Movie Sex Scenes: The Unglamorous Truth

Amanda Seyfried says they’re “great”, while Justin Timberlake calls them "exhausting”. Michelle Williams admits she doesn’t get nervous, while Ryan Gosling reveals it’s important to watch out for each other’s light.

They’re sex scenes - or love scenes if you want to be fancy - and like it or not, they’re an integral part of the filmmaking process, from dodgy soft-core B movies to Winslet, Kidman and co. stripping off in Oscar bait.

But what are they like to film? And how are they put together?

COMFORT LEVELS

"You have to make people feel comfortable,” says 1st assistant director Florian Engelhardt. "It’s important the actors know they’re completely safe.”

He should know. As 1st AD on Lars Von Trier’s ‘Nyphomaniac’, Engelhardt’s wrangled his fair share of screen sex.

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“It became normal,” he laughs. “You’d walk around and there’d be naked guys, naked women. You’d open a door and there’d be some adult actress getting ready for the shot.”

“Maybe for someone who isn’t an actor, it seems a little more scary,” says DeeDee Luxe, who had a ménage a trois with Michael Fassbender and actress Calamity Change for Steve McQueen’s erotic drama, 'Shame’. “But you’re just doing your job.”

Communication appears to be the key. Luxe met up with her fellow female threesomer the night before the shoot, while Fassbender revealed to Popsugar that, “you don’t want the girl to feel like you’re getting a free feel or something.”

HOW DO I LOOK?

“In real life sex is messy,” Ryan Gosling told W Magazine, discussing his cinematic love-making in 'Blue Valentine’.

DeeDee Luxe agrees. “I see a lot of sex scenes that look very fake,” she says. “It seems like in our scene in ['Shame’], after it came out a lot of people were like, "wow, was that real?”

Actors often ask for a closed set, but that becomes trickier when thespian vanity - or director ambition - is involved.

“You end up very quickly, if you want to do a very aesthetic shot, with a lot of people on set,” says Engelhardt.

“I can’t say we looked particularly gorgeous in the scene and we weren’t supposed to,” adds Luxe. “As a female, that was maybe the harder part of it because you always want to look beautiful.”

Of course, actors are often not as naked as you think they are anyway. Pasties go on breasts to cover nipples and there are special, ahem, socks for the men, while flesh-coloured panties are heavily utilized. "When you’re in the moment, you don’t even think you’re wearing anything,” says Luxe. “It’s up to [the director] and the cinematographer to make sure you don’t see that.”

On 'Nymphomaniac’ they went one further, swapping out the real thing for porn actors when the action got a bit too penetrative. "It’s actually a visual effects movie,” says Engelhardt. “You just don’t see it.”

THE NITTY GRITTY

“It’s actually kind of annoying,” Justin Timberlake has said of shooting sex. Engelhardt agrees. “Having sex with someone and being watched by ten, twenty people, even if it’s the best-looking woman, it’s just not fun being watched,” he says.

“You kind of just go with it,” adds Luxe. “As you’re doing certain actions, we’re directed somewhat as it’s happening because lighting’s an issue. All other details are just acting, it’s not pre-choreographed.”

MUTUAL ATTRACTION

"Luckily, [Michael Fassbender] is not a disgusting-looking human being,” she laughs. "It definitely made things a lot easier, I didn’t have to work too hard mentally. If it was some disgusting-looking human being and I had to pretend to make love to them, I’d have to go to a different place in my mind.”

Amanda Seyfried is more than aware of the perks of the job. “A lot of my co-stars have been sexy guys my age and so, why not?” she has said. “I’m not going to pretend it’s not fun.”

Unfortunately, there’s not always such a bond between scene sharers. "It happens,” says Florian Engelhardt. “[I worked on a film where] two actors really hated each other. But you say action and they started kissing and ****ing and then cut, they’re facing opposite directions, checking their emails.”

Nevertheless, he says, "if they hate each other, in the end, no-one will know.”

HOW TO GET THROUGH IT

Michelle Williams says that being on set - regardless of the activity - is the one place she doesn’t feel nervous. But there are other more concrete tricks favoured by stars embarking on a love scene. "They might have a little bottle of prosecco or champagne on the side which no-one sees,” reveals Engelhardt. "Some actors really like that and take sips as they go.”

"In between takes, we’d be chatting,” says Luxe. “We got to know each other throughout the day. When we were done, we all high-fived each other.” According to her co-star Calamity Chang, a bottle of tequila and Jameson whisky was involved too.

THEY’RE HARD WORK, HONEST

Explains Engelhardt, “I remember one movie, there was a couple having sex, there were eight people crammed into a small bedroom. Everyone was sitting on the floor, the couple on the bed having sex and everyone just wanted to go home, but they had to do another take and another take. It was like, 'what are we doing here’?

"I’ve seen enough genitals swiveling around.”

He laughs. “How can I say that?!”

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Photos: Calamity Chang/Rex/Moviestore/Everett Collection/Weinstein/RADiUS-TWC/ScreenGem