The cast of Shortbus talks about doing the deed on and off camera.
1.PJ DeBoy, New York
On his character: I play Jamie. He’s an affable sort who was a child actor. He feels his relationship with his boyfriend, James, slipping away and he doesn’t know why.
On having sex on camera: Everybody says it’s hard with all the cameras around you. I really didn’t notice them that much. We had so much to focus on with the characters, and with making what was happening to them real.
On sex parties: A long time ago in New York there was a party called He’s Gotta Have It. You check your clothes and then you walk into this big room, and there’s all these guys having sex and there’s all these tarps on the sides and there’s a big painting put up against a tarp. I walked into the room and I knocked it off and it fell, and all the guys looked up at me. It’s like that nightmare—standing there in my underwear, going, “Hi.”
2.Paul Dawson, New York
On his character: I play James. He’s documenting a lot of his life for a mysterious reason, and he’s struggling with depression and identity issues.
On autofellatio: I had recalled achieving it once or twice as an adolescent. I tried it again and realized I was more flexible when I was a kid. For about three or four months before the shoot I had a training regimen; I found a how-to book on the Internet. It turned into traditional actor research.
On his real-life relationship with PJ DeBoy: We’ve avoided making too much of it, because there’s a tendency already with this project to make it feel like a reality project. It’s not a secret, but when you’re doing something like this where so much of your life is right there, you do get a little protective over the part that is private.
3.Peter Stickles, New York
On his character: I play Caleb. He’s a stalker. He lives across the street from James and Jamie, and he’s always watching them through his window.
On obsession: In college if I liked someone, I would skip all my classes and follow them around. I think a lot of people could relate to wanting to reach out and barely touch someone. My character keeps saying, “You guys look like you have fun.” My character doesn’t have fun—he’s a proofreader.
On the best sex he’s had: It was on a flight of stairs in L.A. I actually threw my back out. I remember seeing white and passing out. I think that kind of heightened it in a strange way.
4.Sook-Yin Lee, Toronto
On her character: I play Sofia Lin, a successful couples’ counselor and sex therapist who’s never had an orgasm.
On research: I interviewed a number of sex therapists, and a lot of them were very conflicted about their own sexual lives, which is what brought them to their work. People are complex and often hypocritical.
On having sex on camera: I was going out with somebody at the time and I was wrestling with feelings of loyalty. I was confronted with my own prudishness. A lot of me is still at odds with intimacy and trust and sexuality.
5.Raphael Barker, Santa Cruz, CA
On his character: I play Rob, Sofia’s husband. He’s a serial volunteer living off his wife and feeling shitty about it. He suspects his wife isn’t having as much pleasure as she says but he doesn’t have the balls to bring it up. They’re beating around the bush under the moniker of New Age communication.
On performance anxiety: I had a lifeline during the filming, a girl I could call up to talk dirty with, to get me hard, but she wasn’t there. The backup plan was that she’d leave me a message and I could listen to that, but as soon as I called my T-Mobile account they told me they were revamping their voice mail. I was sitting on the bed completely uncomfortable, naked. John’s sitting there and I’m trying to reprogram a new password into my phone to find this hidden message.
On his current relationship: It’s loving, it’s dirty. Farting during sixty-nine, cracking up with each other’s genitals in each other’s mouths. It’s awesome.
6.Jay Brannan, New York
On his character: Ceth is parts of me and parts of John. He’s a little bit lost and lonely and searching for connection like everyone else in the film. He finds a certain connection in a three-way relationship where he’s able to remain on the periphery.
On three-ways: I can relate to becoming interested in quasisafe romantic situations. I can’t say I’ve ever been in a three-way relationship, but I can understand being able to experience a connection vicariously without having to get involved with the drama.
On having sex on camera: The biggest challenge was trying to be turned on in a nonerotic environment. You can’t fake a hard-on, and you want to be at full mast. This was achieved more by stroking—standing by the window, jerking off, talking about the weather—than by actually being turned on by the circumstances.
7.Lindsay Beamish, Los Angeles
On her character: I play Severin, a disillusioned dominatrix who’s never had a real, lasting relationship. She’s mean when she feels unsafe, but really, inside she wants to connect so badly. That was the theme that kept coming out in the improvisation, and it’s definitely a theme in my life.
On her parents watching the movie: My mom saw it. She really liked it but she can’t get over the scene where James gives himself a blow job. She’s really traumatized by that.
On the perils of filmmaking: On the sex day, the day they were filming the orgy, the smell was really memorable, like animal sweat. Hippopotamus sweat.
8.Justin Bond, New York
On his character: I’m playing Justin Bond and he’s fantastic. [Laughs] It’s interesting because I’m playing a previous version of myself. A superficial, social-raconteur version of myself. I used to host nightclubs at the turn of the century.
On why he was chosen: I think John thought that I represented sexual freedom in a way, because I was running overtly—but whimsically—sexual clubs. They were clamping down on sexuality and clubs during the Giuliani administration, and our intention was political. We wanted to make clubs that were sexy and fun in a sex-negative era.
On sex parties: I’m an exhibitionist. I’ll do things if it’s part of the show, but usually I retain a certain level of space for myself to be intimate in. I’m not really comfortable going to big orgies. I mean, a lot of people indulge and engage in anonymous sex, but a lot of people in this part of the neighborhood know me, so that takes the charm out of anonymous sex.