was, for me, a harder step. Not to be embarrassed or ashamed that I could love somebody who didn’t love me. And that can be OK.”
Though the young men who pursue her are beautiful, she says, what she needs more than anything else in a future mate is purpose. It’s the ultimate turn-on, “and even in an older person, this concept is hard to locate.”
For now, solitude is fine for Stone. “That’s the kind of person I am. I was born in the Week of the Loner on the zodiac, and I guess that’s why years and years ago I started going to black-tie events solo. It was shocking—it was a not-done, what-is-she-doing thing. People thought, ‘Oh, she wants my guy.’ You’re either lesbian, ill or after their man,” she says. “I couldn’t want their guy less. I just wanted some peace of mind.”
What she wanted, in other words, was to be herself, without feeling any shame. “We all go through it,” she tells me. “We wrestle all day long with ‘How am I unlovable? Am I too tall, too short, too thin, too blond, too brown? Why is my life not perfect?’ Instead of ‘Why am I grateful? What can I do to be of service? And if I am in the desert, how am I a desert flower?’ ”
We’re all getting older, she adds, content with the thought. “I’m not a different person than I was in my twenties,” she says. “What I have is more life ?experience—there’s a deeper pool.”
Amy Wallace has profiled Dana Delany, Holly Hunter and Meg Whitman for More.
Originally published in the June 2010 issue of More.