Okay, we need to talk about nudity, or as I like to think of it, something an actor does when it’s tasteful and absolutely necessary for the character and not in any way prurient, and when the actor’s career could use a little boost.
Now, some people say that we’re all made in God’s image and that the human body is a natural and beautiful thing, but I believe that God also very wisely invented big fluffy bathrobes, top sheets, and oversize T-shirts, not to mention darkened rooms. Some people are just good at being naked, while others should be required, by federal statute, to wear snowsuits and those hunting caps with earflaps, even when they’re alone and in the shower behind a locked door.
Lena Dunham, for instance, is totally great at being naked. On Girls, she’s like an adorable, easily distracted 4-year-old who wanders into any situation, whether it’s a Starbucks or a dinner party or an intersection, and starts taking off her clothes. Lena loves wearing skimpy shorts and teeny little sheer blouses, and in one episode she paraded around in a sleazy mesh tank top. Whenever someone asks Lena a question, she basically has to unhook her bra in order to concentrate.
While Lena’s nudity manages to be innocent and slutty and political all at the same time, many of her costars furiously contort themselves to avoid exposing a breast or an erection. Allison Williams, who plays the gorgeous, conflicted Marnie, had a pounding sex scene where her lover somehow managed to cover every inch of Allison with his own body, as if he were nobly protecting her from shrapnel, or guiding her in making a snow angel. I completely understand Allison’s reluctance to strip, especially because her real-life dad is the devilishly handsome news anchor Brian Williams. It’s as if Allison is being chaperoned by NBC Nightly News, and I keep waiting for Brian to close a broadcast by saying ”Allison, please remember that there’s nothing wrong with a turtleneck sweater and a goodnight handshake.”
Whenever a star flashes even a stray nipple, I can always sense the offscreen negotiations involved, and I wish that a box would appear in the corner of the screen where we could watch the star’s agent and manager and legal team wrangle over the exact centimeters of exposed flesh, the duration, which crew members were allowed to remain on the set during filming, and whether the star has legal approval of any body double. Maybe the conflict in Syria would have already been resolved if it were being handled by whoever represents Channing Tatum’s butt.
Male nudity is way more fraught than the female variety. In a moment of sexual afterglow, Allison Williams’ creepy artist boyfriend managed to jackknife his legs to avoid any genital exposure, and this secret-penis pose looked so uncomfortable that I hope the actor’s contract included a chiropractor. The scrawny hipster guys on Girls can become every bit as maidenly as the hunks of True Blood or Magic Mike, with their strategically placed towels and elbows and camera angles. All of these dudes can get nervous, because they know that their pecs and crotches are going to be freeze-framed and dissected all over the Internet.
But just as stars from Sharon Stone to Kim Kardashian have used nudity to spark their careers, guys can literally expand their onscreen profiles. As a teenager, Ryan Gosling was appropriately buff as the star of TV’s Young Hercules, but to be taken seriously as an actor, he began covering up and playing pasty drug addicts and abusive husbands in solemn indies. But somewhere along the way Ryan decided that he wanted to regain some heartthrob status, so he exposed his killer abs in Crazy, Stupid, Love. And as a bonus, his upcoming indie The Place Beyond the Pines opens with a glorious close-up of Ryan’s bare, tattooed torso, which should replace the MGM lion.
The Huffington Post recently offered a video compilation of onscreen male nudity, proving that Ewan McGregor’s penis should be billed over the title, and that Harvey Keitel is the Lena Dunham of middle-aged character actors. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of taking a good honest look at the human form in all of its imperfection. Stars are paid the big bucks to hire personal trainers and get all-over spray tans so they can provide the rest of us with the fantasy of beautifully lit and glistening perfection.
If I want to see what a real person looks like naked, I can accidentally glance in the bathroom mirror early in the morning and try not to call 911. Because even if Lena Dunham isn’t model-thin, she’s still young and bouncy, if you ask me.