Kim Basinger on Good Kissing, Her Academy Awards Outburst, and Conversations with God
Nobody can accuse Kim Basinger of not speaking her mind. The sexiest mouth in showbiz mouths off about what's Hollywood, and how she plans to build her own entertainment empire in the sticks.
There are stars who look unbelievably gorgeous on screen but seem positively ordinary when you see them in person. Kim Basinger is not among them. With her riot of blonde hair, luminous skin, and voluptuous figure, she's awesome in the flesh. But another quality, initially eclipsed by her beauty, begins to emerge as you talk with her - a quality that can only be described as a certain recklessness. She seems capable of doing almost anything. Like posing nude in Playboy. Or standing in front of the world's largest television audience and reprimanding the members of the Academy (who after all are her employers) for not nominating Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing as the best picture of the year. And if you think that's a hard act to follow, keep listening. She has plans to become the head of a major film and recording studio in a town she's bought in rural Georgia, near to where she grew up. She's about to release a record album, and take on a second career as a singer. She intends to become everything she's ever dreamed of becoming - because she has a belief system that says it's all possible if you believe in yourself. And no one believes in Kim more than Kim does.
Basinger grew up a shy girl in a large family, and she was full of contradictions: she believed that if she spoke in public she would lose consciousness, and once when she was called upon to read in class, she did faint; yet she was a school cheerleader, and says she's known "ever since she was three" that she wanted to be in show biz. Her father convinced her to enter a local Junior Miss contest - and she won. After becoming the "Breck Shampoo Girl" of 1970, she went to New York, became a big-time model, made a ton of money, and quit to become an actress. She started in television, doing things like "Katie: Portrait of a Centerfold," and got offers to do sit-corns, but she wanted the movies. Her first film was called Hard Country, with Jan-Michael Vincent, which not many people saw. Then she did The Man Who Loved Women with Burt Reynolds, The Natural with Robert Redford, Never Say Never Again with Sean Connery, Fool for Love with Sam Shepard, Blind Date with Bruce Willis, the cause celebre 9 1/2 Weeks with Mickey Rourke, Nadine with Jeff Bridges, and Batman with Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson. Now she's playing a singer in Neil Simon's The Marrying Man with Alec Baldwin.
Basinger's been married once, to painter and makeup artist Ron Britton, for seven years. Since then she's been linked with Jon Peters, Prince, and is currently involved with Baldwin. A private woman, she doesn't like to discuss the men in her life. She will, however, talk about last year's Academy Awards outburst, her conversations with God, her father-figure gynecologist...and much, much more.
Lawrence Grobel: You haven't done an interview in a long time.
Kim Basinger: This is the first time since way before Batman.
LG: Was that the piece in Vanity Fair?
KB: I don't want to talk about Vanity Fair, because there were so many misquotes. I've got stacks of stuff written about me in the last couple of years, some of it I haven't even been through. There's so much said about people and so much of it is bullshit.
LG: And how do you respond to this bullshit?
KB: It kind of makes me giggle, because it's humorous in a strange way. Sometimes there will be a writer who has written something so outrageous that I want to hire him for my production company, because his imagination has to be dealt with.
LG: So you don't want to kill the writers who misquote or misrepresent you?
KB: Believe me this: at the end of this road it's not, "I will kill you," it's, "You will pay for what you have written, for what you have done to people, you will pay for it, believe me!"
LG: We stand warned. And a bit surprised you're sitting still for this interview.
KB: I'm doing this because I've got albums to sell and I've got a movie [coming out].
LG: Well, at least you're honest about why you're here. So why don't we get the sales pitch over with up front. What was it like making The Marrying Man?
KB: I loved every minute of the musical sequences. I didn't enjoy the rest of it.
LG: Why not?
KB: The Marrying Man had more problems than the Book of Life, okay? There was just no limit to the creative problems and conflicts. That's why I don't want to say a word. There've been a lot of little nasty things thrown around. It's the hardest film I've ever done in my entire life. At the same time, it's been a wonderful experience because I've learned a lot from it. But what I learned is that I had to find out some of the things that I found out about certain people. It's so sad.
LG: Some of those nasty things thrown around had to do with your insulting Neil Simon about the quality of his comedy, and of your not being happy with Alec Baldwin's attractive assistant. Is there anything to that?
KB: I don't want to talk about any of my relationships with any of these people.
LG: Aren't you here to sell this picture?
KB: As far as The Marrying Man, I think it's going to be a surprise to a lot of people. Alec Baldwin is one of the most talented actors, one of the greatest musicians, one of the greatest anything! He really is a wonderful, wonderful talent. And the cast itself is really special.
