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Enric Ortuño: Spanish intimacy coordinator of ‘Bridgerton’: ‘The pressure actors are under is terrible’ | USA

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Whenever we talk about the filming of sex scenes and their possible impact on the actors involved, the notorious example of Maria Schneider in Last Tango in Paris inevitably comes to mind.

Schneider was 19 when she shot the 1972 movie and, as she later explained, a virgin at the time. Director Bernardo Bertolucci, and Schneider’s co-star Marlon Brando, who was then 48, wanted to blur the line between fiction and reality in order to get an extreme reaction from Schneider. So when it occurred to Brando to use butter as a lubricant in a scene in which his character rapes Schneider anally, both men decided it would be better not to warn the actress. “I wanted her reaction as a girl, not as an actress,” the director admitted some years later. “I behaved horribly with Maria.”

Schneider never got over what happened. Years later, she was to shoot an intimate scene in the erotic historical movie Caligula, but just before the shoot got underway, she suffered a nervous breakdown and was admitted to psychiatric care. Far from supporting her, the film industry painted her as a problematic actress prepared to spoil a shoot. In the 1970s, she suffered from drug addiction and depression and attempted suicide. As far as she was concerned, the scene with Marlon Brando was the underlying cause of her problems. “Even though what Marlon was doing wasn’t real, I was crying real tears,” she said. “I felt humiliated and, to be honest, a little raped, both by Marlon and Bertolucci. After the scene, Marlon didn’t console me or apologize. Thankfully, there was just one take.”

The actress passed away in 2011 from breast cancer and did not get to see any of the very recent changes in the industry. Paradoxically, these changes are thanks to the man who did much to make the lives of actresses a living hell: US producer and convicted sex offender Harvey Weinstein. After his abusive antics became a matter for the courts, cinema and streaming platforms began to seriously consider – for both ethical and legal reasons – the need to work with an intimacy coordinator. This figure is responsible for reaching agreements with actors, and choreographing the sex scenes to make them narratively more interesting, but also less traumatic for actors.

The most powerful actors’ union in the United States, the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), defines an intimacy coordinator as “an advocate, a liaison between actors and production, and a movement coach and/or choreographer in regards to nudity and simulated sex and other intimate and hyper-exposed scenes.”

Today, virtually all big-budget series and an increasing number of movies have an intimacy coordinator among their credits, although film has lagged behind TV in this respect. Perhaps the best-known intimacy coordinator is Ita O’Brien, the Brit who choreographed sex scenes in series such as Sex Education, Normal People and Gentleman Jack. Her name became known beyond the confines of the industry when director Michaela Coel dedicated her BAFTA award for I May Destroy You to O’Brien. “I want to dedicate this award to the director of intimacy Ita O’Brien,” she said at the awards ceremony. “Thank you for your existence in our industry, for making the space safe, for creating physical, emotional and professional boundaries, so we can make work about exploitation, loss of respect, about abuse of powers, without being exploited or abused in the process.”

A sex scene from the series ‘Bridgerton.’
A sex scene from the series ‘Bridgerton.’

What is not so well known is that another of the most in-demand intimacy directors, working on series such as Starstruck, Bridgerton, Adult Material, The Girlfriend Experience, Domina and The Nevers is Spaniard Enric Ortuño, from Alicante province, who, like almost all his colleagues in this fledgling profession, came to it by chance.

Trained in theater, he had been traveling to London every year to take courses in areas such as fencing and movement. “Then, in 2018, I was lucky enough while in the US to meet the three women who were blazing this trail,” he explained at the Serielizados Fest festival in Barcelona. “I had always been interested in this world, as a choreographer and assistant of body expression on stage. It’s such a new job and everyone has come to it from a different place. There are people who come from the world of costume, but most of us come from choreography or dance; from some type of physical work.”

Given the job in hand, Ortuño’s personal credentials make him something of a curiosity in the profession. “I’m a middle-aged heterosexual cisgender white male,” he says, almost regretfully. “And this job is 90% about protecting those who aren’t. I’m aware of that and it’s complicated. Sometimes the producers who hire me have to think about this. I could choose not to do the job but I also know that I can help performers have a better experience and, so far, I’ve always had good feedback.”

