On another note, I was relieved, as you no doubt must have been, to learn the film got an R-rating. At Sundance, some critics pegged it as sure bet for an NC-17 slap.
I think teenagers should see this movie! I think they should see a movie about sex that's not weird, or titillating, or shame ridden, or cool, or slick. Sex is just not any of those things. I feel like all of us are John's character. We're all hoping to not be humiliated, to be treated with kindness, to be accepted, to have a voice in what we do want, what we don't want sexually. So I think the film's a wonderful introduction to what it's like to have sex with another person.
Did you ever meet the person who inspired your character?
I did, yeah. I talked to her on the phone for hours before I met her, so I already felt I knew her. As you can imagine, she was happy for me to ask her anything. She used this term "sex positive" a lot. I knew that I had to embody that in the movie.
You almost play her like an activist.
In a way. Rather than just saying the kind of attitude you want to promote, this character just is. She is accepting, she is frank, she does talk about parts of the body. She is interested in a non-judgement positive sexual experience for this man. What a gift for him.
"I was just enjoying it, then it suddenly occurred to me, oh wow, pretty soon I'm going to be naked. I did feel a good amount of sweat on my palms."
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Again that's us, when I think about young people seeing the movie. Could a young person be brave enough to say I don't like this, I like this? All the way down to their sexual preference. To promote an attitude towards sex that says yes, there is no rule, there is no norm. We all don't know what to do, so say what you want. I hope that makes a difference.
What do you make of the reception the film received at Sundance? It went over gangbusters, winning two awards.
The bigger screening, what was exciting about it was that people were laughing so much at the beginning, and they were so with John that by the time I came on, rather than be like, oh we get to see this actress with her clothes off, they were terrified of me taking my clothes off, because he was. By the time both of us were naked and intimate, everyone felt naked. That was pretty great when you can take an audience through all that.
Were you uncomfortable?
I was just enjoying it, then it suddenly occurred to me, oh wow, pretty soon I'm going to be naked. I did feel a good amount of sweat on my palms. But then by the end I felt like we're all in it together.
I did have the desire to wear a head to toe ski suit afterwards [laughs]. We all went up on stage and that was the only moment I felt about the nudity -- can I have a sweater?
Watch "Breaking Lessons," the documentary about "The Sessions" subject Mark O'Brien, below: