We've Got Hollywood Covered

Sex on the Set, Part 2: How Fake Is It, Really?

”Part of your brain screams, If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, isn’t it a duck?“

(See Part 1: "Sex Scenes Make Treacherous Terrain for Actors")

Sam Mendes couldn’t stomach watching wife Kate Winslet’s love scene with Leonardo DiCaprio on the set of “Revolutionary Road,” even though he was the film’s director. So Mendes viewed the romantic reunion of the “Titanic” duo on a video monitor in a neighboring room, shouting out suggestions from afar.

Mendes may have been wise to keep his distance. Later, Winslet told reporters she was pleasantly surprised to find her chemistry with DiCaprio so powerful they could just “slip right into it, like muscle memory."

When they’re honest with themselves, actors generally admit that any butterflies they feel while in the middle of a torrid scene with a co-star are usually just an illusion.

But in the heat of the moment, it can be hard to remember that. (See accompanying slideshow: "The Dirty Dozen: 12 Sexiest Scenes of All Time.")

"I’ve had to fight the attraction for the person when I do the scenes where I’m pretending to fall in love with them,” says “Rescue Me’s” Diane Farr. “You end up doing something you actually do with your real life partner. You might move your leg a certain way. But you’re the only person that knows that’s your actual authentic behavior.

“You end up feeling very close to these people because they’ve seen you do something very private. But it’s not private.”

This realization led Farr to reach out to the girlfriend of her on-screen love interest in “Rescue Me,” writing her a note. “It said, ‘Hi. I’m Diane and I’m totally not interested in your boyfriend.’ She really seemed to appreciate that.”

Most actors take it upon themselves to look out for the feelings of their real-life mates.

Pamela Adlon, who plays Evan Handler’s feisty wife on “Californication,” has stumbled upon a way to make her on-screen sex scenes non-threatening to her husband: When the episode airs, her proper British mother comes over to watch.

“My mom sits there and says, ‘Oh, it’s lovely. You look very nice,’” Adlon says, explaining that the seating plan — Adlon on the couch, bookended by her husband and mum — throws cold water on even the steamiest encounter.

For Handler, it’s laughter that gets him and his wife past the raunchiest scenes, like the one from “Californication’s” last season in which Handler’s character pinch-hits for a porn star. First Adlon ducks between his legs to (ahem) start the engine. Then the revved-up Handler walks over to a young actress perched atop a desk and thrusts mightily into her naked loins.

The camera lingers on his contorted face.

Scenes like this one give his wife pause, Handler says. “Some of it makes her a little queasy. But it makes me a little queasy to see myself doing that stuff,” he adds, joking, “We tend to have sex 10 to 20 times the day before I have to do one of those scenes.”

In the end, it seems the most successful relationships between actors thrive by maintaining a sort of Jedi mind trick of perpetual disbelief. How else can an actor spend the day in bed with a stranger — limbs entangled, lips locked — and then later, slip under the covers with his or her real squeeze?

And how else could that squeeze banish thoughts of those hands groping another? It’s weird for everyone.

Scott Conte, a visiting assistant professor at UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television, was newly engaged when he was cast in a play that called for him to simulate sex, half-dressed, with a lovely blonde co-star.

He did his best to prepare his wife, Bibi Dhillonn, explaining that the physical stuff was highly choreographed: His hand would go on the actress’s hip, he would hold her, they would kiss longingly. It might look wanton, Conte told his wife, but it was really about as sexy as following a road map.

The first time Dhillonn saw the play, she was fine. But when she saw it again, she noticed a facial expression of Conte’s combined with a gesture that was so familiar it made her heart pound and sent blood rushing to her face.

The theater was tiny, and she knew she couldn’t walk out without being noticed and interrupting Conte’s performance. So she just sat there watching the visage she’d thought Conte reserved only for her and tried to remind herself that the man she loved was acting.

“I knew it was coming, and yet for some reason I was like, ‘Oh. They’re actually touching each other,’” said Dhillonn, an administrator for UCLA’s theater department, remembering being surprised by her own surprise. “Sometimes, Scott’s own mannerisms come out in the role he’s playing. When that’s happening, it’s harder to separate Scott from the act onstage.”

The bottom line, Dhillonn says, is that you can love your mate and trust him or her implicitly. And yet part of your brain is still screaming: If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, isn’t it a duck? (Or something that rhymes with duck.)

“There was real body contact,” she says, recalling where her mind went.

“If there was nude body contact, you would have to wonder: Does he enjoy how her skin feels? Are her curves better?"