'Empowering,' 'Deeply Humiliating' and 'Gross': Stars Share How It Really Feels to Film a Sex Scene
Phoebe Dynevor, Kate Winslet, Emilia Clarke and more describe what really happens when you pretend to have sex surrounded by bright lights and a crowd of crew members
Phoebe Dynevor spoke to Harper's Bazaar about how much time and preparation went into blocking the seemingly effortless sex scenes with Regé-Jean Page in Netlix's new hit series Bridgerton.
"It really was like shooting a stunt, it looked real, but we've got padding on," the actress told the outlet. "The angles are very … I mean, I've shot intimacy scenes before in the past without any of that. And I can't believe really how new this all is, because it just changed the game."
She added that the show's intimacy coach, Lizzy Talbot, helped the pair to feel comfortable. "We felt super safe and it just meant that when we got on set, we already knew exactly what we're doing. We'd blocked it all so specifically. I knew exactly where his hand was going to go at what point. So it just meant that there wasn't any room for a director to go, 'Oh, I want to see this now.'"
Normal People stars Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal discussed their steamy love scenes during a panel discussion on the hit BBC and Hulu show (based on Sally Rooney's novel of the same name) at the Edinburgh TV Festival on Aug. 26.
"The idea of shooting those scenes may be far more anxious than the actual shooting process from day to day," said Mescal, according to Variety. "There's an awkward 10 minutes when you're like, okay, I have to be relatively naked in front of a group of strangers… from an actor's perspective you've got to treat that the same way you would a scene where you're speaking to each other." Intimacy coordinator Ita O'Brien was closely consulted to create a safe and comfortable work space, Variety reports.
Edgar-Jones added, "Another element that I was proud that was part of the series was the equality in nudity between Paul and I, I think that's really important." She continued, "Also, if you're trying to tell the truth about a relationship, you have to also include the truth of what that means in terms of intimacy."
Kate Winslet has done her fair share of on-screen love scenes, but time and experience haven't made it any less awkward for the Oscar winner. "Those scenes are really awkward — it doesn't matter which way you look at it," Winslet told E! News about her romantic scene with Idris Elba in The Mountain Between Us, before revealing that she gave the film's director, Hany Abu-Assad, some pointers. "'Okay, everyone — this is how it's going to be,'" Winslet recalled saying. Still, getting steamy with Elba has its perks: "All my friends are so jealous of me," she joked.
Game of Thrones has no shortage of nudity and sex scenes, but only one of them caused Emilia Clarke to actually thank the show's creators, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. The actress told Elle that filming her commanding sex scene with Michiel Huisman in Game of Thrones' fourth season was "brilliant. I actually went up to [them] and thanked them. I was like, 'That's a scene I've been waiting for!' Because I get a lot of crap for having done nudes scenes and sex scenes. That, in itself, is so antifeminist. Women hating on other women is just the problem. That's upsetting, so it's kind of wonderful to have a scene where I was like, 'There you go!'"
When it came time to rehearse for her sex scene with costar Woody Harrelson for their film, Wilson, Judy Greer made it a point to get into it. "I'm gonna really do my full performance here for this rehearsal so everyone knows what I'm gonna do," Greer recalled to PEOPLE of how she hyped herself up for the scene.
But as Greer quickly found out, she might have gotten herself a little too hyped. After the rehearsal, the film's director, Craig Johnson, walked over to her and cautioned, "I don't think she's that into it."
"And I was like, 'Oh my gosh, never again,' " Greer said. "I'm so embarrassed. I'm so mortified."
For her turn in Big Little Lies, Kidman took on the role of Celeste, a mother of two who often engaged in rough sexual acts to please her abusive husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgård). "I felt very exposed and vulnerable and deeply humiliated at times," the 50-year-old actress admitted to W of filming the demanding scenes.
One scene in episode 7 particularly stood out for Kidman. "I remember lying on the floor in the bathroom ... and I just wouldn't get up in-between takes," she recalled.
"I was just lying there, sort of broken and crying, and I remember at one point [director Jean-Marc Vallée] coming over and just sort of placing a towel over me because I was just lying there in half-torn underwear and just basically on the ground with nothing on and I was just, like [gasps]."
Pretty Little Liars star Ian Harding delved into details of sex scene prep in his 2017 memoir Odd Birds. Harding admitted that shooting steamy scenes for the series was generally awkward, and that it was the "only" time actors would avoid snacking and instead head to their dressing rooms to do push-ups. He also wrote about constantly having to shave to achieve a "smooth, porpoise-y chest" for the show, and how he "flossed at least three times" and "gargled between every take" when it came time to film a makeout scene in the pilot.
After her co-star, Ian Harding, revealed that he "flossed at least three times" and "gargled [mouthwash] between every take" while shooting their first kiss in the Pretty Little Liars pilot, Lucy Hale admitted that the pair got very comfortable very quickly. "Not towards the end, he didn't!" Hale told PEOPLE of her on-screen beau's oral hygiene habits. "I think when we started working with each other we were both super nervous and making sure we were in tip-top shape, and then towards the end we didn't care."
When Kirsten Dunst filmed an intense love scene with Colin Farrell for their film The Beguiled, she had one question in mind: Are we done yet? "I am on the floor and my clothes are being ripped," Dunst explained to E! News at CinemaCon. "I don't like it, I don't like it. To be honest, I'm like, 'Let's get this over with as fast as possible.' " Luckily, she said, director Sofia Coppola understood her complaints, and moved as quickly as possible. "At least Sofia's like, 'We're going to get this done quick, we're just gonna shoot it here, we'll do three takes, be done.'"