A common misconception when it comes to intimacy direction is that almost everything takes place on set, such as agreeing on how much is covered by a sheet or how far a tongue goes into someone’s mouth. In reality, that’s only a small part of what an intimacy coordinator does, since set time is expensive. The work starts much earlier, when the script is sent to the actors and the so-called intimacy riders or clauses concerning how each sex scene is going to be approached are negotiated. In the case of big productions, that’s where the lawyers representing everyone from the producers to the actors come in. “I had to learn about this because I had no legal training, but, yes, I spend a lot of time retouching and returning contracts to all parties,” says Ortuño. Often, at this stage of the process, the production team puts pressure on actors reluctant to shoot a scene, using the oldest trick in the book: if you don’t do it, there are plenty of others who will.

Ortuño talks about the recent case of an actor he worked with who was reluctant to show his buttocks. He was told that if he didn’t, he would be fired. Eventually, an agreement was reached. “In this profession, you’re only as good as your last project,” says Ortuño. “The pressure is terrible. They think they’re not going to be recommended; they think they’re going to be vetoed. It puts actors in a very vulnerable position.”

A scene from the series ‘The Girlfriend Experience.’
A scene from the series ‘The Girlfriend Experience.’KERRY HAYES (© 2016 Starz Entertainment, LLC)

Ortuño also likes to make clear that he is not a censor or an agent of puritanism on set; on the contrary. “If your scene needs 20 people having an orgy and it’s necessary for your story, great, but let’s shoot it professionally,” he says. “It has to be established during casting, rather than letting the actor know when they are already on set, which is something that used to happen a lot before. And once we’re shooting, we need to get the protocol right, with a closed set and a reduced crew, so it is seen by a minimum number of people.”

Since the intimacy coordinator is such a new figure in the film industry, there is a generational gap between young actors, who believe shoots have always been this way, and veterans, who are used to a different modus operandi. But most veterans have welcomed the new approach with open arms. “In the old days there was a lot of secrecy, everything was talked about in hushed tones and the actors were tortured by certain things,” says Ortuño. There are two recurring situations: actors, or “performers with external genitals,” who are scared of having an erection on set; and “performers with internal genitals” who are afraid of getting their period when an intimate scene is to be shot. Both things happen, and a lot. And the job of the intimacy coordinator is to navigate these situations so that everything goes as smoothly as possible for everyone.

“Acting is a psychophysical process and the body doesn’t know you’re lying,” Ortuño explains. “Your body actually reacts. It’s quite possible that there will be a reaction to friction and the actor will get an erection. That can’t be foreseen; it’s a primary instinct. So what do we do? If necessary, we stop shooting for five minutes. In addition, the actors wear an intimacy garment [a kind of protector that covers the penis and testicles] and sometimes a silicone barrier is added. In the case of actresses who have their period, we try to make it so a tampon or a pad can be used by modifying the choreography of the scene.”

The ultimate goal for many intimacy coordinators goes beyond protecting actors. After all, there are controversial cases much more recent than Maria Schneider’s. When actresses Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos confronted Abdellatif Kechich, the director of the 2013 film Blue is the Warmest Color about his handling of theirs sex scenes in the movie, he ridiculed them and told them that construction workers had it worse.

A scene from the series ‘Adult Material.’
A scene from the series ‘Adult Material.’

What intimacy coordinators aim for is to change the way sex is incorporated into series and movies. “What we have seen so far in general cinema is only a very small part of human sexuality,” says Ortuño, referring perhaps to the classic heterosexual sex scene which shows the actress’ breasts and just the male torso. “We are trying to work out how to expand it. I don’t have the power to change a script, but I do try to have conversations. I’ve been working on several anal sex scenes lately and I always insist that they include a shot of stimulation and lubrication beforehand. Maybe the director isn’t interested in spending five seconds on that, but I am there to point out that those seconds of stimulation can be just as erotic.”

