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With ‘Agent X,’ Sharon Stone’s instinct is to stay in the family demographic

Sharon Stone

Sharon Stone

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

More than two decades have passed since “Basic Instinct” ushered in the Stone Age.

Sharon Stone’s portrayal of a bisexual femme fatale with a wild appetite for sex and murder — as well as a famous disregard for underwear — instantly propelled Stone into the upper echelon of leading ladies. Between her Oscar-nominated turn as the deceitful wife of casino owner Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese’s gangster epic “Casino,” her colorful off-screen life and a provocative fashion sense that often turned red carpet appearances into individual events of their own, the actress was a favorite subject of the entertainment media during much of the 1990s.

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By 2003, though, Stone’s personal and professional fortunes began to wane. Her nearly six-year marriage to then San Francisco Chronicle editor Phil Bronstein ended, and she suffered a subarachnoid hemorrhage — brain bleeding. In 2006, her highly anticipated “Basic Instinct 2" fell flat. In the last few years, she’s had largely under-the-radar supporting roles in films such as “Lovelace” and “Fading Gigolo” with Woody Allen.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

“When you’re a powerful person and you become weak and fragile, you come to find out who’s really in your life and why they’re in your life,” she said during an interview at her spacious Beverly Hills home. “When you can’t move, you become a much more observational person. That makes you a wiser person in the long run. There’s a wonderful African saying, ‘My hut having burned to the ground, I can now clearly see the stars.’ That’s what happened to me. I got burned to the ground, and I saw such great beauty, and such inner simplicity in the things around me.”

But Stone is looking for a comeback. She has embarked on her first major prime-time series — she stars in “Agent X,” which premiered last week on TNT. In the drama, Stone plays the vice president of the United States who discovers that she has her own special agent at her disposal, ready to carry out missions of espionage and intrigue. (Stone, whose costars include Gerald McRaney and John Shea, is also an executive producer of “Agent X.”)

The drama is the first of many new projects for Stone, including a venture with director Steven Soderbergh for HBO.

“Things have been really great,” said Stone. “I really like what I’m doing now. Being involved as an actor and as a producer is something that I’ve really wanted to do.”

Not surprisingly, Stone’s reentry into the limelight has not been quiet. The 57-year-old actress recently posed for a nude pictorial in Harper’s Bazaar magazine. When she appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live"" to promote “Agent X,” she wore a form-fitting black dress that showed off her slim physique, prompting Kimmel to ask, “Do you ever get tired of people telling you how great you look?”

For the afternoon interview, with her blond hair cut short, she appeared in a fashionably sleek robe. Displaying a down-to-earth warmth and humor, Stone has seemingly lost little of the allure she possessed during her cinematic heyday. She’s well-aware of her influence on some people, particularly those meeting her for the first time.

I got burned to the ground, and I saw such great beauty, and such inner simplicity in the things around me.

— Sharon Stone

“I think people are intimidated by me because they forget my humanity,” she said. “That’s more their problem than my problem, and I can’t spend my life worrying about that. I need to be in a room with people who are more conscious and more aware and have bigger fish to fry than being intimidated by me. Sometimes I have to walk up to people and say, ‘Just touch my arm, feel that I’m a person.’ People forget that.”

Her health crisis and her divorce changed her. The difficult experiences made her more direct.

“I’m incredibly forthright, and I can see through people,” she said. “And I allow people to see through me. When people are in a frank and honest place, that’s not always familiar ground. But then a lot of people love that and flourish in that space.”

As a producer, she said she shaped the show’s material with a light touch: “I loved ‘Murphy Brown,’ and I loved ‘Mary Tyler Moore,’ the way they handled political issues. They did it in a light way but brought people in to talk about this. This is a popcorn political thriller. It stays in the family demographic, which is what I really wanted to do.”

William Blake Herron (“The Bourne Identity”), who created the series, said Stone was “No. 1 on the list of people I wanted for the show. Before meeting her, I was terrified. Ten seconds after meeting her, I discovered she’s just delightful. Being an executive producer was a priority for her.”

Stone said she will be more active in films and in charity work in the coming years: Two of her major campaigns are working with the American Foundation for AIDS Research, or amfAR, and reducing gang violence.

“I want to be more useful in the world, do things that are very rewarding,” said Stone. “I want to also continue my career in a way that’s interesting and fun. I want my brand to be clear.”

‘Agent X’

Where: TNT

When: 9 p.m. Sunday

Rating: TV-14-LV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14, with advisories for coarse language and violence)

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