Sharon Stone: It's Better with the Lights On

Over Mu Shu Fantasy at Chopstix, Sharon Stone tells true tales of the Hollywood casting couch.

In Hollywood, anyone you've known for 15 minutes is considered a friend, and if you're still on speaking terms after three months (roughly the time it takes to make a film, and therefore the average length of all relationships), they qualify as an old friend. I've known Sharon Stone since we met at Bono's -- so long ago that Sonny Bono was not the mayor of Palm Springs, but a local lousy restaurateur -- so, I guess, she's practically family.

Waiting for the Auto Club to come rescue me at my broken down jeep out on Pacific Coast Highway, I think how I hate to keep her waiting at Chopstix on Melrose-because my being late ruins her entrance, which is something she knows a thing or two about. I recall that Christmas party when Sharon swept in fashionably late, dropped her floor-length black mink in a pool at her heels, threw her arms in the air above her tiny glittering mini-dress, and announced, "All right I'm here, let the fun begin!"

When I finally arrive, Sharon is waiting for me outside Chopstix, which despite a clever overhaul still looks to me like the art deco gas station it once was. "Nice wheels," she says, airily suggesting she's never seen a beaten up taxi before, let alone been in one.

As she once told me, "I learned long ago that if you behave as if you expect people to give you diamonds, sometimes they do."

At out table outside on the patio, we order Mu Shu Fantasy, Wild West Hollywood Dumplings, and Take A Bao. I wonder aloud how someone with Sharon's champagne tastes adjusted to months in Mexico with Arnold Schwarzenegger making Total Recall. "In Mexico City, the problem isn't confronting poverty, it's confronting earthquakes," she says. "Though we have them all the time in L.A. there's nothing like a 6.8 while you're on the 39th floor of a hotel."

Does this means that she's glad to be back? She puts down her mineral water and sighs. "This town....breeds insanity," she says. Then she tells me she's just learned that another actress got the role she read for in Havana. I ask her what other near-misses there've been that mattered. "When I screen-tested for, but did not get, Someone to Watch Over Me, I'll admit I wondered 'What more do I have to do? Marry someone famous, someone influential?' "I point out that maybe that's the case, and she replies, "Then I don't want it that much. My private life is not about business, not about my career."

Warming to the topic at hand, I ask Sharon-who's starred in such movies as Irreconcilable Differences, Above the Law, Action Jackson, and on TV in "War and Remembrance" -- whether she thinks the so-called "casting couch" really exists. "When I first hit town," she says, "a big producer -- I won't tell you his name, but his initials are S.B. -- met with me in his office, and said he could make me a big star, and then unzipped his pants." And? "I have never laughed so hard in all my life, which is not the reaction he was hoping for. The casting couch exists but it doesn't lead anywhere, certainly not to being cast. No one is going to stake a multi-million-dollar budget on the fact that someone's good in bed."

What advice, then, does she have for actresses who want to try their luck in Hollywood? "Always carry a book," she says. "I get so bored on most of my dates, I slip into the ladies' room to read for awhile.

"Not that I'm dating all that much," she says. "I'm not as approachable as I was. I have a certain coolness as a result of being steamrollered by my divorce." I hadn't noticed anything of the kind: just yesterday, when she was here cavorting on the sidewalk for a photo shoot to accompany this interview, a biker who pulled out of traffic to watch turned out to be the handsome French model Olivier, and he was only too glad to loan us his Harley for Sharon to climb on. "Okay, it's not that hard to meet people," she admits, "but I want to know someone before I go out on a date."

Sharon waves away the waiter who's asked if we want to try something called Ginger Crème Brulee Surprise, and continues, "Besides, now that Helena's is gone, there's nowhere really great to go. Though I was never actually a member, I liked that Helena's was a private club where you could eat and dance with your friends, without strangers hitting on you. So now I just don't go out to clubs, I stay home and play may Cole Porter records."

Outside, we walk along Melrose looking for a late night fix of low-fat yogurt, and I'm reminded of a summer night two years ago when we drove up to a yogurt emporium at midnight: Sharon charmed the tired owners into re-opening just for us, and then coaxed them out into the deserted parking lot for an impromptu dance with us in the headlights of her BMW as "La Bamba" blared from the tapedeck. No such luck tonight. We stop in Campo Dei Fiori to consider buying white lilies, and I ask Sharon if there are any important questions she thinks I've overlooked. "Yes," she says. " 'What's the most embarrassing thing you have in your wallet?' "

Soon after that, she gives me a lift home. On the way there, Sharon calls her answering machine from her car phone. We listen to her messages on the speaker, and when the unmistakably accented voice of Olivier is heard, Sharon discreetly presses a button to fast forward. Next, there's her brother Michael's voice: "Meet me late tonight at the China Club. The doorman there is the same one who was always so nice to us at Helena's."

Sharon can't help smiling at her own contradictions: of course she'll probably go by, just for a minute. "My brother is my best date," she says. "Cole Porter can wait until tomorrow night."

After Sharon drops me off, I remember a glimpse she once gave me of what it's like to be a movie star. At a premiere party at Ed Debevic's, Sharon and I were out on the dance floor next to Cher and Rebecca De Mornay when the hot white glare of TV camera crew lights suddenly caught us. We both reacted instantly by dancing hard for the "Entertainment Tonight" audience. Sharon threw back her head, laughing, and called out to me, "It's better with the lights on."


Edward Margulies is the Senior Editor of Movieline.