HOLLYWOOD - One scene in Catwoman cuts painfully close to home for Sharon Stone, who plays Halle Berry's nemesis in the action-adventure based on the popular comic book. As ruthless cosmetics magnate Laurel Hedare, she laments that when she turned 40, "they threw me away."
That line was added after Stone had a heart-to-heart with producer Denise Di Novi. "I was telling her about how when I turned 40, I was going around saying, 'I'm 40 and it's so cool' - and then I couldn't get a job. It was the most peculiar thing I have ever seen."
Slender, with crisply spiked short hair, the 46-year-old Stone looks great. Her porcelain complexion seems as if it has never been kissed by the sun. Wearing a clingy dress that shows plenty of decolletage, Stone is friendly, but at a lofty remove - with a movie star's self-assurance.
To her astonishment, "Suddenly it's cool to be 40 again," says Stone, who has moved to Los Angeles. "I think ... it's women saying, 'You know, I am in my sexual prime,' and young men saying, 'Yeah, she is, and so am I.'"
Stone's character, Laurel, is willing to go to any lengths to keep her youthful appearance, including using a new cream that turns her visage to marble. Stone won't say whether she has used Botox or to what extreme she would go to retain her glamorous appearance.
"Well, my thoughts and feelings about all of these things are you should do whatever makes you happy and doesn't hurt anybody else.
"But I don't want to endorse or not endorse any of it. ... There is just some of that stuff I wouldn't do to myself because I am a person who is OK with saying, 'I am 46.' There are other actresses who are my age or near my age who are getting jobs I can't get because [filmmakers] say they want younger women and they say they are younger. And they get the job I can't get."
In some cases, perhaps a reputation as one of Hollywood's more difficult divas has something to do with it.
"I heard a lot of bad things about Sharon," says Catwoman director Pitof. "But when I met her I was totally blown away by her character. She set up a meeting, and during the whole thing she was very calm. We had a nice chat for two hours about France, art and cinema. She told me, 'I will do exactly what you want.'" And Stone kept her word, the French director says.
"She is very smart. We never had a fight. She proposed some stuff, but it was up to me to accept it or modify it. She never took over."
The actress has come a long way from her working-class roots in a small western Pennsylvania town, where making ends meet was difficult for the family, especially when her factory-worker father was sidelined with an illness.
"There was no pay when you were sick," she says. "My mom was raising four kids. We never had a baby sitter. We never had anyone [to] help. My mom had a 1-acre garden where she grew the food and canned it all summer for all winter, and my dad hunted and then we ate that food for the rest of the year. So it was a very kind of seriously old-fashioned way of being raised.
Stone - divorced from San Francisco Chronicle Editor Phil Bronstein and mother of a 4-year-old adopted son - says her near-death experience in 2001 from a tear in the artery at the base of her skull has made her "less panicky. I don't care about 'things' as much anymore."
Nominated for an Emmy for her guest performance last season on ABC's The Practice, these days Stone says she is offered a "fair amount" of work.
Still, she notes, "I used to work because I had such a blue-collar work ethic, so I would do a bunch of work that maybe wasn't so great and make a bunch of movies that maybe weren't so fabulous. Now I would rather not work. I would rather be with my son. I would rather live my life."
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.