Kissing and sex scenes - your thoughts?

  • User Deleted

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    Hello, everyone.

    I recently had discussion with my boyfriend and a few friends and I was looking to get some industry input.

    How do you feel about performing kissing and sex scenes in shows/films? Do you have different rules for on-camera and on-stage productions? What would you NEVER do? Would you do certain things professionally but not if the project was expenses only? And, more importantly, WHY?

    The discussion arose because we were talking about how the original actresses (remember that to begin with women weren't allowed on stage at all and men played all the parts) were considered to be in the same category as prostitutes, selling their bodies and words for money, and it's only recently that that label has been discarded. Nowadays, by contrast, actresses are admired and idolised and I can't quite put my finger on why this is.

    I don't necessarily agree with the old idea stated above but I'm very intrigued by this topic and want to get down to the nitty gritty of what we're arguing about.

    Does the fact that you're not being paid make a difference? If I would only doing kissing/sex scenes for money would that be the same argument, morally speaking, as prostitution?

    I think, however odd it may seem, that there is a grain of truth in the old analogy, at least for the purposes of this argument. I don't literally think that actresses are wh*res but I certainly get to do things on stage and screen that I would never, morally speaking, be allowed to do as 'me', and it's very muddy water debate-wise. Does the physical act of doing something not matter if you're not being 'you' at the time? What if you're a porn star? No matter how what you're acting in you could claim that your emotions are elsewhere and so it doesn't count as 'you' doing it, but it's still your body so when do 'you' stop being 'you' and why would you have any limits on what you'd do during an acting job if you really are 'acting'?

    Most intriguing.

    • 5th Feb 2008
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  • Owen Frost

    Actor

    As an actor, when I am on stage or in front of a camera, my arms, legs, voice, face etc. are the tools I use to convey the thoughts and feelings of the character I am playing. In that sense, I am selling my body for the entertainment of others. So there can be a very basic comparison between being an actor and being a prostitute.

    A comparison that, in my opinion, is completely invalid.

    A prostitute sells oneself for the buyers self gratification, on the whole, for carnal pleasure and nothing more.

    An actor sells oneself to convey meanings, ideas, beliefs, to inspire, to invoke sympathy, empathy, to look on oneself in a different light, to start revoloutions, to end wars, to feel love, hate, fear, jealousy, to learn what it is to be human.

    While the base principals of both professions are similar, the intentions couldn't be further apart.

    • 30th Jan 2008
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  • Fiona Cuskelly

    Actor

    Excellent question Emily and a very fine answer Owen.

    Really good food for thought there.

    • 30th Jan 2008
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  • Rebecca Probyn

    Actor

    I have yet to do a sex scene but I have kissed on screen and in the theatre.

    i think the reason people will be more inclined to do a sex scene when you are paid is because it is a very performance that really does leave you laid bare(pardon the pun) .. it is the one act that is very personal and private so if you are to do it I think payment is a way of rewarding your courage. If you go through all that and all you get is your bus fare home and a copy of the film....I dunno.. it is a puzzler..

    there is a current posting that is asking for people to go nude for just expenses.. which is fine if you are happy to do that but I think it can be a lot to ask someone to stand about in all their glory for a sandwich and travel expenses.

    I know it shouldn;t matter if it is creatively viable ..

    I for one would feel happier doing a sex scene on stage rather than film. That is something that can be played and played and played, a theatre production is in the instant.

    i have just been rambling...sorry!! basically I agree with Owen :)

    • 30th Jan 2008
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  • User Deleted

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    Acting is no more like prostitution than any other job - whatever you're doing, you are using your body to earn money.

    On the other hand, if you did something for money as an actor (or any other profession, for that matter) which you knew would damage your self-esteem, then the parallel with prostitution gets a bit closer.

    I know I felt worse about myself when I worked in the Pharmaceutical industry than I ever have kissing on stage! The latter would not bother me at all, except I know it isn't an easy thing for my partner to handle.

    However, unless you are talking about 'acting' in pornography, there is very little comparison with prostitution. The vast majority of street prostitutes (studies suggest a minimum of 80 - 90%)are addicted to crack or heroin, and therefore their free will must be in question; and many will have actually been forced or at least coerced into selling themselves. The idea of prostitution being some sort of 'career choice', or an issue of freedom to do what you want with your body, just does not reflect reality.

    Rates of drug addiction may not be as high for prostitutes not working on the streets, but similar arguments apply.

    • 30th Jan 2008
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  • Monty Burgess

    Actor

    Can I ask as a sideline, what do people think, how far is too far? (Probably a stupidly subjective question in hindsight).

