What if you're the life of the party but the party never ends? The champagne goes flat, the music numbs your brain and the guests won't leave.

That's what happened to Sharon Stone, the woman who put glamour back on Hollywood's headlines and found she was believing her own press."I broke my own heart, I think," she says, forsaking her chair and lying on the king-size bed in a hotel room here, felled by a bad cold and a long day of interviews.

"That was the point where I felt I was making unhealthy decisions and my time wasn't spent with people who truly loved me," she says.

"I spent too much time with people who had an investment in saying `yes' to me. And that was so, so, so dangerous, particularly when you believe they love you. And you're loving them. And then you find out, at a certain point, hey, this is the gravy train."

During that hiatus, Stone met and married her husband, San Francisco Chronicle editor Phil Bronstein.

"I spent a lot of time with myself, my family and friends and met Phil," she says. "I probably wouldn't have met him if I hadn't gone into a changing period to begin with."

When Stone returned to acting, she did it with an unlikely role. In "The Mighty," she plays the mother of a gifted, physically disabled boy who teams up with a muscular pal to cope with taunting peers and a world that allows the innocent to suffer.

Stone's role is a supporting one. But it's because of her clout that a sweetly simple movie about compassion and love got made.

She recalls the furor she caused when she played the oversexed author in "Basic Instinct."

"That was really fun, to suddenly be so successful, to suddenly have everybody think I was pretty and to suddenly have everybody interested in me and people yelling my name and crowds cheering. It was really fun. Then it didn't stop, and I couldn't believe it. I'd had a little success on `Total Recall' but it went away. But this just kept going and going and going and I thought, `This isn't an incident, this is my LIFE.' "

Though she doesn't spell it out, Stone was a brainy kid who skipped a grade in grammar school and was part of special Mensa classes. In high school she spent half her day studying college courses. She jokingly refers to herself as "nerdo-rama."

Some of that teenage angst clings to the tall, cool blonde with the staggering blue eyes.

"I don't feel polished and confident all the time," she admits. "When you stand next to some people, some other actresses, I feel like a big lump. I don't think that anyone ever feels truly polished and confident or you're not telling the truth."

At 19 she went against her father's wishes and headed for New York with $50 in her pocket to try to be a model.

"I went to open calls and they accepted me at (modeling agencies) Ford and Wilhelmina. But I only had 50 dollars so I had to make a deal for them to front me money, give me a place to live, buy me the makeup to go to my job."

She wasn't frightened, she says. "I think I was so young and dumb and naive. I don't think I knew anything about anything. I'd only been on an escalator once, been on an airplane once at that time. I really wanted to be an actress, not a model, anyway."

People think she was an overnight success with "Basic Instinct," but Stone had already paid her dues "in dimes," she likes to say.

A string of movies followed: "Sliver," "The Quick and the Dead," "The Specialist" and "Casino," for which she earned an Academy Award nomination.

But work became a sanctuary for her. "I felt that I became so famous so fast there was no graduation to the progression. So it got to be instantly that the most comfortable place for me to be was on a movie set. The world wasn't comfortable. It wasn't comfortable to go have lunch or go for a walk or take a trip. It just wasn't. So I worked obsessively - probably, in a lot of cases, so I had somewhere to go.

"I'm religious. Probably, to a lot of people's thought, I'm extremely religious. . . . My practice is Buddhism, but I believe in God. I don't believe in Buddha as my God. I believe in the practical ways of Buddhism as a way to live."

She insists there's no friction between overt devotion and her work. "I've never had a conflict when I'm praying on set," she says.

"My stand-in is a very religious woman. She reads the Bible on the set. And I sometimes say, `I need to pray with you.' And it never bothers anybody. I've really given up my life to God and I know that's why I'm OK and at peace."