Updated: Oct 17, 2019
- Bearing it all -
One of the strangest things about being an actor is maintaining a thick skin while having to stay completely and utterly vulnerable. It’s a challenging and delicate balance, especially when you throw having to do it naked into the equation. That’s why there’s a little something called a nudity rider to help make things easier. Or, at least, it’s supposed to.
When I shot my first sex scene in my early twenties, I was working in Daytime where, thanks to network censorship, nudity riders were irrelevant and thus, something I was pretty unfamiliar with until my late twenties. My character was supposed to lose her virginity to her boyfriend who, incidentally, was my real life boyfriend as well. What can I say? When it comes to love, I like to keep it method. Anyway, we’d had sex plenty of times since our second date. Only, those experiences were far more pleasant, what with actual penetration, and the welcome absence of bronzing powder and nervous sweat baking underneath set lights.
While I wasn’t necessarily uncomfortable with the idea of climbing naked into someone else’s bed with him, there was some trepidation around having to do it in front of sixty crew members, most of whom were male and old enough to be my father. But, because I didn’t want to seem unprofessional, or worse, green, I chose to keep any and all anxieties to myself, and pretend to know exactly what I was doing - sort of like actual sex in your twenties. I reasoned it was part of my job, that I’d have to do it eventually, and there was no time like the present! So, instead of allowing it to limit me, I saw it as an opportunity to expand my range as an actress.
Strolling onto set that morning, I noticed my Italian heritage had managed to betray me yet again, magically sprouting a few errant hairs along my bikini line. Despite the fact I thought I’d ripped them all from their follicles the night before, I stopped by the makeup department to see if my make up artist could work some of her magic. As Zelda patted down my vagina with a powder puff, Kassidy, a veteran actress in her 50’s, took the opportunity to get intimate with me as well.
Kassidy: (concerned, yet poised) “Sweetie, I just wanted to talk to you about your love scene today. Who’s directing your episode?”
Kassidy: (oh no - she’s been here before) “Ugh. They’re going to try to get you down to pasties. You don’t need to be in anything less than a bra, okay?”
Rachel: “Oh, I don’t mind. If pasties are better for the shot then - ”
Kassidy: “They’re not. They’re just better for them. Trust me. Don’t be afraid to do only what you’re comfortable with.
Back then, it never would have occurred to me there may be a world where manipulation existed on the other side of the camera. Where negative energies lurked waiting to pray upon impressionable young women, coercing them to do whatever their personal agenda deemed mandatory under the name of authority. After all, I’d never crossed paths with Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo movement had yet to exist. So, of course, I felt entirely comfortable ignoring Kassidy’s warning by wearing nipple pasties when they were inevitably suggested by my director. By the time I got to my thirties however, I was far less trusting, albeit, only slightly more protected.
It was winter in LA, every actor’s favorite time to be filming an exterior scene in their swimsuit, or in my case, a sex scene in their underwear. I stood on a rooftop overlooking downtown LA, puffing on my vape pen like some romanticized version of a film noir actor. I was fighting anxiety that seemed to have a stronger hold over me now that I was in my thirties. I should have been more comfortable though, with ten more years of experience under my belt and a nudity rider involved. Which is why, as I watched the lighting department scurry around the rooftop trying to finish their set up, I couldn’t make any sense of my feeling vaguely paralyzed.
With the same thoughtful rationale of a therapist, I immediately addressed all my patient’s obvious and known concerns…
Are you afraid of mom and dad seeing this and knowing your sex moves? You can just tell them not to watch.
Are you worried Chase will get a boner when you’re on top of him? I know how uncomfortable you get seeing others’ embarrass. But, I also know there’s an odd sense of comfort you feel knowing there’s a hard dick between your legs.
What about that creepy sound guy? Are you worried he might end up enjoying his job a little too much tonight? Or, are you the unprofessional one?
I wasn’t sure if it was maturity or if I simply felt more comfortable addressing my worries to a predominantly female production team, but in contrast to my twenty year old self, I chose to vocalize my concerns.
Rachel: Annie - hey… can we make sure this is a closed set and that absolutely no one is here that doesn’t need to be?
Annie: Of course.
Rachel: Cuz, I’m already feeling really uncomfortable for some reason.
Chase: (jokingly) Is it me? Are you worried I’ll get a boner? Don’t be offended if I do, don’t be offended if I don’t.
Rachel: (matter of fact) I mean, you will. But, I can handle it if you can… that came out wrong.
Chase: (laughing at himself) Or did it come out right?
Annie: (caring) Do you want me to get you something?
Rachel: You mean like a whiskey?
Annie: (earnestly, assuring) If that’s what you need I’m sure we could find you some.
Rachel: I was kidding…
Chase: I wasn’t. I’d take some whiskey.
Rachel: Really? Okay. Some whiskey then, I guess.
