To bring together an ensemble of actors and hammer out a film over the course of several years is a daunting task for any director. But when you add in explicit sexual content, things become even more complex. Several members of the Shortbus cast spoke
with the Scene in New York recently, just before the film was due to
You had several years of workshops with director John Cameron Mitchell, developing your characters. What kind of experience was that like for you as actors?
Sook-Yin Lee: We've clocked hundreds of hours that will never see the light of day where our characters went back to the day we first met.
Lindsay Beamish: On most films, if you're given one week to rehearse, you're lucky. Right before we shot this film, I did an episode of CSI where I played a hooker—a junkie hooker, like I normally play—and the experience is such that with everything going on, the acting is the least important thing. There's everything technical, and then the acting just happens at the end. And in this film, the acting is very much at the forefront, and that's a huge gift. We had such freedom.
So how did you come to terms with the film's sexual content?
Lee: I was confronted by my own prudishness.
Peter Stickles: It was terrifying. It turned out that my sex scene wasn't even shot in a particularly graphic fashion, but I remember that day. June 14th, and I was terrified, but at the same time I was really excited.
Beamish: I became immune to the presence of the sex very early on. In fact, when we were looping, I would be watching these penises go into whatever over and over again while I was doing the lines, and it didn't even register by that point.
Lee: You see this film with all these unknown actors doing these things, and you believe this world, that this could actually be happening, but if you actually saw someone like Jennifer Aniston in a hardcore scene, it would throw you out of the movie a bit. I've been in other films where during sex scenes the other actor will come onto set with his loins just gaff-taped up, and it's very odd, this hostile and neutered sexual environment in most films.
Can we talk about the auto-fellatio scene?
Paul Dawson: In the first workshop, as we were developing the character of James, we realized that we wanted a private moment for James, and I realized that that might be a powerful moment for this character, who was searching to find his love for himself, challenging himself to see if he could be absolutely self-sufficient, so I mentioned to John that I had achieved that a couple of times as an adolescent, and he said “Oh, cool.” And then I went home and tried it again, and realized that I was a lot more flexible as an adolescent. So I had to go into training to be able to do it again.
Is there some sort of a Jedi master of auto-fellatio?
Dawson: Yes, there is. And he has terrible back and neck problems.
About the national anthem sequence, in which “The Star-Spangled Banner” is performed in rather intimate circumstances—that scene is incredibly moving and inspiring. This is liberation—this is what America is supposed to mean.
PJ DeBoy: It's about freedom and personal expression. It's a marriage of something that is so moralized about in this country, which is gays and their sex, when the act is so demonized while for some people it is a beautiful way to communicate, with personal freedom and a kind of patriotism—in America, we're allowed to do that.
Jay Brannan: That scene evolved over time. Originally, we planned the sex scene in the context of an improv once. We were doing an improv, and we allowed it to become sexual, and somehow there was singing—in my ass. And I think it was a Beatles song originally, but then it became a question of, “What can we use that we don't have to pay for?” So we ended up going with the national anthem. Eventually it became more of a statement.