When Should an Actor Go Nude for a Role?

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Photo Source: Britt Sanders

Dear Michael:
A while back, audition notices for an “experimental film” went up on one of the casting sites. It paid $100 a day, shot bimonthly using personal computer webcams, was nonunion, and required some nudity. They also added that because of the structure of the film, the actors would be within the confines of their homes. My question is: At what level must an actor go nude, and what are some red flags (if there are any)?

—Bodily Business

Dear Bodily Business:
Your question includes the word “must.” When it comes to nudity, there is no “must.” Some believe it’s part of an actor’s job description to be willing to shed his or her clothes for any production that requests it. I strongly disagree. There are successful, respected actors who’ve worked nude, and even more who haven’t. It’s an individual choice. You could decide to never do nudity, to limit it to productions or roles of a certain level, or you may decide you’re completely comfortable performing naked, without stipulations. Regardless, it will serve you well to decide early on what your policy is on this very sensitive issue, as it will affect the kind of career you have. The most important thing is to know that you have an absolute right to say yes or no, and you should never compromise on that policy.

And regardless of your policy, you have to be savvy—particularly if you’re young and attractive—and approach any so-called “opportunity” that involves nudity with a heaping dose of skepticism. You have to be fully aware that people are going to want to see you naked, and some of those people will use unscrupulous methods to achieve that goal. You cannot afford to be naive about that.

Are there red flags, you ask? Absolutely. The ad you’ve described, for example, contains huge red flags—stadium-size banners, alongside blinking lights and sirens. I think you know that. It’s most likely a thinly disguised recruitment for a porn site. Even if it isn’t quite that bad, it’s clearly not a project that’s going to do anything good for your career.

But some of the approaches designed to dupe young hopefuls into appearing nude are much more subtle than the one you described, so you have to have parameters. I’d suggest never doing nudity at an audition or video or photographing yourself nude for one (you can’t control where the recordings or photos will end up). Unless you really don’t care, I wouldn’t recommend doing nudity for student, amateur, or “experimental” productions. Wait for the professional, high-level production that merits it.

Look for signs of legitimacy, like a professional contract, an accomplished director, writer, and/or producer, a name actor...things like that. Don’t ever let anyone pressure you into doing nudity, regardless of what kind of clout he or she claims to have. Trust your gut. If it feels shifty, it is.

And that’s the naked truth.