Amid the added pressures of shooting in the nude, lawyers for actors are demanding more specific, ironclad protections in “nudity riders,” including the ability to sue for leaked footage: “The idea of anything being erased from existence in the digital age is naive.”
One would think that in the 10 months since Harvey Weinstein was outed for allegedly assaulting dozens of women, igniting a #MeToo revolution that has swept over Hollywood, one of the first effects would be a dramatic change in the way sex scenes are filmed. Yes and no.
Yes, there’s been a lot of talk about making sure actresses feel more empowered on set. And yes, “the amount of nudity being requested is less,” says attorney Jamie Feldman, whose clients include Juno Temple and Gillian Jacobs. “People certainly are being a lot more sensitive about how they’re asking for that stuff and how it’s going to be perceived, about the possible accusation of being gratuitous.”
What has not changed, however, are the inherent power imbalances, vulnerabilities and uncomfortable pressures that occur when filming these scenes. In fact, the prevailing wisdom among multiple representatives and filmmakers interviewed is that actresses (and yes, more often these days, actors) need more safeguards than ever — and in the #MeToo era they are more willing to demand them.
Feldman inserts up to 40 extremely specific provisions in a fully negotiated “nudity rider” — the addendum to a performer’s contract that spells out the exact requirements and restrictions of any such scenes — everything from fluorescent-colored pasties (“It prevents a shot from accidentally capturing something it shouldn’t”) to the guarantee of a closed set (“If you have 100 people potentially shooting something with a phone, iPad, whatever, these things become opportunities for something to slip out or be hacked, either maliciously or just through inattention”).
Authentic Talent & Literary Management founder and CEO Jon Rubinstein, whose company reps Brie Larson and Vera Farmiga, says abuses continue to be rampant. “Mostly, where you get into trouble is where a producer or director approaches an actress directly on a set and asks for something that wasn’t negotiated,” says Rubinstein. “It’s, ‘Look, the whole crew wants to go home. It’s midnight. We’re all exhausted. We just have to get this one last shot. The way that we’ve been doing it isn’t working. Can you drop the towel?’ Or, ‘That shirt doesn’t look right, why don’t you just lose it?’ Then suddenly you’re standing there and you’ve got 20 people waiting for you, and you go, ‘Ugh, fine.’ That happens all the time.”
Such a scenario appears to have played out on Lost for star Evangeline Lilly, who recently said she “had a bad experience on set with being basically cornered into doing a scene partially naked, and I felt I had no choice in the matter. And I was mortified and I was trembling when it finished.”
Rubinstein says he spends a great deal of time educating clients on how to stand up to this type of pressure. But nudity still offers that rare opportunity for abuse given the power dynamic of a fully clothed cast and crew (typically mostly male) and one or two (or in the case of Game of Thrones or Westworld, more than a few) undressed actors and actresses. As an example of this type of power imbalance, several of those interviewed referenced the alleged behavior of James Franco, who was accused in a January Los Angeles Times piece of removing actresses’ protective vaginal guards while filming an orgy scene on the set of the 2015 indie film The Long Home. Franco’s attorney disputed the allegation.
Sometimes an actress says nothing after being pressured to go beyond what has been negotiated. But other times she logs an immediate call to her team. And thus, a second battle begins. It’s up to the agent, manager or lawyer to try to fight for the scene’s removal.
ICM Partners’ Joanne Wiles, who reps such actors as Paula Patton, Alex Pettyfer and Hannah Gross, says even before #MeToo, she was something of a mother bear regarding nudity. Given the new climate, she is now seeing other reps follow suit. “You have to be very diligent — I wouldn’t say guarded, but look at it in a very protective way for your client,” says Wiles. “Other [reps] in the business who had previously been a little more laissez-faire are definitely not as much anymore because it’s such a hot-button issue now.”