Confronting Hollywood Ageism, ‘Mosaic’s Sharon Stone Refuses To Be Constrained

Michael Buckner

When Steven Soderbergh set out to make Mosaica murder mystery surrounding a magnetic, commanding and complex female character—he had in mind one particular actress who can expertly convey all those traits with barely a blink: Sharon Stone. And in playing the doomed Olivia Lake, Stone enthusiastically dug deep into a character that was “messy and flawed and vulnerable and warts and all.” Which is not surprising, given Stone’s penchant for authenticity as her career has progressed, and her refusal to cave to the stereotypical roles on offer for older women.

This role was essentially written for you. What were the conversations between you, Soderbergh and the writer Ed Solomon like beforehand?

Well, I didn’t know a lot about it in advance. Steven called me and told me that it was a big piece, that we would each just get our own section—the script is 500 pages long—that it was a murder mystery and that it was based on some cases that had happened but wasn’t on any one particular thing. They described it as a conglomerate of characters. Ed Solomon, the writer, came out and we spent some time together. He’s so wonderful, of course, and interesting and funny and smart. We really got along and have remained great friends. It’s just been a really fun and intriguing process.

What was the day-to-day of shooting with Soderbergh?

It was shot in segments and pieces. By the time we got to my piece, we were shooting between 20 and 30 pages a day. And, as you know, Steven Soderbergh is one of his own cameramen. And he doesn’t really light. So we moved really quickly. It’s just extraordinary. They’re just so super professional, and he and Ed know so well what they’re doing that he shoots in the day and edits in the evening, and comes back the next day. And if there’s anything at the end of the week that he needs, we pick it up. It’s just an extraordinary way to work. It’s very modern. It’s very exciting. It’s a very challenging, innovative way to work. I love it.

It was shot chronologically, backward. So by the time you came to set, you’d been the subject of a shoot but you hadn’t been there. What was that like, stepping into that scenario?

Well, Steven took us out to dinner, the whole cast together. And normally, I’m pretty shy, but I tried to throw in and get to know everybody. Paul Reubens and I had already started to hang out together to engage in our friendship and get to know each other. He’s such a terrific man. Such a great, smart, kind, lovely guy. And Fred [Weller] and Garrett [Hedlund] and I got to know each other and really liked each other immediately. I think you’d see from Devin Ratray’s performance what an extraordinary talent and amazing guy he is, and I was, of course, delighted to work with Jennifer Ferrin, who played Fred Weller’s sister. She was just great and had the very intriguing and difficult job of explaining everything throughout the piece. It was a very small group of us. We all lived in the same hotel residence, so we hung out together. It was a little like college. It was really sweet. I felt an exceptional amount of good fortune to go to work and be in a show like that.

Joel (Garrett Hedlund) calls Olivia a narcissist in the show. What did you think of her?

I think she’s a messy, real human being. I think that when you see somebody in all of their private time—because I think Steven shot this very like a documentary—you see their insecurities. You see their downside, their upside, their weaknesses and their strengths. Their hopes, their disappointments, the disillusionment, the tenderness. I think she’s probably all the things that people thought about her. And a lot of things they probably thought about her after she was dead, and didn’t take the time to think about before when they were busy thinking about how she best served what they wanted. I thought that was what was good about the fact that she was gone—there was more show to think about. Because I think that a lot of times people think about women only in the way that they serve them until they’re not there to serve them anymore. I think that these men all wanted something from her so much, that they didn’t really bother to really see her until she wasn’t there anymore.

You haven’t allowed yourself to be constrained by Hollywood diktats for women post-40. Has that been challenging?

I’ll tell you, it has caused me such a limited amount of work. I’m sure I would have worked more and been more successful if I had wanted to be just one thing, or express one thought. But I really believe that the women that I know are not one thing or one thought. It’s been much more interesting to take my time and to play multi-dimensional women. This woman was a very interesting character to me. This woman is flawed like we all are. And loving, like we all are. And trying; she’s trying.

In the film All I Wish, you play a role originally written for a 25-year-old, going against old-fashioned notions of who should play an ingenue. I never forget Maggie Gyllenhaal saying when she was 37 she was told she was too old to play opposite a 55-year-old man.

