A few months ago I had one of those invitations that no man in his right mind would refuse – a phone call from Sharon Stone inviting me to accompany her to the London premiere of Basic Instinct 2.
Sharon Stone and Peter James
I had become friends with Sharon – or Shaz as Rupert Everett nick-named her – during the production of A Different Loyalty, the film I produced with the two of them co-starring, in 2003. The film is based on the true story of the “Third Man” Kim Philby’s defection in 1963, from Beirut to Moscow, where he remained, an increasingly lonely, sad and friendless alcoholic, until his death in 1988.
Kim Philby had been a high ranking intelligence officer with MI6. Information he provided the Russians effectively destroyed our then MI6 intelligence network inside the Soviet Union, and lead to the deaths of many of its operatives there. (See this website for more information on Philby). I was quite startled at a cocktail party in 2003 when I met a retired member of our security services. I told him the subject of the film I was working on, and he almost spat at the mention of Philby, such is the disgust the name still provokes in some circles. He was one undoubtedly of the biggest British traitors – if not the biggest – of all time. Yet Kim Philby viewed it from a different perspective. And in life there are always two perspectives. As with my views on actors and actresses…
I was quoted in The Times a couple of years ago as sharing Hitchcock’s view about actors. The Hitch once famously announced, “I never said actors were cattle – I said they should be treated like cattle.” Having worked with many actors over my career I am not crazy about that profession as a breed. However, there are many delightful exceptions, and Sharon Stone is one.
Quite apart from being a fellow petrol-head – and even better, being a fellow Aston Martin enthusiast (we even owned the same model and year) – she has the most brilliant sense of humour, and is an amazing mimic. From the moment we met, she immediately started poking fun at my accent, speaking to me in an insufferable upper-class accent and nicknamed me Nigel – which is what continues to call me – and usually as loudly as possible…
For those of you who have seen the original Basic Instinct (and unless you’ve spent the last 20 years on Mars with a busted tv and a power cut you are unlikely not to have done) you may remember a certain scene in which Sharon uncrosses her legs and reveals rather too much, or rather too little, depending on your own perspective. It was a scene that made her the envy of every actress in the world. No other actress either before or after has shot through the stratosphere, from relatively obscurity into becoming the most talked about star on the planet by simply uncrossing her legs for a few seconds. I’m told that when she first saw the rushes of this scene she was very embarrassed, exclaiming, “Oh my God, you can see all the way to Alaska!”
Even today, many years later that scene is iconic. And it has left vast numbers of people with a great deal of curiosity, as was evidenced when we were shooting part of A Different Loyalty on location in London’s Hyde Park, on a blisteringly hot day summer day. During the lunch break Sharon, wearing a blouse and skirt, kicked her shoes off and lay down on the grass near the catering truck, happily chatting with the production crew, and some of the extras. I suddenly noticed a steady streamer of passers-by, each one leaning over a little, trying to sneak a furtive glance up inside her skirt. And she had a big grin on her face, clearly enjoying tantalizing them.
We did make one error with this film – in real life Kim Philby’s second wife, whom Sharon played, was a brunette, so we put her in a brown wig. When our Japanese distributor (who had contracted to pay a large sum in advance for the film) saw the finished cut he went beserk, asking what on earth we thought we were doing turning the world’s most famous blonde into a brunette! It was a good point – although I think she is every bit as good looking with either. (see the pic above of the two of us in Malta).
All kinds of myths surround stars about their likes and dislikes, penchants, quirks and peccadillos. I had been warned that Sharon Stone had an allergy to smoke. Even just one whiff of cigarette smoke would be enough to incapacitate her and lay her up in confinement for days, we were advised. So even though we were filming outside, I sent various members of the crew scurrying around the massive crowd that had gathered to watch, asking them to please extinguish their cigarettes on pain of watching their heroine fall to the ground clutching her throat and gasping for oxygen. I was a little surprised at lunch few days later, after the production had moved to Malta (which we were using for Beirut) when Sharon had left the table for a few minutes and her best friend and travelling companion Mimi Craven (former wife of Nightmare On Elm Street and Scream director Wes Craven) lit up a cigarette. I asked her if she had to be careful never to smoke in Sharon’s presence and she replied not at all, Sharon often like to have a drag of her cigarette!
Rupert Everett has recently been all over the press promoting his autobiography and I saw an article in which he talked about his sex scene with Sharon in this film. I remember an entertaining discussion the three of us had whilst waiting for the crew to prep the interior set. We were sitting outside in an old square in Valetta which had been dressed to look like a Lebanese street market, and it was about 8pm on a sweltering hot night. Rupert and Sharon were discussing animatedly how his character would commence foreplay and mimed rubbing her crotch with his finger. Sharon retorted that that was far too “gay”. She then asked for my opinion and we spent a hysterical half an hour discussion sexual turn-ons and positions, with Marek the director constantly hushing us as he tried to shoot exteriors in the market around us.
The production moved on from Malta to Russia, then Sharon returned to the States. A few days later I was showering at home in Sussex, when the door flew open and my beloved, Helen, stood there brandishing a copy of the Daily Mail in which there was a headline story that Sharon and her third husband had announced they were splitting up. “Is this anything to do with you?'” Helen asked me, suspiciously. I was able to put my hands up truthfully and say that I wasn’t guilty, that we were just good friends.
I rang Sharon later that day at her home in Beverly Hills (she also had a stunning home in San Francisco) and she answered, accompanied by a strange whirring sound which continued for several minutes as we chatted. Finally I asked her what that noise was and she told me she was brushing her teeth!
Last year Helen’s acceptance that we were just good friends was sorely tested. I had had dinner in London with Sharon about a month after my novel Dead Simple had been published. We’d been at Locanda Locatelli and when we came out we were met by a posse of paparazzi. However, nothing appeared in the press the next day and I forgot about it. The following Sunday afternoon a friend texted me that there was a good piece on me in the Sunday Express. I assumed he meant that there was a review of Dead Simple. Helen was out shopping so I rang her and asked her to pick up a copy of the Sunday Express. Big mistake. Half an hour later she stormed into my study with a face like a detonating thermo-nuclear device, clutching the article below…. Oh well as they say, some you win and some….