What It's Like To Film Your First Sex Scene - Aged 17
The Debrief: Maisie Williams described filming her first sex scene as 'extremely awkward.' Emer Kenny, who remembers filming her first sex scene when she was 17, can totally sympathise
As her character was just 11 when Game Of Thrones started, it’s not surprising that Maisie Williams has so far avoided any sex scenes in her role as headstrong tomboy Arya Stark. It wasn’t until she got a role in recent indie film The Falling that she had to do what many of her GoT co-stars are veterans of – the on-screen shag. In describing it as ‘extremely awkward’, Maisie has it bang on. Excuse the pun.
I did a sex scene before I’d even had sex. OK, I’m lying. I was 17, and although I had technically lost my virginity, I wasn’t engaging in the kind of sex in my private life that anyone would be proud to have lit, mic’ed up and shot for national TV. Actually, I’m not sure I’ll ever have that photogenic a sex life, but I’ve certainly got better at faking it. For the camera, I mean.
When I was offered my first acting role in 2007 in a BBC One drama, it involved shagging in a tattoo artist’s chair and showing off a nipple piercing to Nicholas Hoult. It was even written in the contract – typed out in lawyery-lingo: the artist must get her left tit out for the lads (I’m paraphrasing.) I couldn’t help but wonder, is this what being an actress was? Writhing around moaning and nudity clauses?
After some research I realised: yes, quite possibly. Kate Winslet has appeared nude in nine separate films, Helen Mirren in 16. I thought about sex scenes too: Julianne Moore in Boogie Nights, Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, Halle Berry’s Oscar-winning performance and very sexy sex scene in Monster’s Ball. When you’re an actor, your body is your tool – clothed or disrobed, reciting Shakespeare or humping Michael Douglas.
But it didn’t stop me being terrified. The morning of the shoot I stood half naked in a trailer and begged the make-up artist to cover my legs and arms in Mac’s Face And Body Foundation. I thought a thin layer of beige goop might somehow help me feel less naked. Skin-coloured armour. A powdery barrier between me and the world. I was also extremely worried about cellulite, but now, thinking back to my spindly 17-year-old legs, the make-up artist should thrown me out of that trailer into the street, jiggle-free-thighs first.
The scene was a part of a dream that Nick’s character was having about my character, his ex-girlfriend, where she was having hot sex with the tattoo artist. The producer, director and costume designer – all women – had been extremely sympathetic to my nudity worries, and had allowed me to wear a tiny vest, knickers and cowboy boots for the moment (as you do). Yes, I probably did look like a brunette Jessica Simpson tribute act.
Being born and bred in north London, there was something comforting about the scene being shot at a tattoo parlour on the Holloway Road. It was about halfway down with a shoddily painted sign that read in swirly writing, simply ‘TATTOO’. I was close to home. I could escape if I had to. I could jump on the 271 in my pants and boots and be home with my mum in 10 minutes, drinking tea and watching Trisha. That bus sliding past the window every so often gave me courage. There was a way out. I wasn’t trapped. Well, except for, you know, contractually.
I wasn’t so concerned with the fact that this would eventually broadcast to thousands… I was worried about the people in the room
When I arrived on set, wearing a massive robe over my tiny costume, I was visibly shaking. I wasn’t so concerned with the fact that this would eventually broadcast to thousands – I was worried about the people in the room. The grown men holding the cameras, tilting the lights. The powerful women wearing puffa jackets and flicking through shooting schedules. These were people who’d had sex before, LOTS of it (I mean, I imagine).
What I’d been attempting with my boyfriend, in hushed tones and with awkward hands, in our bedrooms of our parents houses, was not the wild, racy stuff that they were expecting to film. Surely not.
I stared at the tattoo templates on the walls, trying to distract myself. It worked – I couldn’t believe it – did people really want Tweety Bird wearing an Arsenal Shirt? Or Sylvester the cat holding the UEFA cup? It didn’t matter – my scene partner had arrived and he was holding out his hand to shake mine. He was around 35. I hadn’t expected him to be 35. When you’re 17, 35 feels incredibly adult. And when I say adult I mean ancient.
‘It’s going to be OK, we’ll get through this together,’ he said. I stared at him.. It was easy for him to say, he was nearly twice my age, and looked like he might have sex in Holloway Road tattoo parlours on his days off (no offence).
Then something amazing happened. The first assistant director, a tall, funny lady called Lydia, had asked us to come and rehearse. When I hadn’t immediately bounded over, she turned to look at me. There must have been some noticeable signals that I wasn’t ready for this – maybe it was the lack of blood in my face, the shortness of my breath, or the trembling of my hands, but she said – ‘Hold on everybody, I’m going to do this rehearsal for Emer.’
To this day I don’t think anyone has ever done anything kinder for me. The other actor took his position in front of the torn red leather tattoo chair, and Lydia climbed on top of it, pulled him to her, and proceeded to whoop and wriggle like she was riding a Bucking Bronco. It was hideously embarrassing for her: it was the best thing she could ever have done for me.
It made me more confident in negotiating exactly how and what I would do on screen, and then getting on with it
When the time came for me to climb on old Bronco myself, the crew were out of laughs. They barely looked at me, they became business-like, and focused their lenses. Lydia called action, and I did what I did next for her: every bump, grind and passionate back-scratch, I did my job to the best of my ability, just as she had done hers.
There were repercussions from this sex scene. When I got home I cried into my boyfriend’s shoulder for an hour, feeling like I’d cheated on him. After it broadcast, boys would often chant ‘GET YOUR ZAMPS OUT ON NATIONAL TV’ as I entered a party. But, most importantly, it’d made me more confident in negotiating exactly how and what I would do on screen, and then getting on with it.
Eight years later, when I was asked to do a doggy-style sex scene in a cupboard for a TV comedy, I politely told them I would do it… but I’d be doing it wearing a dress, from the side. We rehearsed it, they agreed, it was shot. Thank you, Lydia.
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