Performers’ Notes: Sophie Kennedy Clark on Sex Scenes

Most screen performers will have to do one at some point in their career, so how should you approach pretending to make love on-camera? Actress Sophie Kennedy Clark, who starred in Lars Von Trier’s erotic drama Nymphomaniac and is currently appearing in Sky Arts’ The Marriage of Reason & Squalor, gives her advice.

“Some people get asked what it’s like working with children and animals; I end up getting asked about scenes of a sexual nature!

I’ve always just rolled with the punches. If there’s a sex scene in the script and I’ve fallen in love with the script, or fallen in love with the part, it doesn’t even come into my process. I don’t have a problem with nudity, if it’s done tastefully.

Don’t work with people you don’t trust. If you don’t trust the director, it’s going to be a horrible experience. Because you’re putting yourself in such a vulnerable position. You’re making noises in that room that are socially unacceptable for a room full of people wearing baggy clothing holding electrical items! The directors I’ve worked with I’ve trusted implicitly to do me justice.

You’ve got to be comfortable. You would expect it to be a closed set. You wouldn’t expect the guy who cleans out the trailer to be suddenly turning up.

If you don’t think the scene is necessary you should probably speak to the director before you take the part. If you feel like you’ve been forced into the situation then it’s going to read on your face. If you’re doing an intimate scene and you’re meant to look like you’re enjoying it, you need to make sure that everything has been done for you to be able to do the scene to the best of your ability. And don’t settle. That’s not a big ask on set. It’s not diva behaviour. Everyone understands it’s a difficult thing to do.

You’ve got to remember though that they are so mathematically done and laid out, it’s not a sexy situation. Everyone’s there making a film and they want you to do the best job possible so you can move onto the next thing and get home on time. No-one’s there to make fun of you, they want it to be a good scene. I was doing a scene recently and I was opening my eyes in between takes, just so I could interact with everyone. When you open your eyes and you see some guy leaning against a piece of equipment eating a sandwich, you realise how daft the whole thing is.

You have to be incredibly comfortable with your opposite actor. It’s not about finding someone attractive – I’ve never fancied the person I was doing it with.

But if you’re not lucky enough to get on with the person you’re having to do the scene with it’s tough, because you’d never put yourself in that situation in real life. You would never be flesh on flesh with someone you didn’t like.

I have a trick [to try and build a rapport with my co-star]. Sometimes you’ve only known someone a couple of days, or sometimes you meet them on the day. I have this thing for getting into someone’s personal space, because once someone allows you into their personal space, you can be incredibly comfortable. I’ll always ask to take someone’s hand, fifteen minutes before the scene. I say, ‘look, I’m just going to play with your hand’. Once you’ve squidged the skin in between their fingers and felt all the nooks and crannies and someone’s got used to you being in their personal space – but in a playful, not sexy way – there’s no barrier anymore.

I think it’s about being acutely aware that the person you’re acting with may be really uncomfortable. Just because I’ve always been confident, I’m always willing to open it up for discussion. That way it becomes work and about the certain angles or shots we have to get to make the best scene possible. For example, if you find someone is ramming their tongue in your mouth there’s a delicate way of saying to someone without hurting their feelings that you don’t think that’s appropriate for the scene. Having a conversation about it means that no-one is feeling like they haven’t quite got what the scene’s about. You desexualise the whole occasion.

And hey, it makes for a hilarious story down the pub with your mates if anything goes wrong.”


The Marriage of Reason & Squalor continues on Sky Arts on Thursday at 9pm. Catch up on episode 1 and 2 on demand.