If you haven’t seen Sunday night’s episode of The Affair, you should stop reading this right now. If you have seen the season 2 opener, then you’ve seen a lot of Josh Stamberg, who plays Max, and who gets awfully naked for a sex scene with Maura Tierney’s Helen. EW got a chance to catch up with Stamberg a few days before the show aired.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When did you find out about this scene? Did you have any hesitation about getting so naked?
JOSH STANBERG: Much. [Laughs.] There was a lot of discussion. I hadn’t read the episode yet when it was mentioned. The important question to me, as a theater actor or really any actor is: what is the pertinence? Does this move the story and why? I had a lot of qualms about how this helped and wanted to be sure it wasn’t just a gimmick or a bit. [Director] Jeff Reiner and [creator/writer] Sarah Treem had really good answers. I think it all plays and makes sense.
It certainly shows a lot of Max’s personality.
Yeah, he has this utter comfort with himself. He’s feeling his power with this woman he’s always wanted. But I also think he would do that anyway: Max is the guy who always walks naked around his house. [Laughs.] It’s a lot, this scene. For her, she hasn’t been with anyone else since college. What is it like for her to see someone else’s body? And a person who is your husband’s best friend and been a big part of your life? It’s a very deep and challenging and wildly intimate moment.
Previously Helen’s sex scenes have all sort of been in the dark. This was very bright daylight.
And we were both concerned about that. [Laughs.] I’ve done lots of sex scenes but I hadn’t done a lot of that type of nudity. It’s a weird day at work. It’s choreographed like, your leg goes here and my arm goes there. But when you start going it’s different. And then it’s really awkward immediately after. Not with the other actor but with everyone else in the room who has been watching you do this. Suddenly the dude behind the monitor can’t look at you.
You and Maura Tierney have known each other for a long time. Surely that helped?
It helped hugely. There’s already trust in place and respect that goes both ways. It helps ’cause we can talk about the scene before shooting it and how we want it to be, and make sure it’s good. And, also, just share in the awkwardness of it and not pretend it’s not weird.
Were you nervous the night before?
I wasn’t nervous. I look forward to scenes that are a challenge. And it really was a great scene. It does feel epic in the scope of how much information there is about these two people. So I wasn’t nervous, but it was tough in the work leading up to get in shape. Like, trying not to eat or drink [alcohol]. You know, like a couple of months of kale and I want to kill myself. [Laughs.] Where’s the tequila and pizza?
Did you eat a burger straight after?
We all went out that night: Maura and Jeff and I and ate a ton of sushi and drank a lot. It was really fun. The next day it was the full pizza. [Laughs.] But I was really happy because after the scene Sarah — and she’s not one for platitudes — told me that it was her favorite scene on the show ever. She was really happy. That made me happy because I think she’s the bee’s knees. Her mind is amazing.
Where will you watch this episode when it airs?
I’m going to my hometown of D.C. this weekend and my mother [NPR’s Susan Stamberg] has a friend from NPR hosting a barbeque on Sunday. She told me he wanted to turn it into a premire party for me and he has this huge television and everyone will be there to cheer me on! I mean, what could possibly be worse? It’s the worst idea ever so no, that is not where I will be watching.
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The Affair airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime.