Thursday, August 2, 2012

Sex on the Set: Kristen Stewart Goes Astray in the Dark Forest

So this week’s biggest Hollywood story is about how Kristen Stewart of the Twilight franchise was caught snogging the (married) director of her latest hit, Snow White and the Huntsman. It shocked her fans, who know all about Kristen’s long-time relationship with her vampirical Twilight co-star, Robert Pattinson. I could make some really bad jokes, but instead I’ll reflect on the Hollywood tradition of movie sets as hotbeds, so to speak, for sexual adventures.

Quite honestly, during my many years in the movie industry, I was mostly chained to a desk that was weighted down with piles of scripts. Not a very sexy environment, that’s for sure. But in 1974 I worked production on a New World Pictures classic, Big Bad Mama. The stint included a week in Temecula, California, now a thriving suburb but then strictly a cow-town. We were housed in a dreary motel miles from anywhere. In that week, I got a glimpse of what it’s like to make movies away from home: you alternate between frenzied activity and long, dull stretches in a place you don’t particularly want to be. I was a newlywed, and my greatest transgression was a bizarre late-night drive with crew member Paul Bartel (future director of Eating Raoul) in search of the gourmet restaurant he was sure was out there somewhere in the hinterlands.

My point is that going on location can make you a little crazy. Living in close quarters in some out-of-the-way spot for weeks and months at a time, movie people can succumb to all sorts of shenanigans. In the case of Big Bad Mama, star Angie Dickinson had enough clout to stay in her own home, from which she was ferried to the set at the crack of dawn each day by a hard-working young driver. And her two romantic partners in the film, William Shatner and Tom Skerritt (the latter still smarting from a recent divorce) largely kept to themselves. So if there was hanky-panky going on, it was among lesser mortals.

But many’s the location shoot in which romance on-screen turned into romance off-screen. It makes perfect sense. Leading actors are attractive, charismatic people (especially when dressed and lit to look their best). They are also notoriously insecure. And their training encourages them to truly believe in the feelings they’re simulating for the camera. So if they’re playing love scenes, they have a tendency to fall in love for real. This was true back in 1935 when Clark Gable and Loretta Young, making The Call of the Wild, had an affair in the forests of Washington State that produced a secret daughter. It was never more true than when Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, shooting Cleopatra in Rome, began a torrid romance that ignited an international scandal.

Today, when bedroom scenes often require a high decree of physical intimacy, it’s all the more understandable that an on-screen relationship sometimes continues off-camera. Though married to Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt fell for Angelina Jolie on the set of Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Ironically, Heath Ledger’s portrayal of a gay cowboy in Brokeback Mountain led to a serious real-life relationship with Michelle Williams, who played his heartbroken spouse in the film.

A star who falls for her director introduces another element. When she’s 22 and he’s almost twice that, the relationship strikes me as disturbingly exploitative. Not that mutual attraction seems impossible. She’s fresh and young; he’s heading toward a midlife crisis. Director Nicholas Ray was in his mid-forties when he seduced teenager Natalie Wood while shooting Rebel Without a Cause. A great film, but at what cost?


  1. Wow. It's a potent combination of personalities and opportunity. I saw plenty of it in my ten years in the industry as well. Probably the most well known was Renee Zellweger - star of the cult item Empire Records. She and co-star Rory Cochrane came to the set as a couple - having met one film previously on the small indie Love and a .45. There were all sorts of couplings and pairings during Empire Records - some of which even bled over into another teen film shooting here in Wilmington at the time - My Teacher's Wife - with Tia Carrere, Jason London, and several other lesser known young actors. Wilmington was hopping there for a couple of months. Renee left Wilmington after Empire for Charleston South Carolina and a small indie called Liar - on which she started dating the director. A film or two after that was Me Myself and Irene, where she started seeing her co-star, Jim Carrey. Obviously, Renee falls quickly and easily with the right combination of long hours and intense production emotions.

    There was also the case of Chad Michael Murray and Sophia Bush - two of the photogenic stars of the WB teen soap One Tree Hill. After a season or two of playing at love onscreen - they married - and proceeded to watch their marriage fall apart across the next season in front of the world. Then they had to spend several more seasons as exes, still acting the same kind of scenes that got them there in the first place!

    The thing is - the people who do this do it time and again - why don't their new lovers realize they are only the next link in the chain? If your fling was with three different people on the last three films made - chances are you're #4 and the fifth is waiting as soon as the next movie starts production...

  2. It's always great to see a comment from someone who knows his stuff. Thanks, Mr. Craig. (Though I'm not sure I like being reminded of "Me, Myself, and Irene" -- a really dreadful movie, in my not-so-humble opinion.)