Ortuño is referring to the controversy surrounding a scene in the fourth season of the Spanish series Élite in which two actors have anal sex without any prior lubrication, prompting a slew of viewers to point out how flawed the depiction was. Sometimes Ortuño wins battles on set, but loses them in the editing room. That is, the scene is shot as he suggests, but then those extra seconds disappear in the final edit.

In the meantime, the credits on his IMDB page are growing. Most recently, he has been on set in Manchester where they are shooting the adaptation of Dolly Alderton’s book, Everything I Know about Love for the BBC. It is a romantic comedy quite removed from his other projects pending release, such as the Netflix fantasy series The Sandman, based on the books by Neil Gaiman and The Wheel of Time, on Amazon Prime. But whatever the series or movie, his ultimate goal is to make the sex scenes more interesting while ensuring the actors feel safe.

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Margot Robbie’s self-confessed ambition has made her the highest paid actress of the year | Culture

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Self-doubt is Margot Robbie’s greatest motivator, and competes with ambition in the Australian actress’s psyche. She couldn’t believe her own eyes when she first saw herself on a giant ad for the Pan Am TV series in New York’s Times Square. “I still have the photo,” she told EL PAÍS a few years ago, somewhat wistful for the days when she was still a nobody. The script of The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), the Martin Scorsese film that put her on the map, touted her as “the most beautiful blonde in the world,” but she didn’t believe the hype. “I remember saying to a friend, ‘I haven’t worked in six weeks.’ I’m sure there’s nothing out there for me,” laughed Robbie. But Hollywood didn’t share her skepticism. In July, Variety magazine ranked Robbie as the highest paid actress of the year when her US$12.5 million salary for the upcoming Barbie movie was announced.

Margot Robbie may be this year’s highest paid actress, but 17 men made even more money, led by Tom Cruise who was paid US$100 million for Top Gun: Maverick. Her Barbie love interest, Ryan Gosling, was paid the same as Robbie, even though she has the titular role, more evidence that pay parity in Hollywood is far from being a reality. Robbie ranked ahead of Millie Bobby Brown (US$10 million for the Enola Holmes sequel); Emily Blunt (US$4 million for Oppenheimer); Jamie Lee Curtis (US$3.5 million for Halloween Ends); and Anya Taylor-Joy (US$1.8 million for Furiosa).

Robbie’s misgivings about her career aren’t shared by other industry giants. Martin Scorsese compared her to Carole Lombard for her comedic genius, Joan Crawford for her toughness, and Ida Lupino for her emotional range. He described Robbie as having a surprising audacity, and recalls how she clinched her role in The Wolf of Wall Street by stunning everyone with a tremendous, improvised slap of Leonardo DiCaprio during her audition.

Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling during the filming of director Greta Gerwig's Barbie in California, June 2022.
Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling during the filming of director Greta Gerwig’s Barbie in California, June 2022.MEGA (GC Images)

Robbie showed the same boldness when she lobbied director Quentin Tarantino for another role opposite DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood (2019). She sent the director a letter telling him how much she admired his films, especially her all-time favorite, True Romance (1993). The letter probably wasn’t necessary, as Tarantino already had the I, Tonya star in mind to play Sharon Tate in his new movie, describing her to EL PAÍS as an actress with a visual dynamism and personal qualities that you don’t see every day.

Robbie has wanted to work in movies ever since her start in Neighbours, the long-running Australian TV series that is coming to an end after 9,000 episodes and 37 years on the air. “Of course I’m ambitious. My career motivates me. I came to the United States with a plan, and I’m always looking ahead,” she told us. Even as a child growing up in Queensland (northeastern Australia), Margot Elise Robbie displayed her business smarts and drama queen chops when she decided to sell all her brother’s old toys from the sidewalk in front of the family home.

