20 QUESTIONS: KIM BASINGER
our favorite southern belle on great kisses, suspicious gifts and some rules for happiness in hollywood
Kim Basinger is nobody's fool. Since abandoning a successful cover-girl career for a life in the movies, she has beaten the model-turned-actress stereotype with an eclectic body of work that includes such TV fare as a movie of the week called "Katie: Portrait of a Centerfold" and film roles in "The Man Who Loved Women," "The Natural," "Never Say Never Again," and her latest, "Fool for Love," with Sam Shepard. Since Basinger and Contributing Editor David Rensin recently stayed in the same New York hotel, we asked Rensin to go upstairs with his tape recorder. He says, "Kim wore gray sweatpants, high-top sneakers, and a loose cotton shirt. She looked great. She moved constantly on the couch, doing stretches, burying her face in the cushions when she laughed, and kept the energy level high. I should have known. Just before we began, she flashed that unforgettable swollen-lipped smile and said, quite unexpectedly, 'Ask anything. I don't care what you ask me.' So I did."
PLAYBOY: When was the last time you were a fool for love? And what did it feel like?
BASINGER: [Laughs] This is terrible. The last time I was a fool for love was when I married him. [Points to the bedroom, where her husband, Ron, is resting.] That's the last time I'll ever be a fool for love. But it feels great — fun and exciting. You have to be a little touched in the head to be a fool for love, crazed out of your mind. I'm very much that way, anyway. I don't want to put restraints on myself. I was born a fool. [Laughs] Maybe I got it from my mother. She's a little touched...
PLAYBOY: A few years ago, you appeared with a little-known actor named Don Johnson in the miniseries "From Here to Eternity." You and Johnson played lovers. What are his secrets? What does he have that other guys don't?
BASINGER: Pale-pink shirts. My God, he looks beautiful on Friday night. But Don was always cute to me. "Miami Vice" has changed his image, but there was always something very pleasantly humorous about him, and he amused himself through the tough years, because he had this sense that it was just a matter of time... But that waiting can really be a bitch.
PLAYBOY: How did you cope with the model-turned-actress syndrome?
BASINGER: I never wanted to be a model and never, never planned on it. But I was 17 when I moved to New York from Georgia, and I had to make some money. I discovered that I could make a pretty good living being a model. I figured it was better than being a waitress, because I was a scared little girl who didn't want to be walking around at night in the city. Several critics have since written unkind things about me because I am an attractive blonde girl who just happens to have blue eyes. It's like being told I can't be accepted in their world because I'm not plain-looking. They're not ready to give me a chance, and I think that's sick. I have always wanted to be an actress. That's all I've ever cared about. I was so frustrated as a model that I was out of my mind. But I never went along with the "be a model, take a little acting class" routine. I knew what I wanted—and that I would fight to get it.
PLAYBOY: Have you ever used your celebrity to get something that you wanted?
BASINGER: Oh, sure. It would be bullshit if anybody said they didn't. I use it in little things all the time, like for getting into my favorite Italian restaurant. Of course, sometimes people don't know who I am and they say, "Hey, pal, go to hell." When I first came to New York, I was here for the Miss Breck contest—that's what started off all this modeling stuff. And they gave each girl two wishes—things like, "Whom would you most like to meet?" Everyone said Martha Washington or Eleanor Roosevelt—somebody dead. It just didn't make any sense. So I called my daddy, and he suggested [former] Mayor Lindsay and Eileen Ford. I got both my wishes. I met Lindsay, and Eileen asked me to sign with her agency.
PLAYBOY: How do you get along with your mirror?
BASINGER: I won't deal with a mirror. When you're making a movie, you're always brought a mirror right before doing a take. But people have been told to not even come near me with one. I get an anxiety attack. I say, "I don't care what's wrong with me. I don't care." It goes back to the modeling thing. I wasn't a good model. I was lucky to make money at it. I couldn't stare in the mirror and care about myself 24 hours a day. I felt like I was wearing gloves wrong side out.
PLAYBOY: With which items of clothing do you have the best relationship?
BASINGER: My sports bra and sweat pants.
PLAYBOY: What's the best acting advice you've heard lately?
BASINGER: It was something Glenda Jackson said about emoting in a scene: "When I have to cry, I think about my love life. And when I have to laugh, I think about my love life." One day, I'd like to play Glenda Jackson roles.
PLAYBOY: What did you discover about yourself while doing the controversial film 9½ Weeks?
BASINGER: That there wasn't a role I couldn't play. The film has been calmed down some from the book, so if you want to see S/M, whips and chains and everything, you really are going to be disappointed. But what we did shoot was very explicit psychologically and visually. The hardest part was mine—because I lived in turmoil inside and outside the movie for one solid year. It was the most depressed I've ever been and the most elated I've ever been. The role was like an exorcism for me. Some nights I'd go back to the hotel and sound like an idiot. But it was also very freeing. I could go home after doing a grueling scene that I had dreaded so much that I didn't sleep well for a week beforehand, take a shower and just lie there, look at the ceiling and burst out laughing. And feel released. And feel that there wasn't anything I couldn't go with and do as an actress.
All those pains we went through to make 9½ Weeks would, themselves, make a fascinating documentary, because we all took a chance: the director, Adrian Lyne; myself, Mickey Rourke. We all put ourselves on the line, on a very fine line. Everybody's relationships fell apart, went to hell. Even if you read the book, you can't imagine the real relationship between these people. It is erotic and intense and happy and sad and depressing—a psychological roller coaster.
