Sharon Stone’s breakthrough performance as femme-fatale Catherine Tramell in Basic Instinct will forever be remembered as one of the greatest. But what went on behind the scenes?
She Was Number 14
Director Paul Verhoeven was initially looking for a high-profile actress to take on the complex Basic Instinct role, but none of the 13 actresses he had in mind before Stone would agree to the racy stipulations of the contract.
Dressing The Part
Before the release of Basic Instinct, Sharon Stone was a relative no-name actress. When she first read the script, she knew she’d be perfect for the role of Catherine. However, Stone didn’t want to come off over-eager, so she waited until she was called by Verhoeven to dub lines for an airplane version of Total Recall. When she showed up wearing a tight, Catherine-esque dress, Verhoeven realized she could play the man-eater role and asked her to test with Michael Douglas.
Sharon Stone Almost Became A Lawyer
Sharon Stone initially had a tough time finding the perfect breakthrough role that would launch her career and allow her to establish herself as a serious actress. Stone struggled so much, in fact, that she was actually contemplating leaving acting for good. Just before she was cast as Catherine Tramell, Stone was weighing her options and considering pursuing a degree in law. Luckily, her patience paid off in the end and she is now a well-established actress and a household name.
In a later interview with Playboy, Sharon stone admitted that she felt uncomfortable with co-star Michael Douglas and that he most likely felt the same way. She went on to say, “I think that kind of discomfort lends itself to this kind of movie. Tension is good. I basically didn’t get to know Michael. There was something about the mystery of not knowing each other that lent itself to this situation. It’s odd, because now I have this very intimate bond with a stranger.”
Only The Real Thing
All of those infamous romantic scenes were just about as close to the real thing as possible. There were no body doubles used when filming any scene from Basic Instinct. Despite Paul Verhoeven’s desire to create the first mainstream Hollywood film ever to display certain illicit body parts, Michael Douglas refused to bare it all for the camera. Douglas also refused to portray Detective Nick Curran as a bisexual man, a characteristic that was written into Joe Eszterhas’s original script.
Joe Eszterhas’s script ended up being sold at auction just three days after he finished writing it. Even though Eszterhas originally went with the title, Love Hurts, the film was ultimately auctioned off under the title Basic Instinct. Despite Eszterhas’s unique lack of time-management skills, his script ended up selling for an impressive $3 million. Back in the 1990s, this price was pretty much unheard of. We just hope he took the time to run his work through a quick spell-check!
Nick Was Supposed To Be Kathleen
The part of Nick Curran, which was eventually given to Michael Douglas, was originally imagined by screenwriter Joe Eszterhas to be a lesbian detective. Eszterhas reportedly had Kathleen Turner in mind for the role before the character was taken in a different direction. After Douglas got the part, he was asked to portray a bisexual detective. But the high-profile actor decided he was already risking enough by accepting the part to begin with so Detective Nick Curran ended up being a straight male.
A Rehearsal Scene Made It To The Final Production
Basic Instinct broke many cultural and social boundaries that were present in cinema during the early ’90s. Director Paul Verhoeven was adamant about including numerous passionate, romantic scenes. One particular scene between Michael Douglas and Jean Tripplehorn was actually performed while the two talented actors were in rehearsal. Douglas and Tripplehorn had no idea they were even being filmed, to begin with. Director Paul Verhoeven liked the rehearsal footage so much that he decided to feature it in the final production.
In his youth, Michael Douglas was an avid car racer. When it came time to film Basic Instinct, Douglas decided that he wanted to relive a bit of his younger years and touch upon his driving skills. When filming began, Douglas chose not to use a stunt driver and performed most of his car stunt scenes on his own. While he still has yet to become a professional Nascar driver, his talents in Basic Instinct are still impressing us to this day.
Eszterhas Got A Little Too Much Credit
When screenwriter Joe Eszterhas needed to think of a name for Catherine Tramell’s character, he drew inspiration from one of his favorite baseball players of all time- Detroit Tigers shortstop Alan Trammel. When Sharon Stone did some research on her role, she discovered that the word “trammel” also happened to be a Scottish death shroud. Without understanding where Eszterhas originally came up with the name, Stone offered words of praise to Eszterhas for his high level of creativity and nuance.
Stone Was In Shock
Sharon Stone was in absolute shock and even scared, upon seeing the final product and her powerfully unrecognizable performance. Stone would later confess to Playboy that, “Halfway through the movie, it was as if I were impaled. I was just sitting there, mouth open, staring at the screen, listening to my heartbeat and wondering how long it would be before it was over, wondering who I should call first to tell them never to see this movie. It was basic horror.”
