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There's nothing basic about Basic Instinct. When it premiered in theaters 30 years ago, on March 20, 1992, Paul Verhoeven's blockbuster erotic thriller challenged conventional onscreen depictions of sexuality and female power. Three decades later, the film still has the power to shock and unsettle ... both because of what's onscreen and what went down behind the camera.
That's particularly true of Basic Instinct's most famous sequence, where Sharon Stone's crime novelist/possible killer, Catherine Tramell, commands the attention of a roomful of cops, including soon-to-be-lover Nick Curran (Michael Douglas). During her interrogation, Catherine uncrosses her legs, clearly revealing to the men in the room — and audiences in the theater — that she's not wearing any underwear.
Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment in 2016, Verhoeven revealed his inspiration for that sequence, tracing it back to his college days in Holland. "There was a woman in our circles who was a bit older than us," the Dutch filmmaker recalled. "My friend and I saw that she was not wearing any underwear. He was more audacious than I, and went over to her and said: 'Are you aware that we can basically see right into your vagina?' She said, 'Of course I know — that's why I do these things.' I told that to Sharon the night we had dinner, and I said to her what if we build that scene into the movie?"
Watch Paul Verhoeven's full Director's Reel below or needle-drop to 1:51 for the Basic Instinct discussion
In recent years, though, Stone has pushed back against Verhoeven's version of events. In her 2021 memoir, The Beauty of Living Twice, the actress claimed she was duped into exposing herself on camera. Far from talking with her ahead of time, Stone recalled that Verhoeven waited until they were on set to explain his intentions for the scene.
"[I was told] 'We can’t see anything — I just need you to remove your panties, as the white is reflecting the light, so we know you have panties on,'" Stone wrote. "Yes, there have been many points of view on this topic, but since I’m the one with the vagina in question, let me say: The other points of view are bulls**t."
Stone didn't see the interrogation room scene until Verhoeven invited her to a screening that was attended by a largely male group of agents, lawyers and executives. "That was how I saw my vagina-shot for the first time," she remembered, adding that she "slapped Paul across the face" after the film ended.
Stone also immediately consulted with her lawyer, Marty Singer, who advised that she seek an injunction preventing the film's release. "At that time, this would give the film an X rating," she wrote. "Marty said, per the Screen Actors Guild, my union, it wasn’t legal to shoot up my dress in this fashion. Whew, I thought."
In her book, Stone described a post-screening conversation with Verhoeven where the director "vehemently denied that I had any choices at all. I was just an actress, just a woman; what choices could I have?" Ultimately, she opted not to pursue legal action. "I chose to allow this scene in the film. Why? Because it was correct for the film and for the character; and because, after all, I did it."
For his part, Verhoeven disputed Stone's published account. "My memory is radically different from Sharon’s memory," he told Variety last year, recounting the same story he shared in our 2016 Director's Reel. "I told her it was based on a story of a woman that I knew when I was a student who did the crossing of her legs without panties regularly at parties ... [and] Sharon and I decided to do a similar sequence."
Stone isn't the only actress who has complicated feelings about her collaboration with Verhoeven. In a 2020 interview with Yahoo Entertainment, Showgirls star Gina Ravera described her painful nine-hour experience shooting that film's brutal rape scene, and felt that the director didn't properly communicate what was expected of her. "I wish he had said, 'This is the reason for the brutality,'" the actress said, adding that Verhoeven was "very exuberant" in how he directed the male actors in that scene, which encouraged them to be "overzealous."
"[Paul] was like ‘Closer, closer'" she remembers him saying to one of the actors, which resulted in him actually striking her — a moment that ended up in the finished film. "The [punch] you see in the film made contact. My jaw was not right for years. It can go too far, [and] it went too far."
"There was no acknowledgment of what it was going to be, and I didn’t know what to ask for because I’d never been in a situation like that in real life nor professionally," Ravera continued. "It was my first [rape] scene. There’s no one to call and say, 'How’d you do that rape scene?' And, you know, you’ve got two men holding you down; my wrists were bruised, and my body was just covered in bruises after it because of what was asked for the camera. It’s like a stunt, and people get hurt in stunts. But you know what you’re signing up for [with stunts], and I didn’t know."
Basic Instinct is currently streaming on HBO Max.