Sam Smith’s performance on “Saturday Night Live” last weekend was one of the most artistic-themed musical sets in the show’s history — and one of its most innovative, visually and thematically. For the Grammy-nominated single “Unholy,” Smith performed in a ridiculously oversized pink poofy dress — so big that duet partner Kim Petrus was hiding underneath it, and was only revealed when a pair of dancers came out and opened Smith’s curtain-like dress. It was just as provocative and loaded as the song itself.
The second song, however, was the opposite, and not just because of its strong religious theme: “Gloria,” the title track from Smith’s fourth solo album, released Friday, was performed entirely by a 16-piece choir, all dressed in black. – Shiny monk robes, meditative yet empowering singing of songs. Smith, who didn’t start singing until the song was almost over, stood in the center.
Yet in front of the singers was actor Sharon Stone — yes, she of “Casino,” “Basic Instinct” and “Total Recall” fame — making a completely unexpected appearance. For the first minute of the song, she lays almost motionless on a divan, looking aloof in a glamorous gold-spangled dress.
However, when Smith begins to sing, their powerful voices rising above the choir, he sits up, replaced by something distant, his expression a combination of surprise, fear, sadness and a kind of joy. As the song ends, he turns his head to the audience, tears welling up in his eyes, a grim finality fixed on his face. It’s a remarkably subtle and enigmatic performance, and one not to be expected from his past films.
The song’s lyrics offer only a cursory glimpse of what the performance might mean — “You be so loud tonight/ They’ll hear you from the stars/ Sparkle like dynamite/ If you’re the one” — so we contacted Stone, whose talked to diversity Zoom over on Tuesday in a lively half hour conversation. (Smith was not available for comment.)
Your appearance on Saturday Night Live was amazing Sam Smith —
And This song! Hard to believe Sam isn’t 30 yet.
How did it come about? Did you already know him?
I met Sam before through my good friend [singer] Rufus Wainwright. We all sat together at the premiere of Judy Garland [2019 biopic “Judy”], with a performance by the talented Renée Zellweger. Sam DMed me, maybe a month ago, and said, “I know it’s a really long shot, but do you want to do it?” And I said, “Well, that’s funny, I’m listening to Sam Smith radio [on a streaming service] Right now, so I think the universe has already decided this. I would be thrilled to do it, Sam. I just think you’re the most amazing performer and I’d be absolutely delighted to do it.”
And it will be big for me, because when I host “Saturday Night Live.” [in 1992], it was a little scary. But we decided to do it – and by it we are That means me and Paris Libby, who heads my clothing and design and commercial department. So he made the dress – he designed it and made it in India so we could get it quickly. And it was just wonderful.
It is such a mysterious performance. What kind of instructions did Sam give?
I got sketches of the choir, and the front box and how Sam thought it would go. Sam has a choreographer and dance director, and we talked about it — I knew how it was going to be. But that stage is built for musicians so it’s very acoustic, and when I was in the semi-circle of singers, it was like a sound bath — Sam Krueger, Sam’s manager, stood in for me at the sound check earlier in the day, and he said, “I came off the stage and I thought I was going to cry.” It’s unreal, how moving that sound is inside.
Sam didn’t ask anything of me — just asked me if I’d do it and trusted me. We understand each other instinctively, almost on an intimate level. I see him and he knows that I see him and I adore him and approve of him and trust him and so he sees me and approves of me and trusts me. We have no judgment of each other; We have only positive feelings about each other as artists. It’s not a competitive game, but we want each other to bring our best game, and to do that, “Just go for it, girl.”
It’s like the way I work — I say this prayer before I go on stage, I say to be a conduit for the highest purpose of the moment, whatever that is, and then I do a breathing exercise and try to clear myself and be awesome. Become grounded, and do not get in the way. Paul Verhoeven once told me, “Get out of your own way so that angels can fly through you.” I don’t know if you’ve seen this clip of Bob Dylan saying, “I don’t know how I write these songs. I don’t know how it happened to me.” When I do a good performance or write a good song or paint a good picture — when things go well, I say “Thank you for allowing this to come through me.”
It’s interesting that you want to say that in this context because it was a religious-themed performance. Your expression reminded me of that painting of Joan of Arc[by Jules Bastien-Lepage]She’s listening with this rapt expression and you can see the blurry image of the saints talking to her.
This is such a compliment, I’m a big fan of Joan of Arc. Before I did “Basic Instinct,” I read every Joan of Arc [book] From Mark Twain to Bernard Shaw.
Because I think you should believe that what you’re doing is true, whether it’s good or bad [in character], it must come through you, it must be very clean and pure. Actually, I had this conversation with Amy Poehler [who also appeared on “SNL” last weekend] It’s hard when you’re playing a character who’s antisocial, a character where everyone else on the set doesn’t like you. You have to be very clear about your own journey. Because you can’t pander there — like “I am bad” – Because these are the worst performances. You have to be willing to stand in the pure flow of things—the good, the bad, the ugly, whatever. And you know, that takes a hell of a commitment.
So what happens during the performance? You don’t really move until he starts singing.
Well, George C. I had the great luxury of working with Scott. And he said to me, “I want to give you the biggest compliment I could possibly give anybody, honey,” and he put his hand over my mouth and said, “You’re the best listener I’ve ever worked with for my wife.” And I cried. I worked with some of the biggest stars in the business, who would literally talk through my close-ups, telling me what they thought I should do. They’re so misogynistic — now, that’s not Robert De Niro. Who isn’t Joe Pacey, isn’t those guys. But I’ve worked with some really big stars who would literally speak out loud through my close-ups, telling me what to do. They just won’t listen to me, and won’t let my performance influence their performance. It’s not great acting. I mean, I get that you’re awesome and everyone thinks you’re awesome. But listening, being present for those broken moments, is a truly human experience.
I’m not the most popular actor in town, because people don’t want to hear my, as they say, faking opinions… maybe because of my devotion, maybe I’m a weird kind of person. But I’m just doing it to be present.
And all that about your performance with Sam?
i am listening I listen and allow it to come alive in my heart. I think what we really wanted was the idea of a scene – almost like [Russian-French painter] In this Sam asked me to do the music video, so I’m sure it will be interesting to see how he processes it.
I’m not called to play these parts — I’m asked to take off my clothes and play these crazy sociopathic characters because I’m an actor. [in multiple past films]. I am not called upon to play thoughtful, sensitive characters. I’m a painter — I have two shows coming up — and I’m a songwriter, I’ve had three numbers in other countries But I could never get “Basic Instinct” out of my head. I came into this world looking like a barbie, so it’s hard for people to let me be anything else.
I would be remiss if I did not ask you another question: I did not expect to see you “Rolling Thunder” [Martin Scorsese’s documentary of Bob Dylan’s 1975 tour]. Do you keep in touch with Dylan?
I haven’t heard from him recently, I think he’s in a very low-key place right now. But we have actually been friends for a long time. People didn’t know that and I never took advantage – I’m not that girl! I didn’t tell anyone about it until he asked me to be in “Rolling Thunder.”