the toughest scene i wrote

The Toughest Scene I Wrote: Sicario’s Delicate, Complicated Sex Scene

Vulture is speaking to the screenwriters behind 2015’s most acclaimed movies about the scenes they found most difficult to crack. In today’s post, Sicario screenwriter Taylor Sheridan explains the challenges inherent in a key sex scene, and how he and director Denis Villenueve addressed them.

For me, the greatest hurdle was battling with the question: What is a protagonist? When you first meet Kate (Emily Blunt), you feel she has strong beliefs and convictions. You want her to win. Then you meet Matt (Josh Brolin). He’s very charming, cavalier, and powerful. The more Kate complains about the lack of protocol, the more we start to side with Matt. But then you meet Alejandro (Bencio del Toro), and we become fascinated with this quiet figure, though we don’t yet know what he does. There are moments when he, too, is more than the sum of the parts we’re seeing. Ultimately, we realize Kate was right all along and Alejandro is our antagonist.

In terms of a specific scene, the one in the bar really tested me. That bar is based on a real one in Arizona, where they have a mechanical bull and all these pro-rodeo guys go there and practice. You feel like it’s this island of Americana surrounded by these suburban shopping malls. There was originally a lot of dialogue between Kate and Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya) about the sadness of that reality. Then Kate meets Ted (Jon Bernthal), and they have sex outside the bar.

But the whole bar scene was too expensive of a sequence — like 14 pages total. So Denis and producers asked, “Can you take those 14 pages and condense them into six?” Also, is there a way we could shoot the rape scene on a soundstage? So all the conversations they had about America were gone, and instead they ad-libbed, and we cut straight from them dancing in the bar to the apartment.

At first I thought, It can’t be her apartment, can it? Would she be so cavalier about having casual sex? But she was so lonely and stressed — everyone has been in that situation when you’re single, you’ve had a terrible week, and you think, By God, I deserve to get drunk and sleep with someone I don’t know! It’s a common way of dealing with stress, right? So she lets her guard down for a second, and it almost gets her killed. That whole sequence by far was the hardest thing I had to do.

The Toughest Scene I Wrote: Sicario