    I'm framing the question with the film 'Ken Park' in mind, and to a lesser extent, 'Brown Bunny' (which almost did Chloe Sevigny's professional reputation irreparable damage).

    • 30th Jan 2008
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  • Alice Brockway

    Actor

    I think there's a point that hasn't been covered yet. As I understand it many of the first actresses WERE prostitutes. They were the only women at the time who a/ had nothing to lose by going onstage and b/ had the balls to do it! Also, as the first actresses in this country weren't paid properly they made up wages by doing things like charging men to watch them get changed. Despite this being several hundred years ago I think there is a good case to argue that it still has an impact on the perception of actors. Nowadays, with sex in it's widest terms being sold in all aspects of the industry (soap stars doing calendars in their pants for example) I can see why!

    However, there is a very big difference between prostitution and having a scene on stage or screen. As Owen says prostitution, including porn, sells sexual intercourse - the act itself - nothing more. An acted scene is (or at least should be) part of a story and should be no more graphic than is useful for that purpose.

    On a personal level I've never had any problem with it if, as I've said, it's a useful part of piece. My only concerns now are about the legal aspect. I work with children a lot and with the now with the Sarah Green case I'm wondering what I can actually do

    Sarah Green is an English teacher who used to be an actor. She's been suspended because some students found an old add she was in where she faked sex. Nothing was seen and she was fully dressed. The advert was not used publicly but circulated to companies, it was even award winning. Ended up on youtube where some pupils found it.

    • 30th Jan 2008
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  • Mark Joseph

    Actor

    Personally I'd say it was all about usage.

    Kissing I have no problem with onstage on onscree. Have done it, and will do it again many times I hope. However, sex, or any scene including nudity, there better be some good usage.

    I'm not doing a sex scene for a student film, the project would have to be going somewhere to merit that kind of commitment.

    M.

    • 30th Jan 2008
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  • Katharine Kavanagh

    Actor

    That story about sarah green is appalling! Surely that must be unfair dismissal (or, as it stands, suspension?)

    Do Equity have a stance on this (Alan!?)

    xx

    • 31st Jan 2008
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  • Alan Brent

    Actor

    But just to add my twopenny worth there are very few A list female actors who have never had sex on stage or screen in simulation. The passion of romance requires kissing and often feigned intercourse. In film the closer aspect means that it cannpot be a feigned as stage. So where do you draw the line? Where the director tells you or until you walk off set or out of an audition.

    • 31st Jan 2008
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  • User Deleted

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    I can feel my pedantry coming to the fore, and I've had a couple of galsses of wine - but here goes . . .

    Apart from any historical connections, I've NEVER heard anyone outside this thread drawing any close parallel between acting and prostitution.

    Pornography is not engaged in selling sexual intercourse, it is engaged in selling pornography. Sexual intercourse pretty much sells itself; if it didn't, we wouldn't be here.

    • 31st Jan 2008
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  • Lee Ravitz

    Actor

    There have been some very perceptive comments added to this topic, and I would hope to add a couple more.

    A) As was originally stated, there is a sense in which an actor can argue that they are not 'themselves' when they perform sexually oriented scenes for the sake of storytelling. Whilst I think it is impossible to uphold that idea as such (unless one assumes that the actor goes into a schizophrenic fugue whenever they 'inhabit' another character!), it is another of the vital points that separates storytelling from prostitution. Because prositution is selling the buyers' right to possession of a body directly; and if you were a prostitute you would be expected, however superficially, to be directly involved in ensuring the carnal satisfaction of your partner. As actors, that is never something we are asked to do (I hope). You are always working in tandem with another actor, who is also not looking to get carnal satisfaction from you, but simply to tell the story through appropriate gesture. So whatever engagement you have with another actor does not have to be taken any more 'seriously' than, say, the scene you play over a coffin mourning for your dead spouse. Should you, the actor, be so desolated thanks to this scene that you are no longer able to perform in the next sequence? Or should you, rather, have adopted sufficient technique to be able to pull away from any acted emotion, however once delivered it convincingly? I say that it's the same with intimate scenes - you are not there because you are looking for personal gratification (and, if you are, perhaps a porn career beckons), and that is the fundamental issue here. Admitedly, if you find that the situation is such that you are starting to actively get interested in your acting partner, or, at the other end of the scale, you find the notion of even playing intimate with anyone other than your actual partner, then those are personal issues to be addressed by you, the actor. Whether or not an audience should come and see a play or film because of the prurient quality of the end product is also a different issue - in truth, I think Hollywood has always stuck to the maxim, 'sex sells', but certainly many of the greatest playwrights for the stage who have ever written have produced works with some of the least graphic sexual overtones I think you can find in world literature. This is not to say that Shakespeare or Ibsen or Chekhov are not dealing with the issues of relationships and passion and intimacy all the time, but that they are not obsessed with *demonstrating* these issues to the exclusion of all else - Romeo and Juliet to me is not all about having Juliet strip nude in Act Four - and nor Shakespeare write it with that end in mind. We find a lot of 'modern' work emphasises sex (sometimes violent or fetishistic sex) because it wants to shock an audience, or it wants to shout out its rage. This doesn't necessarily make it better theatre.

