It’s been such a wonderful year for so many grownup talents — Michelle Pfeiffer, Laura Dern, Nicole Kidman — that W magazine proclaimed it the Year of the Comeback. But no one has come back like Sharon Stone, 59, who went mano a mano with Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1990's Total Recall, sexually taunted Michael Douglas in 1992's Basic Instinct, and earned a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination as a hot mess in 1995's Casino, directed by Martin Scorsese.
A two-time cover subject for AARP The Magazine and winner of the 2012 AARP Movies for Grownups career achievement award, Stone survived a cerebral hemorrhage in 2001 that, temporarily, severely impaired her vision, hearing, memory and career. This was tough for a woman who has "about a 190 million IQ," according to her Casino costar James Woods in Stone's 2012 cover story. He added: "You spend the afternoon with her, and you'd think you're at Yale."
It was also tough to be "broke," as Stone puts it, but nice that even when she was very ill, she could earn money as a model. Now she’s got her wits back and has a new lease on creative life. "I'm writing some short stories," she says, and enacting some of the most interesting stories of her career on-screen. Healthy and on a hot streak, she can currently be seen playing talent agent Iris Burton in the offbeat, fact-based feature film The Disaster Artist and as a mysterious murder victim in director Steven Soderbergh’s innovative six-part series Mosaic on HBO, which premieres Jan. 22 at 8 p.m.
"I'm back!" Stone says. "I’ve got A Little Something for Your Birthday in March [a rom-com with Scandal’s Tony Goldwyn, 57, as her squeeze, and Ellen Burstyn, 85, as her mom] and a comedy with Bette Midler. I’m going to play a heroin dealer, a drug kingpin, in Sunny, by a Scandinavian female director, Eva Sørhaug." She and Scorsese are reteaming for an untitled film — a great idea because Scorsese never created a more impressive female role than Stone's in Casino. But that one she won't tell us about. "It's secret."
Stone, however is eager to talk about her giant leap to TV this week with Oscar winner Soderbergh, 55, who quit making movies to concentrate on what is fast becoming the more interesting medium, and spent three years writing Mosaic with Stone in mind for the lead role. She did numerous guest roles on shows such as Law & Order: SVU during her recovery, then got better and executive-produced and starred in the 2015 action series Agent X.
But Mosaic is her most prestigious TV project yet, not to mention the most challenging. She thought she'd need a chair to rest in during the shoot — in fact, she demanded one, and Soderbergh refused. "That was the one deal point I was really upset about," she says. "Three weeks into production, they took me to the kitchen on the set and showed me my chair" — not a comfy chair, just the ordinary one her character used. "It was kind of a joke because there's no time to sit when you're shooting 30 pages a day and he cuts it together that night." That meant Stone had to learn 30 new pages each night (which was reassuring proof that her memory has recovered). On the first three or four days, she thought she was "going to die," but she got the pace and nailed the part.
Though Mosaic is a whodunit like Murder on the Orient Express, it is utterly unconventional, part of Soderbergh's restless attempt to reinvent every genre he touches. Stone's character, Olivia Lake, is a celebrity writer and illustrator of children's books who goes missing from her home in a fancy mountain town. (The shoot was in Park City, Utah, where the Sundance Film Festival is held.) Olivia's new book has a gimmick: It can be read front to back as a story about a hunter chasing a bear; then you flip it over and read it back to front, as a story about a bear confronted by a hunter.
The show is all about such narrative switcheroos. Olivia's lover (played by Frederick Weller, 51) gets jailed for her killing, and four years later, his amateur-sleuth sister (Jennifer Ferrin) tries to exonerate him. Other characters include Olivia's artist boarder (Garrett Hedlund) and her best friend (Paul Reubens, aka Pee-wee Herman, 65, another actor on a comeback). Stone's character is at the center of it all, but the show is about how she is perceived by others, and the story has even more complicated flashbacks than Soderbergh's marvelous 1999 movie starring Terence Stamp, The Limey. Instead of having Hercule Poirot recite the clues and spell it all out for you, you must put the pieces together for yourself — a bit like recent true-crime hits such as the podcast Serial or Netflix's Making a Murderer.
So who is Olivia Lake in this tricky story, anyway? "That’s hard to say because she’s not a character who stands alone," Stone says. "She’s quite reactive to all of these men around her who want something from her, and see her as something that they want or need or reject or judge. And then they all have changing feelings about her, and as the layers of their feelings come apart, you start to see and understand her more. She’s a complex, layered, real woman, which we don’t really see that often in film."
Mosaic exists both as an HBO series and an app with almost eight hours of content that the user must explore for clues. You can watch the story straight through or choose from which character's point of view you want to see the story. Periodically, what's called a "Discovery" pops up: videos, emails and voicemails between the characters, news clips, police reports, PDF files with intriguing pictures, new scenes and new takes on each character. Movie critic A.O. Scott wrote that the result reminds him of a smartphone game, and he felt "as if Mr. Soderbergh had dumped a bunch of reels of film on my desk and said, 'Here. You edit it.' ”
Stone liked the app version of Mosaic better than Scott did. “I lost two days of my life watching this app," she recently joked at a Hollywood Reporter event promoting Mosaic in all its formats. "If you get in, you can't get out. Watching Mosaic is a little like joining the mob — there's no coming back.”
Most viewers will prefer Soderbergh's own six-part version, although a growing portion of the entertainment audience now demands a more interactive, gamelike experience.
Stone isn't just returning to her old career, she's blazing a new one in risky, interesting ways. Though she has sky-high hopes for her films with Scorsese, Sørhaug and Midler, she's convinced that in a time when movies are chasing young viewers with superheroes and lots of nongrownup themes, the action in Hollywood is moving to the small screen (and in the case of Mosaic, the iPhone screen, as well). "The demo that we’re making films for has shifted," Stone says. "This is why television is taking over."
She spent decades intelligently exploiting her youthful beauty, has mastered her craft in maturity and now looks forward to roles where her character amounts to more than "a cigarette girl or a beauty pageant costume." Stone is ready for her close-up. "I think there’s more inside me than there used to be. That is the benefit of age and deepening of character. My family’s together. I feel my health has also stabilized. I’m ready now."