Sex scenes can be really awkward for actors. Keira Knightly once said that she “did a couple shots of vodka” before shooting a sex scene. Henry Cavill admitted to getting “a bit hard” during a sex scene one time. There is one school of thought that actors simply can’t authentically simulate a sex scene. Robert Pattinson is a proponent of this, saying that it “just doesn’t work.” But what’s the alternative? If the script calls for a sex scene and you can’t fake it, what should you do? Well, here are 10 times where actors actually had sex on camera for a movie.
10. Kieran O’Brien and Margo Stilley in 9 Songs
This movie, from acclaimed writer and director Michael Winterbottom, is named after the nine songs that are played by eight bands in filmed live performances that are pepper throughout the cut of the film. But it’s not the live music performances that people were talking about when the movie came out – it was the sexual stuff. The Guardian has declared the movie to be the most sexually explicit mainstream movie in the history of film. The lead actors Kieran O’Brien and Margo Stilley engage in many sexual acts in the movie, unsimulated, doing it for real, and that’s what made the film so talked about and controversial. There is a graphic foot job in a bath, masturbation with a vibrator, masturbation without a vibrator, genital fondling, oral sex, vaginal sex – all kinds. Winterbottom’s cinematic craft in handling the sexual content in the film was actually praised by some critics. One wrote, “[Winterbottom’s film] looks like a porn movie, but it feels like a love story. The sex is used as a metaphor for the rest of the couple’s relationship. And it is shot with Winterbottom’s customary sensitivity.” The reality of the actors actually doing it on camera worked in the movie’s favor, since it has such honesty and ingenuity.
9. Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider in Last Tango in Paris
This has become one of the most controversial sex scenes in cinema history, since real penetration was used to convey an anal rape scene. Marlon Brando’s character uses butter as lube and then proceeds to rape Maria Schneider’s character. A lot has been written and debated about the making of this scene, since it is thought that director Bernardo Bertolucci was not entirely truthful with the two actors. The filmmaker said that Brando was “a monster as an actor and a darling as a human being,” since he became irate at Bertolucci when he found out that he had made Schneider feel uncomfortable about the scene on the set – she herself has said that she “felt a little raped.” Bertolucci explained, “I was thinking that it was like a dialogue where he was really answering my questions in a way. When at the end of the movie, when he saw it, I discovered that he realized what we were doing, that he was delivering so much of his own experience. And he was very upset with me, and I told him, ‘Listen, you are a grown up. Older than me. Didn’t you realize what you were doing?’ And he didn’t talk to me for years.”
8. Angeliki Papoulia and Anna Kalaitzidou in Dogtooth
Long before he made the leap to Hollywood to make twisted horror movies with a paunchy, dorky version of Colin Farrell in the lead role, Yorgos Lanthimos made a real name for himself in the Greek film industry. This Oscar nominated study of incest and screwed up family life was the one that made his voice heard on the international stage and got Hollywood interested in him. There is one scene in the movie that utilizes a real sex act between the characters. It has a very unsexy setup. It starts when the dad pays off one of his employees to have sex with his son. Then the son refuses to give the girl head, so she gets angry and receives it from the kid’s sister instead. It establishes a very openly sexual relationship among the family, which isn’t exactly hot or erotic, but certainly does drive the plot of the movie and its character development forward in an interesting way. Lanthimos explained the need to use unsimulated sex in the cunnilingus scene by saying, “The brief real sex is used to establish the unusual and dysfunctional lifestyle that results from the isolation orchestrated by the dictatorial father, including incest.”
7. Karl Glusman, Klara Kristin, and Aomi Muyock in Love
For this 2015 erotic arthouse movie, Argentinian director Gaspar Noe met a couple of actors in a nightclub and then had them have unsimulated and unchoreographed sex on camera. Not a lot of movies get made this way. This film, by the way, has nothing to do with the Judd Apatow produced romantic comedy series on Netflix starring Paul Rust and Gillian Jacobs. Both of them deal with sex and relationships, but in very, very different ways. Noe promised that his film would “give guys a hard on and make girls cry,” which is certainly a haunting way to begin the press tour for your movie. IndieWire thought that the movie’s sex was “the most hardcore onscreen sex ever to screen at Cannes.” Noe said in an interview leading up to the film’s premiere about its many genuine sex scenes, “All the sex scenes are not as you usually see them, but shown more in a beautiful, sad, or melancholic way.” It is also worth noting that this movie was released in 3D. 3D release is usually reserved for Hollywood blockbusters about superheroes and wizards, not foreign films where the actors have real sex for two and a half hours.
6. Robert Pattinson in Little Ashes
When Robert Pattinson played the part of iconic painter Salvador Dali in this biopic, he was required to do a gay sex scene. This was long before the world knew him as Edward Cullen and therefore long before he was the apple of every teenage girl in the world’s eye – but he was still a dedicated performer and he decided that simulated sex “just doesn’t work.” Whether or not Dali and Federico Garcia Lorca actually had sex has been debated by historians for years. Dali/Lorca biographer Ian Gibson has said, “It depends how you define an affair. He [Dali] was terrified of being touched by anyone, so I don’t think Lorca got far.” The writer of the movie said, “It’s clear something happened, no question…When you look at the letters, it’s clear something more was going on there…It began as a friendship, became more intimate, and moved to a physical level, but Dali found it difficult and couldn’t carry on. He said they tried to have sex, but it hurt, so they couldn’t consummate the relationship.” For the movie version of that, Pattinson went for it. They shot him from the waist up while he masturbated, in order to get a genuine shot of his orgasm face. Charming.
