Poor Things Director Yorgos Lanthimos Talks Nudity In Movies: ‘We’re So Prudish About Sexuality’

Movies

Poor Things has a stacked cast that includes Emma Stone in one of her best roles as Bella Baxter, so the project one of the most-anticipated films set to hit the 2023 movie schedule. (It’s out in the U.S. on December 8, FYI.)  But the oddball fantasy—centered on young Victorian woman who, after being brought back to life by a scientist—runs off with a slick lawyer (a hilariously rakish Mark Ruffalo) on a journey of self-discovery and sexual liberation—is also raising eyebrows for its numerous graphic nude scenes. 

It’s a “prudishness” that the film’s director Yorgos Lanthimos (who also collaborated with Stone in the similarly provocative The Favourite which she was nominated at the 2019 Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actress) doesn’t share. What’s more, he doesn’t understand the issue. 

In a joint interview with Stone for The New York Times, the filmmaker spoke about his frustrations over the way violence is allowed to be handled so liberally in film, but sex scenes cause such a stir. 

For me, that aspect was never an issue. Sex in movies, or nudity — I just never understood the prudishness around it. It always drives me mad how liberal people are about violence and how they allow minors to experience it in any way, and then we’re so prudish about sexuality. To me, what was difficult about being an actor was that there was a lot of waiting around, and that’s why, when I make films, I try to have the least amount of business possible: No lights, no gear, no nothing. Nobody goes anywhere, nobody leaves. There’s no time to smoke a cigarette, because we just keep on going.

The actress also weighed in on the topic, giving on-set details about how the performers and the production team handled the sensitivity of such scenes. 

Whenever there was a scene like that, it was only four people in the room, other than whatever actor might be in there. There was Yorgos and our [director of photography] Robbie Ryan, who looks at me like I am a lamp — he’s seen me naked so many times, it’s so beyond nothing — and then Hayley [Williams, the first assistant director], and Olga [Abramson], our focus puller. That was the room.

And given that the word “gratuitous” is so often thrown around scenes of such nature, Stone was quick to assure that the onscreen nudity was essential to the shamelessly sexual character of Bella Baxter.

I mean, that’s Bella. She has no shame about her body and her sexuality and who she is, and I am so proud of that aspect of the film.

When asked by The New York Times if she, in portraying Bella, felt “emboldened” to stay in that space of shamelessness as a performer, Stone quipped: 

Just to stay naked all the time? Yeah. I’m going to be a nudist now, I’m emboldened!

Stone’s fearlessness might just pay off in the upcoming awards season, with the delightfully weird Poor Things considered to be a major contender across the acting, cinematography, costume and production design categories. 

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