"Showtime!" he says cheerfully. The now-familiar term is his way of calling the actors to set.
Usually I enjoy the greeting, but not today. I'm so nervous I'm not sure I can even walk. He grabs my hand. I think he can tell I'm terrified. He knows the scene that I'm about to shoot.
As I get closer, I can hear the assistant director intone into the walkie-talkie: "This is now a 'closed set.' Anyone who does not need to be here, step off the set now, please!"
In movies, closed sets happen when nudity is involved. In this case, mine.
We're making a horror film, with a director who just premiered a thrilling work at Sundance this year that was well received.
The scene today involves my boyfriend and I making out. We start talking, then kissing. A laugh leads to a flirty gesture of my hand on his chest while I'm smiling and batting my eyelashes. Then I unbutton my shirt and slip it off my shoulders. Then, cut. That's the scene. No big deal, right?
Except that I've never done a topless scene. Or bottomless. Or any -less.
A few boyfriends have seen my breasts, but that's basically it. Now a hell of a lot more people will see them—including family members. The thought makes me start to sweat.
Of course, I didn't think of that when I agreed to do the film. It's a lot easier to read a great script, agree to do a topless scene, then go to Starbucks knowing I don't have to worry about it today. It's a totally different story when you're sitting in the green room watching others eat craft service bagels-and-cream-cheese, and the PA says, "Showtime!"
I'm getting cotton-mouth. I have to get some water, or I'm going to faint. Have I mentioned this is my first topless scene -- ever?
I'm not a prude, but I'm shy. Despite the stereotype, actors will do all kinds of crazy things as the character, while deep down they are insecure about revealing themselves, both emotionally and physically.
I was raised very liberal, so I don't know where the shyness comes from. My mom would sit with my sister and I, smoking thin Capri cigarettes while searching for her car keys, and she'd say, "If you either of you came home and said to me, 'Mom, I've fallen in love with an obese woman midget,' I would say, 'Well, invite her to dinner!" My mom, as eccentric as she may be, was always very loving and encouraging—especially for us to love ourselves as women. So nudity should be no big deal.
But it is. Part of it is personal, but part of it is professional.
I spoke with my manager about nudity onscreen once. Her gave me an article he'd written. Here's a part I found slightly comforting:
"Academy Award winners and nominees Kate Winslet, Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron, Julianne Moore, Naomi Watts, Halle Berry, Jennifer Connolly, Ashley Judd, and Faye Dunaway have appeared topless in films, to name a mere few. The list goes on and on and on ad infinitum. Even Julie Andrews and Kathy Bates were topless in movies once." (Kathy Bates? Is that a typo? I wonder.)
Even so, the fact that many women I respect have appeared topless doesn't mean that I should. The longer I'm in this business the more I've learned about the types of roles I will and will not do. You do a role for the right reasons. I have a rule: I will do nudity if it makes sense in the scene for my character. That's it.
That said, I haven't up to this point. Not that I haven't been given opportunities.
Last year I was offered a role in a movie where my character was topless in at least ten scenes. Do you know how bad I wanted an acting job at that point? I wanted a job more than water in a desert, more than cappuccino and a cigar—even more than a night with Brad Pitt. (I think…)
If it was a "Leaving Las Vegas" type story—maybe, just maybe. But this movie felt more like a tasteless soft porn. Turning that job down was one of the hardest things I've done.
Sometimes taking care of myself and maintaining my integrity sucks. I loathe to call my agent and say 'no' to an acting job, then drive to my waitressing job. But I cannot be part of a project I do not believe in. I've got to be comfortable.
But there's more. As I thought about it, I realized the ability to be expose my body was more than a business decision; it was deeply personal. Yet I also realized I'd gone through a sea change in the last few years in the way I view myself.
Part of it is getting older. I'm not 19 anymore. I'm 26. Professionally I've had a variety of different experiences, from working overseas, meeting childhood heroes, and even working on big-ticket movies. I'd experienced a long, deep, difficult personal relationship, and come out the other side a little bit burned, but also a lot stronger. I've been living on my own for several years, and feel more at ease taking care of myself. I'm just more comfortable in my skin.
These experiences have given me a new mentality. I am no longer the meek girl afraid to ask for what she wants. Today I ask. And this confidence is giving me a sense of power, a sense of self, which innately is making me feel sexy.
I like who I am today. And right now in my life I want to play and explore myself and take risks. So showing my 'boobs'—yeah, a risk. And I'm doing it! But that doesn't mean it's going to be easy.
So here I am.
I've made it to set by the guided hand of the cheery PA in his black windbreaker pants. The swishy sound of the material is equally calming and annoying.
He leaves me on the set. There's hardly anyone around. I sit on the log specifically placed for the scene. Josh arrives, and we run lines. I mess the lines up. I can't stop thinking about my 'boobs.' That word keeps repeating in my head, both silly and serious. But I can't. Josh notices I'm not doing well.
"You look blue. Are you going to throw up?"
"No! Of course not." (pause) "What if I do?"
"Are you nervous about... taking your shirt off?"
"Huh? No. Why, do I look nervous?" Oddly, I look down at my clothes as I said that, then laugh. "Well, yes. I've never done this before, and I'm freaking out. I don't even know you, and now you are going to see my boobs." We both laugh at the sound of the word.
"Ok..." He grabs my hands. "Just take a few deep breaths. Remember we are acting. It's a quick scene and, besides, I've seen lots of 'boobs' before."
We laugh, and relax.
The director enters, and we do a rehearsal. I unbutton my top, just like it says in the script, and the blouse falls off my shoulders. Nothing happened. The world doesn't crash in. I'm just fine.
Before I knew it I was back in my trailer, drinking a cappuccino, thinking about how good a kisser Josh was.
It is just acting, after all.
Alexis Peters is recently appeared in Garry Marshall's hit film "Valentine's Day," and just finished filming Adam Green's "Hatchet 2," due out next fall in theaters. On the ScyFy Network, she played Ingrid in the original film "Grendel," and Sif in "Thor: Hammer of the Gods." Other TV work: "Days of Our Lives," and the FOX pilot "Faceless." Stage roles include "Summer and Smoke" and the 2004 ADA award-winning "Moonchildren." Alexis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.