The woman I played was taken from one end of herself to another. It's a very scary thing to have someone discover who you are before you discover who you are—and then have him tell you about yourself before you are able to let it sink in. It's almost like watching a bus hit someone before it happens and then have it happen three seconds later. It's more than seeing the future. It's somebody else seeing your future.
PLAYBOY: How did you learn about sex?
BASINGER: My brother told me in a swing one afternoon. I think I was in the fifth grade. He told me all about having a period—and everything else. He loved to talk about sex all the time. He said, "Let me tell you what I found in the hall closet. You won't believe this." [Laughs] I said, "Oh, stop, you're kidding me." And he said, "When Momma comes out here to hang the clothes, I'm gonna show you something." And then out came this big purple box of sanitary napkins. [Laughs] I said, "Well, what are those?" And he said, "She wears these things." [Laughs] He said, "All girls do, all girls." What he didn't know was that I'd seen a lot more in life than he thought I'd seen.
PLAYBOY: Let's play doctor. What emergency medical procedures do you know, and where did you learn them?
BASINGER: Absolutely none. Isn't that a shame? I saw a man the other night in a restaurant who I thought was going to choke to death. I started sweating. We were the only other couple there. This man's wife and boy looked like they couldn't have helped at all. So I thought, Jesus, what are we going to do? What if this man just dies? I got him some water.
PLAYBOY: What's the most surprising thing a doctor ever said to you during a checkup?
BASINGER: [Laughs] Oh, my God. When I was in the, uh, most vulnerable position, my gynecologist said, "Boy, were you mean to Roy Hobbs." Can you believe that? What a hell of a place to be when this guy is getting so involved in "The Natural." I couldn't believe it.
PLAYBOY: When you cook, what's your dinner-party specialty?
BASINGER: When I cook, it’s such a joke that everyone says, "Why don't we just go to the Mexican restaurant?" If I had a specialty, it would be fettuccine made with red pepper and vodka. A guy at Orsini's restaurant taught me. The secret is putting the hot Italian peppers in the vodka and letting it all age for a month or two.
PLAYBOY: What leaves you breathless?
BASINGER: The outdoors. Christmas. Watching my animals. A field full of pumpkins. The first days of fall. Sometimes it makes me crazy, like I'm zipped all the time, like I'm a fool. I dance around the pool and play with the dogs.
PLAYBOY: Whom do you trust?
BASINGER: Very few people in life can really be trusted. That's unfortunate. I work in a strange business, and trust is a word not even in the vocabulary. I trust some members of my family, but that's about it.
PLAYBOY: Where is location hell?
BASINGER: The Santa Fe desert at night and Buffalo, New York, in the winter. Everybody thinks Santa Fe at night must be warm and wonderful, but it was freezing. And pouring rain. And we'd chosen summer clothes to do Fool for Love. We also had a moth infestation: Millions of bugs, like The Birds, would come down. We'd have to turn out the lights for two hours. I hate location. I like my house. I want to be with my animals. On location, I put pictures of my dogs all over the wall.
PLAYBOY: Defend your Hard Country co-star, Jan-Michael Vincent.
BASINGER: Against the critics or against all the charges? [Laughs] I love him. People have called his style macho, but I think there is an incredibly sensitive—almost strangely sensitive—very misplaced human being underneath it all. He's always been popular, but in an unpopular way. He's always had crowds around, but his crowds have changed. First it was surfers, then cowboys. He was just all over the place. He had a great sense of life at one time. He was more silent, more stable, with his marriage and his child and even his meditation. But sometimes, instead of your getting caught up in it, it catches you by the neck. In Jan's case, that may be what happened. His career and everything grabbed him by the neck and pulled him into wrong things. The other night, I watched another news story about Jan's troubles, and it was unbelievable. How many times can they report on one case? He's not in the news for nothing, but it's for less than they're making it out to be. He didn't pull a gun on the world. He was a bad boy, but it's not everybody's concern.
PLAYBOY: What was the last thing that made you so mad you broke it?
BASINGER: The kitchen cabinet. The handle comes off and the door sticks. So finally I grabbed the door and just ripped it right off with my bare hands. It would have been an easy little job to fix. But I just got crazy. [Laughs] I bent it backward so it popped off.
PLAYBOY: You've kissed your share of leading men. What's your advice to future co-stars on the art of kissing? How do you like to be kissed?
BASINGER: Have clean, wonderful breath, needless to say. A mouth is so attractive if it's clean and wonderful. And don't slobber. That's sickening. I think a guy ought to develop his own style. If he doesn't know how, he ought to practice. There is absolutely an art to it. But very few people in the world really know how to kiss, and I'm not sure there are many people who really like it. That's the most important thing. You have to think it's as good as what's coming later.
I like to be kissed with caution. And passion. Kissing is almost more fun than anything else. It's the sexiest part of the whole thing. It's where you can pay the most attention. It's also the chanciest thing you can do. It takes guts to kiss somebody and to be a good kisser.
PLAYBOY: What sort of present from a man makes you suspicious of his motives?
BASINGER: [Laughs] A surprise package from the drugstore. You get corny things. I get suspicious when it's a note hand-delivered by his chauffeur. Or roses. Roses are nice, but most of the time, the intentions are not real. Actually, I've never really gotten a present from a guy except in the sixth grade. I got a floppy-eared dog that said THE GEORGIA BULLDOGS on it, and I still have it right in my room. I got it from Charles Birch—and I think his intentions were very admirable. Come to think of it, I once got a pair of hanging legs from a man. It was half of a body, stuffed. A dust catcher. It made me wonder what his intentions were.
PLAYBOY: What are your three rules for happiness in Hollywood?
BASINGER: Be sincere with yourself. Find someone with whom you can laugh. And don't listen to any of the bullshit said or written about you.