Paul Verhoeven’s “Basic Instinct” is one of the most iconic — and controversial — films of the 1990s. It’s hard to imagine the erotic thriller starring anyone other than Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone, but the cast could have looked very different if Douglas had gotten his way.
In a new interview on “Who’s Talking with Chris Wallace?” on Max and CNN, Stone recalled the lengthy process of auditioning for the film. While Verhoeven was eager to work with Stone again after directing her in “Total Recall,” Douglas wanted a bigger name for the part of Catherine Tramell.
“I got a screen test. But Michael [Douglas] didn’t want a screen test with me,” Stone said. “Because it was such a huge risk for him to play this part in this at this period in time.”
The movie, which was recently featured on Karina Longworth’s “You Must Remember This” podcast as part of a season-long appreciation of 1990s erotic films, centers on Douglas as a San Francisco police detective on the trail of a high-profile murder, with Stone as an elusive crime novelist and the prime suspect.
As Stone recalls it, Verhoeven continued to fight for Stone behind the scenes. He auditioned other actresses to appease Douglas, but played every new audition against Stone’s screen test. When none of them measured up to Stone, Douglas became convinced that she was a serious contender for the role.
“And [Verhoeven] said, ‘Okay, but every one that we screen test, we’re going to play Sharon’s test after and their test has to beat Sharon’s test.’ So they tested like 12, 13, 14 women, and no one beat my screen test,” she said. “And so eventually, Michael agreed to screen test with me.”
Once the screen test was set, Stone says that Verhoeven encouraged her to play up the eroticism of the role in order to convince Douglas.
“Paul said, ‘Well, you’re gonna have to somehow prove to him that you’re comfortable with the nudity.’ So I came,” she said. “And I had bought this Giorgio Armani suit, which for me at that time was every penny I had. And I bought, they had sheer blouses. And so I bought this very sheer, almost nude color blouse, and wore nothing under it. And so halfway through the test, I just took off my jacket in the middle of the scene. I saw Michael, look at me, and then look at Paul, like, ‘Get her.’ And I didn’t wear makeup, because I just thought nude is nude, right? The test went really well. And I got the job.”
Stone previously wrote in her 2021 memoir “The Beauty of Living Twice” about how she felt Verhoeven misled her as to the nature of the film’s notorious full-frontal nude scene — in which Catherine, under interrogation, uncrosses her legs to reveal her vagina. Stone said after the scene was shot, “I went to the projection booth, slapped Paul across the face, left, went to my car, and called my lawyer.”