A touch too much … Henry Cavill in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in 2016. Photograph: Clay Enos/Warner Bros/Allstar
https://www.theguardian.com/-As Hollywood makes a return to full-throttle love scenes, the actor has got hot under the collar about excessive screen intimacy. But films from Oppenheimer to Poor Things show how good it can be
This has been a banner year for the sex scene. Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal in All of Us Strangers. Barry Keoghan and a freshly dug grave in Saltburn. Cillian Murphy, Florence Pugh and the Bhagavad-Gita in Oppenheimer. Emma Stone and the rest of the cast in Poor Things. Between them, these films have pushed the boundaries of what a cinematic sex scene can be. They’ve been tender, sad, passionate, thought-provoking, gruesome and excruciating in equal measure. But try telling that to Henry Cavill.
“I don’t understand them – I’m not a fan,” Cavill recently said of sex scenes during an interview on Josh Horowitz’s Happy Sad Confused podcast. “I think there are circumstances where a sex scene actually is beneficial to a movie, rather than just the audience, but I think sometimes they’re overused these days.”
Which is all very sweet, in that this is the sort of thing your nan would say. But then again the subject did put Cavill in something of a bind. On one hand, maybe he really does mentally switch off from whatever he’s watching during a sex scene, the way that most people do whenever there’s a song in a musical. But, really, what’s the alternative open to him? Going “COR YEAH I LOVE BOOBS, ME!”? That’s hardly a very edifying thing to hear from Superman, is it?
Cavill continued: “Sex scenes can be great in a movie and can really help with the storytelling, but most of the time the human imagination is going to trump it. So, it can be a little bit of a cop-out if a TV show or a movie is just filled with gyrating bodies and you’re going, ‘OK but what is this doing for us apart from the idea of, oh naked person, great’.”
From this we can assume two things. The first is that Henry Cavill is not a fan of the television programme Euphoria, the whole point of which is “Oh, naked person, great”. The second is that maybe Henry Cavill is really just talking about himself here. Especially in his early years, Cavill starred in several “Oh, naked person, great” sex scenes.
His first film Laguna is full of narratively superfluous sex scenes, plus it’s also important to remember that he was in The Tudors, which was less a television series and more just a lot of outrageous and barely justified bonking stitched together with the loosest semblance of historical storytelling. Perhaps if you’d spent years of your life joylessly humping away at a colleague in the knowledge that your tender moment of vulnerability would be forever preserved on the internet devoid of all context, you wouldn’t be keen on the idea either.
Also it’s worth pointing out that, overall, Cavill is wrong. A 2019 study revealed that only 1.21% of movies made in the 2010s contained nudity, lower than any decade since the 1960s. There are many possible reasons for this. As I just mentioned, fear of ending up naked on a Mr Skin gallery for all eternity might put some actors off. Also, now that the film industry is almost totally reliant on four-quadrant tent-pole blockbusters, there are fewer opportunities to make the sort of sexy mid-budget adult drama that made up a vital chunk of the movie ecosystem in the 1990s.
Plus the appetite simply isn’t there any more. In October, research was released indicating that Gen Z is actively turned off by onscreen sex, with almost half of respondents (aged between 13 and 24) saying that sex was not a necessary plot device, and that movies should place more focus on platonic friendships. Also, you know, the internet exists now. There’s such a low barrier to seeing filmed nudity online that it almost seems redundant to put it in an actual film.
And yet, done well, there’s still something bracing about movie sex. Especially now, where prestige film-makers seem to be rolling their sleeves up and digging in with more gusto than in recent memory. Viewed in a cluster, Poor Things, Saltburn, All of Us Strangers and Saltburn almost seem like a weird post-Covid celebration. We all spent such a big portion of our lives covered and sterile and distant that there’s something quite joyous about the sight of naked bodies being flung together with total abandon. You know something must be in the air when a figure as musty as Christopher Nolan decides to make his actors whip their clothes off and grind away before the entire United States Atomic Energy Commission.
So maybe Henry Cavill just hasn’t worked with the right director yet. Perhaps with the proper encouragement, and a good script, and a decent amount of Oscar buzz, he will finally soften his attitude towards onscreen sex. Maybe one day he’ll even be as cool with it as he is with killing loads and loads of people in films, which he does seem to be perfectly fine with.