Producers for HBO’s “Westworld” told SAG-AFTRA that they won’t back down from plans to shoot graphic sexual scenes even after the actors union warned members about the project.
The union, meanwhile, is investigating concerns about the health and safety of extras on the show being asked to perform graphic sexual acts.
SAG-AFTRA alerted members Wednesday morning that a waiver extras cast on the upcoming series were being asked to sign was not enforceable. The document asks extras to consent to “perform genital-to-genital touching; have your genitals painted; simulate oral sex with hand-to-genital touching; contort to form a table-like shape while being fully nude,” and “other assorted acts that the project may require.”
The union contacted producers after being alerted to the waiver’s existence Tuesday.
“They have flat out told me that they’re not going to make any changes,” to the content of the planned scenes, Terri Becherer, SAG-AFTRA national director for specialty performers, told TheWrap.
In the wake of that conversation, SAG-AFTRA is investigating safety and health concerns on the set.
“I did ask producers if there were any protections for the level of intimacy that is being required, and they could not give me any assurances that there would be,” Becherer said.
The union was made aware of the waiver Tuesday afternoon when it fielded a call from a background actor working on the series. According to SAG-AFTRA, the document violates the union’s collective bargaining agreement for background actors.
“In a situation like that, it’s really, really important for background actors to know what their rights are,” Becherer said. “Once they’ve given their consent, they still have the right to say no. It’s just like two consenting adults on a date. You don’t know until you get into that situation whether you’re going to feel comfortable or not.”
The union expressed concern to producers that the waiver did not include language telling actors they had the right to withdraw consent. Producers for the show assured the union that actors who choose not to perform in scenes covered by the waiver will still be paid for the day if they back out before filming starts. Once an actor begins shooting a scene, however, producers have the right to use any footage shot.
HBO issued a statement Wednesday blaming the waiver on background casting agency Central Casting:
The document that the background actors were given was created by an outside extras casting vendor. It was not requested, written or approved by HBO, Warner Bros. Television, or the producers, and contains situations that we do not require of any actor. We are rectifying immediately the discrepancies in this vendor’s document with our actual on-set practices, which provide a professional and comfortable working environment for all performers.
HBO has not yet clarified which sex acts described in the waiver actors are not being asked to perform.
Based on the 1973 film by Michael Crighton, “Westworld” is billed as “a dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and the future of sin.” The original film featured robots in a Western-themed amusement park run amok. The series is produced by Warner Bros. Television, J.J. Abrams‘ Bad Robot, Jerry Weintraub Productions and Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s Kilter Films.
The one-hour drama features Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Rodrigo Santoro, Shannon Woodward, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Ben Barnes, Jimmi Simpson, Clifton Collins, Jr., Simon Quarterman and Angela Sarafyan.
“Westworld” is set to premiere is 2016.