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Interview: Kim Basinger: KIM back; After divorcing Alec Baldwin, Kim Basinger is on top of the world.

Byline: CLAIRE DONNELLY

STROLLING out of her trailer with bags under her eyes and dirty yellow hair, Kim Basinger looked a complete mess... and that was just the way the 49-year-old actress wanted it.

After years of playing bimbos and sex sirens, recently divorced Kim had finally bagged a longed-for gritty role.

Cast as Eminem's mum in his semi-autobiographical 8 Mile, released here last night, her performance has won rave reviews, with talk of a possible best supporting actress Oscar.

Her friends claim it's no coincidence that the bold role has come after her divorce from Alec Baldwin. Her seven-year marriage to the troubled star - who attends anger management classes and has admitted battling alcoholism - seemed to have a largely negative effect on Kim's career.

Insiders say that it's only now Kim's single, that she has been able to follow up on her earlier successes.

The couple's less-than-perfect relationship was exposed as long ago as 2000 when, according to reports, he was seen shouting at her in the street, yelling: "I tell you and I tell you but you never do what I tell you to do!"

Baldwin apparently then jabbed his finger in Kim's face as she cowered. Now all that's over. When Baldwin, 44, plagued Kim - with whom he has a seven-year-old daughter, Ireland - with phone calls over Christmas, she refused to listen to his pleas for reconciliation.

Her tough stance marked a turning point in their on-off relationship - and the resurrection of her career.

As New York film critic Richard Johnson says: "It is no small coincidence that she has done well since getting away from Baldwin.

"He dragged her down with his jealousy and their marriage basically prevented her from making the most of her talent."

BUT Kim has always been an unlikely star. As a child in Athens, Georgia, she was so shy her parents had her tested for autism. Yet within 12 months of leaving home at 17, she was posing nude for Playboy.

By 1983, the top model had bagged her first major film role, as a Bond Girl opposite Sean Connery in Never Say Never Again.

A run of similarly sexy parts followed, culminating in playing Mickey Rourke's object of desire in the erotic Nine And A Half Weeks.

But then her career faltered, with Kim becoming increasingly uncomfortable with her sex siren image.

"I came to Hollywood with long, blonde hair and blue eyes. I was perfect and I was an absolute misery," she explained. "So I wore baggy clothes, watched other girls get the big parts and the Academy Awards, and came to the conclusion that I had to be ugly.

"I used to go home, play the piano and scream at night to let out my frustrations - and that led to agoraphobia and panic attacks."

Kim earned a reputation as a recluse... and meeting Baldwin only made things worse. She had already been married once, for six years, to make-up artist Ron Britton.

Kim has spoken of the insecurity that stopped her leaving Britton earlier - and which was then to keep her with Baldwin.

"Getting married was a mistake," she admitted, "but Ron took care of me while I was learning the business.Of course, I had to learn the hard way."

But it didn't stop her doing it again - meeting Baldwin on the set of The Marrying Man in 1991 they wed three years later.

On the surface, the pair were an ideal couple. Privately, friends said the marriage was doomed from the start. Professionally, there had already been problems. In March 1993, Kim pulled out of Boxing Helena, four weeks before shooting.

Sued by the studio, she had to declare herself bankrupt to settle the pounds 6million claim - and this came after her ill- fated decision in 1989 to buy the town of Braselton, Georgia, for pounds 12.5million. After Baldwin and Kim wed, things soon degenerated.

He was displaying a violent temper and she was seeing a therapist because of panic attacks. When Ireland was born in 1995, even the joy of her arrival was dimmed by Baldwin's behaviour. Leaving hospital, he was accused of lashing out at a photographer - though he was later acquitted of assault.

MEANWHILE, Kim took the next year off work, retreating to the family's Californian mansion. "She disappeared," explains a friend. "It was as though she had a midlife crisis.

"Alec wanted to lead a quieter life, so they didn't mix in Hollywood circles. Consequently, she lost contact with directors and didn't get offered a lot of major parts."

It was only the charm of director Curtis Hanson that tempted Kim back on to the big screen, as the love interest in 1997's LA Confidential.

Hanson was an old friend and mentor - and it was he who also persuaded her to sign up for 8 Mile.

"Kim owes a lot to Curtis for helping her get back on track," confirms her 80-year-old father, Don. "Curtis believed in her when she needed it most. He's the director who makes her tick." Kim's performance in LA Confidential won her a best supporting actress Oscar and in her tearful acceptance speech, she said: "I'm living proof dreams can come true."

But once the applause had died down, she withdrew again.

"In some ways, she is ill-suited to being a public personality," reveals Hanson. "She is painfully shy and slow to trust."

Kim even found it hard to form close relationships with her family. While she remains on good terms with her sister Ashley Brewer, 34, and father Don, she is estranged from her brother Mick, 51, and her 77-year-old mother Ann.

By the end of 2000, she'd also had enough of Baldwin. "When the rows started to take place in front of Ireland," reveals Don Basinger, "Kim finally said:'I'm not putting up with that!'"

After one particularly violent row she stormed out, taking Ireland and their belongings with her.

In the midst of a bitter divorce and custody battle - Basinger reportedly hired a bodyguard to protect her from her husband - Baldwin was in trouble again, for beating up a baseball fan who taunted him.

Kim, however, was on the up, starring in People I Know with Al Pacino in 2001, and following her divorce in the same year began filming 8 Mile. This time, finally, it looks like she could go the distance. "She's coming into her own," says Kim's producer friend Leslie Lang. "She is now able to handle work, motherhood and being in the spotlight without being ruffled."

WRITER Richard Johnson agrees.

"Kim has bounced back from the bottom. The divorce from Baldwin was the best thing she ever did. He was holding her back, plain and simple.

"Given her age, it's amazing she managed to land such good parts when she'd finally broken free from his clutches. She's brighter and hotter than ever in 8 Mile. "She'll always be a recluse but at least she's happy. And professionally she's back where she belongs - on top of the world."

CAPTION(S):

DREAM: Kim wins her Oscar; ROW: Baldwin argues with Kim; JOY: With daughter Ireland; GRITTY: A dowdy Kim is in top form with Eminem in 8 Mile
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Title Annotation:Review
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 18, 2003
Words:1197
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