LG: One of the big surprises is your singing. Do you think you'll open people's eyes, a la Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys?
KB: I don't know how people are going to accept [my singing], but it was the most revealing thing I've ever done for myself. And it's a true gift to my father, because he grew up in the Big Band era. I sent him a tape of the soundtrack and he said, "I've waited for this for 30 years."
LG: It was your father who literally pushed you into the public eye when you were a teenager. How terrified were you of appearing in public?
KB: I was very, very shy. When I was at school I had a terrible problem-I could never read out loud in front of anybody without passing out. My mother had to call my teachers and say, "Please don't call on her in class." They really protected me. Then in the fifth grade I was called upon to read and I actually fainted. I remember standing up there and the kids laughing.
LG: You didn't like school, then?
KB: I just absolutely, totally hated school. It was like a prison to me. I just could not stand that structured, absolute disciplined way of having to deal with life. I was gone.
LG: Are we talking here about an unhappy childhood with a heavy fantasy life?
KB: Absolutely. But it wasn't really fantasy to me. I knew exactly what I wanted to do: I wanted to be in show business; I wanted to sing. I just knew it was all going to happen. I wanted everything yesterday.
LG: How young were you when you knew all of this?
KB: Three years old. I remember when my daddy took me to register for school. We stayed about four hours and I remember asking him, "You mean we have to go back there again on Monday?" I thought that was it, that was school, now let's get on with it. My father looked at me and said, "You have to go back there for the whole year." Like every day!
LG: Isn't there anything about school you remember with fondness?
KB: One of the greatest memories of my life was the way the black girls danced in the bathroom and in the halls, so alive and free-spirited. I grew up on soul music. I was a dancing little creep. A lot of people say to me, "Are you country? Do you like country?" I never grew up with country music in my life. I never heard of country music until I moved to New York. I learned about black music.
LG: How were your grades?
KB: I almost didn't pass anything. It's pretty hard to fail study hall, you've [just] got to show up. I was put in the D class with some of these guys who I ended up loving, they were just hanging on the outskirts of life. There were the hoodlums, there were the absolute extinctions - they made paper airplanes, they played games. And I was a cheerleader.
LG: Sounds like an idea for a TV show.
KB: I've got this going in my production company right now, as a pilot. And I'm going to handpick these kids.
LG: What did your parents think of you as a kid?
KB: My parents thought I was crazy. But I never was a rebel, I just did things my own way. I've just always believed you can get anything you want in this life, anything you want. Don't tell me it cannot be done. There's no such word as impossibility. So they thought, on that note, I'm a crazy woman, crazy little girl, crazy. Because people are so socially structured to follow a pattern.
LG: And your pattern was...?
KB: [Figuring out] how I was going to get out of there!
LG: And what did you wish for once you got out?
KB: For clarity, so I wouldn't get bored after I got all the things that I wanted. Clarity keeps you from boredom. See, fame and fortune really look great from afar, but after you've accomplished that you say, God, give me something else, give me clarity, because power games are power games....
LG: All of which you would eventually learn. But when you were still in school, weren't there more important things...boyfriends, for instance?
KB: My boyfriend was the idea of getting out. That was his name. Getting Out. Bye-Bye was his name.
LG: You've said that you had a childhood where you saw too much. What did you mean?
KB: My parents were very, very young and had their own sets of problems. They had five kids and we had two that were with us, so we had seven kids. If you put me under the scrutinizing eye of a psychologist he would say, "This child was never allowed to be a child, because she was too involved with her mother's and her father's and everybody's problems in the house."
LG: And then along came the Athens Junior Miss Contest.
KB: My father knew what a singer he thought I was and also how much I loved music. I could imitate anybody as a kid. But I said, "Daddy, I don't know whether I can do this. I might get up there and die." And he said, "I promise you, you get up there and you won't die." Then he got this woman to be my accompanist during all the rehearsals. I did My Fair Lady, the whole cockney accent, then segued right into "Wouldn't It Be Loverly." That night when I did it, all I cared about was, God, please help me make it through without dying. And after I did it there was no applause, just silence. Because here I was a senior in high school and I never talked at all. Then they stood up and started clapping. I didn't care about the applause, I wanted to find the curtain to get off the stage, because I was back into reality. I thought, "Am I dead? Is it over?" But I'll be honest with you: with all I've accomplished in my life - and I've just scratched the surface, I'm just starting to do everything, I have so much more to do and I know I'll accomplish everything I want to - nothing will be as exciting as the night that I finished singing at the Junior Miss contest and did not die.
LG: Did you move away right after high school?
KB: Oh, I left. I absolutely left. I just My daddy took me to the airport and I was gone.
