The Mighty" proves it. Sharon Stone has come a long way.
She made her first Hollywood splash with "Basic Instinct," still notorious for its over-the-top sensationalism. But after consolidating her stardom with more thrillfests like "Total Recall" and "The Quick and the Dead," she began showing a more serious side. "Last Dance" told the somber story of a woman on death row, and "Casino" earned her an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of a mobster's troubled wife.
None of which prepared moviegoers for her latest picture, "The Mighty," a drama centered on family issues. The main characters are two youngsters - one big and slow, the other tiny and smart - who pool their talents in an effort to make their world more like the fantasy realm in their dreams. Stone plays the little kid's mother, whose pride in her son is tempered by sadness over his medical diagnosis, an aspect of the film that puts it into the PG-13 category.
"I thought it was an incredibly worthy project," Stone told journalists at this year's Cannes filmfest. "When Miramax told me I could play a mom, after many people had told me that was a distinct impossibility in my life, I jumped at the chance.
"I went into the picture in quite a state, because not having children of my own, I had no comprehension of the kind of ... wild, uncontrollable thing that happens to you when your child is in danger...."
Stone is candid about the business considerations that helped her land the role: In return for letting her play "the kind of part I wouldn't normally get," Miramax used her star power in funding the project. "I have an ability to get money," she acknowledges. "But in terms of actually making a movie, I am no good at being a producer, and I don't want to do those linear-thinking jobs. I function much better in a creative environment where I have an artistic mission."
In developing the character she plays, Stone wanted to avoid the traps of sentimentality and saintliness that portrayals of mothers fall into - including a long-ago audition of her own, where she played a mom putting her child to bed.
"I was so nice," she recalls. "I was the perfect mother, so loving and generous and kind. And my teacher said, 'If you were my mother, I'd blow my brains out!' I kept that in mind when I made this movie." Realistic touches were especially important in "The Mighty," where Stone's character is an ordinary person facing more than her share of challenges.
"This woman's on her own without the support of a partner or a job," Stone notes. "She knows her son is dying and she wants [him] to be the best person he can possibly be, so that his life is ... true and brave and honest. At the same time, she's horrified that if he moves one inch out of her sight, it'll be over. So she's in a constant state of conflict - trying to create a full life for him, but disciplining the environment for his overall good...."
Stone's interest in family values doesn't mean she considers the first, more flamboyant phase of her career to have been a mistake. On the contrary, she says, the success of "Basic Instinct" gave her an "incredible opportunity" to pursue her wish for versatility and variety. "I don't want to diminish it, because I think it was a fine film and I'm still very proud of my work.
"But because it became a sensationalistic event, there was a sensationalism attached to my image. I think as time goes on and there begins to be a greater understanding of my dedication as an actor, the sensationalism is falling away bit by bit, and the work remains."
Such comments reflect Stone's down-to-earth attitude toward her profession. In the end, she says, "I really feel that I work for my fans, that I'm their employee.
"When I come down the stairs of my house, I think that my fans bought that house for me. When I get to make a movie, or to raise money for a movie, I think my fans gave me that privilege. I grew up in Pennsylvania, my dad worked in a factory, and I grew up with a very blue-collar work ethic.... That work ethic is very much how I relate to my job."
Stone also lends her fame to worthy causes, such as the American Federation for AIDS Research, for which she serves as a spokeswoman. Discussing her charity work, she recalls what she learned from a favorite drama coach. Near the end of his life, "he said he needed to teach one more class, because now he understood what it's all about.
"We used to take scenes and break them down - whether they were power scenes, or love scenes ... or life-and-death scenes. But this time he said, 'They're all about love. Every scene, everything we do, everything we make, every risk we take, is about love.'
"So that's why I do what I do."
* David Sterritt's e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org