Charlie Hunnam has stripped down for the camera plenty of times, but he secretly hates having to film sex scenes for two very important reasons: His girlfriend, Morgana McNelis, doesn't enjoy watching him with other women and, well, they gross him out. "I try to be sensitive to the fact that we're doing something intimate, but also keep a clear boundary. Because I'm in a very committed relationship, and I'm also cognizant that it's not my girlfriend's favorite part of my job. It's a delicate balance to strike," he told ELLE. "I'm also a germophobe. I've been profoundly germophobic since I was a young child. I don't want to kiss anyone but my girlfriend for my whole life."
While filming a steamy scene in Fifty Shades Darker, Jamie Dornan revealed that the reality was ... the opposite of sexy. "The spreader bar, they made that," Dornan (a.k.a. Christian Grey) told PEOPLE of a memorable device referenced in the books and put into the film. "They were actually really struggling to get their hands on that." As they toy was invented by the author and doesn't exist, the prop department had to get creative and make it themselves. "It didn't work a couple of times and held us back a little bit," Dornan said. "It didn't quite achieve what we wanted it to achieve, but when it mattered it worked, so it was all good."
Jennifer Lawrence has said that she relied on alcohol to get through her first sex scene — which she shares with Chris Pratt — in the upcoming sci-fi drama Passengers. During a SiriusXM Town Hall, Pratt told PEOPLE all about filming the nerve-racking scene — and how he tried to make Lawrence as comfortable as possible. "I don't want to make generalizations based on gender, but I feel the responsibility falls on me [to make my costar comfortable], and I've been in that situation a couple times," the actor said. "Essentially it's your job to just minimize the discomfort by, you know, making sure there's nobody else on set than is required, having a closed set, periodically checking in, and just doing everything you can to assure the person you're with that they're okay." He continued, "For all the sense of anxiety that comes leading up to a scene like this, you get into it and you realize there's really nothing sexy about it at all. It's just really awkward. But you know, it's part of the gig and you just do what you can to check in with the other person and try to minimize any discomfort that they feel."
The actress has no qualms about filming steamy scenes – as long as they're realistic as possible. "I'm not a woman who's a size 2," Davis told Tom Hanks on Variety's Actors on Actors. "If I'm in a sex scene, I want to play the sex scene. I want to say, 'This is why I'm attracted to you, it's gotten to this point, this is what my body looks like.' " It's what makes her proud to play the role of Annalise Keating on How to Get Away with Murder. "I saw it as an opportunity way bigger than doing good work — I saw it as an opportunity for a dark-skinned actress of 50 to be in a role that's sexualized, not sexy," she said. "There's a difference between sexualized and sexy."
Margot Robbie filmed her first-ever sex scene with Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street – and she found the experience to be … uncomfortable. "There isn't an option," Robbie said in an interview with Vanity Fair. "It's just like, this is what you need to do – get on with it. The sooner you do it, the sooner you can stop doing it." (We never, ever thought we'd hear someone describe hooking up with DiCaprio – fake or otherwise – as something to just get over with.)
In an interview with Harper's Bazaar UK, Kristen Stewart referred to filming her infamous Twilight sex scene with ex-boyfriend Robert Pattinson as "agonizing" – in large part because it had to be "the most epic sex scene" of all time. "It had to be transcendent and otherworldly, inhuman, better sex than you can possibly ever imagine," Stewart said. "And we were like, 'How do we live up to that?'"
Really, Really Difficult
"I'm one of those actors who fall into the camp of never wanting to look at themselves on camera ever," Allison Janney told The New York Times Magazine about filming her first sex scene – at age 50 – for Masters of Sex. "I do not and will not, because I am my worst critic. I think it was the hardest thing I ever had to do, to pretend that I was having an orgasm onscreen."
While Jon Hamm admits it was awkward filming his sex scene with Kristen Wiig in the 2012 comedy Bridesmaids (especially since he had to wear a "flesh-colored thong"), he also kind of … well, enjoyed it. "It's like running in the rain. There's a certain point where you go, 'Fuck it, I'm already wet. I'm not going to get any less wet so I might as well enjoy how this feels,'" he told Playboy.
Imagine feeling awkward filming a sex scene – and knowing you could end it all if you wanted to. "I will be lying there, kind of being slammed by a naked body, thinking, 'I want out of this bed. I want out of this scene. I want out of this life. Who did this to me?'" Lena Dunham told Conan O'Brien of the intimate scenes on her show, Girls. "And I realized, I'm my own boss. I've written it. I'm directing it. I'm the person holding myself in sexual slavery."
"The shower was warm, so that was nice," Scott Eastwood said of his steamy shower sex scene in The Longest Ride.
In 2011, Ryan Reynolds went on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno to talk about his film, The Change-Up – and naturally the conversation drifted toward his sex scene with Olivia Wilde. "So, in the scene, she's sitting there and I take her top off and the bra off, and she has those pasties on, but she's drawn these adorable little smiley faces on them," Reynolds said. "And I forget every line in the scene – not just from this movie but from every other movie I've done."
"[T]his movie is so genuinely sweet and vulnerable and sensitive, and that scene was a nice way for both of us to lose our on-screen virginities because it was a really safe environment," Shailene Woodley said of her sex scene with Miles Teller in 2013's The Spectacular Now. "We felt very cared for."
"The hardest thing about sex scenes is that everybody is a judge," Michael Douglas said when talking about his one-take sex scene in 2014's Behind the Candelabra. "I don't know the last time you murdered somebody or blew anyone's brains out, but everyone has had sex and probably this morning, which means everyone has an opinion on how it should be done."