'I Try to Make a Fool of Myself': Actors and Directors on Shooting Sex Scenes

According to these filmmakers and stars, doing the deed in front of a camera requires communication, bravery, a sense of humor, and some serious endurance.
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This week, news surfaced that director Harmony Korine cast a woman for his debauched Spring Breakers on the basis of the fact that she could balance "three or four Coke cans on her ass." It also turns out that star Gucci Mane couldn't stop smoking weed long enough to successfully perform a sex scene with her in the movie. Vulture interviewed Korine, who revealed that the rapper-actor—who plays a rival drug lord to James Franco's Alien—fell asleep during his big sex scene. "As he is getting f*cked, I start to hear snores," said Korine. "He had literally passed out!"

It's an amusing anecdote, but it raises the question of how actors and directors handle those moments on the big screen. Do they really enjoy them? Is it always awkward? Check out the on-screen sex confessions of film and television's finest below.

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Lena Dunham

Lena Dunham's sex scenes in HBO's Girls have been forthright and intentionally awkward, raising questions and conversations about female body image issues, relationships, and more. The actress writes, directs, produces, and stars in the series—and by her own admission, she creates the challenging and intimate scenes herself. She told Conan O'Brien: "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?' 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."

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Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams

Blue Valentine, Derek Cianfrance's film about a crumbling relationship contained one of the most realistic sex scenes ever put to film. The MPAA tried to brand the intimate moment between Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling unsuitable for an R-rating. Gosling called them sexist, reminding them it was a married couple making love, and the NC-17 rating was successfully appealed. That controversy wasn't the only thing that grabbed people's attention. Interviews with the actors revealed an intense, emotional on-screen relationship. Gosling talked to Wmagazine about how he approaches filming a sex scene:

Actors become very professional and proficient about watching out for each other's light and not stepping on each other's lines. All of these things are artificial, and you have to strip that away if you're going to achieve a sense of intimacy. In real life sex is messy...

When asked if shooting sex scenes made her nervous, Williams admitted they're difficult, but don't necessarily shake her:

When I work I'm not nervous. Work is this fabulous free zone. There's no judgment. My problems arrive when I'm not working. At a photo shoot, for instance, I feel like a sham. I feel like they're trying to cover up what's wrong with me. It's probably not true, but just my dirty mind at work.
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Michael Fassbender

Michael Fassbender's role as a sex addict in Shame found him vulnerable and often naked in front of the camera. It wasn't his first time with material like that, however, and his experience has made him a sensitive partner. "Sex scenes can be quite awkward. As a guy, the first thing you want to do is make sure you're not taking advantage," he told PopSugar. "You don't want the girl to feel like you're getting a free feel or something. I try to make a fool of myself in one way or another to lighten the mood and then just go for it, because you don't want to be doing take after take." He elaborated on his approach to sex scenes in an interview with Vulture, again stressing the importance of making his partner comfortable:

The most important thing is to say, 'Let's talk about this.'... You have to say, 'What lines do you have that you don't want me to cross? Do you mind if I touch your breasts? Do you not want me to do that? Can I kiss your breasts? Just so you know, I'm not taking advantage here and taking the piss out of this scenario. You let me know what boundaries you're comfortable working within.'... Yeah, you tell jokes on set and try to make things as relaxed as possible, because to be honest, you want to get in there and go for it immediately. Then it's going to be over quicker!
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Woody Allen

The on-screen seductions in Woody Allen's films stem from the neurotic charms and quick wits of his characters (most often, himself), but the director did have some things to say about shooting sex scenes in an interview with the New York Times:

If you have no limits, it does become more difficult because there are so many options. Years ago, you had no options, so you had to come up with a few sophisticated ways to show sex. Now you can virtually do what you want to do, and it becomes more of an esthetic decision, and it becomes tougher... Because you can't hide behind the fact that they'll censor you, and you've got to come up with something that is ingenious or esthetically pleasing, and you really have no limits to what you want to show.
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Martin Scorsese

In the same interview as Woody Allen, the Last Temptation of Christ director referenced the gritty films of the '70s, noting the boldness and intensity of cinema's sex scenes during the turbulent decade. Scorsese also admitted that he really isn't sure how to approach sex on film anymore:

In the '70s, sex was tougher, stronger, I think. Certain things were very powerful, and I mean movies like Five Easy Pieces or Drive... They were so strange. Now, to a certain extent, with the exception of Crash, which I think is an extraordinary movie, and the very powerful way that Breaking the Waves goes about sexuality—there is a kind of scrubbed-clean quality that is not even sensual anymore. They are fake images and fake bodies. How do you shoot a sex scene? What would you do? I personally don't know how anymore... It really is tougher.
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Amanda Seyfried

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