The Secret Actress on sex scenes: my co-star warned ‘forgive me if I harden

Bodies reacts as bodies in those moments of intimacy do – they sweat, they redden, they harden. Photograph: Thibault Camus/AP

In her column lifting the lid on the film and TV industry, an Oscar and Golden Globe-nominated actor explains why nothing’s creepier than simulating sex.

Note: I’ve often wondered how they  get through those scenes (admin)

 
Bodies reacts as bodies in those moments of intimacy do – they sweat, they redden, they harden. Photograph: Thibault Camus/AP

Having sex is fun. Having sex in front of your co-workers, with a co-worker, is the stuff of anxiety dreams to the power of 10. I once had an anxiety dream about having to do a sex scene the night before I had to do a sex scene. It was the most bizarre experience to wake up in horror, then to feel the massive wash of relief that it was just a dream only to be hit with the realization that it was about to be real. That’s some meta shit right there.

Whatever adulation/irritation you might have with certain actors/actresses, know that doing sex scenes is them having to pay the Piper in full, with interest.

If there is anything creepier than simulating sex with someone you’ve a) just met or b) been friends with for a long time and whose wife and kids you’ve holidayed with, it is the way in which it is treated on a set.

It can go a few ways. Either, there is a hush of impending doom from the minute you are greeted by the PA: “Hiiiiiiiiiiiiii, good morrrrrrrrning, biiiiiiiiiiig day today…” (insert sad face emoji on face of PA). The other way is what I like to think of as a more British stance, where everyone is brisk and bustles and looks away and makes brittle jokes that shatter immediately into awkward silence.

Saying I love you, screaming I hate you, crying, killing, dying and mourning are all things I’ve had to simulate over the course of my career. But nothing beats the intimacy of physical intimacy when it comes to impersonation. This is largely to do with the fact that your body doesn’t know that what’s happening isn’t real. The body reacts as bodies in those moments of intimacy do – they sweat, they redden, they harden. The hardening part was once skillfully addressed by an actor I was about to have crazy sex with, with a sanguine: “Forgive me if I do, forgive me if I don’t.” It gives a whole new spin on performance anxiety.

I have to say that pretending to have sex with someone you fancy is still painfully embarrassing, but pretending to have sex with someone you do not like in the slightest is downright awful. During the initial choreographing of one particular sex scene with an actor I really didn’t get along with, I volunteered the idea of him pressing me up against a wall and doing it from behind largely so I wouldn’t have to look at his smug, straining exertions.

This also worked another time when an actor had profound halitosis. I managed, on that project, to make NOT kissing him an actual theme. The director thought it added a “layer”. I say, do what you must.

I will leave you with the image of a naked girl (me) lying on her back with a rectangular sheath covering her nether regions, waiting for an actor whose dick is basically in a sock, jumping up and down trying to shake off the terrible pins and needles in his legs. The tableau is complete only when you add in a yawning boom operator and a producer on his phone, yelping where to go for dinner. Super sexy all round.

The Secret Actress is an Oscar- and Golden Globe-nominated actor who lives and works in LA today.