There was at least one day, back in October 1995, when the Pittsburgh set of Diabolique seemed to be a happy place. Nobody had yet mentioned the word lawsuit, Sharon Stone and the film’s director were still friends, and the only bruise suffered thus far was on the inside of Stone’s mouth.
It was dealt by Chazz Palminteri. In this once-promising $30 million remake of the 1955 French thriller, he plays the boorish, womanizing headmaster of a boys’ school who is presumably drugged and drowned by his demure, long-suffering wife (Isabelle Adjani) and his dragon-lady mistress (Stone). ”Chazz grabbed me in a fight scene,” explained Stone, laughing about the incident during a break on the set. ”He put his hand very gently on my neck, but his hand is so big his fingers pressed my cheeks.” The director, Jeremiah Chechik, overheard the tale and piped up.
”I’m glad your pain could enhance my art,” he told her.
Stone bowed subserviently in his direction and said, ”I give myself to you.” She and Chechik shared a good chuckle.
It would be one of their last. By the time the film arrived in theaters March 22 with minimal hype and an opening-weekend gross of a pallid $5.5 million, it was the friendship between Stone and Chechik that would be bruised most severely. And by then, the picture itself had become a battlefield over property rights and a complicated contractual clause over how much Stone would take off during a nude scene. Whatever she wore, it wasn’t going to be pretty.
Stone and Chechik always had different takes on Diabolique. During filming, Stone described it as ”a black comedy” (indeed, she plays a wicked woman who teaches math but dresses like Lana Turner); the director preferred to think of it as ”a very, very dark thriller.” But the project seemed like a promising collaboration. Although Chechik ranked below Stone in the Hollywood pecking order, she had admired his 1993 comedy Benny & Joon and called him to say she’d like to work with him on the right project. ”We’d talk over the phone for hours and hours,” says Chechik. When he signed to direct Diabolique, he immediately saw Stone as the sleek femme fatale Simone Signoret played in the original. ”She was born to play this part,” Chechik said last fall.
Stone and Chechik maintained a sound working relationship while cameras rolled. But behind the scenes, brawls were already beginning. Stone and moneyman James Robinson, head of Morgan Creek, came to an impasse over her refusal to appear nude. Stone won the battle (she ended up wearing a lacy bra during her brief love scene with Palminteri), but the ill feelings persist even now. When ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY called both parties to find out what Stone’s contract dictated regarding her control over nudity, Morgan Creek issued a carefully worded statement: ”When she agreed to do this picture, she agreed to do the nude scene and she was obligated to shoot the scene nude.” Stone’s camp disagrees, saying she wasn’t contractually obligated to appear nude and had veto power over a nude scene if it were shot.
Only their lawyers know the naked truth, but Chechik says the spat ??soured the relationship between Sharon and the producer so much?? that it became a power struggle on Stone’s part. As a result, says Chechik, ??she started behaving wildly unprofessionally.??
He is referring, in part, to statements attributed to Stone after Diabolique was completed and Morgan Creek wrangled with Stone over reshoot schedules while she was in Europe promoting Casino. When the widow of Henri-Georges Clouzot, the director of the original Diabolique, threatened to sue the producers for not obtaining sufficient remake rights, Stone seemed to take her side, announcing at a press conference that she thought the widow should be paid. The producers, who deny any wrongdoing, ultimately settled with Mme. Clouzot, but Stone and Chechik were left at odds.
??She was using my movie as a pawn in her power game,?? says Chechik. Stone, once again, has a different take. ??His movie is not that important to me,?? she says, speaking on her car phone, her publicist listening in.
??Let’s not get into that,?? says her publicist.
But Stone continues, ??My power game is not this petty bulls— over a marginal movie.??
Stone, who is known for promoting her movies heavily, was scarce when it came time to promote Diabolique. Thanks to scheduling problems and, incidentally, her lack of enthusiasm for a rough cut of the film, she was glaringly absent at the New York press junket. (??I didn’t have enough good things left to say to fill up two days of PR,?? she says.) After she saw the finished product, Stone then issued a statement: ??The original is and will remain a classic. Ours is a funny, campy, one-box-of-popcorn thriller. Was it worth all this controversy??? (??That’s stupid,?? laughs Chechik. ??If she wants to characterize her own performance as campy, she’s allowed to do that.??) Stone did attend Diabolique‘s Los Angeles premiere, but she and Chechik still weren’t speaking — at least not before fire marshals shut down the post-screening shindig because of overcrowding.
Though reviews were largely abysmal, several critics vindicated Stone by praising her over-the-top, darkly funny performance. And says one producer who was not involved in the film, ??I don’t think anyone will hold [her reluctance to promote Diabolique] against Sharon for one instant if she felt like the movie didn’t deliver. Usually she does go the extra mile.?? Says Chechik, heavy with sarcasm: ??I wish her the best. I hope she becomes a bigger and bigger celebrity. I hope she just becomes God.??