PASADENA, Calif. — Actors have no trouble handcuffing the villains, or executing a death scene, or outrunning a zombie or two. But when it comes to love scenes — those are only for the brave.
In the olden days, on-screen married couples were required to sleep in twin beds, lovemaking was a glancing kiss, and deep dipping décolletage was considered censor material.
But with the ascent of cable television, almost anything goes. Shows like “The Sopranos,” “Ray Donovan,” “The Affair,” “Shameless” have pushed the envelope so far that even networks are getting into the act with raunchy comedies and heavy-breathing dramas.
Emmy Rossum, who plays the oldest daughter on “Shameless,” says cable dramas have more in mind than titillation. “Showing sexuality as part of art is no different than showing any other part of life to inform the art,” she says.
“Sometimes you do have sex for a reason that has nothing do with sex. Maybe it’s about power. Maybe it’s about insecurity. Maybe it’s about just wanting to connect. Maybe it’s about just wanting to feel good. . . And sometimes it’s just that we get the chance to do something great to show the audience something deeper about a character. . . It really has nothing to do with sex and everything about emotion.”
Michelle Ashford, executive producer and writer on Showtime’s “Masters of Sex,” was already fortified when the show began because it’s about Masters and Johnson and their studies into human sexuality that began in the late ‘50s.
“We had an interesting sort of dilemma or a challenge or a lucky thing on our show, which was that our show was ABOUT sex,” she says.
So we came out of the gate knowing that we were going have to tackle sex all the time. And one of the things that was very appealing to me is they came at it through their work initially, which was, of course, science,” she says.
“So we had that built into our show, and that allowed us to look at sex almost in the polar opposite way to how it has been approached, I think, for many years, which is how do you make sex look sexy?
“Our job was how do you make it look as unsexy as is humanly possible? Because what it was was a piece of science for us. So that was an interesting way to come at sex.”
Maura Tierney, who stars as the jilted wife in “The Affair,” says she was eager at first to approach the steamy love scenes.
“I found myself super, super game for everything before we started. And you’re a little more anxious. But I feel like I grew with the season. It got easier for me to risk things as we shot it, and as I understood who I was playing, and I got a little more confident. So it was really exciting and different.”
She says she realized that she had to explore new depths for the intimate scenes. She told herself, “‘I, Maura Tierney, have to be different, and I’m required to call upon different parts of me to get through the scene and to communicate what needs to be communicated through the script.’”
Dominic West, who plays Tierney’s husband, has spicy scenes with both Tierney and Ruth Wilson, who portrays his lover. “The nature of acting is have to become very, very into it with strangers very quickly, whether you’re doing a play or this show,” he says. “In this show we’re doing a lot of intimate sex scenes with Ruth, whom I’d never met before and Maura, whom I’d never met before — and that’s a big challenge.”
Sarah Jessica Parker, who had some spiffy tussles with Mr. Big on “Sex and the City,” reports she has a non-nudity clause in her contract, but it isn’t a case of morality.
“It’s not about some sort of judgment about people who do it because I think it’s great if you feel comfortable and feel you’re not being exploited and it’s something you want to do. I think it’s grand. It’s just not for me. I’ve always been modest and nervous about that experience, so I’ve just never done it.”
Jane Seymour, who’s played some juicy trysts, insists that creating them is no fun. “It’s torture. The angle at which you have to pose, you really have to be a contortionist you know. If your leading man or you have any makeup on, that sort of slides from one person to another. God forbid you’re wearing red lipstick and, of course, the hair — it’s in the way. There’s nothing sexy about it at all. You try and make it be. Actually the sexiest part is what happens before. It’s the tension before. The minute they get together it’s like . . .” (she shrugs).
Torrey DeVitto participated in a smoldering scene in “Army Wives,” but says, “Love scenes, it’s never NOT awkward. First of all, just as a woman, I like manly men. I don’t want to kiss a guy and smell makeup on his face. It’s always awkward. . . It’s always uncomfortable. I don’t do nudity. I’m not saying it’s wrong, I have friends who do it. Maybe if Johnny Depp called me tomorrow and offered me a job that required nudity, I might do it.”
Peter Capaldi will take on the netherworld as the new “Doctor Who,” when the show returns to BBC America on Sept. 19. The good news is that Steven Moffat will continue to be chief writer. Moffat says that changing actors often alters the character. “You not only get a new actor in the role, you get a new Doctor. You’re not obliging one actor to re-create the work of another as in the way they do with James Bond. You’re saying, because you actually change the Doctor, he’s a different person, to use a rubbish word, you ‘optimize’ the part for this new actor. . .”
Moffat says the idea of recruiting new Doctors every so often was brilliant. “I think it’s one of the boldest and cleverist decisions ever taken in a TV show. I can say that with no conceit because it was nothing to do with me. I was about 4 at the time.”
Sometimes the best of television shows up where you least expect it. Who would’ve thought that “Younger,” “Impastor” and “Hot in Cleveland” would launch on TV Land? It seems to be the new resting place for actually funny comedy that rejects the expletives. The network just announced it has green lit a new “dramedy” called “I Shudder,” which is about an eccentric guy who expects the rest of humanity to act with courtesy and manners. Sounds like a funny premise already. The show will star Hamish Linklater and is being written by Paul Rudnick (“In & Out,” “The Stepford Wives”).
South Africa is filling in for Plymouth Rock in National Geographic Channel’s new four-hour version of the saga of the Pilgrims, set to air in November. Titled “Saints & Sinners,” the show will star Vincent Kartheiser, the opportunistic Pete Campbell from “Mad Men,” as the upright William Bradford who eventually became governor of Plymouth Colony. The tale goes beyond the landing and into the travails that those wayfarers endured in this, their Brave New World.
(Luaine Lee is a California-based correspondent who covers entertainment for Tribune News Service.)
©2015 Luaine Lee
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.