The same thing happened to me with Mel Gibson. When I was the height of my career, I was told I was too old to play opposite him.

How old would you have been at that time?

Oh, I don’t know, in my 30s.

So in All I Wish, you were setting an example of how to change that age prejudice for women?

Yes. You have to just do it. And then everyone said, well obviously I didn’t represent other women of my age because I don’t look like other women of my age. Well, guess what? I do. There are other women who are just like me, and we’re in the movie business. It’s an aspirational business anyway. So, what? Are you just going to constantly find a reason to say no? Only men can be attractive after they’re 35? This is an absurdity. If you work and you try to look good, you’ll look good. If you eat right, you’ll look good. It’s not like looking good is a crime. And it’s not like I look that good anyway. I look like a Shar-Pei puppy.

Well, that’s just not true.

We’re all out there trying to do our best. It’s like being your best is somehow then an affront. There’s always going to be a criticism when you accomplish something. I think that you just have to keep fighting the fight. And my head has been hitting that glass ceiling since I started getting paid after I had a big box office hit. You’re never going to be popular when you’re a person who’s doing that. You’re always going to be a little bit offensive. That’s all right.

When Lee Cowan on CBS Sunday asked you, “Have you ever been sexually harassed?” You laughed so hard. Is there any satisfaction in what’s happening now, or is it too little too late?

I grew up in the country in really rural Pennsylvania. Where real hard working men and women come from. Not at all a sophisticated environment. The women, where I came from, I feel certain that this movement is not yet changing their lives. I’ll have satisfaction when that’s happening because I grew up in an environment that was just absolutely without thought and care for how women felt about anything. My father was the first real feminist I ever knew. I was very, very blessed to be raised like that, by a father who just thought it would be absurd that I shouldn’t be treated like any other guy. And who stood up for me from the time I was a little girl and told me to go back out there and win when I was playing sports with those boys. They didn’t have to like me. That I had to be my best. That I didn’t have to have a boyfriend, I had to do the best that I could do. That my goal wasn’t to find a guy and get married. My goal was to be my best. That didn’t exist. It was my dad who gave me the book, Women Who Run With the Wolves. A guy with a seventh-grade education. I am extraordinarily lucky to have been raised by a guy like that. For me, a little girl from Pennsylvania, to have a dad who said, “You’re going to get the amount of respect that you demand. Not ask for, demand”—I was very, very lucky. Because that just doesn’t exist in rural America. But it took a man to stand up for me to make that true in my life. And until we educate our men and boys, we’re not going to have that. I will feel better when we get this happening for little boys and girls all over the world.

You had a brain aneurysm in 2001. You obviously haven’t let it define you.

I didn’t really let it. What happened is that the first doctor that I had in San Francisco was an idiot, and he announced to People Magazine that I’d had an aneurysm and that it had ruptured and clotted itself off. But he had misdiagnosed me and had signed me up for exploratory brain surgery. I was being wheeled down the hall to exploratory brain surgery while he was on the phone with People Magazine and I woke up. No one had talked to me or told me about it. I stood up on the gurney and stopped this from happening and fired him.

I hired another doctor. A young doctor, who is now the head of the Barrow Neurological Institute in Arizona, the biggest neurological institute in America. And he saved my life. My right vertebral artery in the back of my neck had ruptured and split in two. I was hemorrhaging into my–it’s called your subarachnoid pool–which is your face, neck, spine. And I had been bleeding into this area, by the time they discovered it, for nine days. It was a very, very big recovery and I have a brain seizure condition still.

I decided not to go back into the press, and not to correct the story and tell everybody I had this big problem because I didn’t want to get myself in a bad position with work. I wanted to try to figure out how to get myself together and come back to work, but that took years of relearning. I stuttered. I had problems walking and talking and writing and all kinds of things that I had to relearn. I just took my time without advertising the condition I was in.

Did it change your life objectives going forward?

Yes. It does. I sometimes think that small stories that others might [find] insignificant are interesting. And I sometimes find that big stories that people think are just so interesting are really stupid. I don’t always go with the crowd, because I don’t really feel like I’m trying to prove something. I’m just trying to experience the time that I’m in and be present for it. You can’t worry about things that don’t really matter.

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