LG: How did you wind up living with Eileen Ford, one of the top modeling agents in New York?
KB: Well, I'd won the Athens Junior Miss contest, which was sponsored by Breck, and I went to New York as a Breck Girl and I had to meet all the Vogue and Mademoiselle and Glamour and Seventeen editors. I had wanted to meet Eileen Ford and she asked me to come and stay with her and work with her agency.
LG: Did you like modeling?
KB: No, not at all. I was probably the worst model that ever lived. I made a lot of money though, mostly for magazines and commercials.
LG: What did you do with all that money?
KB: Put it all in my pocketbook. I didn't even have a bank account. I walked around with $25,000 checks. I went to buy a TV one day in this hardware store and I gave the guy this $25,000 check. He said, "You're walking around with a check with your name on the back of it, endorsed?" He led me to the Bank of America. Thank God for people like that!
LG: Did you have any really bad experiences as a model?
KB: Yeah, but I won a lot of battles and I won the war. Modeling was just a road to get to another place. You'd walk into these big rooms with all these girls speaking English and they'd start talking in French and Spanish and Italian and I thought, please help me God, this is just not where I want to be. I wanted to be an actress. I've never been comfortable with a mirror. One day I just left it, like I do everything.
LG: Where'd you go?
KB: In a Jeep. I had a boyfriend and we came out to California. I gave up modeling that day I left.
LG: Did you find an agent when you got to L.A.?
KB: My boyfriend had an agent and I met him and I fell in love with the agent and he fell in love with me. I used to go with him and sit on the lot at Twentieth Century Fox or whatever. He would come out to the car and say, "You are perfect for this role, perfect, now get in here." I'd say, "I'm not walking in there, I don't know what to do."
LG: But you learned.
KB: When I first came out here, it was so funny, my boyfriend went in to audition for something and I got the part. That's when it all started. I got a pilot on television.
LG: Had you ever studied acting?
KB: In New York I studied voice at the Vocal Arts Foundation. Somebody wanted me to be an opera singer but I was totally into soul music, black music. I studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse for a while, but that was basically a bore. It was totally to get confidence, that's all it was. Basically you have it or you don't. I don't think you learn that.
LG: A lot of actors would disagree with you: Brando, Pacino, De Niro, Hoffman, they all studied acting.
KB: Well, to each his own.
LG: Brando believes that everybody acts, no matter what their profession.
KB: That's exactly right. Everybody's playing a part. Life's a Milton Bradley game.
LG: And the part you were initially asked to play was in television. What did you learn there?
KB: I was asked continually to do episodic television, a sitcom, an hour's drama. I learned so quickly, it was the fastest education any kid could ever get. And I learned that I didn't want to do that.
LG: Didn't you also turn down "Charlie's Angels"?
KB: I could have been the Angels' little sister. But it was a mess. I did one segment-"Angels in Chains"-and it became a classic "Charlie's Angels." But I just knew I wanted to do film and I wanted to sing. Real simple.
LG: Simple for you, perhaps. Or was it? Your first film was Hard Country.
KB: A good experience because it was a real lesson in what was to come and things I had to learn. The distribution was crummy. When you do your first feature film, if you feel like you did a pretty good job you want everybody in the world to see it, and hardly anybody saw it. So I learned about disappointment.
LG: You also met Ron Britton, whom you would marry, at that time. Was it love at first sight?
KB: I don't really want to talk about that. That was just a friendship and it's over and that's that.
LG: That's a pretty abrupt wrap on a seven-year marriage.
KB: He was a public figure in his own right, he was an artist, but we were basically friends and it segued into a marriage that it should never have been. It's terrible to turn around and say you never knew someone, but you don't. We never really had a marriage the way I know marriage, when two people really jointly love each other and they grow and they work and they care and they are everything. It was not my idea to do this.
LG: Did you find it too confining?
KB: I didn't find it confining because I never lived like I was married. Not to say that I lived like I was unmarried and went out with other men, that was not the point.
LG: Did you feel like you were being let out of a cage after your divorce?
KB: Oh absolutely. The real me never existed inside that union. It was a sad situation. I'm not saying poor little me - that's what happened. It was a choice and a bad choice.
LG: Are you friends with your ex-husband?
KB: No. I don't know him at all. I never knew him.
LG: During this time you made your first successful movie, the James Bond picture Never Say Never Again with Sean Connery. How bad an experience was it?
KB: Up until then it was the worst experience I'd had because it took such a long time to shoot. The director and myself didn't get along. It was not only creative differences. I'm not here to call people names, [but] it was a very tough situation and even Sean Connery will tell you it's one of the worst. Well, he took everybody to court. He's quite a character. It was a bad experience.
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