    b) In my experience, I am rarely asked to do deeply intimate scenes (even much kissing). I think this is because I am a character actor, which is to say, not an actor who has made a career out of looking especially young and pretty. Most scenes of an intimate nature involve whoever happens to be the 'leads' in any given piece, and generally the leads are cast because they are considered to be desirable. I think the way we tell stories is to want to relate to heroes, and 'leading parts' are always aspirational for the audience (or supposed to be) - you, the audience member, are meant to want to be like the character that you see presented to you. This extends even to bedroom scenes, because then you are seeing the kind of passion, sexual prowess etc. depicted that you would ideally like to be experiencing in your own life - the effortlessness of it, the wit, the abandonment. Generally, character actors will only be involved in intimate scenes if i) they take on some kind of quality of abuse or ii) a director wishes to make a point about the fact that 'everyday people' can make love too. In its way, it is an odd prejudice - basically, it comes down to the fact that we don't like seeing (or are supposed not to like seeing) less than perfect bodies 'flaunting' themselves.

    • 31st Jan 2008
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  • User Deleted

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    Interesting points, all. Thanks for your responses.

    So, if you see your body on stage as simply a 'tool' what do you see as the things 'sacred' to your personal relationships? Is it merely your mind (your thoughts would be on the performance, not the actions themselves)? If so would you feel bad if you ended up really lusting after the person you were playing opposite? Would that change the level to which you were acting?

    Also, if prostitution is perhaps a little strong a term (and the facts about drug addiction within the industry certainly throw up some interesting points re: free will) what about pornography? Most porn actresses, the successful ones anyway, would admit that they do it for the money and fame, and sometimes because of the 'love of the craft' (though I've never heard any describe it as such!). Is that any different from acting on stage or screen in a more conventional film? Where do you draw the line and what would you never do?

    To me it's a tricky situation - personally I'd be more happy being nude on film. Yes, it could be widely circulated but I could also be absolutely sure that the scene was shot, and thus portrayed, in a manner I felt comfortable with. On stage, however, the 'action' is viewed from many different angles and there will obviously be some people in the audience who find the t&a factor the main draw of the show. For instance, Daniel Radcliffe in a recent London production of Equus got hoards of young girls flocking to the show, yet afterwards all anyone was talking about was the size of his manbits, not the quality of his acting. In fact they even shot full nude publicity photos for the play so that people wouldn't try to sneak cameras into the theatre and click click click during the nudey scenes. I honestly don't know how much I'd trust the viewing public to share my views on why the nudity was important to a scene, and thus be able to see past it to the worth of the play as a whole.

    The last post was interesting. As a woman I more often than not get cast as the romantic lead. While that's all very flattering after a while it becomes incredibly wearing and it's a joy to be given a character role where you can flex your acting muscles, rather than just provide the eye candy and get bums on seats. I try as much as I can not to think about whether my fellow actors have the same professional attitude as me when it comes to kissing and whatnot, though a few recent comments have upset me. In a recent professional audition one fella commented that kissing while acting was "the only chance I get to play away from home". While he was, I'm sure, joking I found it a bit uncomfortable as I'm sure in many cases this is literally true. I wonder how much of a difference there is between men and women in this respect...

    • 1st Feb 2008
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  • User Deleted

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    Hi, Emily. It's certainly a great topic for debate, but I still can't see a strong parallel between acting and prostitution. You give some interesting examples of audiences being interested for the 'wrong' reasons - but these are the exceptions, not the norm, surely? With pornography being so readily available, I wouldn't have thought the titilation of seeing someone on the stage in the buff can often be the main reason many people would go to a production. Even for Equuss, it wasn't the fact that there was a naked man on stage - it was the fact that there was a naked DANIEL RADCLIFFE on stage that attracted unusual attention. This says more about celebrity culture than prostitution.