Dispatching Riot Police
Before Basic Instinct was even out in theaters, the script was leaked and controversy was ignited. As one of the first mainstream films that was meant to portray lesbian and bisexual lead characters, Basic Instinct was met with heavy criticism and even protest from certain groups of people. In fact, the San Fransisco Police Department had to provide about 50 riot police officers at every location while filming to ensure the safety of the cast and crew in the presence of activists.
Douglas Wanted Roberts
Michael Douglas was initially against casting Sharon Stone. Douglas wanted to share the spotlight with a well-established actress like Julia Roberts for a couple of reasons. For starters, he knew the film would have a higher likelihood of box office success with two well-known names in the credits. In addition, Douglas knew he was taking a big risk starring in such a racy and controversial movie and he wanted piece-of-mind knowing that his co-star had just as much to lose as him.
Five Days Of Filming
The biggest romantic scene of Basic Instinct between Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone took a full five days to film. Understanding the movie rating system as well as the explicit nature of the scene, director Paul Verhoeven made sure to have a surplus of close-up, medium, and wide range shots. This allowed Verhoeven the ability to edit and manipulate the scene until the Motion Picture Association of America felt comfortable giving the movie the R rating that Verhoeven was looking for.
Putting His Career On The Line
Michael Douglas stated that he chose to take on the role of Detective Nick Curran in Basic Instinct because he worried that romantic scenes were becoming extinct in Hollywood as a result of the AIDS epidemic, which was becoming a harsh reality in the early 1990s. Basic Instinct was certainly a big risk for a well-established actor. Douglas put his entire career on the line to star in a film that was guaranteed to stir up a bit of controversy.
Too Close For Comfort
During the disco scene, we watch as Sharon Stone’s character ditches one particularly close female friend so she can get up close and personal with Michael Douglas’s character. Many conservative audience members did not approve of this scene mainly because back then, discos were seen as a place for young people to engage in appropriate social behavior. Stone, who was in her mid-30s, and Douglas, who was in his late forties, were definitely participating in some less-appropriate disco activities.
Before Joe Eszterhas wrote the script for Basic Instinct, he worked as a crime reporter in Ohio for the Cleveland Plain Dealer news outlet. While reporting in Cleveland, he met and became friends with a law enforcement officer who was known for playing by his own rules and having an adrenaline-junkie mentality. Eszterhas was so intrigued by this police officer and his personality that he ended up using him as inspiration for Michael Douglas’s character of Nick Curran in Basic Instinct.
Fighting For The Right Rating
In 1990, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) initiated the NC-17 rating. The MPAA initially wanted to give Basic Instinct the NC-17 rating and they even pushed TriStar, the film’s distributor, to not edit for an R rating. This was because the MPAA wanted to prove that NC-17 didn’t only apply to adult films. In the end, however, TriStar’s contract required an R rating, so they edited out 45 seconds and the film was released with an R rating.
Joe Eszterhas was featured in a 2002 op-ed for The New York Times. During his interview, Eszterhas admitted that he regretted the way in which Basic Instinct glamorized smoking. Even during the most iconic scene of the film, Sharon Stone appears with a cigarette in her right hand. In 2000, Eszterhas was diagnosed with throat cancer. Michael Douglas was also rumored to have throat cancer in 2010, but it was later exposed that Douglas was actually diagnosed with tongue cancer.
It can often be difficult in Hollywood when directors, producers, and writers can’t come to easy agreements. Both screenwriter Joe Eszterhas and original producer Irwin Winkler left the production after having script disagreements with Paul Verhoeven. Verhoeven then reached out to Gary Goldman, who wrote Total Recall, to create new scenes that were meant to toughen up Michael Douglas’s character. Verhoeven eventually discovered that his script-changes would be difficult to string together in a logical way, so he apologized and reconciled with Eszterhas.
No Pain No Gain
During the ice pick murder scene, the ice pick was only supposed to make contact with packs of fake blood on Bill Cable’s chest. Sharon Stone was so invested in the scene, however, that Cable suffered multiple puncture wounds, up to an inch deep, on his chest. At the time of the shot, Cable was the only one aware of what was going on and his screams of agony were real. Luckily he was only left with a few scars.
Read Her Lips
During a scene in the original theatrical version, police are questioning Catherine Tramell about her previous dating stint with a man referred to as “the old rocker.” In the film, you hear her give an explanation of their romantic relationship which would be appropriate for a high school health class. If you turn the volume on mute and look closely at Sharon Stone’s lips, however, you might notice that her word choice in the original shot was actually slightly more vulgar and explicit.
LoveFilm, a movie subscription service, conducted a poll and named Sharon Stone’s infamous interrogation leg-crossing scene the most-paused “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” moment in movie history. For decades that followed, the iconic scene has become one of the most talked about moments in modern cinema. While it may not have earned her a Golden Globe, Sharon Stone’s boldness earned her two MTV Movie Awards for Best Female Performance and Most Desirable Female along with her reputation as a courageous actress not afraid to push boundaries.
