In Hollywood: Baring less-than-buff bodies

Aging movie actors drop their drawers for realism's sake

December 27, 2003|By Chris Hewitt | Chris Hewitt,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Forget Paris Hilton. The most interesting naked people on-screen these days are savvier and more talented than Hilton. Wrinklier, too.

Think of them as the naked and the two-thirds dead -- actors over 50 who are baring all. It's the biggest trend in the movies, with five of them this month alone. The trend didn't come out of nowhere. Sir John Gielgud was revealing his titled, nonagenarian privates as far back as 1991 in Prospero's Books. But Kathy Bates' gutsy hot-tub scene in last year's About Schmidt seems to have kick-started a real trend, to the extent that five former Oscar nominees (Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson, William H. Macy, Danny DeVito and Helen Mirren) can all be seen in their birthday suits in movies opening for the holidays, while hotties like Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst are keeping their clothes on.

What's up? Or, more accurately -- because all of these senior stripizens appear to have the surgically unaltered sags and puckers that God gave them -- what's down?

Surprising nudity is always a good way to get publicity, for starters, but the main reason for all the nekkidness appears to be that it's part of the movies' path toward greater realism.

"Somebody my age has to be naked in a movie," Diane Keaton told The New York Times, her point being that, just as young, buff people aren't the only people who take off their clothes in real life, they shouldn't be the only naked ones in the movies, either.

The movies reflect real life, after all, and most of us are naked when we walk to the shower (as Keaton is in the current Something's Gotta Give), when we submit to a physical (as James Garner, Clint Eastwood, Donald Sutherland and Tommy Lee Jones are in Space Cowboys), when we enjoy a relaxing soak (as Bates does in About Schmidt) or when we are really wolves who have only assumed human form on a temporary basis (as Danny DeVito is in Big Fish).

William H. Macy, who enacts unusually frank sex scenes in The Cooler, lamented to People magazine that he wished Hollywood had asked him to drop trou when he was in his firm 20s. And it's true his buttocks would probably have been more Viggo-like back then. But, in a weird way, there may be less pressure on older actors to maintain hard pecs and cellulite-free butts than there is on younger actors. They have plenty of time to Pilates and Bikram themselves within an inch of their lives, so we expect a lot from J.Lo's breasts or Colin Farrell's butt. But Danny DeVito? The expectations are somewhat, um, lower.

"You don't care anymore. I don't feel the need to be buff, beautiful, fantastic. You become a human being, as opposed to an empty sexual person," says Mirren, who bares it all discreetly along with other cast members in Calendar Girls, the Jan. 1 comedy based on the true story of proper Brits who raise money with a nudie calendar. The nudity is central to the theme of Calendar Girls, which asserts that older women remain beautiful as they get wrinkled and puckered and that their lived-in bodies are something to be proud of, not something to hide.

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