For at least 20 years, Sharon Stone has contended that a moment that defined her career was filmed without her consent. The infamous shot of her uncrossing her legs to reveal her vulva in 1992's Basic Instinct, the movie that made her a superstar, she has long contended, was stolen via deception on the part of director Paul Verhoeven. And while she has talked about this several times in the years since (she devoted her 2019 GQ Woman of the Year acceptance speech to it), I’ve never seen her discuss it with such nuance as she does in the excerpt from her forthcoming memoir, The Beauty of Living Twice, recently published by Vanity Fair.
“I’d been told, ‘We can’t see anything—I just need you to remove your panties, as the white is reflecting the light, so we know you have panties on,’” Stone writes, immediately pushing back on those who’ve doubted her account. “Yes, there have been many points of view on this topic, but since I’m the one with the vagina in question, let me say: The other points of view are bullshit.”
Stone said she first was aware of the shot upon screening the finished film in “a room full of agents and lawyers, most of whom had nothing to do with the project.” She then “went to the projection booth, slapped Paul across the face, left, went to my car, and called my lawyer,” who advised her that she could get an injunction on the film, as “per the Screen Actors Guild, my union, it wasn’t legal to shoot up my dress in this fashion.”
With this potential leverage in mind, Stone frames the finished product, vulva intact, as her ultimate choice:
After the screening, I let Paul know of the options Marty had laid out for me. Of course, he vehemently denied that I had any choices at all. I was just an actress, just a woman; what choices could I have?
But I did have choices. So I thought and thought and I chose to allow this scene in the film. Why? Because it was correct for the film and for the character; and because, after all, I did it.
Her rationale, in part, went like this:
I knew what film I was doing. For heaven’s sake, I fought for that part, and all that time, only this director had stood up for me. I had to find some way to become objective.
Stone’s telling allows for both an ethical violation and her own agency in the grand scheme of Basic Instinct, a movie that, despite its massive popularity, she says made her something of a joke initially but has in the intervening years amassed respect:
But now, only now, do I go to events and there is a certain respect about that film. Oh, that film is coooooool. But when I went to the Golden Globes as a nominee in 1993 and they called my name as a glamorous finalist, everyone laughed. Well, not everyone, but enough of the room so that I was told where I sat.
Elsewhere in the excerpt, in a stream-of-consciousness-lite manner, Stone describes predatory behavior she experienced—a director who “wouldn’t direct me because I refused to sit in his lap to take direction,” pressure from a producer to fuck a co-star for the sake of onscreen chemistry. “I was often alone on a set with hundreds of men,” writes Stone. “Hundreds of men and me. Often not even the caterer employed women when I was first working. My makeup and hair were men. Can you imagine what it was like to be the only woman on a set—to be the only naked woman, with maybe one or two other women standing near? The costumer and the script gal? And now I am the intimidating one.”