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STONE, SHARON: The Mighty

THE MIGHT OF STONE
She's been described as powerful, ballsy and intellectual - and remains one of Hollywood's most influential stars, as PAUL FISCHER discovered when he had a rare opportunity to meet her in Los Angeles for this intimate view of the woman and the actress.

There's no denying it: Sharon Stone has Movie Star written all over her. The actress who gave new meaning to the words 'basic instinct', feels right at home courting - or being courted - by the media - in the confines of Beverly Hills' Four Seasons Hotel. Even now, the glamorous actress commands attention. Still strikingly beautiful, dressed in a smartly elegant black suit and surrounded by an over protective publicist, Stone has a quietly authoritative sense of confidence, only too aware of the power she has, 20 years following her film debut in Woody Allen's Stardust Memories.

"You just have to be willing to look and see what's interesting."

Now she has power, she uses it to get a small film made, such as The Mighty. Without the success she has had, she readily admits, "it would have been impossible to get a film like that made, unless somebody with some financial leverage, hooked up on it." At 41, Stone gets to play a single mother in her latest movie, a sign, perhaps, of her maturity as an actress and her willingness to take more professional risks. At this stage in her life, these kinds of roles seem to be coming to her at the right time.

"Unless you go, seek out and insist on things that don't really belong to you, I think that the life you're meant to have is not happening." While most of Hollywood's female actors cry out at the shortage of strong roles, Stone doesn't see this as a problem for her. "You just have to be open. If you say: Well I can only be the lead, or I'm only going to do this or that type of film, or I'm only going to play 36, it's narrow and boring. I think you just have to be willing to look and see what's interesting."

Stone is bemused at the response she's getting playing these less unglamorous parts. "It's interesting how people are reacting: She's so believable as a mother, they'd say with sheer astonishment. Of course there was no astonishment that I was believable as a sociopath killer", she adds laughingly.

"I think that people now know that I'm really committed to my work and art"

Part of that perception, one can argue, has to do with her own physicality, and the type of work we're used to seeing from her. That is all changing, she responds, especially within the industry itself. "I think that people now know that I'm really committed to my work and art, first and foremost, so I'm not having an issue. If people at 40 still want to think of me in the physical, then hey, who am I to argue?"

If Stone is concerned at having crossed that 40 age barrier, she's not admitting it. On the contrary, she's relishing it all, exemplified by her supporting role in a film such as The Mighty. "I probably wouldn't have been ready to do a film like that at 38 because I felt an obligation to my status [as a movie star]. But you know the expression: 'Life begins at 40!' You get to a certain point where you live your life as who you are. Where at the end of the day, you care that you stood your ground and did the things that have value to you. Also, I wanted to be in this so it could get made."

The Mighty, which is based on the book, Freak The Mighty, tells the story of two phenomenally mismatched children who complement each other so well that, together, they form one complete (not to mention formidable) individual. The film's narrator, Max Kane (Elden Henson) is a hulking seventh-grader who makes up for his limited intellectual prowess with an imposing physical presence. But, because Max is a gentle giant -- slow to anger and even slower to retaliate -- he has become the target of taunts and teasing. But that all changes when Kevin Dillon (Kieran Culkin) moves in next door with his over protective mother (Stone).

Kevin is Max's opposite: frail in form, but a giant intellect. Crippled by a disease that eats away at his body, Kevin has devoted himself to developing a powerful world of imagination where he is a knight in King Arthur's court and the braces on his legs do not affect his ability to do great deeds (slay dragons and save damsels). Now, in sync with Max, these things become possible in the real world, even if the dragons are just local bullies and the damsels are not maidens of virtue.

"This character is closest to the actress than anything she's done before"

Though only a supporting role in the film, Stone delivers her most beautiful and real performance to date. Perhaps, as her husband even conceded, it's because this character is closest to the actress than anything she's done before. "I think that's probably true", she says slowly, choosing her words carefully. "Which is why I think it was a hard one to do."