She jokes about her childhood, but part of that little girl always comes out in the wide variety of characters she plays. She has had all kinds of roles in little-known films like Suite Française and Z for Zachariah, and also in box-office hits like Suicide Squad and Birds of Prey. She won Oscar nominations for playing driven women in I, Tonya (2018) and Bombshell (2020). “Yes, many of the women I’ve played share my ambition – this is a tough industry. But I’m full of doubt like anyone else. You never know how things will turn out,” she said.

 Margot Robbie and her husband, Tom Ackerley, at Vanity Fair magazine’s Oscars party, March 2018.
Margot Robbie and her husband, Tom Ackerley, at Vanity Fair magazine’s Oscars party, March 2018. Jon Kopaloff (WireImage)

Seeking more control over her films, Robbie founded production company LuckyChap Entertainment in 2014 with her husband, British filmmaker Tom Ackerley, and some friends. She hopes to use LuckyChap as a vehicle for herself and other actresses, as she did with Promising Young Woman starring Carey Mulligan, a black comedy thriller film that won writer/director Emerald Fennell an Oscar for best original screenplay. “Margot is an extraordinary person,” said Fennell. “That’s why she’s doing so well as a producer who is determined to try different things and give women a voice.”

Robbie met British assistant director Tom Ackerley on the set of Suite Française in 2013. They began a romantic relationship the next year and moved in together right after attending their first Golden Globes gala for The Wolf of Wall Street. Married since 2016, the couple and co-workers in LuckyChap have a bright future ahead, judging by all the work that is piling up for Robbie. In addition to Barbie, she will appear in Amsterdam, directed by David O. Russell; as silent film star Clara Bow in Babylon, directed by Damien Chazelle; and has a role in Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City. As if that wasn’t enough to keep Robbie busy, a remake of Ocean’s Eleven awaits her; she will play opposite Matthew Schoenaerts in the post WWII drama, Ruin; produce a remake of Tank Girl; and play a female Jack Sparrow in another installment of Pirates of the Caribbean. Surely Margot Robbie doesn’t have any more doubts about her career.

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Salem’s last witch regains her honor | Culture

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As statues of slave owners and slave traders continue to fall in the United States, the embers of the bonfires that burned women accused of committing spells and witchcraft are also being extinguished. In the umpteenth revision of history to try to exonerate the victims, the most recent episode concerns the last official Salem witch, Elizabeth Johnson Jr., from the massive 1692 and 1693 trials in the English colony of Massachusetts. Thanks to the initiative of a middle school teacher and her students in Andover, located in the same county as Salem, her spirit can now roam free. The enthusiastic students began the vindication process in 2020 and persuaded Massachusetts state senator Diana DiZoglio (D), who took up the cause and pushed for Johnson’s pardon, which was announced last week.

It has taken 329 years for Elizabeth Johnson Jr.’s name to be cleared definitively. She was the last of the Salem witches to be exonerated. While Johnson was spared a death by hanging, she was stigmatized until she died at 77, an uncommonly long life for the time. Historians say that Johnson showed signs of mental instability and was single and childless, all of which were signs of witchcraft during that period. She pled guilty before the court of inquisitors. Almost 30 members of her extended family were also implicated, as if witchcraft were contagious, hereditary, or both. Johnson, her mother, several aunts and her grandfather, a church pastor, were tried as well. According to historian Emerson Baker, the author of a book about the Salem witch trials, her grandfather described Johnson to the judges as a “simplish person at best.” Most likely, the judges would have equated “simplish” with different during that superstitious and pre-scientific period.

The fact that Johnson didn’t have any descendants deprived her of anyone to vindicate her good name, as relatives of the other defendants did. The first attempt to do so happened at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Then, in the 1950s, Massachusetts passed a law exonerating those found guilty, but it failed to gather all the names. A 2001 attempt at justice excluded Johnson because, after her conviction in 1693, she was formally presumed to be dead (executed).

The social hysteria against everything that deviated from the norm, against the minimal exercise of free will, was implacable against women, as Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible (the playwright adapted it for the big screen in 1996) and recent variations remind us. The theme lends itself very well to artistic creation, but in real life it amounted to opprobrium for those who suffered it and represented a cause for scorn among puritans.