Practice Makes Perfect
While you might think that acting and filming romantic scenes comes naturally to professional actors, in reality, they require quite a lot of planning and preparation. Leading up to filming parts in Basic Instinct, Sharon Stone and Michael Douglas spent hours rehearsing their intense intimate moments. Stone later joked in an interview about how well-choreographed the intimate scenes truly were. The actress said that herself and Michael Douglas were something similar to “the horizontal Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers of the ’90s.”
Preparation Is Key
Director Paul Verhoeven was determined to push the boundaries with intimate romantic scenes in Basic Instinct. Verhoeven knew that it wouldn’t be easy to convince the higher-ups that the shots he had in mind were for artistic purposes and not just for the sake of showing something graphic. Verhoeven went to great lengths to ensure that his vision become a reality. He scheduled meetings with the studio executives and came fully prepared with accurate and precise storyboards displaying his ideas.
Keep On Rolling
Talk about it the zone! Joe Eszterhas reportedly wrote the entire script for Basic Instinct within a period of just ten days. Believe or not, he didn’t even use a story outline when he began writing! You might be curious how a writer can remain so inspired for such a short and intense period of time. Eszerhas disclosed that he listened to the Rolling Stones non-stop for the entire week and a half it took him to finish the script.
Nick Was Meant To Be Young
Oftentimes, screenwriters have the freedom and flexibility to adjust their scripts as a movie is being filmed or before production begins. In the case of Basic Instinct, casting played a big role in the storyline. According to Joe Eszterhas’s original script, Detective Nick Curran was supposed to be a young man. After the casting directors went with Michael Douglas, however, the script was changed to make Nick Curran a 42-year-old police detective. In real life, Michael Douglas was forty-seven.
The Sequel Flopped
In 2002, Joe Eszterhas managed to bring back Sharon Stone for Basic Instinct 2. Michael Douglas, however, turned down the offer, believing he was too old to reprise his role of Nick Curran. The sequel, which came out close to 15 years after the original, ended up tanking in the box-office. Rotten Tomatoes’ analysis of Basic Instinct 2 states, “Unable to match the suspense and titillation of its predecessor, Basic Instinct 2 boasts a plot so ludicrous and predictable it borders on so-bad-it’s-good.”
You Snooze, You Lose
When it was time for screenwriter Joe Eszterhas and producer Irwin Winkler to find a director, their first choice was Milos Forman, a Czech director famous for directing One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. While vacationing, Forman received a copy of the script and read through it. He liked what he read and was ready to sign a contract upon his return from vacation. Unfortunately for him, by the time he was home, Paul Verhoeven had already committed to direct.
Six Degrees Of Separation
Screenwriter Joe Eszterhas opened up to Hollywood Animal and shared that he once engaged in a one night stand with Basic Instinct‘s female lead, Sharon Stone. Eszterhas mentioned that he was grateful for his short-lived affair with Stone because it ultimately lead him to his current wife, Naomi Baka. While filming Sliver, another movie for which Eszterhas wrote the script, Stone had an affair with producer Willian McDonald, who eventually left his wife, Naomi Baka, for Stone, freeing up Eszterhas to make his move.
Basic Instinct served as Jeanne Tripplehorn’s film debut. Tripplehorn, who took on the supporting role of Dr. Beth Garner in the erotic thriller, had only previously acted in a few Off-Broadway theater productions and in a television movie titled The Perfect Tribute. Following Basic Instinct, Jeanne Tripplehorn went on to a long and successful career, appearing in movies like 1995’s Waterworld, 1999’s Mickey Blue Eyes, and 2005’s The Amateurs. She’s also been featured in episodes of Frasier, New Girl, and Criminal Minds.
Douglas Took The Heat
Even though their responsibilities a rather limited, actors often end up on the receiving end when it comes to the judgement of critics. Despite its tremendous box-office success, Basic Instinct still received its fair share of poor reviews. As the film’s leading male character, Michael Douglas ended up taking a lot of heat from critics. Douglas felt as though the critics treated him unfairly, especially considering that he had nothing to do with the directing, producing, or screenwriting of Basic Instinct.
A Proud Father
After attending the premier of Basic Instinct, Kirk Douglas, the father of the film’s star, Michael Douglas, offered words of praise regarding the courage and bravery that his son displayed in the making of Basic Instinct, a film which pushed the boundaries of film in the ’90s. Kirk would later jokingly comment on his son’s Hollywood success by saying, “If I had known what a big shot Michael was going to be, I would have been nicer to him when he was a kid.”
One Hit Wonder
Basic Instinct director Paul Verhoeven also directed 1987’s RoboCop, 1997’s Starship Troopers, and 2000’s Hollow Man. Just like Basic Instinct, all three of these films saw a good amount of box-office success upon their release. These three productions, along with Basic Instinct, saw so much success that they were actually brought back for a sequel. Each respective sequel was directed by a new director and, unfortunately, each sequel (aside from RoboCop 2) either tanked in the box-office or was released Direct-to-DVD.
