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“Aren’t you afraid?,” was what Oscar-nominated actor Sharon Stone was asked by friends and colleagues when she said she was about to travel to Saudi Arabia for the second edition of the Red Sea Film Festival. She laid out the answer to that question to the roaring applause of an eager audience at the Vox Cinemas in Jeddah: “I’m afraid not to know. I will go and then I’ll tell you.”

During the almost hour-long talk, Stone spoke about her career as an actor and an advocate for women’s rights. Speaking on how one can empower women, the 90s star was categorical: “God didn’t make anyone to be of service more than anyone else. Women aren’t here just to serve men, men are also here to serve women. If we aren’t serving equally then we are disrespecting our maker. We are here to be of service to the greater good. We are here to serve humanity, not cruelty, not disrespect, not unkindness, not looking down on any other person for any other reason. We are here to see each and every person with the love and grace that god gave us in the creation of us. That is the grace that we’ve been given by being given life at all.”

The statement, of course, landed as a powerful message within the setting of an Arab city, with the interviewee gracefully ending her answer by stating: “I’ve lived and worked in many countries around the world. I have seen the best of life and the worst of life. Even in the worst warzone, I’ve seen the best of life, and that comes when we are unafraid to be our best and kindest and most gracious selves.”

Stone, who reached stardom thanks to her iconic role as serial killer Catherine Tramell in Paul Verhoeven’s 1992 erotic thriller “Basic Instinct,” commented on the heavy toil of fame. “There was this backlash that I must be like my character, I must be vulgar, I must be killing people and showing my vagina in the supermarket. So it became personally traumatic in my life. I lost custody of my baby because the judge decided that I was making sex movies. [Fame] destroyed my personal life, it destroyed my personal rights, it destroyed the way people thought about me as a human being.”

“When I got nominated for a Golden Globe,” she continued, “they called my name and the people in the room laughed at me. It wasn’t until 20 years later that the people in the room applauded the work that I had done for women’s rights.”

The actor’s political stances took the central stage during the talk, with Stone lengthily reflecting on how her vital role as a spokesperson for amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research, impacted her career. Speaking about the night she was called in to take Elizabeth Taylor’s place as the host for one of the charity’s galas, the actor recalled believing AIDS would be “done in three years,” stating she had “no idea of the resistance, the cruelty, the hate, the oppression that we would face.”

“It really destroyed my career,” she said of her charitable work with amfAR. “I didn’t work for eight years, I didn’t have a single job. I was called into offices and told that if I said the word condom, all funding would be removed. I was threatened, my life was threatened repeatedly, and the more it happened, the more I thought I needed to stick with it, that, if it was causing this backlash, it must be really important.”

The actor became visibly emotional at several points of the talk, particularly when speaking about spirituality. Stone, who suffered a grave stroke in 2001, said having a 1% chance of survival connected her deeply with a sense of spirituality. “I hear spirit. I talk, and I hear an answer. I hear guidance from spirit, particularly when I’m painting. Every single brush stroke, every single color. Some people would say I’m crazy. It works for me, I hear it in my heart.”

One of her sons, who went to Oxford for pre-Med at the young age of 14, told her when asked why he wanted to become a heart surgeon instead of working with the brain: “Because even when the brain dies, if you keep the heart going, all of the other organs can be valuable to someone else.” This led Stone to speak about recent studies that indicate the heart possesses thinking cells, a poignant framing device for her family’s choice of donating the organs of her nephew, who died a premature death six days before his first birthday.

“I suggested that we give his organs away and that, in this way, he would live on. It really saved my family, this idea that his organs would live and make other people live. We gave away his kidneys, his heart, his lungs and about four other people got to live. Now that I know that his heart was thinking and will continue to be thinking in another person’s body for all of their life, I feel blessed, renewed, relieved. I feel he’s not gone,” she said, moved to tears before heartily concluding to yet another round of roaring applause: “His name was River, and the river goes on.”

When prompted to reflect if the idea of celebrity had changed in the years since her breakout role, the actor said, “In the last 10 years, because of cellphones, there’s not that mystique. Maybe it’s just me, but I love movie stars. To me, movie stardom is a very big deal, and there aren’t movie stars now. I like to keep that sort of mystery because I really enjoy being a movie star because I believe it’s something special and wonderful and aspirational. When I was a kid, the whole movie star thing meant a lot to me. It really meant a lot to me… Yes, I wanted to be a great actress, but I also wanted to be a movie star.”

Nostalgic, Stone remarked on the time Frank Sinatra was in her kitchen as she cooked, and when she went to dinner at the house of Shirley MacLaine. Stone also teased the audience by stating: “Today I woke up and I had a message on my phone from Faye Dunaway, I bet you didn’t!”

Before leaving the stage, Stone got emotional once more, concluding her conversation with a hearty thank you to the hosts. “I’m a kid from Pennsylvania. I grew up with Amish people who drove into my driveway in their horses. There was no possibility that I was going to come to Saudi Arabia and meet you. It’s a big deal.”