What ‘Last Tango in Paris’ Did Wrong, and ‘General Hospital’ Did Right (Commentary)

“General Hospital” actress Natalia Livingston had to film a rape scene with her then-boyfriend. She told TheWrap how the show took care to be responsible and respectful

Last Updated: December 6, 2016 @ 6:04 PM

Bernardo Bertolucci’s inspired an outcry with his admission that he didn’t warn actress Maria Schneider about every aspect of a “Last Tango in Paris” rape scene because he wanted a shocked reaction. In this Hollyblog, Emmy-winning actress Natalia Livingston describes to TheWrap’s Rosemary Rossi how her “General Hospital” colleagues handled a 2006 rape scene responsibly and respectfully. They included her boyfriend at the time, Tyler Christopher, who played her attacker.

It’s not OK what happened on “Last Tango in Paris.” You want to be considerate of each other and thoughtful and mindful. It’s the director’s responsibility to create a safe atmosphere for the actors, and the actors should be able to have an open conversation about, “What can I expect? What is this going to entail? Can we make sure that I’m safe and protected?” I learned so much through all of this.

This is Marlon Brando and all these incredible actors and a known director, and I was working on a daytime storyline. But, still, there are codes of conduct and professionalism and ways of telling story where you can respect everybody involved. What they did was just completely reckless. Sure, they probably got some incredible reaction from the actress and maybe it was applauded as some sort of a brilliant moment in cinematic history, but I wouldn’t want that on my conscience.

Personal Connection

I was dating Tyler at the time we shot the scene, which added another layer to everything and made it even harder to film those scenes. When you’re in a relationship, anything physical between the two of you is such a private, personal, in many ways sacred thing. But then you add a storyline like this where you have to act out this horrible, horrible thing with someone you love in your real life, and then the have to do it in front of the whole world. It’s a really hard thing. It’s nothing you want to even have in your subconscious.

Tyler was so thoughtful and considerate and cautious and mindful of everything we were having to act out, so that made it easier. But it was definitely difficult.

A Sensitive Approach

The writers were very thoughtful in the way that they approached me with the rape story. It was a big deal to them, as it was to me. It wasn’t anything that they took lightly. One of the writers had her own experience with rape, and it was really, really important to her that the story be told as truthfully and realistically as possible and that we were able to help the victims in some way. We had extensive conversations over this. She had told me her story and what she had dealt with. A lot of us doing this story was because of her and what she had dealt with.

The directors had a very different way of working with me. Theirs was more about making sure I was comfortable and that I felt safe and secure enough. Tyler, as well, because it was just as difficult for him to do this. They were really respectful in telling me what kind of shot they were going to do, that they were only going to film me from chest up, or from this particular point down, or whatever it was. That gave me a level of comfort. I was so young, so I really needed them to help me in that way. I had a good support team in them.

The blocking was very specific: “After this point, this is going to happen and then we’re going to move here.” I knew exactly what was going to happen, and Tyler knew exactly what he had to do. This wasn’t one of those scenes where you want any sort of creative license; you want it to be very specific and very technical and crafted in a certain way.

An Out-Of-Body Experience

The rape itself was a one-take scene, and we all went into it wanting it be just a one-take scene. Even the shower scene afterwards, where she goes and she tries desperately to cleanse herself, that was also just one take. As actors, we’re required and called on to be able to bring up those emotions over and over and over again. But we did our best to get it in one take and build up that emotion. They gave me plenty of time before all scenes to get to where I needed to be so we could do it in one take. Also, afterwards too, because it’s not something that you quickly come down from. It was, “OK, let’s take a break and calm down from this.”

It’s definitely an out-of-body experience. I don’t remember shooting it. I’ve heard of victims that have have blacked out. They can’t remember it. It’s too much for the soul to take in, so you want to detach. I understand that because even as an actor, I can’t remember it.

After those scenes, there was a recovery period that Tyler and I experienced as actors, where our interactions had to be so soft and gentle. We had to take our time in that way. It was in no way that any sort of trust was lost, because it’s not the person, it’s an actor playing a character. But still, it affects you subconsciously, so there was that sort of reacquainting ourselves: “Everything is OK here.”