Major Plot Hole
Following the success of Basic Instinct, screenwriter Joe Eszterhas confessed to one major plot hole. Despite the fact that DNA testing methods and analysis have been used to uncover crime scene evidence since the mid-1980s, Basic Instinct, which was meant to take place at the time of its release in the early 1990s, failed to feature any references to DNA evidence throughout the movie. In hindsight, DNA evidence could have confirmed that Catherine Tramell was with Johnny Boz at the time of his murder.
Brooke Shields Turned It Down
Brooke Shields, famous for her breakthrough racy childhood role in 1978’s Pretty Baby, turned down the part of Roxanne “Roxy” Hardy. Like most of the high-profile actresses who were offered roles in Basic Instinct, Shields turned it down because she wasn’t interested in taking part in the gratuitous scenes, and revealing scenes that were required of whichever actress was chosen to play the part. For many actresses, the career risks involved with taking part in Verhoeven’s film outweighed the benefits.
Douglas Hit The Jackpot
Meanwhile, the role of Detective Nick Curran was only turned down by Wesley Snipes and Denzel Washington. Other actors considered for the part include A-list names such as; Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Harrison Ford, Dennis Quaid, Kevin Costner, Mel Gibson, Robert De Niro, Sean Penn, Tom Hanks, Michael J. Fox, Sylvester Stallone, Jack Nicholson, Bruce Willis, Al Pacino, Nicolas Cage, John Travolta, Richard Dean Anderson, and Chuck Norris. The part ultimately ended up in the hands of Michael Douglas
Marty McFly’s Cameo?
In one car-chase scene, while Nick is in pursuit of Catharine on California Highway 1, he passes a car with a license plate that reads “OUTTA TM.” Many detail-oriented movie fans have credited this as a possible reference to the license plate seen on Marty McFly’s car in Back to the Future which reads “OUTATIME.” It seems improbable that this license plate was included intentionally. Most likely, the driver of the car just happened to be a fan of Back to the Future.
The Real-Life Catherine
The character of Catherine Tramell was based on a go-go dancer who Joe Eszterhas met under interesting circumstances. After a night out, Eszterhas and his new dancer friend returned to his hotel room where they proceeded to have some fun together. Following the interaction, the go-go dancer reached into her purse, pulled out a weapon, and pointed it at Eszterhas. Luckily, things didn’t escalate from there and Eszterhas was actually able to hold a meaningful conversation with his new friend.
Sharon Stone’s infamous interrogation scene, in which the then-up-and-coming actress gives the detectives interviewing her a bit more than what they bargained for, was actually inspired by a real-life story from director Paul Verhoeven. While at a party back in his college days, Verhoeven encountered an attractive blonde who pulled the same trick in an effort to embarrass him. It apparently worked, and Verhoeven found the tactic so powerful that he insisted Sharon Stone recreate the bold move in Basic Instinct.
Sharon Stone Had Nightmares
While many people believe that the most difficult scenes to film for Sharon Stone were probably those which involved illicit romantic activities, Stone would later confess that the biggest challenge she overcame while filming Basic Instinct was actually acting out certain scenes which were particularly violent. One specific scene, in which Catherine Tramell attacks and murders Nick’s partner Gus with an ice pick in an elevator, was so difficult for Stone to film that it actually gave the actress reoccurring nightmares.
She Didn’t Know
Sharon Stone once went on Inside the Actors Studio and admitted that she was unaware that she was being filmed below the waste during her famous leg-crossing scene. Basic Instinct Director Paul Verhoeven requested she remove her underwear because the bright colors interfered with the camera’s lighting, and she obliged, not knowing that the camera would be focused below the belt. Verhoeven has stated that Stone was aware of the shot but that her agent changed her mind after the fact.
Stone Was All Alone
When it came time to film Sharon Stone’s iconic leg-crossing scene, the reactions of the interrogators, including Wayne Knight’s frightful gulp, were actually filmed separately. Stone had requested to film her part at the end of the day’s shoot. By then, most of the actors had been sent home and only necessary crew members were left on set. Verhoeven later explained that filming was quick. Once they got a few wide shots and a few closer shots, they called it a day.
Slap In The Face
The leg uncrossing and re-crossing part of the well-known interrogation scene was actually not even written in Joe Eszterhas’s original script. Director Paul Verhoeven thought it up in the middle of shooting. Sharon Stone, claiming the specifics of the shot were withheld from her during shooting, was so appalled upon seeing the final product that she slapped Verhoeven across the face. In recent years, Stone has gained a sense of humor about the incident, even parodying her power-move on Saturday Night Live.