A woman ever on the verge; At 46, with an Oscar under her belt and another project in the wings, Kim Basinger still faces plenty of self-doubt.


NEW YORK -- Kim Basinger worries plenty, just not about the things you might expect of an actress who has struggled so long for validation in Hollywood.

She worries about getting her 4-year-old daughter, Ireland, accustomed to her new school. She wrestles with her inner nomad, wondering if the latest house she shares in the Hamptons with her husband, actor Alec Baldwin, is the right place.

But Basinger, who stars as tragedy-riddled author Kuki Gallmann in the new film "I Dreamed of Africa" next month, is not consumed by her career. At least not openly.

She is 46 years old, twilight for leading ladies. And she is now two years removed from winning an Academy Award for best supporting actress as a chameleon-like prostitute in "L.A. Confidential."

How will she keep the momentum going? Basinger shrugs at the question during a recent interview in Manhattan as if the answer darted through the ether, never to be grasped.

"You can't do that," she says. "Nobody knows what will be successful and what will not. How can we ever guess that? I have been the poorest judge of that in my life. That's why 'L.A. Confidential' was such a wonderful surprise."

Basinger remembers watching "L.A. Confidential" during sound-looping with the director, Curtis Hansen. "I looked at Curtis and I said, 'Do you think they'll like this movie?' And he said, 'I don't know.' He said, 'They're going to like you, I think.' So I wandered out of the sound stage thinking, 'God, I hope this isn't going to be a bust, a big fat bust.' "

An 'emotional ride'

Basinger looks nearly as fresh as when she was the Breck shampoo girl more than 25 years ago. Her pneumatic lips have kept their come-hither dewiness; her blue eyes shimmer behind skin that glows like an ingenue's.

In "I Dreamed of Africa," the screen version of Gallmann's autobiography, Basinger's glamour is downplayed. After all, Gallmann ditched her posh Venetian lifestyle to live in the bush of Kenya with her husband and son. Both died horrific deaths, forcing Gallmann to reshape her identity in a hostile environment. (Gallmann later rededicated her life to preserving African wildlife.)

The role is a stark change from the sexpots and femme fatales that have marked Basinger's career in such films as "The Natural" (1984), "9 Weeks" (1986), "Batman" (1989) and "The Marrying Man" (1991), in which she met Baldwin.

In a nod to the trend of supernatural thrillers a la "The Sixth Sense," she will appear this fall in "Bless the Child." She plays a single nurse whose drug-addicted sister dumps a baby on her doorstep. Evil ensues.

Again, Basinger will not predict. Will not worry. Will not ... oh, what's the use. Even an Oscar cannot erase Basinger's self-doubt.

"I'm still insecure from time to time about certain things,"Basinger says. "You know what? The Oscar to me is one of the greatest moments I'll ever have in my life. It gives you credibility in the eyes of so many. It gave me confidence in the eyes of other people. And it absolutely gives you more choice.

"But as far as making me less insecure, every project is the next project. It has its own emotional ride."

'Madness in herself'

When the conversation turns to "I Dreamed of Africa," Basinger spends a lot of time telling war stories about snakes and tick fever on location in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Then she trails off into the tear-filled farewell she and Baldwin and Ireland experienced when the filming ended.

"In reality it couldn't be a more civilized area of the world now that I've lived with her, made friends with her," Basinger says. "I always refer to Africa as a 'her' because I know who she is."

Maybe it was the puff adders roaming about and the lack of running water, but Basinger left her reputation for diva-like conniption out of Africa as well, according to the director, Hugh Hudson.

Basinger's kookiness is also well-chronicled. Remember the small Georgia town of Braselton she bought for $28 million in 1989? She had to sell her share for a mere $1 million when she backed out of the movie "Boxing Helena" and was ordered to pay $8 million after the producers sued, forcing her into bankruptcy.

All of these elements made Basinger the perfect candidate to play Gallmann. Gallmann left Italy behind on impulse, then stayed in Africa for love.

"She seemed to have the sort of madness in herself that you would require if you left a cozy life," Hudson said of Basinger. "Kim has that quality of taking that kind of risk."

Said Gallmann of her on-screen alter-ego: "I thought she was very candid, very genuine, very human and she cried and it wasn't made up. She got it. She was very professional."

No secrets

Basinger has showed a penchant for stirring the pot, too. She dated the artist best known as Prince after "Batman." And in an effort to jump-start her film career, she appeared in a 1983 nude Playboy pictorial that coincided with the releases of "Never Say Never Again" and a remake of "The Man Who Loved Women."

As her daughter approaches an age when she will become aware of Basinger's exploits -- some of which are scattered across the Internet -- Mom knows she will have some explaining to do.

"It's going to be a big question to my face," she says. "And at that time I really don't know how I'll handle it. I would never hide a thing from my daughter. I've had a journey myself. Where I went, I had to go on that journey. And she will understand every step of the way -- why I did what I did at the time and where I was at that time in my life."

A bit of the exhibitionist is in Basinger's blood. Her mother, with whom she has a strained relationship, was an aquamaid in Esther Williams' swimming movies. But it was watching her father entranced by old movies on television that convinced Basinger she wanted to act.

Discovered by the modeling guru Eileen Ford at a Junior Miss beauty pageant in New York in the early '70s, a then Bible-toting Basinger left her childhood home in Athens, Ga., to become a fashion magazine fixture. After landing bit parts in "Charlie's Angels" and "The Six Million Dollar Man," her first feature was "The Hard Country" (1980) in which she met her first husband, the makeup artist Ron Britton.

Twenty years later, with her youthful beauty intact, Basinger confronts age-old obstacles over staying power in Hollywood.

Polite circles might call her career station twilight. Basinger, though, is hoping it will be her next moment in the sun.

"So far, so good," she says.

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