Welcome to Sexpositions, a weeklong Vulture celebration of sex scenes in movies and on TV.
Throughout her long and fearless career, Susan Sarandon has appeared in a panoply of skin-baring scenes. She was the older, bolder woman who seduced a young widower played by James Spader in White Palace (1988). In Bull Durham (1990), she was a philosophical baseball groupie who bedded dim fireballer Tim Robbins. Atlantic City (1980) saw her slowly wiping down with a sponge while Burt Lancaster’s aging gangster peeps through her open window. Sarandon’s most famous erotic scene, though, is undoubtedly her tryst with Catherine Deneuve — the latter is a vampire attempting to swap blood, or “transfuse,” with Sarandon’s non-vamp — in Tony Scott’s 1983 horror flick The Hunger.
Here, the actress talks us through one of cinema’s most memorable intimate encounters.
We had to come up with who was pitching and who was catching. Originally, the descriptions of the scene were of us kind of posing and not necessarily connecting. We figured out the choreography so there was a first kiss, and how that happened, so it didn’t just jump into nakedness and corsets and a lot of other things.
Every love scene is different and has a specific mission in terms of the entire film. For The Hunger, the whole point of that scene between Catherine and me is that she transfuses her, in order to get her addicted to blood. It’s not just a love scene. And so the love scene itself was never really made explicit. For me, what’s interesting about love scenes is the getting into it and what happens after. Not the middle, because everybody knows what’s happening in the middle. So we came up with the little thing of me spilling the wine, or the sherry, because what I thought was sexy was the first moment that people touch. There was no real scene other than they thought my character should be drunk, but I didn’t feel it was necessary for my character to be drunk. I felt it was more interesting if both characters were on the same playing field, instead of her taking advantage of me. It’s more interesting that she’s doing it voluntarily. So they touch, and then they kiss, and the rest was just up for grabs.
The beginning of the sex scene was shot completely on a paint-board mixer thing so that I was jiggling all the time. That went on for an entire day, and they didn’t even use any of those shots. Like the section that was with me on a board vibrating back and forth getting my brains scrambled never made it in. That was a special-effects thing they did, and I actually think it probably wasn’t good for me to be on mixer that long, for my brain. I started to get kind of slurry afterward.
They had pulled some of the money while we were filming, and it was pretty shaky trying to figure out how to finish the movie. We ended up in New York doing some pickup shots. So we were doing some additional close-ups on the floor of a gas garage in Brooklyn, and in true New York fashion, Catherine and I are on the floor kissing when the guy decided he wanted more money for the space, so he interrupted our shoot — with a gun. We were shooting, and from what I understand, because he didn’t ask me, he suddenly changed the rules of how he was getting paid and wanted everybody out. So I was down on the floor, and all of a sudden it got light, and the door was now open, and I didn’t understand what was going on. I know it involved money or time or both, but I don’t know the particulars, just that suddenly he was telling everybody to get out. The next thing I knew, this guy was going to hold the cameras until he got whatever he wanted. And that’s when all hell broke loose. Tony Scott was like a cop, he just immediately got into fisticuffs. But they got the cameras out, and I guess they didn’t need very much of what we were shooting. Jesus, I haven’t had that kind of a scene, that kind of an interruption, in any other kind of film that I’ve done.
The scene plays really well, and I think [the opera] Lakmé was used to score the scene, and in another movie I did, and I’m very fond of that. It’s in Atlantic City when I’m bathing, so I feel like it’s the theme music for showing my breasts.