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Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal in "Love and Other Drugs": The actors waived the no-nudity clause but had a say over the final cut. (David James)
Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal in "Love and Other Drugs": The actors waived the no-nudity clause but had a say over the final cut. (David James)

Liam Lacey

The naked truth about on-screen nudity Add to ...

This seems as good time as any to talk about Jennifer Aniston getting naked. With the release of her new comedy Wanderlust last week, there was a flurry of stories that the actress had vetoed a topless shot at the behest of her boyfriend. To quote one painful-sounding headline: “Aniston pulls bare breasts from Wanderlust – for Justin Theroux.”

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Perhaps it was lack of lust in Wanderlust that caused this comedy to bomb so badly last weekend. The film earned a dismal $6.5-million (U.S.) at the box office, against a $35-million budget. If you were an investor in the film, you might well believe that Aniston’s modesty had left you financially exposed, although something similar has happened before: Aniston was reportedly supposed to be topless in the 2006 film The Break-Up with Vince Vaughn, but changed her mind, leaving only her bare behind on celluloid. Yes, there are contracts for these kinds of things, and in Aniston’s case, she obviously has enough clout to make the final call.

The subject of nudity clauses has come up with increasing regularity these days, particularly as more flesh is being revealed on network television. Though naked actors may be more prevalent than ever, the choice not to show all is also more accepted. Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love or Kate Winslet in Titanic may have bared body and soul for Oscar nominations,, but withholding has its own power. There are numerous young sex symbols – Megan Fox, Jessica Alba, Scarlett Johansson – who have gone on record as refusing to do full nudity. Other, more girl-next-door types such as Jennifer Garner, Reese Witherspoon (at least in her adult roles) and Sarah Jessica Parker are also outspoken about keeping covered up.

Given the strict union guidelines around on-set nudity, there’s seldom a reason for performers to be surprised. Actors must be told of any nude scenes well in advance and nudity waivers require directors to itemize exactly what will be shown and how. In Canada, the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists provides people called called OSLOs (on-set liaison officers) to make sure the rules are followed. As Susan Milling, ACTRA Toronto’s director of independent and broadcast production, puts it, it’s “to remind the performers that they are in control.”

Of course, that doesn’t leave much room for spontaneity, so some actors take a different approach. As Anne Hathaway told National Public Radio, the typical process goes like this: “The director submits a shot list, and you look over them for approval. And a lot of times, if an actor feels the shot demands a lot of them, they'll demand money for it.”

Instead, for the 2010 film, Love and Other Drugs, she and Jake Gyllenhaal agreed to waive the nudity clause, allowing director Edward Zwick to shoot what he wanted. But she and Gyllenhaal had final cut over those scenes, which she exercised, asking for about five seconds of the film to be cut when she thought “the camera lingered a little bit.”

In spite of what moviegoers might imagine, most young actors aren’t naturally exhibitionists. One Toronto casting director I spoke to says that for a casting director, a script with lot of nudity in it is a pain in the area usually covered by nudity clauses. Once actors understand what’s required, though, second thoughts are rare. She could only recall one case when, after an actress had agreed to a role, her agent suddenly got cold feet on her behalf and demanded, “‘Would you ask Dame Helen Mirren to do this?”

It was a bad example, she points out, “because Helen Mirren would probably take her clothes off in a bar.”

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