Granted, she did show almost everything, but not quite, in her steamy scenes in this summer’s Savages. Still, she reportedly said this week that she’s thrown off by watching nudity on screen and doesn’t believe she’ll ever feel comfortable acting in the buff herself.
“When I see nudity in movies, I am always distracted by it,” the Daily Mail quoted her as saying. “I know that if I am watching a scene and someone has their boobs out, then that’s all I’m looking at — I can’t help it. I just don’t think that will ever be right for me.”
Whether or not to do nudity seems to be a decision that every rising, attractive actress in Hollywood must eventually face. Many choose, as Lively seems to have chosen, to refuse to strip for the camera. Many others seem to have no problem shedding their clothes on-screen.
But which is the smarter career move?
By the time they’re Lively’s age, many young actresses have shown repeatedly that they have no problem with nude scenes. There’s Angelina Jolie, Anne Hathaway, Anna Paquin — and that’s just the A’s. Such actresses have no trouble finding work — or winning awards. And not despite their willingness to strip, but often because of it.
The most celebrated example here is probably Halle Berry. She was a star for a decade before she did her first nude scene in 2001, reportedly demanding an extra $500,000 to appear topless in a gratuitous scene in the big-budget thriller Swordfish. A few months later, she took a lot less money to show a lot more skin in the indie Monster’s Ball, but her performance in that drama of racial reconciliation earned her a Best Actress Oscar.
Movie critics (who are often men) will hail an actress who strips (at least, in the right dramatic role) for her “bravery” or “fearlessness,” which seems to be code for “willingness to satisfy men’s prurient interest.” (And it’s not just young actresses; Helen Mirren and Charlotte Rampling were impressing critics with their willingness to bare all until they were well into their 50s.) The Academy just follows the critics’ lead, according to Scott Feinberg, the awards blogger/analyst for the Hollywood Reporter.
“The Academy is primarily older males who enjoy younger women,” Feinberg told Celebuzz. “Almost every Best Actress winner in recent years has been conventionally beautiful. In every instance where there’s a close race, the edge seems to go to the woman who’s more conventionally attractive.”
But even among beautiful actresses, willingness to go unclothed gives an even greater edge. Not just on screen, but when campaigning as well. “When Kate Winslet appeared naked on a magazine cover that was released as voters filled out their ballots, that wasn’t a coincidence. Even Helen Mirren appeared in a bikini while she was campaigning.” (Both won; Mirren for her fully-dressed role in The Queen, Winslet for her frequently undressed role in The Reader.)
As Feinberg pointed out, there are so many eligible movies every year that they risk being ignored unless there’s something about them that stands out. “The first step is capturing the media’s attention. Flashy acting and nudity are going to do that,” he said.
Still, does nudity really make a lofty drama more artistic, or is it just an easy way to sell tickets and generate press coverage? “There are probably ways of telling those same stories without getting graphic.,” Feinberg said. “I’ve been in conversations with actors who have done this — is that really acting or is it pandering?” Performers will tell you that there is an artistically valid reason for showing all (echoing what their directors must have told them), but aren’t they just rationalizing?
There are certainly plenty of actresses who’ve made the same choice as Lively whose careers have flourished.Julia Robertswon an Oscar and spent two decades as queen of the box office without having to strip all the way down. Even in Sex and the City, Sarah Jessica Parker has never shown everything, and no one ever dismissed that series or the movie spinoffs as timid or less than candid; nor has Parker’s movie career or reputation as an awards-worthy actress suffered.
You’d think it would be easier, then, to just say no. You’d never have to worry about what your wobbly bits look like in HD, or how to negotiate specifics about pay and exposure in nudity clauses in your contract. You’d never have to explain your decision to your parents, or your kids. And you’d never have to dread knowing that screengrabs of your nude scenes will be a click away on every porn site on the Web, forever.
So how does an actress decide which path to take? Celebuzz sought career advice from Howard Bragman, Vice Chairman of Reputation.com and longtime Hollywood publicist who says he has guided many actresses through this decision. Surprisingly, he said, “It’s just not a very big deal. I certainly respect the right of everyone to make their own decision. It’s just not a career issue.”
One reason it’s not a big deal is the behavior and taste of the 18-to-34-year-olds whose attention Hollywood covets. “The 18-to-34 demographic doesn’t have a lot of concern about nudity,” Bragman said. “They text nude pictures of themselves to each other. It’s different from a generation ago.” He added, “Look at Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian. They built their careers on the back of nudity. They’ve certainly transcended that, but you have to remember where they started.”
Nudity for actresses has become such a non-issue, Bragman said, that “one of the last great frontiers is that men have started getting naked.” He cited Michael Fassbender in 2011’s Shame and said that his nudity in that character study of a sex addict was artistically merited. “If he hadn’t taken his clothes off, that wouldn’t have been a credible film.”
How, then, would he advise a young actress facing the decision of whether or not to do nudity?
“I’d look at the role, the director, where the film is going to end up, and her feelings as an actor,” Bragman said.
So, happy birthday, Blake. Trust your feelings.