Stingers: articles

Wilson and Phelps

On-screen sex is not as fun as it looks…

A Lothario confesses

Unless Angelina Jolie dumps Billy Bob and makes regular Friday night nooky calls to your place, the best sex is spontaneous. Unplanned, private, unsophisticated. A jerky, unrehearsed dance of the body fluids. And all this before uglies are bumped.

Sex shouldn't involve sponsorship deals with media outlets or soft drink companies. It shouldn't cause a rush for ticket sales or ringside seats. It's not a spectator sport. So why does bonking take up so many frames of film and TV? Why do you want to see perfect strangers folk dancing in the horizontal while you sit in the dark and think what that act would be like with the date sitting next to you?

Sex on screen. Simulated slap-and-tickle. It's mechanical and choreographed, yet if directed and acted well can make the most sceptical viewer hot to trot.

But hey, it ain't the real thing. Unless you get off pushing your rude bits into a pillow placed strategically on and around a jittery actress' nether regions surrounded by about 30 crew members pointing very unsexy bits of photographic equipment at you. About as sexy as emptying a partyful of ashtrays into your mouth.

So spare a thought for us actors. "Get real," you say. "You got your hands on a goddess, you're dancing to the latest romantic soundtrack, you're swapping tongue sandwiches with a class one masturbation fantasy and you want me to think 'this guy's got a tough job'?"

OK, here's the scene. You are on set with a co-worker you have spent all of one hour with, discussing the finer points of the piece you have been hired to perform. You are nude. You are only just able to keep a straight face as you will your very bashful sporting equipment to meet the thigh of your bed mate. Your co-star is semi-nude, squirming under protective bedclothes and flesh-colored undies, looking far too serious for such a surreal tableau. The director lies beside you, peering through a viewfinder and replicating the imminent movement of the camera across your bodies.

The director talks to you in dry monotone, like someone describing their boring family holiday via a slide night: "We'll stay on the kiss for a few beats and pan with your hand through her hair and down her shoulder. When we get to the breasts, circle the nipple like this …" - directors love to demonstrate the good bits - "… and the camera'll pull out just as you get on top."

Surround the scene with 20 or so production personnel focused on the intricacies of their job. Sexy, eh?

Surprisingly, the sexual arousal meter starts to rise, making you ask questions like "Am I getting off on a crowd of people watching me have fake sex with this woman?" Or "I wonder if they think this is actually how I do it normally?"

At this point it's appropriate to throw in a few suggestions of a technical nature to your co-star that are actually helpful, and at the same time deflect attention from the fact that you are getting a half a mongrel and thinking of a good line to give her at the end of the day.

Finally, you get to the business. Now, through all this - the seduction, the foreplay, the deed itself - character must come into play. Sex as much as any scene in a film can reveal a lot about your and your fellow actor's character.

Wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am-don't-give-a-damn is fine if it fits with the story. It may inform the history and continuing action of the character. Over-in-a-second-and-guilty-about-it may not get you many fan letters, but is good if it drives the story you're telling. Man-on-man stuff won't get you a gold pass to the Brisbane Broncos footy stadium, but it's another exploration of life that is the essence of our job. Sensitive-to-her-orgasm-marathon-man (my favorite) is good, too.

Like the real thing, sex on screen most often (doesn't it girls?) culminates in The Big O. The Holy Grail. The Big Cigar.

Director: "It's a tight shot. It's on you. You've really hated this guy 'til now, but the frustrations of abuse back home …"

Actor (female): "Do you want a long moan, or a sort of grunt?"

Actor (male): "I reckon I should go hammer and tongs from the word go. You know, I've been an aggressive bastard until now. Seems right."

Director: "Short grunts are good."

Actor (male): "How long do you want me to go for?"

Director: "I'll call cut."

Actor (female): "They've got plenty of film."

Director: "Just remember we're contained here. Keep it close to her face."

Crew member: "What's for lunch?"

Just as sex is not enhanced by the presence of bystanders it suffers also from too much chat. Like the cafe-dwelling actor who goes on endlessly about 'the industry' and the merits of so-and-so in such-and-such a production, the subject of screen sex doesn't need the repartee. If you're good at it in real life you'll be good at it on screen, as well, right?

If you want as good an indication as any of how you went in the sack in a scene, ask the nearest crew member on the set.

If you were casting the part of a crew member in a TV show or film, you would not be too far out if you chose a 43-year-old down-to-earth male with a mortgage, a truckload of heavy equipment, a second wife, two kids, lived-in work clothes, a boat and, often, an urge to punch one of the actors in front of him. He's probably seen filmed sex scenes a couple of hundred times and usually doesn't give a rat's arse what the scene said about your character or the production in general. He's the best critic going.

Crew member: "Have you ever actually… you know… done it?"

Actor (male): "Almost. A film I did last year. Got real horny. There was this actress…"

Crew member: "No, I mean have you ever had sex?"

It's the first take. The half dozen rehearsals you did went pretty smoothly. You crack a joke about a certain famous person's sex video currently doing the rounds.

This helps with nerves as you go through the scene in your head and try to impress the actress sprawled underneath you with your professional attitude and the size of your manhood, which by now must have brushed her thigh and surely got her thinking about after-five activities.

It goes pretty well considering you were holding back from breaking wind the whole time. Thank God, you think, because that would have just ended up in embarrassment and laughter all round. She went with a groan/moan hybrid that keeps the wheel of interest turning about her own sexual sound effects.

The director says it was perfect, which usually means you will have to do it all again. You put on your bathrobe handed to you by an accommodating wardrobe person and walk off the set. You make it look as if you need some space to psyche yourself up for the next take when in fact it's to let that unwanted gaseous substance free. Always appear professional.

The second take. Knowing you have a good take already in the can gives you a bit of freedom to try something different. It's only when the actress complains that all you see is the back of her head after you flung her on to her stomach halfway through the act that you know you may have crossed the line.

Take three. Her moan has become an open-mouthed grunt. You like this person and your pelvic gyrations rise to the occasion. You pull out of your dramatic dilly bag a gorilla-like hrrrrrrumph! and roll off to see the reactions of the director and camera operator.

The director looks firstly to his continuity person, the person who, among many tasks, times the scene to make sure it fits into the film as a whole. You take this as failure because you want the director to praise you before anyone else. But you are comforted somewhat by Continuity's silent nod of approval as she looks at the stopwatch and you get the thumbs-up from the camera operator. Your co-star lights up and says "Jesus my legs are sore, I think I got a cramp." Guess the date's off.

I'd be lying if I said the game of hide the sausage didn't carry from a set to the real world. Liaisons of a sexual nature have happened more than once after the discreet actor and actress have had more than an artistic union during a scene.

Just ask any actor. We don't lie.

Peter Phelps stars in Stingers on Channel Nine

By Peter Phelps
August 23, 2001
The Age