For the June 19 issue of the Hollywood Reporter magazine, the trade publication sat down with six renowned female Emmy contenders for a discussion about life, family, career challenges, and their often sexually charged TV characters.
Lizzy Caplan, Viola Davis, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Taraji P. Henson, Jessica Lange, and Ruth Wilson all opened up about arriving at their popular TV roles, and all expressed feeling a desire to walk away from acting at one point or another, due to either the sexualized nature of Hollywood or because of the challenges of career progression.
“When I was starting out, I used to hear ‘no’ a lot and still do. And, ‘You’re not sexy enough. You’re not pretty enough,'” Gyllenhaal (The Honorable Woman) recounted.
After describing an audition where she was asked to “go back and sex it up a little bit,” the 37-year-old said, “OK, f— this!” after not getting the part.
Lange (American Horror Story) then quipped, “I’ve been in the process of retiring for the last 30 years.”
Henson (Empire) and Davis (How to Get Away With Murder), who both took on challenging roles as part of the industry’s move toward more diversity, described adapting to those roles in order to connect with mainstream audiences.
“A lot of people think those came from a woman I know, but actually Cookie is based on my dad,” Henson said of her Empire character’s trademark lines, while Davis said of her highly sexual character, “I had never seen a 49-year-old, dark-skinned woman who is not a size 2 be a sexualized role in TV or film.”
Davis continued: “I’m a sexual woman, but nothing in my career has ever identified me as a sexualized woman. I was the prototype of the “mommified” role. Then all of a sudden, this part came, and fear would be an understatement.”
Henson said her first sex scene was for the film Baby Boy:
I knew the scene was coming. I remember thinking, “Taraji cannot be in that room.” So I literally went home and stripped down naked, stood in front of the mirror and looked at every morsel of my body, and I dealt with it. The next day, I was so free. I was so ready.
“I was never the actress asked to be the hot girl who took her clothes off on her first day of work,” Gyllenhaal told THR. “I was never objectified that way. But in The Honorable Woman, my character Nessa is so controlled, I wanted the sex to be animal. Unfortunately, it was the BBC and so it couldn’t be totally animal.”
Gyllenhaal also added, “I wanted to show what a woman my age actually really looks like. I am much more turned on when I see people’s bodies that look like bodies I recognize.”
Caplan (Masters of Sex) said: “There are women of all ages and body types. It’s very equal-opportunity,” of her Showtime series.
On the “perils” of being typecast for a particular character type, Wilson (The Affair) said: “For a long time, I did all these costumed, quiet, innocent women.”
On her first sex scene, the actress stated:
It can’t just be a normal generic sex scene … There are assumptions that women are always the focus of titillation. And I wanted my contract to say: “For every female orgasm, there had to be a male orgasm.”
“I show my titties all the time,” said Caplan, after being asked if she ever objects her nude scenes.
The Masters of Sex actress, who also appeared nude in HBO’s True Blood, elaborated, saying, “I was more afraid of doing nudity on True Blood. It got easier after that, but I’m not ever 100 percent comfortable.”
Gyllenhaal partially concluded the discussion by saying, “I think sex in film is so interesting. It’s uncomfortable to take your clothes off in front of people you don’t know, but it can be an opportunity for really interesting acting. I’m 37, and I’ve had two babies, and I’m really interested in nudity now.”
To check out the full Hollywood Reporter interview, click here.