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6. Sharon Stone

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Sharon Stone was the nobody whom nobody wanted for the role everybody turned down. Geena Davis, Julia Roberts, and Michelle Pfeiffer, among others, reportedly had spurned the part of Michael Douglas’ homicidal bisexual lover in director Paul Verhoeven’s gleefully explicit Basic Instinct. Small wonder: Grinding out precisely 1.33 orgasms per minute with zero emotional involvement and maximum naughty-parts exposure, then topping off a halcyon evening by driving an ice pick through her trussed-up lover’s skull, the Basic Instinct heroine took top honors in the Year of the Psycho Woman, beating out Rebecca De Mornay in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and Jennifer Jason Leigh in Single White Female.

But Stone, 34, triumphed over the scary perils of the part by sheer force of sly wit and utter self-confidence. Her performance made Body Heat look like a Mormon missionary mixer — it was the closest that mass-market moviemaking has ever come to porn. And it was more than merely steamy. A virtual unknown, Stone breezily upstaged Michael Douglas and forced us to regard 1992’s most intimately exposed actress with unsniggering awe.

During filming, she kept her mind on classic turns by Barbara Stanwyck — and if she lacked Stanwyck’s depth, she equaled her brass, redeeming with bold delivery and ironic backspin the arch double entendres that might have done her in.

Stone’s Instinct breakthrough, after a dozen box office stiffs, came just in time. With an IQ said to be 154, Stone, a graduate of Saegertown High School, near her hometown of Meadville, Pa. (pop. 14,258), must have considered her previous work especially mindless. In making such films as The Vegas Strip Wars (1984) and the sequel to the second remake of King Solomon’s Mines, Allan Quartermain and the Lost City of Gold (1986), her own hopes of going for the gold looked lost indeed.

Things perked up with 1990’s Total Recall. Stone earned costar Arnold Schwarzenegger’s respect (and honorary induction into the United Stuntwomen’s Association) by doing her own hand-to-Austrian-ham combat in the pugilistic sci-fi blockbuster.

Claiming that Verhoeven tricked her into doing the much-talked-about nude up-the-dress shot in Basic Instinct, she was nonetheless clever enough to make light of it: On Saturday Night Live, she spoofed the scene and did a spot for ”Taster’s Choice Spermicidal Jelly.” When six activists got arrested heckling that SNL show to protest what they said was Instinct‘s perpetuation of antigay stereotypes, ”she wasn’t flustered at all,” says one eyewitness. Nothing rattles Stone. Unlikely ever to do a sequel to Allan Quartermain, she is currently shooting an adaptation of the Ira Levin thriller Sliver.

Steve Martin once sagely observed that men put women up on a pedestal, and then look up their skirts. In Stone’s case, Hollywood looked up her skirt — and then put her on a pedestal. Her reported asking price for a Basic Instinct sequel is $7 million; from here on, nobody is apt to mistake Sharon Stone for a nobody.

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