Illustration of the 1692 trial of two Salem witches. The Granger Collection.
Illustration of the 1692 trial of two Salem witches. The Granger Collection.The Granger Collection / cordon press

Salem was more than a witch trial. According to historians, it was a collective exorcism fueled by a puritanical inquisition based on paranoia and xenophobia, a gratuitous auto de fe that unleashed people’s worst instincts: fear and the human tendency to blame others for one’s own misfortunes. At least 172 people were indicted in the 1692 trial. About 35% confessed their guilt and were spared the gallows; according to sources, around twenty insisted on claiming their innocence and did not escape that fate. The rest of the detainees were acquitted or sentenced to prison. The Salem witch trials represented a collective bogeyman through which one can foresee the later threat of the Ku Klux Klan. It is hard not to wonder what bonfires would have burned today on the pyre of social media and extreme polarization.

The great Salem witch hunt can be re-read through the prism of gender. As the adage goes, se non è vero è ben trovato (Even if it is not true, it is well conceived). Witches, like those in Salem and the woman in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter (made into a film in the 1950s), were demonized for going off the rails. The dominant society’s puritanical stance against any kind of heterodoxy or freestyling, against rebels with or without a cause, led people to be targeted for dressing exotically by puritanical standards or for daring to drink at a tavern, a sacrilege for the morals of the day. It’s not difficult to draw a straight line from the bonnet of a witch on the gallows to the handmaid’s white bonnet in Margaret Atwood’s novel: all were women who were demonized, objectified, and scapegoated for deeper ills.

Beyond gender, other historians emphasize the socioeconomic dimension of the Salem witch trials, which combined a deep-seated inequality with racism, the United States’ original sin since well before the Declaration of Independence. The trials targeted colonial society’s most vulnerable during a period of economic instability that unleashed fierce rivalry among Salem families. According to historian Edward Bever, society was permeated by interpersonal conflict, much of it stemming from competition over resources. People did whatever they could to survive, from physical aggression to threats, curses, and insults. One of the first women accused, Sarah Osborne, was a poor widow who dared to claim her husband’s land for herself, defying the customary laws of nature, which granted the inheritance to sons. The accusation of witchcraft ended Osborne’s claim. Tituba, an indigenous slave, was accused of being a witch because her racial origins differed from the norm. Sarah Good was also poor, but she defended herself against the humiliations of her neighbors, which led her to the gallows; her daughter, Dorothy Dorcas Good, was Salem’s youngest victim: she was arrested at only four years old and spent eight months in prison.

Since then, history has not changed the fact that vulnerable women pay the price for circumstances beyond their control. That the Puritans of the time considered women—the evil heirs of Eve —prone to temptations such as the desire for material possessions or sexual gratification was only an added factor. Poor, homeless, and childless, these women in the shadow of society’s dominant morality were fodder for the gallows. But Elizabeth Johnson Jr. didn’t just manage to save her life; 329 years later she recovered her honor as well.

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Meridian Brothers: A fake salsa band ignites the rebirth of an old New York record label | Culture

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A new album will land on the salsa dance floor by the end of this week; one that fuses rhythms from the 1970s with the technological dystopias of the future. Behind it is Ansonia Records, a label that, after its creation in 1949 among Latino immigrants from New York, would produce several merengue, jibara, bomba, guaracha, mambo, and boogaloo albums, before stopping altogether in 1990. This Friday, after more than 30 years, Ansonia Records will return with a salsa album.

Hermano del futuro, vengo buscando iluminación; brother from the future, I come looking for enlightenment. So says one of the songs from the new album, called Metamorfosis, by the old salsa group Renacimiento. But there is a catch: Renacimiento does not exist. It never did. It is a fake group, and this is a fake cover, explains musician Eblis Álvarez, founder of the Colombian group Meridian Brothers, who had already experimented with various genres, from cumbia to vallenato. A group that practices “tropical cannibalism,” says Álvarez. This year, Meridian Brothers decided to launch a group of salseros straight out of fiction: Renacimiento.

