SHY, BUT BARELY

Here they are – The three great lies of Show Business:

  1. “I have a three-picture deal,”
  2. “It’s a firm commitment,” and
  3. “I’m basically a shy person.” 

This last one seems to be the new mantra of every actress who’s doing a press tour for a film in which she doffs her top and/or bottom.  Often, compounding the disingenuousness, they add, “I felt so uncomfortable taking my clothes off… but I’m an actress and it was part of the story…”

It takes a good actress to speak that dialogue and make it play.  The candid answer would be more along the lines of, “The studio decided the film needed some flesh in it.  That’s part of what they’re selling, so it becomes part of what I’m selling.  That’s why I spend half my off-camera hours at the gym and a good chunk of my paychecks on tummy tucks and biannual implants.  I only have X years before they start telling my agent that I look a bit ‘mature’ for the part (i.e. over 28), so I’m not about to lose a single movie role to any of the 18,000 actresses in town who’ll get naked for a passport photo…”

But, “I’m basically a shy person”? Give me a break, Gwyneth.

Shy people do not dream of becoming movie stars.  That’s like someone who’s afraid of heights dreaming of life as a window washer at the Sears Tower.  The actor has never lived who did not fantasize about winning the Oscar, getting up at the ceremony, and sharing the supreme emotional moment of their lives with umpteen-billion people watching on live TV.

I’ve done a few dozen movies, somehow managing to be at least semi-naked in half of them.  Of course, I’m basically a shy person…

I’ve had extensive acting classes before my brief scene in My Tutor, But I suspect the two-hours-per-day of aerobics over the preceding months were more valuable to my performance.  I’d also like to thank the man who supplied the diet pills, the women who colored and styled my hair, and, most of all, gravity, which had yet to set in on the salient parts of my anatomy.


(Please note that though the fun parts have been pixellated, this might be NSFW.)

For my even briefer scene, in Zapped!, I’d like to thank all the same people, plus the many special-effects experts who arranged to make my shirt fly off when Scott Baio focused his telekinetic powers on it.  Despite their realistic simulation of a fantasy that every heterosexual male has concerning most of the women he meets, the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects that year went to something called E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.  Roger Ebert called it the greatest miscarriage of integrity since the year they by passed Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens and gave Best Picture to Kramer vs. Kramer.

I did an even briefer bit of blouse-ripping in The Underachievers.  As usual, I was told, “It’s only a flash… no one will ever see it,” which perhaps should be the Fourth Great Lie.  Every VCR/DVD has still-frame, and just in case yours doesn’t, there are men’s magazines that reprint such flashes.  (I know because I keep getting them in the mail to autograph.  Still, I haven’t seen a check fromCelebrity Sleuth, which makes a lot of money immortalizing those scenes we get paid almost nothing to do.)

My supreme starring (undraped) role to date was in a direct-to-Playboy Channel flick called Christina, which, nakedness aside, could be marketed as an over-the-counter sleep aid.  It was shot all over Europe with what the press book called “a multinational crew,” which means that no two people involved spoke a common language.  I was promised “tasteful nudity,” which in this case meant that I got to be topless in front of the Eiffel Tower.  We shot it when there were no gendarmes about, on a dreary morning with the temperature hovering around eight degrees… and that’s Fahrenheit.  All I can recall is that my nipples looked liked the pop-up timers on Butterball turkeys, and there were tourists taking photos and muttering; “Now this is what Paris should be like…” 

Whereas for some films you negotiate how much nudity you’ll do, on this picture I actually found myself haggling to be clothed in one or two scenes – and I had to bargain with the man who held my return ticket.  (I had previously disabused him of the notion, which he claimed to be have learned in film school, that more of the budget can be put “on the screen” if the leading lady shares her hotel room with the producer.)  At one point, I had to single-handedly defeat several armed ninja assassins.  The director thought it would help the scene if I was naked.

Did I like taking my clothes off in these films?  Not particularly.  But no one put a howitzer to my temple and forced me into this line of work.  If I really were shy, I could move out of Hollywood, get a job selling microwaves at Wal-Mart, and eat desserts without fearing that a quarter-inch of cheesecake midriff would cost me a gig or wind up visible on film.  Given the choice between Wal-Mart and being bare onscreen – with at least a theoretical shot at becoming rich and famous accompanying the latter – guess which one Shy Little Me opts for?

At times, taking off my clothes in front of a camera reminded me of taking off my clothes in front of a boyfriend.  Back in the ‘70s, it was still unfashionable for women to take the initiative in sex.  Guys could admit they wanted sex; girls had to feign being talked into it – excellent training for an actress.  Olivier in his prime could never have mastered the genuineness of my best friend in high school telling her date, “Well, I shouldn’t… but if you really want me to…”

It works the same way with nude scenes.  You know you’re going to do them.  Your agent has told them you do them.  If you’re even vaguely attractive, by the time you’re 18, every male with a Nikon, camcorder, or disposable Fuji has tried to coax you into slipping off your top.  If your body’s good enough for any producer to want it in his movie, you’ve probably shown it to a lens or two, just out of vanity and the fear that it will never look any better.  Still, you want to be coaxed a little, if only so they’ll think of you as an actress doing a nude scene, not as a nude model trying to talk.

