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COVER STORY : Is She the Villain--or a Victim? : To some, Kim Basinger is a sacrificial lamb. To others, she's a symbol of Hollywood dealmaking run amok. After a difficult year in court and on the screen, she tries to rebuild a stalled career and embarks on a new marriage

January 02, 1994|JUDY BRENNAN | Judy Brennan is a regular contributor to Calendar.

No one could be happier to kiss '93 goodby than Kim Basinger. Last year at this time, the actress was facing a multimillion-dollar civil suit over a role that changed her life forever. Ironically, it was a role she never performed.

As the new year rolls in, Basinger finds herself focusing on her new marriage to Alec Baldwin, thinking of starting a family and rebuilding her shattered career--all in the midst of wiping out everything she owns.

"I feel as though I have been through a crash course in life," Basinger says. "It's been an incredible ride. I've had the highs of meeting my soul mate, but the lows of having my life ripped apart for something I didn't do. I wouldn't change the knowledge I've gained for anything. Just don't ever ask me to repeat it."

Basinger's crash course in the school of hard knocks came to a head last spring. In May, 1991, she had decided to pass on playing the lead role in a small Jennifer Lynch film about a woman whose arms and legs are cut off by a doctor obsessed with her. Basinger had considered taking the role in "Boxing Helena," but reconsidered on the advice of her agent because of the dicey subject matter. The film's producers then sued her for breach of oral contract. On March 24, 1993, a jury in Los Angeles Superior Court told Basinger to pay the producers $8.9 million in damages. (The judge later reduced the award to $7.4 million, but with attorneys fees added, it currently stands at $8.1 million.)

The film, with Sherilyn Fenn in the lead role, was ultimately released in September and bombed badly at the box office.

Stunned and, she says, with no way to make such a payment, Basinger filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on May 24, which her lawyers converted to a Chapter 7 just last Monday. The change now means that her estate will be subject to immediate liquidation and distributed to creditors.

Now, at 40, she finds herself grappling with uncertain finances and a very bruised reputation.

"What has been done to this woman is so unfair, I can't even find the right words to describe it," says Baldwin, who has been Basinger's companion for several years and married her last summer. "After what I watched her go through in that courtroom day after day, I believe there is no justice for people like her in this country. These people are trying to destroy her."

Baldwin remains undaunted in his devotion to his wife, boosting her morale daily and helping her rebuild her career, even as his own career flourishes. "I will not stop until she gets her fair shake," he says. It was Baldwin who planned and prepared their beachfront wedding in East Hampton, right down to the surprise fireworks and the white baby roses in her tiara.

"Alec and I want lots of kids everywhere--a big family," Basinger says. "I never want to give up my work, don't get me wrong. But he is my life's focus. After all of this, sometimes I think there would be no Kim Basinger without Alec. Some days, during this insane ordeal, I would look at him and ask, 'Who is Kim Basinger?' "

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There is a crisp December breeze blowing as Basinger strolls through her Woodland Hills back yard to a place she calls sanctuary, Shih Tzu puppies nipping at her heels. The small structure holds two sun-filled rooms: downstairs a gym and upstairs an entertainment area with a white piano, a TV and stereo system atop a cinder block-and-board shelf (the kind most students have in college) and the chaise longue keepsake from the set of "The Marrying Man," the 1991 Disney film where Basinger met Baldwin.

Clad in a white T-shirt and baggy overalls and sitting cross-legged on the lavender carpet, Basinger settles down to her first lengthy interview since last year's monumental events, her voice rising as her tale unfolds. It's a tale of a verdict that shocked much of Hollywood and includes, she and her lawyers say, some questionable actions on the part of the judge and clerk in the case. It's a tale of facing bankruptcy after being one of Hollywood's most visible and successful actresses--a bankruptcy that her creditors have tried to use to prevent her from becoming pregnant (a pregnancy, they say, would interfere with her ability to work for at least several months; that in turn would affect income that would ultimately go to them).

One bright spot: After a gap of several months since her last movie, Basinger's career is showing signs of life. Branded the co-stars from hell during the filming of "The Marrying Man"--a set allegedly disrupted by tantrums, broken and hurled equipment, fights with the crew, producer and director, and cellular phones being ripped out of studio executives' hands by the stars in fits of pique--she and Baldwin are back on screen in Roger Donaldson's action-packed remake of "The Getaway" for Largo Entertainment, due Feb. 11. It couldn't come at a better time.

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