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Archive for Monday, August 13, 2001

Film nudity challenges actresses

August 13, 2001

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— Baring her body in "American Pie" exposed Shannon Elizabeth to the expectation that she'd strip for the camera again.

"But I knew if I wanted to be in the business until I'm 80, which I do, I'd have to turn those things down for now," the 24-year-old actress said.

Elizabeth reprised her role as Nadia, the sexy Czech exchange student, in the new "American Pie 2," but insisted on one major change no nude scene.

Luckily, she said, the writer and director didn't try to change her mind.

Many of her "American Pie" cast mates also have done nude scenes in their young careers, such as Mena Suvari in "American Beauty," Tara Reid in "Body Shots," even Jason Biggs.

After taking their clothes off in one movie, the performers agreed it can be difficult to make other filmmakers accept a refusal to bare all again.

Although most actors insist they'll only perform nude for art's sake, scenes that tap into moviegoers' voyeuristic urges can boost a film's earnings or create an instant fan base.

Halle Berry's brief topless scene in this summer's "Swordfish" has been credited with boosting the film's nearly $70 million gross by attracting droves of curious male fans.

Berry denied reports that producers paid her an extra $500,000 for it, saying that she agreed to the scene because it was liberating.

"To me, playing a character who was that in control of her sexuality, who was that comfortable with herself, was the challenge to pull that off and not sit there looking scared to death, like I felt inside that I was," she said.

American standards

People have taken their clothes off in front of the camera as long as there have been cameras, but nudity vanished from mainstream American film because of the Hays Code restrictions, which went into effect in 1930 and prohibited explicit portrayals of sex, violence and profanity.

European films continued to feature nudity, though, and actresses such as Brigitte Bardot became icons of sexual freedom.

Meanwhile, some U.S. stars such as Elizabeth Taylor in 1963's "Cleopatra" pushed the boundaries by appearing in brief semi-nude scenes.

Then American critics began attacking the Hays Code over restrictions placed on the acclaimed 1966 British drama "Blow-Up," which featured full frontal female nudity. (A new ratings system was instituted in 1968 by the Motion Picture Association of America, which served as a guideline for parents without restricting a film's content.)

Many young performers say they approach nudity on a case-by-case basis.

The chance to play Kevin Spacey's rose petal-covered fantasy in "American Beauty" changed Suvari's mind about taking off her clothes. Her character, a cheerleader who acts like a sexpert, reveals her inexperience by becoming frightened when Spacey unbuttons her blouse.

"I always said, 'I'm never going to do nudity. I'm never going to be that kind of actor,"' Suvari recalled. "But that movie's so symbolic, and the scene that I had is more about the unveiling, the revealing of the character."

Now Suvari, 22, is back to her no-nudity policy because she doesn't want to be typecast as an actress who takes off her clothes.

Comfort levels

Only rarely will a producer offer extra pay specifically for nudity, although the actors' representatives frequently seek for more compensation.

Performers typically are more interested in getting their Screen Actors Guild rights pertaining to nudity, such as limited access to the set, destroying outtakes or reviewing footage before the final edit.

"Sometimes an actor will agree to a nude scene and then try to back out of it. They're in their dressing room saying, 'I just can't do this,"' Tulchin said.

In those cases, he added: "It's more important to have a director who makes the actor comfortable."

Reid, who plays the romantic sexual novice Vicky in the "American Pie" movies, said no filmmaker has tried to talk her into a scene that makes her uneasy.

"I absolutely feel comfortable resisting," Reid said. "You just tell them at the beginning, 'There's going to be no nudity in this role.' And if they want you bad enough, they'll say, 'OK."'

The 25-year-old agreed to perform two nude scenes with actor Jerry O'Connell in the 1999 drama "Body Shots," about a one-night stand that may have been rape.

In his flashback, the scene is an erotic consensual romp. In her version of the event, O'Connell's character brutally attacked her.

The decision to bare her breasts, she said, "was particular to the role. If the role really calls for it and it helps the character and helps you understand it more, (the nudity) makes sense. But if it's just to show T&A for no reason, I wouldn't do it."

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