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SEX SCENES (from) behind the scenes

In our pages, we have already touched on the topic of sex scenes several times.

Lukasz Budnik

22 July 2023

SEX SCENES (from) behind the scenes

We wrote, among others, about stars who avoid participating in such, or vice versa – about those who have no problem with it. We also touched on the issue of extremely unsuccessful sex scenes. At this point, it’s worth answering the question of how the sex scenes are actually realised.

First of all - the contract

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When negotiating the conditions of accepting a role – especially one that will require undressing, even partially, in front of the camera – the actor or actress signs a document in which the exact conditions for the implementation of the indicated scenes are set. The contract states what kind of nudity will be required of the performer and any details as to what the actor is willing to do within the scene. The document can even contain information about the parts of the body that are to be visible in the frame and the degree of their exposure. The conditions are determined by the actor/actress and persons representing the artist. Importantly, consent to participate in nude scenes can be withdrawn at any time before they are realised.

Spontaneous or mechanical?

Depending on the director’s preferences, the sex scene can either be carefully planned or allowed for some spontaneity. The first method – not surprisingly, given his perfectionism – is favored by, for example, David Fincher. Neil Patrick Harris, who played the sex scene in Gone Girl, recalls the preparations for its production:

David and I went over every bit of that scene. “You put your mouth on his cock, then so many thrusts, then you cum.” There is little room for your own interpretation.

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He was joined by Rosamund Pike, who played the title role, and mentioned the passionless, dry friction movements. Of course, such a method involves a mechanical end result. That’s probably why other creators – say, Jean-Marc Vallée – prefer to give actors a free hand. The director used this technique, among others, in Dallas Buyers Club and Wild, where the sex scenes with the participation of Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon, respectively, were implemented without top-down guidelines, although of course with outlining certain rules regarding where and how they could touch each other.

Filming sex scenes can also be awkward for the other party – Angelina Jolie, recalling her work on the film In the Land of Blood and Honey, spoke of the strange feeling of asking strangers to participate in a sexual act – and in front of the camera.

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Dealing with stress

Participating in sex scenes is a lot of stress. Olivia Wilde said in an interview that it may be wrong to think that the atmosphere on the set is filled with romance and passion. In fact, there are several dozen people from the crew in the room, someone is constantly shouting, and the director supervises the act and instructs where to put your hand or how to position your arms. If the actor does not agree to such a solution, he can ask for a closed set in advance, where the number of people from the crew is limited to the absolute minimum. In practice, this means a dozen or so people staring at the actors. After the shot, the performers can cover themselves with a bathrobe, but this can also cause problems – Anne Hathaway recalled that when she was working on Love & Other Drugs, putting on clothes between takes turned out to be troublesome, because the bathrobe took off the makeup applied to the whole body and had to be reapplied.

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Shooting with a smaller crew reduces stress, but it certainly doesn’t eliminate it completely, especially since the sex scenes are often one of the first ones shot on set. So what do actors do? Well, for example, they use a sense of humor, like Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson during the production of 50 Shades of Grey. The actor recalled on the Graham Norton show that he often joked to lighten the atmosphere, especially since his companion not only had to be present in the scene, but also had to be tied up and blindfolded. If humor doesn’t help either, you have to reach for alcohol, like Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis before filming the sex scene in Black Swan. Kunis said in one of the interviews that it doesn’t matter who you play such scenes with – it’s uncomfortable anyway. Her life partner, Ashton Kutcher, also had the opportunity to play intimate scenes from Portman (No Strings Attached) – as he claims, he always started their realisation with an apology in advance. Her colleague from the set of Friends with Benefits, Justin Timberlake, has a slightly different approach than Kunis, who calls working on them irritating and exhausting.

A separate category was created by comedian Kristen Schaal, who decided to … fart on her colleague from the set when they were making a sex scene in the sitcom The Last Man on Earth.

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We cover what we need

For women who do not feel as comfortable with their work as Schaal, there are special covers for intimate places, worn when this part of the body is out of the frame. Men, on the other hand, sometimes hide their genitals… in a sock. Other methods are, for example, flesh-colored underwear or special makeup. In order to realistically depict intercourse on the screen, pillows are placed between the actors or prosthetic limbs are used. The opponent of the above-mentioned covers is Lena Dunham, the creator of the series Girls, who has absolutely no problem with undressing in front of the camera.

I stopped wearing the cover after the first season. There’s no one on set who hasn’t seen my vagina. It sticks to it and falls off with sweat. It doesn’t make any difference to my co-workers.

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When you can't do it

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If an actor decides not to participate in a particular scene at all, he is replaced by a double. Just like stars, doubles also sign relevant documents that are to define the scope of showing them on the screen. It’s not like one double “lends” his body to the full. Actresses can have doubles of breasts, hands and even feet. What if you need to show the whole character on the screen? Here, the creators have to use computer effects to put the face of the actress or actor on the double. One of the most famous examples of recent years – although this one does not concern the sex scene – is undoubtedly Lena Headey, who walks the path of shame in Game of Thrones, where only the face belongs to the actress in body shots.

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Finally, the actors have to watch themselves in the finished film, which for many is no less embarrassing than the making of those intimate scenes. Well, unless there are exceptions, because there are those for whom sex scenes are absolutely no problem – Hugh Grant openly says that they give him pleasure, and Armie Hammer, who played erotic scenes with Timothée Chalamet in the film Call Me by Your Name, once called them less embarrassing than the moments when he had to… dance.

Łukasz Budnik

Lukasz Budnik

He loves both silent cinema and contemporary blockbusters based on comic books. He looks forward to watching movie with his growing son.

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