What It’s Really Like to Shoot a Sex Scene, From Masters of Sex Creator Michelle Ashford
With premium shows like Girls and Game of Thrones on the rise, there’s never been more sex on TV. But Showtime’s Masters of Sex has a special claim on nudity. Their sex scenes aren’t there to titillate; they’re there to educate viewers on the body and the country’s historical relationship with sexuality. (You’ll want to tune in to the season-three premiere at 10 P.M. on Sunday to see the show in a whole new era and a whole new light—more on that in our recap Sunday night.) Still, there’s probably no series on television right now that has to stage as many scenes with actors in the, um, act—so we went straight to creator Michelle Ashford to learn the ins and outs how these sensitive sequences are shot.
If nudity’s part of the job, it gets hammered out in the interview. “On Masters of Sex, the nudity discussion always happens when an actor is being hired,” Ashford says. “For example, with Allison Janney, when we hired her she said she didn’t want to do any nudity at all. We always honor that with any actor, and of course we did with Allison—we’re hiring her for her acting, anyway. But after she’d been on for two or three episodes and saw what is was we were doing, she said, ‘Why don’t I ever get to be naked?’ And that led to what I think is a really beautiful scene of her getting undressed in her room.”
But of course, even when everything has been set for ages, jitters can hijack a story line. “We have had [stage fright over nude scenes] happen. And we always honor the actor in that situation. We’ve also had it go the other way, where an actor gets in a scene and then wants to take more off. In one case, it was the modesty patch—and without that, there is nothing left to the imagination.”
So what exactly is a modesty patch (the thing we’re always hearing that women use in sex scenes)? “It’s like a big Band-Aid that goes from the front, covering their crotch, and then tucks in the back. It does not look very comfortable!”
As for the guy’s coverage apparatus of choice? It’s not quite as sophisticated. “They wear a sock. Literally. A tube sock over their penis.”
Yeah, you are not imagining that otherworldly skin shimmer everyone seems to have. “Most actors do full body makeup—the equivalent of a spray-on tan, but it’s applied by a makeup artist with a sponge.”
But hey, you’d appreciate a faux glow too if you were trying to fake romance at sunrise. “We’ve had many sex scenes that shot at 7 A.M.—when everyone is feeling really sexy. That’s why they call it acting.”