Sharon Stone calls the shots in her career

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Los Angeles -- Sharon Stone spent years in the trenches, surviving awful movies like "King Solomon's Mines," "Action Jackson" and "Scissors," and bit parts in "He Said, She Said" and "Irreconcilable Differences." An ice pick and a silk scarf -- tools of her character's trade in "Basic Instinct" -- put an end to that.

Now one of the most popular and most handsomely paid actresses in Hollywood, Ms. Stone writes her own ticket. She's co-producing her latest effort, "The Quick and the Dead," which opens Friday.

Her new movie is a western about vengeance and a tortured past, sure, but thanks to director Sam Raimi's hyperkinetic sensibility, it's also a huge lark. Ms. Stone stars as Ellen, a stranger who rides into the town of Redemption during a deadly gunslinger's contest. She's there to right a long-standing wrong committed by Herod (Gene Hackman), the burg's seethingly corrupt mayor.

Ms. Stone sat down to discuss "The Quick and the Dead" just days after completing an exhausting shoot for Martin Scorsese's "Casino."

Q: What is the most important thing for a gunslinger to know?

A: Where the gun is. Because when you're a girl, the gun belt doesn't really stay down. On TV, gunslingers tie the bottom of the holster to their leg. Because if you don't draw really right and smooth [makes a straight up-and-down motion], the holster comes with it, and the gun goes like this [makes fumbling motions]. So they tied it down and no one had to be fabulous.

But we couldn't do that. Also, when you're a guy, your hips go like this [motions in a straight line), but when you're a girl, your hips go like this [motions in curves]. So as soon as you hit it, your gun goes like this [really fumbles]. Oy! It took a couple of months before I could really do it, before I could really kill, say, you. I was never as good as Gene [Hackman].

Q: All that time to master the move, and now you'll probably never get to use it again.

L A: Unless you bust into my house, you'll never see it again.

Q: Let's take the movie's round-robin tournament premise one step further. You take on Hackman here; Clint Eastwood beat him in "Unforgiven." You and Eastwood move onto the finals. Who wins?

A: I'm a dead woman.

Q: What's your favorite western?

A: I like the one where they cut off Eastwood's legs. The women cut off his legs so he can't leave [1971's "The Beguiled"]. It's really cooool.

Q: How do Sam Raimi and Paul Verhoeven ("Total Recall," "Basic Instinct") compare as action directors?

A: Sam is like, 12, [becomes childishly animated] with playmates he really likes and it's really, really fun! [Back to an adult]. Where Sam is a 12-year-old playing with a giant erector set, Paul is extraordinarily brilliant, cerebral and violent in his own physicality. And his intensity! And he screams and it's wild! "Do this! Do that! Get . . . away from me!"

Q: Nonetheless, he wasn't so daunting you didn't work with him a second time.

A: We had a long talk after the first time. I said, "You can't yell at me. It makes me insecure, and I have to play a character who's completely empowered." He said, "Then don't be [difficult]!" I said, "OK. Fair enough."

Q: Has it been tough to unwind after "Casino?"

A: I haven't really yet. But it was easy to surrender the character, because the last scene was my death. It was like when I did my last scene, the character really died. She was exorcised.

Q: Have other characters been rough to exorcise?

A: The character in "Basic Instinct" just really got in my teeth. I just stayed home and cried and cried and cried, watched bad TV and cried some more for it to pass.

Q: You've worked with the two top action stars, Arnold Schwarzenegger (in "Total Recall") and Sylvester Stallone ("The Specialist"). Compare and contrast.

A: They are nothing alike in any way at all. But I like them both. Arnold taught me to be a team player and how to sell a movie. Sly is really good on the set, he's great with the guys. It's such a "guy" environment with both of them. You have to assert yourself.

Q: A lot of actors would be perfectly happy to forget their early movies, yet your film bio lists them proudly.

A: [Laughs] I don't have to sit through them. There have been times when I'm channel-surfing and I'll stop and look at something and I'll watch for two or three minutes before I realize it's me. It's so long ago I forgot I did it. I'll go [embarrassed] "Oh, oh!"

Q: Next up for you is "Last Dance." What's that about?

A: A woman on Death Row committed a murder on crack when she was a teen. Years later, the governor's going to pardon one person. He's either going to give this woman or that black man clemency. Sam Jackson is the other guy. It's really, really intense. People are going to flip. . . . The last 25 minutes of the film are in the execution chamber. It's your basic vomiting movie.

Q: Something nice and light after "Casino."

A: The character that I just played there was drunk, on drugs, violent, scared, blindly vindictive and way, way, way, way out of control. There were times when the only way to really get it was to be way, way, way, way out of control. Marty said the other day, "There were times that I wanted to ask you for another take, but I was afraid you would just -- stick out there." [laughs] I said, "I've been stuck out there for weeks, in case no one's noticed!"

Q: A lot of people seem to like to offer uninvited career advice to you. How do you make your selections from film to film?

A: I did "Basic Instinct" because I fought to get it and tested and tested and tested. I did "Sliver" because it was imposed upon me intensely that that was what I should do next. I wanted to run away and put my head in a drawer. But I made a deal that if I did that, I could do "Intersection."

So the one that was not of my own grounded common sense Sliver"] is the one least connected to my talents. "The Specialist" -- when I read this part, I thought, "This is really stupid, but I really could play . . . this part." I had my best friend read it. She says, "This is cool. It's really stupid, but I think you should do it." Because of Stallone.

Here's the real comparison between Sly and Arnold: We go to Schwarzenegger movies for her, and we go to Stallone movies for me, and then we don't tell anyone. Someone will ask, "What did you do this afternoon?" We'll say, "Oh, nothing, we went to lunch."

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