How can a filmmaker re-create authentic sixties-era full-frontal nudity while shooting in the age of bikini waxing? This is probably not a question Joel and Ethan Coen ever thought they’d ask themselves, but it’s one they grappled with on the set of their new movie, A Serious Man, which is set in 1967 and stars Amy Landecker as a stoned and naked neighbor. “The first person who called me was the costume designer. And she told me, ‘Stop waxing,’ and I did,” Landecker told us at the film’s premiere party at the Friars Club last week. “It’s kind of like plucking your eyebrows too many times: It’s not going to grow back in. I’ll never have seventies bush.”
That left them with no choice but to fit Landecker with a wig down there. And when talking about it, she’s very particular about using the correct terminology. “It’s been referred to in the past as a ‘pubic-hair wig,’ which I really take offense to,” she said. “Because if you google my name and you’re my grandparents, you will find ‘Amy Landecker’s pubic wig’ under my name. The correct term, by the way, is merkin. It comes from prostitutes,” Landecker explained. “Prostitutes with syphilis had to shave their pubes, and they would wear fake wigs for both aesthetic and protective purposes. Look it up. It’s in the dictionary.”
Landecker also gave her merkin a name: “Cousin Itt.” She keeps a photo of it on her iPhone. “I put it on, and it was like I had the world’s largest bush,” she said. Her primary fear? That her high-school boyfriend would see it and think, Why doesn’t she clip that thing? Or, As she gets older, is she growing more hair?
Making matters worse was the fact that her directors did little to put her at ease. “I think the Coens are slightly uncomfortable about nudity,” she said. “Joel even told me that on The Big Lebowski, the porn star in that sequence made him more uncomfortable than any of the other actors.”
“I’m very self-conscious about how I look,” Landecker said of the day she actually stripped down and shot her sex scene, “and I walk off, and Joel and Ethan don’t say a word to me, which makes me feel awful. So I said, literally, flat-out to Ethan, ‘So how did I look?’ And he goes, ‘It was very funny.’ It was funny?! That’s like telling your wife she looks ‘fine’ when she’s dressed up for you! You don’t say that to someone you’ve just seen naked!” Landecker says no one on set ever mentioned that scene again.
As for the merkin itself, Landecker is happy to be rid of it. “I mean, I peed on it,” she told us. “I’m not going to take that shit home.”