Jennifer Tilly Remembers Her Bound Sex Scene

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Photo: Maya Robinson

Welcome to Sexpositions, a weeklong Vulture celebration of sex scenes in movies and on TV.

When it comes to movies of the last 20 years, Larry (now Lana) and Andy Wachowski's Bound can make a strong case for containing the single best-known sex scene. The 1996 crime noir stars Jennifer Tilly as a gangster’s moll named Violet and Gina Gershon as an ex-con named Corky who team up in both love and crime. With help from famed sex educator Susie Bright, the actresses and directors created a sex scene that scans as authentic, riveting, and, of course, hot. Jennifer Tilly tells us how it all came to be. 

Actors are always saying, "Oh, sex scenes are so technical. Everyone's standing around and watching." It is technical, but there is something about being naked with a member of the opposite sex that you still want them to think that you're hot. There's a reason why people are always having affairs with their leading men. With Gina it was really relaxing, because you could say things to her that you wouldn't say to other people. Like, "Can you put your hand on my thigh here so my butt doesn't look so big? Can you hold my breast up so it looks more plump and juicy?" You would never, ever say those things to a man. Between takes, I would say, "Gina, there's a shoe sale at Barneys. If we finish early, we should go over to Barneys and shop for shoes!" So it was surprisingly unsexy, but then when you saw it on screen, I was blown away. Violet and Corky have chemistry. They have it in buckets.

The scene begins at 19:32.

We were a little bit worried because Dino De Laurentiis — bless him — was a producer, and we were worried that after we finished shooting the scene, they would send it off to Italy and insert some breasts and buttocks shots. The Wachowskis said that was a concern of theirs, too, so they decided to shoot that love scene in one long, continuous shot. They said, "That way he can't cut into it without it looking really obvious and intrusive." So the day we were supposed to shoot the love scene, it was a closed set. But there were monitors in the hallway, and everybody was clustered around the monitors watching. So the Wachowskis put the camera on a crane, and there were all these elements that they wanted to capture. They wanted to start out on a safe and get the side of my back, and they wanted to pan down to the toes, and they would be yelling through a megaphone, telling us what different parts were onscreen. They would yell, "Toes!" and Gina would curl her toes like she was about to come. Then they would say, "Hand!" and my hand was on her crotch, and I would kind of move my fingers a little bit. And then they would say, "Face!" and it would be on Gina's face, and Gina would "come." So it was very, very technical, and we did eight takes.

They took the film to the ratings board and they instantly got a NC-17. It was unbelievable. The Wachowskis said, "It's homophobia! Clear and simple." Because all you saw was one of my breasts, you saw two of Gina's breasts, you didn't see any genitalia, you saw my hand. The MPAA said, "Because Jennifer and Gina are such good actors, it looks like she's really giving her a hand job." And the Wachowskis said, "Let me get this straight. If they weren't such good actors, you would let it go through?" And the MPAA sort of said, "Well ... yeah." It was really sad. We ended up having to sub in a different take, I think it was take seven, where the camera accidentally dipped and missed my hand.

The take that we ended up using, it was before we got all the kinks out. They had the door to the bathroom open wider, so it was brighter in the room, where the take we wanted to use had a lot of shadows. The makeup person had sprayed us with sweat, so it looked like we were really going at it. It was sort of more graphic. And Gina didn't like this other take. She said, "I was overacting with my feet!" Then, at the end, all of a sudden my breast wanted to get on frame, and it fell into camera like, boom! My breasts are really big, so it was a little more pornographic than Gina's fashion-plate breasts. In the perfect take, I was raised up on one hand, kind of watching her, and I'm not sure you could see either of my bosoms — maybe a little sideboob. And in this take I was down on her, so my breasts were touching her breasts. I felt like it was ten times more graphic than the take that we wanted to use, but apparently, because you miss the hand, it was like, you missed the hand but you gained a breast. But because you miss the hand, the MPAA said it was all right.  

I think Susie Bright was consulting with the Wachowskis, and they were asking her what it was like in the lesbian world. The way the sex scene was done had a lot to do with Susie. All of us on the movie were concerned with authenticity. So when Gina goes into the lesbian bar, it's not a bunch of soap-opera actresses. It's not a bunch of pretty actresses in hot dresses. It's a real lesbian bar, with real people. Even the smallest part, everybody in that was a real person who really hung out in the bar. It wasn't a male fantasy of what a lesbian looks like. That was Susie's contribution, too. For the sex scene, she said, "Women have a sex organ. It's called a hand!" So she was instrumental in how Gina and I were scissoring each other and how I was giving Gina a hand job. The way it was set up was Susie's input. And because of that, the lesbian community embraced the film, because it had a real veracity to it. There was a real attention to detail in this film that added a deepness to it. It's not two actresses trying to kiss each other in a pretty way — even if I did ask her to prop up my breast!