Adam Markovitz
July 26, 2013 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The most impressive part about Sharon Stone’s poignant, vanity-be-damned performance as a frumpy suburban mom in Lovelace (rated R, in theaters Aug. 9) is the possibility that — if you’re anything like a certain legendary movie mogul — you won’t even realize you’re watching Stone until it’s over. ”Harvey Weinstein didn’t know it was her until the end credits when he saw it at Sundance,” brags codirector Rob Epstein, who helped the actress, 55, disappear into her role as Dorothy Boreman, the disapproving mother of Deep Throat porn star Linda Lovelace (played by Amanda Seyfried). And Stone says that reaction isn’t uncommon. ”People are finishing the movie and going, ‘Where was she?”’ she laughs.

Her fans may have been asking the same question for the past few years: The actress hasn’t appeared in a wide-release movie since 2007’s Alpha Dog. But she’s kept busy with indie fare and a 2010 arc on Law & Order: SVU. Spending time with her children — she has three sons, ages 7, 8, and 13 — has made her pickier about the roles she’ll take. ”I’m at the point with my kids where I’m enjoying going back to work, but I don’t really want to take jobs unless they’re as interesting as this.”

With her garish ’70s clothes and curly brown hair, Stone’s Lovelace character is a far cry from the wanton, Helen-of-Troy-with-a-cigarette types that made the actress a superstar in the 1990s with hits like Basic Instinct and Casino. Which is fine by her. ”The greatest thing about being my age is the opportunity to portray real women doing real things in real life,” says Stone. ”At the beginning of my career, people said, ‘We can’t hire her because she’s not sexy.’ I had to learn to do that to get jobs like Basic Instinct. Then once I did it, everyone thought, ‘That’s what she’s like,’ and not ‘Oh, you were actually good at that.”’

Of course, she was good at that — so good that Lovelace directors Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman were caught off guard when a producer suggested her for the role of Dorothy. Still, they were intrigued by Stone’s willingness to look drab — and by the extra gravity her screen persona could bring to the movie, which centers on Lovelace’s transformation into a sex symbol when Deep Throat becomes the world’s first hit pornographic film. ”People remember [Stone] from Basic Instinct, and she was an object of male fantasy — and still is,” says Friedman. ”So it seemed resonant with the themes of the movie.” But the actress, who says she has never watched Deep Throat, dismisses the connection. ”I didn’t feel what I did was pornographic,” she says. ”There’s a difference between nudity and pornography.” Plus, she adds, ”I spend a lot of time in Europe. I don’t think I have the stringent American sense of Protestantism.”

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