In 1990, when she was 32, Sharon Stone posed for a set of nude pictures that appeared in Playboy. It was a calculated gamble to recast her image and galvanize her career—casting agents couldn’t see her as sexy, and she was losing out on roles because of it. A few months later, she was cast in Basic Instinct. One cross of the legs later, one of Hollywood’s most iconic sex symbols was born.
Earlier this summer, at age 57, Stone posed nude for a magazine again, this time for Harper’s Bazaar. Once again, she was taking control of her own career. Her sexual appeal was still undeniable, but her career had fizzled. The photos sent a clear counter-message: Sharon Stone is back.
After an abysmal decade or so in the business, highlighted with movies nobody saw and TV guest roles she admits were “humiliating,” Stone has returned with a powerful showcase. She stars in and executive produces the new TNT drama Agent X, which premieres Sunday night. On the show, Stone plays the first female vice president of the United States, a character with the kind of real-world resonance that makes Stone’s comeback even more meaningful for her.
But what happened to the star who, 20 years after receiving a Best Actress nomination for Casino and cementing her status as the Hollywood femme fatale, found herself so starved for work that she was willing to languish in guest parts on Law & Order: SVU and bit appearances in films like Lovelace?
How did it get to the point that, as she relays to Harper’s Bazaar, “I got thrown off the bullet train, and now I'm going to have to crawl up a hill of broken glass, get back on the train that's going a million miles an hour, and work my way from the cattle car up.”
Back in 2001, Stone suffered a stroke and then a subsequent cerebral hemorrhage. She’s only begun to speak about it recently, but it took a huge toll on her life, particularly as she took time to recover and watched career opportunities pass her by. By the time she was ready to return to work, catching up with the “bullet train” proved to be a complicated task.
Enter Agent X. On the series, she plays Vice President Natalie Maccabee, who learns that the office of the vice president isn’t the lame-duck, powerless position it’s often ridiculed as. A secret article in the Constitution gives her control over a government agent who will be used at her disposal for missions of pure patriotism, not to be tainted by a politicized agenda. (Think National Treasure meets James Bond.)
It’s a mission Stone passionately rallies behind off-screen, which becomes immediately clear as we talk and she pleas for an end to the “sensationalism” that is fueling the campaigns of candidates like Ben Carson and Donald Trump. More, she hopes that playing a female vice president might warm viewers to the idea of having an experienced, intelligent, strong leader in the White House one day, preferably one who answers to the name “Mrs. Clinton.”
With Agent X premiering Sunday night, we chatted with an always straight-talking Stone about the battle between patriotism and politics, the calamity of Ben Carson, championing a woman in the White House, and how she picked herself up after the stroke and got back on that train.
Agent X is a rare kind of cable drama. It’s a thriller, but it’s not too self-serious. It’s actually fun.
It is a fun show, isn’t it? I love that. And of course when we are looking at that it’s cool to be a patriot and it’s great to be a hero. It’s cool to see people in office who have something that they care about.
I loved that monologue James Earl Jones [who plays Chief Justice of the Supreme Court] gives about Vice President Maccabee using Agent X for “patriotism, not politics.” That’s certainly a distinction that’s been lost in politics today, don’t you think?
Do I think it is? When we have people who are actually publicly supported by white supremacists? Do you think that it is something that is wrong? Our nation was founded on “by the people, for the people.” Our nation was founded on the fact that we came here as immigrants. Our nation was founded on the very premises that should be disallowing that as the platform as someone running for president.
How did we get here then?
I think sensational journalism is appalling. The fact that just because you are sensationalistic and you’re followed by the press because sensationalism is popular, that you get more hits because your sensationalism means that you are electable, but that is a grossly differentiable commodity. That we have to consider the difference between the fact that you are a sensationalist with the fact that you are a politically viable candidate.
That’s exactly how candidates like Donald Trump and Ben Carson are covered. Turn their sensationalism into headlines and watch the traffic flood to your news site.
I mean, Ben Carson. Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me with this behavior?
Do you see a light at the end of the tunnel then? Do you see a situation where the sensationalism stops and the politics returns to the pure mission?