    Also, your point about drug use in the Acting industry is not a parallel - many people who become prostitutes do so to feed a drug addiction; I don't think the same can be said for many actors (unless you consider acting itself to be an addiction - a point I'd have difficulty arguing with).

    Many actors would consider their bodies to be in some way 'a tool'; but they would still be able to choose what they use it for.

    If you use a wider definition of 'prostitution', ie 'to devote to corrupt or unworthy purposes', then that of course could apply - but no more to acting than to any other walk of life.

    • 1st Feb 2008
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  • User Deleted

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    Also not everyone in our business is going to be an angel. Yes you do come across sleazy types like the guy who finds it his only chance to 'play away' which is of course disgusting but if you do find there is a certain chemistry with someone on screen then work with it, be inspired by it and use that energy. But just remember to always be respectful of your partner at home, your instinct will kick in at where to draw the line.

    • 1st Feb 2008
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  • User Deleted

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    Hi there,

    Honestly, I find sex scenes the most embarassing and awkward part of my job as an Actor. Usually the person playing opposite me feels the same (and actually I had one guy walk out because he couldn't handle it which left me mortified). You must trust the Director and fellow Actor and discuss your personal boundaries. If you don't feel safe you cannot be in the moment and therefore will not be convincing. A good Actor will be exposing their soul when they work, not selling it as such plus I strongly believe there should NEVER be full nudity during an intercourse scene (Chloe is a fine actress but over time I have come to feel she really let us down) which is why females in our profession should never be referred to or put in the same category as prostitutes however in many countries we still are.

    • 1st Feb 2008
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  • User Deleted

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    I meant the correlation to be more symbolic than that - the selling of a part of one's self for money, or more one's value of the self and whether or not you consider it sacred or could put a monetary value on it.

    Perhaps a more accurate example might be strippers. Are buresque dancers more morally valid than 'normal' strippers, for example, because they usually employ some element of humour in their acts?

    It's not so much a yes/no question - it's more an invitation to examine and discuss where your boundaries lie and why you think that might be. I've found the replies so far very interesting.

    • 1st Feb 2008
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  • User Deleted

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    PS - I wasn't making the point about Daniel Radcliffe to say nudity in theatre is wrong or that it's the main draw of a show, but it does tend to be what's remembered afterwards and I feel that if scenes are not handled delicately and the nudity is ABSOLUTELY required then this can mean that the real skill of the show and its message can be largely ignored.

    I didn't actually draw a parallel between drug addiction and prostitution - someone else did and it's very much valid in the context of the conversation we're all having here. Free will and motivating factors, such as drug addiction, are incredibly important when debating moral issues. There's a big difference between faking sexual lust because you want to and faking it because you HAVE to. Acting may well be an addiction, or at least a strong motivating factor, but I think the greater push to take on roles that they're not comfortable with in actors and actresses is the desire to further their careers and to put some food on the table.

    Your body may well be a 'tool' and, of course, you have absolute say over what it is and isn't used for but ultimately in the acting profession there is a lot of pressure from both sides of the argument to change your opinions. For example, an amazing part in a very well-paid, high profile film might come up, but you have to perform a VERY realistic, fully nude sex scene in it. On one hand this may well launch your career, as the scene is brief and the rest of the part will be memorable to the viewing public. On the other hand while the PROJECT you go for is under your control the final cut, and what people do with images from the film on the internet, are not. There's a lot of weighing up to do in this business - at what point do you start to push your comfort barriers for the sake of your career?

    • 1st Feb 2008
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  • User Deleted

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    To further clarify (because I've had a LONG day and I think I broke my brain somewhere along the way) the parallel between acting and prostitution can exist depending on your own personal viewpoint.

    It all boils down to what you consider to be sacred to your personal relationship with your other half. Some people would say that you have to be mentally AND physically faithful and these are the people who would obviously have trouble with someone who took up acting. Others say to heck with the physical - it's just pretend - just as long as he/she is coming home to ME tonight.

    I'm not saying I particularly agree with either viewpoint. I'd like to think that I'm of the latter but, call me a hypocrite, I think I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't feel a tiny twinge of jealousy and paranoia if I knew my boyfriend was kissing and romping with some hot young lovely night after night. Good think I'm going out with a web designer, I guess!

    • 1st Feb 2008
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  • User Deleted

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    Hee hee! The person who brought up drugs was me, and then I misread your reference to 'drug addiction within the industry' as meaning in the acting industry, and then I disagreed with it.

    Which basically means I've started arguing with myself.

    And you say your head is broken?!?

    • 2nd Feb 2008
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