It was the last moment of silence that Sharon Stone would hear for quite a while, those seconds just as the 1992 premiere of Basic Instinct ended. Had she anticipated the sound and fury the next two years would bring, Stone might have savored the quiet, however brief. Instead, as the credits rolled, she worried: ''Is it good? Is it bad?'' Then a cheer came from the back of the room the Los Angeles audience erupting in approval of the movie and its leading lady. Stone stood up to take a bow, but her confidence took a dive. Her knees weakened. As the floor moved a few inches closer, an arm unexpectedly slipped around her waist in support. She turned and looked into the eyes of her savior Faye Dunaway. Then the doors opened, and as reporters rushed in and flashbulbs flared, Dunaway whispered to her, ''You can tell them all to kiss your ass. You're a star now.''
Good call. With one flick of the ice pick, with one memorable uncrossing of the legs, Stone was a star. But the 36-year-old actress soon discovered that nothing tastes worse than a four-week-old flavor of the month. Stone couldn't disown her image nobody believed her when she told Barbara Walters she didn't realize that the panty-free shot of her nether regions would be shown in Basic Instinct. At the same time, she was punished for the ballsy sexuality that made her a star. During the highly public game of partner-swapping on the set of her next movie, Sliver, a columnist for this very magazine quipped that Sharon Stone stole somebody's husband (''Guess nobody heard him screaming for help''). And when the film fizzled at the box office, the critics jeered at her for a scene in which she what else? removed her panties. In short, the world told Stone to kiss its posterior. This is not the kind of thing Stone takes lying down.
Aug. 23, 1994. Phoenix. The Ritz-Carlton dining room. As the lunch crowd dissipates and a piano tinkles away in the corner, Sharon Stone preens subtly in a booth, modeling a magnificent vintage red, black, and blue Pucci velour jacket a souvenir from her recent costume fittings for Casino, Martin Scorsese's next film. ''I play the Ivana Trump of Las Vegas,'' she says, removing her little round blue-tinted sunglasses. ''I saw this jacket and said, 'I think I have to have this for rehearsal.''' She says it with a smile, but definitively enough that you wouldn't want to be the one in wardrobe who will have to ask for it back.
Asked why she has chosen to summer in Phoenix an oven where today's temperature is 108 degrees Stone answers, ''I love Arizona. People are really strange ... and kind.''
Life itself has been kind to Sharon Stone lately. (Strange, too.) In her new movie, The Specialist, she firms up her footing as an above-the-title box office draw by returning to fierce Basic Instinct mode, this time starring opposite Sylvester Stallone as a woman bent on avenging her family's death. And seven months after her relationship with Sliver producer Bill MacDonald crashed and burned, Stone has a new boyfriend, Bob Wagner, 27, whom she describes lovingly as ''gorgeous, in a '70s playboy kind of way.''
Next spring Stone will be seen in The Quick and the Dead, a Western shot in Arizona. And she is embarking on a literary career, working on a collection of short stories, by turns funny, sentimental, and just plain odd. Her recent cameo as herself on Garry Shandling's The Larry Sanders Show showcased her refreshingly ribald and self-deprecating sense of humor (the plot actually put her in bed with Larry), and there may be more such surprises in her future. Last year Stone bid $1,500 and won a small role on Roseanne at a Planet Hollywood charity auction. No date has been set, but ''I'd like to walk on and say, 'I killed Tom,' and then leave,'' says Stone. Why? ''Although I thought he was brilliant and divine in True Lies, I am appalled that he does not have the integrity to say, 'Thank you,' and walk away.''
And proving that Hollywood has hardly written her off, she recently snared her best role yet: Robert De Niro's wife in Scorsese's Casino, about the Las Vegas Mob in the '70s. (Melanie Griffith, Kim Basinger, and even former porn queen Traci Lords were considered for the part.) It may be that visions of Best Supporting Actress Oscars are dancing in her head, but as the Las Vegas shoot draws near, there are more immediate concerns: ''I really want to meet Siegfried and Roy while I'm there,'' she says, like a starstruck kid with a trust fund of irony. ''I want to go to their house.''
Like her on-camera characters, Stone teems with life, volatile emotions pinballing hither and yon. She can be riotously funny, suddenly sorrowful, and devilishly charming when she makes the effort. ''You know, everyone always said you were so sexy, Henry,'' she said to Kissinger at a Barbara Walters roast earlier this year. ''Before I met you, I was kind of like, 'Mmm, I don't know.' But now that I've seen you in action, va-va-va-voom!''
Stallone, who spent a couple of months with her on the Miami set of The Specialist, says he told her, '''Hanging out with you is like hanging out with a crowd scene.' The Sharon I know is funny and she comes from the school of If You Haven't Got Something Nice to Say About Somebody, Sit Next to Me. We sat there like two curmudgeons, making fun of us, the universe, and futures to come.''