Actually, it’s not so much being nude in movies that’s the problem.  It’s being nude in all those producers’ offices.  At least when you’re shooting the film, there’s a guaranteed paycheck… and witnesses.

Boy, are there witnesses.  The Pope appears before smaller crowds.  When the clothed scenes are being shot, you can look out and see the director and a crew of six.  Somehow, when comes time for the bra to come off, 83 guys, including the caterer and the fellow in charge of transportation insurance, suddenly have a good and valid reason to be there.  Be especially wary when they promise you a “closed set.”  That means you’ll be disrobing in front of every single male even remotely involved in the production, plus their agents and a few staff lesbians.  At times, I’ve felt like I should be hawking lap dances and getting dollar bills stuffed in my garter.

Auditions are worse.  There are those producers and directors who are professional about it – female casting person on the premises, everything strictly business.  Then there are those who seem to be having way too much fun.  For them, it isn’t the visual thrill as much as the feeling of power, and the fact that you’re removing garments in their offices and at their command.  For all the fully clad three-line roles, they see a maximum of five contenders; for the nude three-line part, it somehow becomes necessary to interview half of the SAG ingénue roster.

My first audition-in-the-raw came as a bit of a shock.  They told us that the scene would be done in the nude but that the interview would be done in a swimsuit.  Like all the other women in the waiting room, I’d dressed in the smallest, tightest, sexiest thing I owned, in the naïve hope that someone would think I looked so spectacular that no further undressing would be required.  This has never happened in the history of mankind, but you have to be a dreamer to pursue an acting career.

But the director decided that he simply had to see us all naked, just to make sure there were no sags or scars or tattoos.  (Later in my career, I toyed with having Dr. Pepper stenciled on my ass – one of those product-placement deals.)  The first actress who went in stormed out in less than a minute, announcing to the rest of us, “They want nude!”  Everyone moaned – not necessarily from surprise – and we all whispered about how we were being insulted and exploited and used and degraded… but none of us left.

I didn’t get the part.  I’m not sure if what they didn’t like was my acting, my attitude, or my breasts.  I’m not sure which of the three would be least painful.  I do know that that kind of thing is not nearly the worst of it.

The worst is the producer or director who figures that getting you to strip is only Act One.  I remember one very important person, who shall remain nameless (let’s call him Don Simpson, producer of Top Gun), who always seemed to be holding auditions for nude scenes.  The rumor was that even if the eventual film wouldn’t call for a nude scene, he always had one written into the script, just so he could audition starlets.

Ominously, my reading for him was held not in an office on a studio lot but in a hotel suite in Beverly Hills.  He gave me a quick once-over, offered a few controlled substances, which I declined, then suggested I whip off my clothes because “…if you can’t do it here, in front of me, you won’t be able to do it on the set if you get the part.”

I told him I’d brought a swimsuit and would be willing to go into the next room and put it on.  That was the end of the audition.

I wish I could say that that was the only time this kind of thing happened to me.  I also wish I could say it has happened with Kevin Costner, but it hasn’t.  (Kevin, if you’re reading this, I will be nude for any audition you call me in for, even if the part calls for an actress in full body armor.)

So why do we put up with it?  There are many reasons, and a shot at stardom accounts for at least half of them.  Love of acting is another.  An actress who refuses nude scenes closes herself off from a lot of acting opportunities.  But really, there’s another motive, at least for me.  Remember earlier, when I said I didn’t particularly like doing nude scenes?  Well, that was a partial fib.

I hate the auditions, but doing the actual film has its perks.  It’s acting, first of all – naked bimbo acting, perhaps, but if you’re an actress, that’s still better not acting.  Second, there’s a feeling of glamour – all the lighting people and makeup people fussing over you, and the knowledge that you’re there because men find you beautiful.  If you’re in bed with an actor, he usually gets to wear his underpants (you don’t) and he tells you he’s wearing two pairs, just in case, hint hint.  For a little while there – when they’re filming, when the movie comes out, when it hits Cinemax – you’re a movie star, sort of.  Plus, you get paid.  Maybe not as much as Gwyneth or Uma or Nicole do for popping their tops, but at least you’re in the tiny percentage of the Screen Actors Guild that supports itself via screen acting.

But I can’t admit to any of this… and I especially can’t admit that when I take off my clothes on camera, I feel a little more beautiful, a little sexier, a little more desired.  I certainly can’t confess that it’s one of the times I allow myself to think, “Hey, maybe I’m not as unattractive as my bathroom mirror claims I am every morning.”

I can’t tell you any of that.  You see, I’m basically a very shy person…

Jewel is Basically Shy.
Jewel is Basically Shy.