Annie: (calm, assuring) I’ll have someone run out to get it.
My body began to shiver. Assuming it was the temperature drop, the make up and wardrobe department rushed over to cover me in blankets. It didn’t help. My shaking intensified with every passing moment. I wasn’t sure what was causing my body to have such a physical reaction. Especially since the script specifically indicated my character would be having sex in her bra in this scene.
Thinking, perhaps, I might be expected to take more graphic liberties now that a network wasn’t around to censor me, I tried addressing the self consciousness that surrounded that.
Rachel: Also, Annie. Maybe it’s cuz I’m a dancer, I dunno… but, I feel like, if we choreographed the sex I might feel better? Like, when we’re both supposed to orgasm at the same time - which, is completely unrealistic how easy we’re making that look by the way… I’m just- I’m nervous about the orgasm. I don’t want it to look stupid and like I don’t know what I’m doing.
Annie: I would not let you look stupid. This is going to be shot beautifully. We’re gonna have the sunrise over you, silhouetting your bodies…
Rachel: What if people in the surrounding buildings have binoculars? Has anyone thought about that? Cuz, I don’t want anyone watching us pretend to have sex and think it’s real. I mean, I do, but just not until it’s airing.
Annie: They’re too far away, no one will ever see you.
Not only was Annie clearly near sided, she was obviously unfamiliar with the concept of binoculars. It was around then, and in suspiciously record time for four o'clock in the morning, our bootlegger in the form of a PA, arrived. She opened her jacket to offer Chase and I airplane sized bottles of Jack, and with the sun threatening to rise before getting the shots we needed, I had no choice but to put my faith in the director, some liquor in my body, and hope for the best.
It was the most amount of whiskey and puffs on my vape pen in a single evening I’d ever had, and yet, remarkably, I only felt the kind of buzz that comes from having too much caffeine on an empty stomach. Apparently, adrenaline has the ability to overpower any other kind of chemical one can ingest.
If I’d had any hangover the next morning, it was an emotional one. I felt shitty about my behavior, my lack of professionalism, and ultimately, my performance. I’d spent years working on my sexuality, onscreen and off. So much so, it’s virtually become who I am as a person! I constantly answer the phone like I’m a sex operator. I pole dance to work out. I find nothing wrong with casually talking to my family about butt plugs and cock rings over Thanksgiving dinner. Fuck, I’ve even had a conversation with my Grandma about jizz! In her day they called it Jizzum. Just some random trivia for you. Anyway…
For the life of me, I could not make sense of my apprehension that night. All I could do was begin to doubt myself as a performer. Maybe I wasn’t capable of being as great an actress as I wanted to be. Maybe Kassidy’s words had left an undeniable impression on me that, once mixed with self awareness, had created limits within me I’d never considered or acknowledged.
With my big sex scene only days away, I really started to panic. If I couldn’t have sex in a bra on a rooftop, how the hell did I plan to do it in a shower wearing less? Especially when it had still not been agreed upon what “less” exactly was. You see, what made my nudity rider for this particular project so unique, was that up until a few days prior, it hadn’t existed. With negotiations still underway and parameters still unset, I called my agents to help me navigate uncharted waters.
Sharon: So, since they still haven’t gotten their shit together, here’s what you’re going to do.
Sharon: You’re going to wear a thong and cutlets. And - if they have a problem with you wearing a thong and cutlets - you get to walk off set, because you’re not contractually bound to do anything else, because they didn’t have a contract! And, since it’s pay or play, you’ll still get paid.
Rachel: What if they want to me to wear nipple pasties?
Sharon: If production’s pressuring you to wear them and you’re not that uncomfortable with it, you can tell them you’re being “cool” and put ‘em on. But, here’s the problem with nipple pasties: if you wear them, you have to wear bright neon gaffing tap or something with obnoxious print underneath because these fuckers can go in there when they’re editing and give you someone else’s boobs.
Sharon: Oh, yeah. It happens all the time. It happened to one of our other clients the other day! I always tell my actors to wear neon stripes so it fucks with anything they might try to do in post. Especially, if you think you’ve done anything to piss them off. Revenge editing is the worst, and it’s real.
It never occurred to me there may also be a world where people are bullied into doing something against their will or otherwise be punished for standing up for themselves. I hung up the phone and noticed my anxiety had yielded to some sense of control. And all of a sudden, everything made sense.
I didn’t have limitations as an actress, I had boundaries as a human being. Boundaries that, when I really began to think about it, had been violated from the very start of production, and had only continued to get worse in the most vulnerable of circumstances.