Colombian group Meridian Brothers.
Colombian group Meridian Brothers.Perla Hernández Galicia (Cortesía)

“Renacimiento [rebirth] is the typical name that musicians would give a salsa group in the 1970s,” Álvarez tells EL PAÍS. “For example, in the Nueva Trova movement there was talk of a political rebirth, but at the same time they combined this with a spiritual factor: when one listens to groups like La Columna de Fuego [from Bogota] or Los Jaivas [from Chile], there was a common pattern: everyone was waiting for a rebirth of the soul, and of society.”

Although on stage Renacimiento is made up of five artists — María Valencia, Alejandro Forero, César Quevedo and Mauricio Ramírez, besides Álvarez — when the album was recorded it was the founder who played all the instruments, besides doing the voice of the salsero that accompanies the songs. The album has nine tracks, some similar to the older, slower salsa, and others to the faster, contemporary style. Between the piano, the timbales and the percussion, we find verses with the concerns of the 21st century: love that “communicates by algorithm,” or the threats of atomic bombs that “take us to the cemetery.” Metamorfosis, the single that has already been released, begins with a man who wakes up turned into a robot and longs for a time “when nightclubs really had an atmosphere, not like now, full of cameras, full of drones.”

“I wanted it to sound like salsa from the 1970s,” says Álvarez. “There is no originality, or the originality of this lies in being able to replicate the music as best as possible, but in terms of the material there is nothing original, as it is made with the collective unconscious of Latin America, of Colombia, of Latinos. This is an extrapolation from the 1970s to today, and it speaks of transhumanism, like the matter of highest concern that everything, absolutely everything, is now packed inside the damn cell phone.”

The rebirth includes both the album and the label, as this is the first recording in more than 30 years to be released by Ansonia Records, a company created in 1949 and later forgotten, despite having been one of the first labels founded by a Latin migrant in the United States. Puerto Rican Rafael Pérez, its founder, brought Dominican, Puerto Rican and Cuban musicians from Latin Harlem or the South Bronx, who had not found a home among American record companies, to several studios. He produced his records before the time of the powerful Fania, which made New York salsa famous.

To Liza Richardson, an American radio host who was also a music supervisor on series like Narcos or the movie Y tu mamá también, Ansonia Records is a gem. In the early 1990s, she found an Ansonia album in the station’s archives and, fascinated by the label’s production, became close to the heirs of Pérez. In 2020, she bought the record label with the intention of reactivating it. She, with the help of a small team, has begun to digitize more than 5,000 Ansonia-produced songs; an eighth of them can already be found on streaming platforms like Spotify.

Colombian group Meridian Brothers during a live show in Bogota.
Colombian group Meridian Brothers during a live show in Bogota.Perla Hernández Galicia (Cortesía)

Souraya Al-Alaoui, manager of Ansonia Records, explains that most of the artists chosen by the label were focused on the Latin American diaspora. That was their base; they valued the traditional sounds from islands like Cuba or Puerto Rico, and were not looking to become westernized.

“Johnny Pacheco, founder of La Fania, started with Ansonia Records, and Ansonia was an inspiration for what would later become La Fania,” says Al-Alaoui. “Ansonia was also a pioneer as a label owned by a Latino, an independent label with a founding message: ‘this is from us and for us.’ That’s why it was an inspiration for what came after.”

Over the years, La Fania grew and the seed of Ansonia Records faded away. The label never managed to promote its musicians in concerts like La Fania did, and after the arrival of the digital world, they did not set up a website or try to upload their music to any streaming platforms. Thus, it became a label that was only known by a small group of music lovers, like Liza Richardson and Eblis Álvarez.

“Now, we are hoping to release a new record every year, and we are thrilled to start with this one by Meridian Brothers,” says Richardson. “This is an album that looks to the past but tries to move towards the future, and that is exactly what we are trying to do: look to the past to, at some point, be able to grow again, to thrive.”

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