''I'm sick of my hair,'' says Sharon Stone, perched in front of a mirror at her EW photo shoot, as a makeup artist and hair-stylist prepare to go to work. Slightly bleary-eyed from a trip to Russia, where she was promoting a Christian Dior skin-care line, Stone, who can make even jet lag look sexy, lifts a hank of her famous locks and frowns. ''I'm a little 'Who cares?' about this hair. It's so 'So what?'''
Stone has been many things in her career, but she's rarely elicited a ''Who cares?'' or ''So what?'' Since that notorious leg-uncrossing scene in 1992's Basic Instinct, she has been idolized as an exemplar of old-Hollywood glamour and mocked as a controversy-seeking kook, celebrated as a serious actress (she earned an Oscar nomination for 1995's Casino) and pigeonholed as a sexpot.
Now 48, and shaking off the recent pounding she took for the debacle that was Basic Instinct 2, Stone finds herself on a career upswing with her understated turn in Bobby (opening Nov. 17) as a sad-eyed beautician who is devastated to learn her husband (William H. Macy) is having an affair. Done up in heavy eyeliner and a swooping 1960s coif, Stone delivers a quietly soulful performance, grounding this sprawling, star-studded drama set on the day of Robert Kennedy's assassination in 1968. With Oscar talk already starting, Stone is relishing the moment. ''I haven't won anything since the mother-daughter bowling tournament when I was 14,'' says the actress (who did win a Golden Globe for Casino). ''Really, it's just so much fun.''
And Stone could use some fun. The past few years have seemed like ''63 disasters in a row,'' she says, including a brain hemorrhage in 2001, her father's bout with cancer a year later, and a much-publicized divorce from her second husband, Phil Bronstein, in 2003. But she says she's regained her footing now, thanks in large part to her three adopted sons: Roan, 6; Laird, 1; and Quinn, six months. ''I think you have a choice about how you come out of a fire of emotional experiences,'' she says. ''You can get crumbly and waffly not to say I don't have those days. Or you can become galvanized.''
That Stone is courting Academy voters with Bobby the same year she invited ridicule with Basic Instinct 2 is just the tip of the iceberg (or ice pick) when it comes to her unpredictability. In conversation, she can swing between extremes, from joking about the challenges of child rearing (''The main expression in the Stone household now is 'poopyhead''') to becoming teary-eyed as she discusses her younger sister Kelly's struggle with lupus. She can sound self-righteous one moment invoking iconic activists when talking about her own work for peace and AIDS (''This is why Rosa Parks stood up on the bus'') and self-effacing the next (''I never think of myself as having so much wisdom that I ought to be laying it on someone else''). It's easy to snicker at some things that pop out of her mouth, as Jon Stewart did after Stone declared at an Israeli press conference that she would ''kiss just about anybody for peace in the Middle East.'' But her candor makes it hard to resist hanging on every unapologetic word.
Growing up in Meadville, Pa., Stone says her father, Joe, a factory worker, and her mother, Dorothy, a homemaker, taught her ''to be the voice in the crowd.'' She says defiantly, ''If you want to make fun of me, live it up. Who gives a s--- if people think I'm crazy? You want to say I'm goofy? When I'm standing there with a newborn from Palestine in an Israeli hospital, that [baby's] mother's not going to think I'm goofy.''
Bring up Basic Instinct 2, and Stone pretends to dodge. (''Oh, look!'' she says, as her cell phone chirps the melody of Kool & the Gang's ''Celebration.'' ''A call from God!'') The next minute, though, she freely admits that the movie, which she fought and litigated over for years to get made, went awry on the way from script to screen. ''Did I know people were going to stab me in the eye with a shrimp fork?" she says of the vicious reviews. "Sometimes it's for the best if a film just goes away, and this was one of those times. But it was my picture and my paycheck, so it was my bullet to take. I have to be a big girl and not go weeping silently in the corner.''
Not that anything could put Stone in a corner not even the dearth of meaty parts for actresses over 40. Stone has done her best work lately in small but rich roles in Bobby, last year's Broken Flowers, and 2007's Alpha Dog, and says the key to countering ageism is literally to act your age: ''If you want to play a woman over 40 you have to be willing to look like a woman over 40, not Botoxed and collagened to pieces. There's no shame in having had a life.'' Given the life she's led, Stone jokes, "I should probably be playing a woman over 90."
Asked if she shared any hard-earned life lessons with Bobby costar Lindsay Lohan, Stone shrugs. ''My philosophy is, if you hear a car going around the curve very fast, sometimes the best thing you can do is just step back from the curb.'' Those are the words of someone whose basic instinct is survival. And, at this point, would anyone dare to bet against her?
Sharon Stone's Must List
Some talented men who are precious to Stone.
''Hugh Laurie is remarkably funny, smart, and gorgeous. I buy the DVDs and watch four [episodes] at a time.''
'A Spot of Bother,' Mark Haddon 2006
Stone is ''crazy about'' this comic novel. ''He is the most extraordinarily interesting writer.''
'The Carnegie Hall Concert,' Keith Jarrett 2006
''The album just made me nuts,'' she says of the jazz pianist's live recording.
'The Departed' 2006
On her Casino director Martin Scorsese's latest: ''It's really great. Matt Damon is so good in it.''
Forest Whitaker in 'The Last King of Scotland'
''He is an amazing talent and such a good man. We both studied with [acting coach] Roy London.''