Take for instance, my very first love scene with Chase, which was shot only a week earlier. He’d woken up not feeling well and pleaded with production to push his scenes to a different day. Not just because he was self conscious, but more importantly, he was concerned he might be contagious. Production immediately called in a doctor who declared with absolute confidence he was not - despite the fact she also couldn’t identify whatever Terrance had or what might have caused it. I suppose it’s worth mentioning this doctor was also related to our executive producer. I watched production minimize Chase’s concern, jeopardize the cast and crew’s health, including my own, and bully my costar into filming a scene he was highly uncomfortable shooting at the time. All the while treating him like a child and a leper.
Producer: (patronizing) Oh, Chase. You’re perfectly fine and well enough to do the scene. (then) Oh, don’t touch me though!
It was later that very same day I learned, from that very same producer, production expected me to take my clothes off, despite the fact we were already two weeks into principle photography and it had never been discussed.
The more I thought about that flagrant disregard for safety, both physical and emotional, the more I realized that’s precisely what had been holding me back on the rooftop. My consciousness may have been too wrapped up in obligation and responsibility to notice the lack of trust, but my fight or flight sense was clocking everything, beginning me to bolt.
Blood rushed to my temples as all the pieces fell into place, and I began to recognize all the things my subconscious had. Flags should have been positioned around us to block the view of people who might be trying to watch from surrounding buildings. Crew should have been kept inside instead of further down the rooftop, where Chase and I were still visible in the scene. Batteries to cameras and lights should have been at the ready to prevent me from having to wait around outside in my underwear for someone to change them, multiple times! And my superiors should have been the ones overseeing and enforcing it all. But, just as in the case of Terrance’s rash, time and money appeared far more important than any sense of safety or security.
Fueled by violation and the realization that no one was on this set was going to protect me but myself, I sought out my director. I did my best to temper my rage, aware of just how powerful and unpredictable emotions could be when they sat behind the driver’s seat of any conversation. I did my best to maintain a sterile tone the entire time.
Rachel: Annie, hey, I just want to talk about the love scene and make sure today goes smoother than the last time we did this.
Rachel: The only person that should be inside that bathroom with me and Chase is the camera man. The sound guy can mic the bathroom and leave the boom on the ground, he doesn’t need to be in there. No one does. And, there needs to be a robe waiting for me outside this door after every single take.
Annie: (taken aback but compliant) Okay. Sure.
Rachel: Thank you.
Annie: Of course. And, Rachel, can I take a look at what wardrobe has you in for the shower?
As I led my director to my dressing room, I braced myself for what I anticipated would be a fairly big ordeal. And to be honest, I hoped it would be.
I wanted to walk off that set in the name of self respect, not just for me, but for anyone who’d been manipulated or bullied by an authoritative figure - especially into doing something that made them extremely uncomfortable. And now, I’d been given the legal freedom to be the badass I’d always wanted. I started to imagine what it’d feel like, recalling to my friends and family, such a pivotal moment in both my career and adulthood. I just hoped it would be easier done than said.
Annie: THESE are what you’re wearing? (trying to level with her) Rachel, come on.
Rachel: This is what my team and I agreed to.
Annie: There’s no way I can shoot around these.
I shrugged, offering little help and trying to remain steadfast despite her exasperated expression.
Annie: (losing her shit) Well, then we might as well not even shoot the scene then! There’s no way you’re not going to see these! They’re huge!
To be honest, even nipple pasties are huge when it comes to my nonexistent boobs, which is why I’m usually pretty comfortable wearing them. But, after the conversation with my agent and my experience on this particular set, I knew it was in my best interest not to do so.
So, while Annie underwent a stress induced freak out, I did my best not to let empathy chip away at what I was hoping would be impenetrable armor.
The truth is, I liked Annie, and I knew she was genuinely trying her best despite an incompetent crew and team of producers, both of whom failed to set her up for success in ways similar to their actors. I didn’t want to be another on the list of people making things more difficult for her. And, as the clock ticked away on another Sunday, I didn’t want to be on the receiving end of death stares from the crew anymore either. It was time to walk off. And I just as I was about to, I suddenly realized that might not necessarily be in my best interest either.
You see, while there may not have been any legal consequence, I’d been around long enough to know there’d be a consequence nonetheless. There always is. Either I’d make someone else’s life easier by compromising myself and my standards, or, I’d uphold my self respect and consequently risk being known as a stubborn bitch who’s difficult to work with. These were my two options.
Whether it was ultimately compassion that got the best of me, the realization my reputation might suffer, or a little bit of both, I reluctantly conceded. I prayed to God that, in some way, he still considered me either a fool or a small child, if not both, at least enough to protect me when I couldn’t. Especially after wardrobe informed me they didn’t have any neon tape.
The most painful, daunting, scarring aspect of this whole scenario, was that I was put into this position by women. All my life I’d been taught to believe women should have each other’s backs, but they didn’t. In fact, the only back they did have was Chase’s. That was the only body part you ever saw once that scene eventually aired. Makes you wonder why pasties were even necessary to begin with. I guess the truth is as transparent as the silicon meant to cover my nipples in the first place.
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