5. Angelina Jolie and Antonio Banderas in Original Sin
This Hollywood remake of a Francois Truffaut movie has long been rumored to have contained real sex in its sex scene between Angelina Jolie and Antonio Banderas’ characters. The two actors’ chemistry in the scene seems to be too authentic to have been simulated. Eventually, director Michael Cristofer revealed in an interview (and also in his director’s commentary on the home release of the movie) that it was in fact real – or at least, he hinted at it. Jolie and Banderas had both approached Cristofer and told him that they would only agree to do the scene if they were fully nude (which is an odd request for an actor to make, that they can be more naked than they are required). When the movie was going in to be rated before its release, the MPAA simply would not allow such graphic nudity to be shown in theaters. They wouldn’t even allow it on the unrated NC-17 version of the movie. That’s why the sex scene is cut so unusually and there are random fades in and out in the middle of it. So, somewhere out there is an archive containing what is basically an Angelina Jolie/Antonio Banderas sex tape.
4. Divine in Pink Flamingos
John Waters’ so called masterpiece is a pretty disgusting movie. The guy wrote and directed and produced and narrated and shot and edited it, so his name is in the credits quite a few times. This is entirely his vision – and it’s abhorrent. It stars Divine, who has been described as “the filthiest person alive,” a title that she backs up in the final moments of the movie when she picks up some dog crap off the floor and then eats it. That’s John Waters’ idea of art, apparently. It features scenes of exhibitionism, sodomy, masturbation, voyeurism, rape, incest, murder, vomiting, and cannibalism. Art, ladies and gentlemen. Seemingly the movie’s only fans are working class people from New Jersey and the LGBTQ community. In one scene, Divine gives a blowjob to the man who is playing her character’s son – and she did it for real. The movie ended up getting banned in a bunch of countries, including in Switzerland and Australia. After a certain amount of time had passed, you could pick up an uncut version of the film on VHS tape in Australia, but one has to wonder why you would. It’s some people’s cup of tea, but it is a disgusting film.
3. Chloe Sevigny in Brown Bunny
Chloe Sevigny found herself surrounded by some serious media attention back in 2003 when she took part in the movie Brown Bunny. She had become a very well known name in the world of independent cinema, after her stellar turns in the movies Kids and Boys Don’t Cry, the latter of which was praised as a landmark for mainstreaming understanding of the LGBTQ community. But then she did Brown Bunny, in which she was required to perform unsimulated oral sex on the film’s director, Vincent Gallo, who was also her co-star and director. This was before Paris Hilton’s sex tape had been released and long before millions of hours of graphic internet porn was readily available to people across the world. So, graphic sexual content was not as much of a commodity and the talk of the town leading up to the Cannes Film Festival premiere of the movie was that Sevigny’s career was over. Some media outlets even falsely reported that the actress had been dropped by her agent, although they continue to represent her to this day. These people seriously needed to chill out. Of course, that movie (and specifically that scene) did not end up being the career ending devastation for her that it was tipped to be. In fact, she had her first movie as a director released last year. “I think it was a way of kind of reclaiming myself, which sounds odd, but after the celebrity and stuff, being like, ‘No, that’s not who I am, I’m this other thing, and this is what I stand for.’ Or wanting to push the envelope.” Pushing the envelope is never a bad motivation.
2. The Penthouse Pets in Caligula
This movie about the rise and fall of the Roman Emperor Caligula starring Malcolm McDowell was initially conceived as a feature length Hollywood porno. Penthouse magazine founder Bob Guccione produced the movie with the intention of making a full length porno film with a proper story and everything. Comedy magazine the National Lampoon were making their own comedy movies and raking in the big bucks, so why couldn’t porno magazine Penthouse make their own porno movies and do the same? So, Guccione came up with the idea to do a Hollywood biopic of the sex obsessed Roman Emperor Caligula. This way, he would get a Hollywood budget in to tell an important historical story, but he could also fill the movie with sex scenes. Everybody wins! The theme of the screenplay, written oddly enough by Gore Vidal, was that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” But the theme of the finished film is that sex is awesome! This is because Guccione wanted to make it even sexier, so he got the Penthouse Pets in to shoot some genuine sex scenes. There are some brilliant actors in this movie – ranging from Helen Mirren to Peter O’Toole – but the Penthouse guys weren’t interested in making an artistic, cinematic work and made a porno instead.
1. Everyone in Nymphomaniac
Lars von Trier has always been known for making dangerous movies. This sexy two part art film was tricky to get made. In the end, he had to make it as a co-production between four European countries – Belgium, France, Germany, and Denmark – just to get together the relatively small budget of $4.7 million. The movie is about a woman reminiscing about her sexual exploits and that all of the sex in the movie would be real. The 325 minute arthouse epic stars some big names, like Charlotte Gainsbourg and Stacy Martin and Stellan Skarsgard and Shia LaBeouf and Christian Slater and Jamie Bell and Uma Thurman and Willem Dafoe and Connie Nielsen. LaBeouf explained, “The movie is what you think it is. It is Lars von Trier, making a movie about what he’s making. For instance, there’s a disclaimer at the top of the script that basically says we’re doing it for real. Everything that is illegal, we’ll shoot in blurred images. Other than that, everything is happening. Von Trier’s dangerous. He scares me. And I’m only going to work now when I’m terrified.” Some of the actresses used prosthetic vaginas, but other than that, closed sets were used and the actors actually did it. During its advance screening at Sundance Film Festival, the first part of the movie went under the title “Film X” in order to keep it a secret from festival-goers. It was a highly anticipated film in the arthouse movie community, since it was being directed by Lars von Trier, the king of the European arthouse filmmaking scene, and people who found themselves in the secret advance screening freaked out. It’s not a sexy movie that glamorizes the sexual content. In fact, von Trier considers it to be the third chapter in what he has unofficially termed the “Depression Trilogy.” The final cut of the film, including both parts edited into one long movie, runs at over five and a half hours in length.