Pressed further on why she relates so strongly to this ordinary, but protective mother, Stone sees herself "as a taking-care-of-person; I take care of other people to an extreme." Normally, it's the larger-than-life characters we see Stone play. Here, she says, she was afforded the chance of "finally playing an in-life character, though I still love playing those operatic characters." She also compares the film to the work she does in promoting AIDS research. "I think this movie is about quality of life. Not about the length of life. It's about having compassion and understanding for the person standing right next to you, which is what basically all my work for AMFAR [the American Foundation of AIDS Research] is about. I really thought when I started this is about finding a cure for AIDS; now I realise it's about getting people to be able to look at the person next to them and not wig out, to be able to be present and generous and available. I think the movie is the same thing."

Stone was brought up in the small Pennsylvanian town of Meadville, and like the children in The Mighty, found it easy to be transported to worlds of fantasy. "I was always living in a fantasy world, but I didn't necessarily escape through works of fiction. My escapism didn't have a doorway that was through literature. I've always been very visual; I could lay in the grass and look at the clouds and go away, or draw or write a story." Yet initially, she turned not to artistic self-expression to escape the confines of small town America, but the more jaded world of modelling. Stone won several local beauty contests as a teenager, and dropped out of college at age 19 to work as an Eileen Ford model, moving to Italy to do her photo shoots.

"I actually have a personal life"

She returned to New York in the late '70s to pursue an acting career. At an extras audition she was handpicked by Woody Allen to appear as the "pretty girl on train" (as she was listed in the credits) in Stardust Memories (1980). She went on to land blonde-bombshell roles in a series of mediocre films throughout most of the '80s, such as King Solomon's Mines, Police Academy 4 and Action Jackson. Her big break came when she was cast in a supporting role opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in the blockbuster Total Recall (1990), directed by Paul Verhoeven. Verhoeven was impressed with her performance and cast her in the lead female role in his next film, Basic Instinct (1992), in which she played a bisexual author and sexual adventurer. That film's massive success launched her into stardom, and she hasn't looked back since.

Despite cutting short her formal education as an adolescent, Stone is a highly intellectual presence, a voracious reader, and a strong believer in the power of reading, a theme reinforced in The Mighty, and one she strongly believes in. "That's why Clinton has been such a great President, because he's insisted on raising the literacy rate, trying to help education."

While Stone has used her power to see small films like The Mighty get made, she uses it as a means to speak out on a multitude of causes that continue to ignite her passion, from AIDS research to the floundering American health system to breast cancer. As passionate as she remains, however, she also feels that it's time to slow down. "I definitely have to do less, because now that I'm married and I actually have a personal life, I just don't have enough of me to go to every breast cancer, AMFAR and Planet Hope event, or all the 72 other things that I'm always trying to help someone out with."

Stone is one of the few powerful stars who rule this supposedly man's domain with an unapologetic strength. She may be called ballsy and tough, but in this man's club called Hollywood, she has succeeded in proving an equal to her male counterparts. "My attitude goes back to what my mother and her girlfriends used to say when they were sitting around the kitchen table smoking, and the guys were outside. 'You know you have to let them think that it's all their idea; you just do what you have to do.' And I used to think how ridiculous, outrageous and stupid that was. It just made me nuts, so it's much easier to just go: Ok, and you do what you want to do anyhow."

"I'm just able to accept myself"

Stone has undoubtedly changed and grown in the last ten years. Asked what is the most important thing she's learnt about herself from ages 30-40, she pauses. "I think that I'm enough, that I don't have to constantly feel like I need to change myself for anyone. It has to do with me being more accepting now of who I am; I'm just able to accept myself and other people in a way that I couldn't when I was younger. You just start to understand that people are the way they are, and everybody's struggling to get through the day."

The actress remains fiercely passionate about what concerns her. Movie star she might be, but there's a sincerity about her. She hopes to continue making films that have important things to say, about issues that remain of paramount concern to her. "People come to me to help with a lot of stuff; the truth is, I really like to support anybody who I think is trying to make the world a better place."

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Sharon Stone


... in The Mighty

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