I do. Because as much as people complain about Obama and as much as people want to say terrible things about him and how much that he didn’t do, we reelected him. Because deep down inside they really do know how much he really did do. At a time when our country was facing the biggest depression since the Great Depression, they really know how much he did do. How much he is doing. How much he cares about our elderly and the fact that we are all going to be lucky enough to be more elderly than ever before and that someone is out there actually thinking about that, thinking ahead. And I think that people really notice that, as much as everybody wants to bitch and complain about it. I think that people do complain and I think a lot of the complainers might be people who just have more access to the media, not the people who actually need the things that they are getting.
On Agent X we see the first female vice president, so people are going to obviously look at the show through the prism of today’s political situation as we look at a plausible reality in which we could actually be electing the first female president. Playing that character on the show, what does it mean to you personally to see the situation mirrored in real life?
When I did the scene where James Earl Jones swears me in, first of all as an actress to be at a stage in my career where I could play a character who is the vice president is meaningful to me. And to work with an actor of the depth and experience of Mr. Jones, who is a lifetime friend and colleague of mine, is an extraordinary moment of a longtime tenure in my own profession. I feel like when we look at Mrs. Clinton—when we look at someone we’re going to hire for a job we want to hire the most experienced person. The person who has given their life to it. Particularly in a job that requires making life and death choices for our nation we want someone who makes them well, thoughtfully, calmly, and certainly not from a narcissistic, attention-grabbing position. From a position that’s about global relationships, political understanding, and an ability to listen to others. So for me it does trend back and forth because my character doesn’t start as a particularly likable character. She’s not in it to be liked. She’s in it to do her job and do it well. She’s not a character who panders, and I kind of like that.
There’s so much action in Agent X. The first 10 or so minutes of the premiere is one long action set piece. Did you ever feel an itch to be a part of those action sequences and do some of the asskicking yourself?
Well, that’s not what this particular character is about. I’m still a particularly athletic person. I swim, I play basketball, I hang out with my kids, I run with my dog, I do all these different things. I feel I’m a very physical person. So would I love to play a physical part? Sure! Is this that part? No. But every part has something that you like to do. One of the things I really like about this is that we shot in L.A. We shot at Fox Studios with a spectacular cast, an experienced cast. Gerald McRaney plays my butler. He taught me so much about television. And everybody in the show has kids. We’re a very family-friendly show. So when I had to go to school and do something with my kids they would change the schedule so I could do that. We all worked around each other’s schedules. And I feel like if the show comes off half as good as it was going to work every day, we’re going to be a super-running show.
It’s an excellent showcase for you, too. In the Harper’s Bazaar story you’ve very candid about feeling like in the past decade or so you were watching the career “train” pass you by, that you were struggling to get meaningful parts. To be leading this show and have this showcase, what does it feel like to be back on the “train”? After so many years to have a showcase you deserve again?
It’s really nice, because I think anyone who has a major—whether it’s a stroke or cancer or heart attack or car crash, you not only recover from the illness itself but you have to recover financially and then you have to go back and re-find yourself somewhere in your work, and you’re at the end of the line. Because it takes a long time to recover from a major health crisis. So it’s been great to reestablish some of my relationships in the business, and go back and see where different people that I know are and what they’ve been doing and what I can do. It’s been terrific.
Where do you hope to go from here? This is getting you back on the “train,” so where do you hope it goes?
I’m in the process of negotiating a couple of other series that I plan on producing. So I plan on continuing in television production. I have a couple of movies that are going to be coming out this year. I just plan on continuing to work, as I do. I have a song that is going to be coming out on another album. You know I write, I’m a lyricist. So I have music that’s coming out. Just moving along. My life is moving along nicely.
You sound like you’re in a very happy place.
Happiness is my discipline. Pleasure is the thing for the moment and happiness is the thing that lasts.
It sounds like Agent X is a bit of both for you.
I think it’s a really nice mainstream family show. I think it’s fun. I think it’s good to have a show that provides a fun way into getting people to talk about real issues. Let’s hope it gets them talking some. And let’s hope it makes people comfortable with the idea of a woman in the White House.