Sharon Stone and the ‘Basic Instinct’ leg-cross controversy

Sharon Stone in ‘Basic Instinct.’

It’s funny how the news cycle works.

Stories have popped up everywhere today about Sharon Stone and her infamous “uncrossed legs” maneuver in 1992’s Basic Instinct. And the media, by and large, have been eating it up. Which is fine, except…. this isn’t new.

Initially, I was annoyed about the coverage, which was from a book excerpt published on Vanity Fair’s website from Stone’s upcoming tell-all. How could all these entertainment writers not know this was old news? I get writing click-bait headlines, I have no issue with that. But the stories should at least acknowledge that Stone has shared this tale many times over the years.

I just didn’t get it. How could they not know? So let’s trace this story back a ways.

In Basic Instinct, Stone plays Catherine Tramell, a sexually confident author accused of killing a man with an ice pick. During an interrogation, where there are several men in a rather large room, she continually messes with them. And, at one point, uncrosses her legs to reveal she is not wearing undergarments.

The scene became the film’s most talked about moment, was often parodied, and did nothing to stop Stone from becoming a star. However, she has since distanced herself from it to a degree. I think mostly her issues are with how it was handled, and less about any regrets for doing it.

I haven’t nailed down exactly when Stone first made these statements about Basic Instinct. The earliest reference I could uncover was in Joe Eszterhas’ autobiography, Hollywood Animal, which was published in 2004. In it he noted Stone “was now claiming Paul tricked her.” This suggests to me that Stone had already spoken out about it at this point, but I can’t cite a source.

Eszterhas also notes in that book, and has said several times afterwards, that he didn’t write this moment in his script. Verhoeven came up with it on his own, and it was inspired by something a woman had done to him decades earlier.

When Lionsgate released the “Ultimate Edition” of Basic Instinct on DVD in 2006, there’s a special feature on it where Stone talks about her experience making the movie. And a whole section of that DVD extra is about the interrogation scene.

“When I saw it in the screening, I was shocked. Stunned. And mind-blown,” she said, after noting she never thought that kind of nudity would be allowed in an R-rated movie. She then notes that she went to Verhoeven afterwards and slapped him.

Verhoeven and Jan de Bont, the cinematographer, also address her issues with the scene during the audio commentary on that same DVD (which I think is identical to the version which was later released on Blu-ray). De Bont talks about how they did a wide and a close up, and all the lights used for the shot likely made it clear everything would be visible. Verhoeven also claims Stone saw the shots at the time, although he admits seeing it on the video monitors was perhaps different than when it appeared on the big screen.

In 2014, there’s a story out of France where during an interview Stone talked about the Instinct scene and how it happened (which, again, sounds very similar and consistent with what she said before and would write in her memoir):

“Verhoeven asked me to take off my white panties because we could see them on camera, but he promised me that we would not see anything in the end,” Stone reportedly said during that interview (based on Google translate). “It wasn’t until weeks later that Paul showed us the finished film before going to the Cannes Film Festival. When I saw the footage, I felt betrayed.”

In 2017, during an interview with Empire magazine, Verhoeven again denied there was any sort of trickery or deception. He also claims to have pitched the idea to her before the shoot.

That brings us to this new excerpt. In it, Stone describes going to see a screening of Basic Instinct with the director, along with some executives. “That was how I saw my vagina-shot for the first time, long after I’d been told, ‘We can’t see anything,'” she wrote.

The actress details how Verhoeven asked her to remove her panties for the shot because the white fabric was reflecting too much light. She then jumps ahead to the screening and the shocking reveal. She wrote, “I went to the projection booth, slapped Paul across the face, left, went to my car, and called my lawyer.”

Now, I have no idea what really happened. I wasn’t there. And I’m not making any judgements about who’s right or wrong. I was just frustrated with seeing so many tweets and headlines about this as if this was a shocking new revelation.

Clearly, it was not.

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