There was no bigger screen siren than Kim Basinger in the 1980s and 1990s, thanks to the erotic movie 9½ Weeks and her Oscar-winning performance in LA Confidential. Every appearance seemed to have the golden touch, from her Bond debut opposite Sean Connery in Never Say Never Again to Vicki Vale in 1989’s Batman. Then came the fall: bankruptcy and a very messy divorce.
Basinger was bankrupt at 40, due to bad investments and after pulling out of the 1993 film Boxing Helena. She had to hand back her salary of £6.4 million (Dhs29 million) – reduced to less than half on appeal but with a massive lawyer’s bill. There were film flops and what was dubbed “Hollywood’s bloodiest divorce” from hot-headed actor Alec Baldwin.
But Basinger has battled on and at 63 re-emerges in a new film, Fifty Shades Darker. She plays woman of mystery Elena Lincoln alongside the characters of Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson). Northern Irish actor Dornan admits he was longing to quiz her about her screen past but was “too frightened” to ask.
Starring in the saucy movie is the latest twist in Basinger’s film career. At the height of her fame, she rejected Basic Instinct (1992) as being too explicit. Big mistake – it turned Sharon Stone into a megastar.
She also turned down Sleepless in Seattle (1993), which gifted an image to Meg Ryan for many years as America’s sweetheart. Basinger has kept a low profile about her role in Fifty Shades Darker (the sequel to the original 2015 box office hit Fifty Shades of Grey) to retain an element of surprise. But she’s more than aware that she is now at an age regarded warily by many in Hollywood.
“Women have always had difficulties in Hollywood, particularly older women,” she observes. “But now I feel powerful in my own decision-making and my own life.”
She recalls that her breakthrough film 9½ Weeks, directed by Adrian Lyne, originally flopped in America where it was considered too explicit. But the unedited version became a big hit internationally, particularly in Britain and France. “They taught me not to be ashamed of it,” she says. “I wish that America had more of a European take on life when it comes to ageing.”
Like many Bond girls before her, Basinger posed for Playboy during the launch of Never Say Never Again in 1983. When we first met a few years later she was still proving herself. “It took me years to learn how to act,” she said at the time.
“I learned from Sir Anthony Hopkins a long time ago when he said: ‘Acting is about pushing this button or that within yourself and you are being very well paid.’ So my own pay-off for longevity is that I know how to press the right buttons.”
Basinger adds: “I was too nervous and highly strung. I was always worrying about things and thinking too much. Even when I was exercising, running on a treadmill, I was thinking, ‘Gotta hurry, gotta run faster, gotta go somewhere.’ What was I running for? The great thing about age is that you learn from mistakes. You calm down and enjoy it more.”
That running has put quite a distance between her small home city of Athens, Georgia, where her father Don managed a loan company and her mother Ann stayed at home – but she remembers those days fondly. “When I was a tiny girl I started watching old movies with my daddy,” she says.
“He was not a cold man but was not emotional, either. So when I watched his face in the reflection of the television, either howling with laughter or choking up with tears from these images on the screen, I remember thinking: ‘Nobody seems to get to him like these people.’ I became entranced with the whole movie thing.
“When I got the opportunity to move to New York as a model, I got lucky. I arrived at just 17 in the 1970s at a point when the blonde, blue-eyed healthy look was catching on. So here I was fresh from Athens with blonde hair down to my waist and I had never been touched by anybody.”
The Georgian actress with her soft Southern accent took acting lessons and joined the neighbourhood playhouse. “Hollywood was a dream,” she recalls. “Thousands of kids venture there every year, many because they have won a contest back home or someone told them that they were good at acting. They come out wanting to be a star. We all know how few make it but it holds out that beautiful, seductive fantasy with grim reality hovering like a shadow.
“I was very naive. My first disappointment taught me something. I did a little movie called Hard Country with Jan-Michael Vincent [best known for his role in the 1980s show Airwolf] and I was so proud. I remember thinking people would come to watch, tell me I was wonderful and that would be that. I had no idea about marketing and all those things that go on to make people come to movies.
“About 10 people saw that film – and they included my father and sister! That was the biggest early blow. There have been plenty since but you just have to live with it.”
She remains open-minded about all the things that can go wrong. “I don’t have any bitterness or resentment over any of it. I’m just very grateful I got to work in this business for so long. We are all little kids at heart and yet the dream has the ability to make people build very hard exteriors and ruin lives. Kids don’t understand the reality and neither did I.”
Basinger’s life and career reflects the intensity of Hollywood. Her first husband was make-up artist Ron Snyder-Britton, whom she left for Batman producer Jon Peters. Snyder-Britton later claimed she also had an affair with Richard Gere when co-starring in the 1986 film No Mercy.
She met second husband Alec Baldwin when they played lovers in the 1991 film The Marrying Man. They wed in 1993, separated just days before her 47th birthday in 2000 and divorced in 2002.
But through it all, the hits, the flops, the fame, personal troubles and public slanging matches, Basinger has maintained her reputation as a beautiful actress who can turn in stellar performances. There is also a certain irony that 31 years after the controversial 9½ Weeks, she is again courting headlines with a similar theme in Fifty Shades Darker.
“I am very proud of 9½ Weeks and I always will be,” she told me. “After my dad saw it he wrote me a beautiful letter about how proud he was. He said he had looked at me and remembered the little girl with whom he had sat and watched TV all those years ago.”