There's a lot of sex in the new Ryan Murphy show and there's a point to it, the stars tell EW.

By Maureen Lee Lenker
May 01, 2020 at 04:00 PM EDT
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Hollywood (2020 TV series)

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Everyone in Hollywood knows that sex sells. But in Ryan Murphy's Hollywoodthe sex plays a greater narrative purpose.

Taking inspiration from legendary Hollywood pimp Scotty Bowers and his memoir Full Service, the series kicks things off at the Golden Tip gasoline service station (we know, we know). The station, if the name didn't give it away, is not just for car fill-ups, but also doubles as something of an escort service for Hollywood players looking to scratch an itch. Thus, Jack Costello (David Corenswet), aspiring actor and corn-fed lunk, finds himself turning tricks with studio head's wives.

Of course, it turns out that sleeping with Hollywood bigwigs just might be a ticket to silver screen success. Beyond that, Roy Fitzgerald (Jake Picking), soon to be Rock Hudson, discovers the horrors of the casting couch when his promising new agent Henry Willson (Jim Parsons) demands sexual favors for representation.

Being a Ryan Murphy show, the series doesn't pull any punches when it comes to depicting the various episodes of in flagrante delicto at play here. But Corenswet thinks it's actually an essential element to the show's desire to play with Hollywood history.

"It's actually important to the show that you see the sex," he tells EW. "Because the whole point is that in that era, the public didn't see any of that. You never saw anything resemble anything close to sex on screen. It was all just innuendo and cool camera techniques to imply [things].  It's important that you see it happen in real time in the show because the point is to see this thing that was unseen and considered unseeable by the public."

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That didn't come without difficulties though. The first major scene between Corenswet and Patti LuPone's Avis Amberg is an extended sexual encounter. "The challenge was making it necessary and story-driven, so it wasn't just sex on screen," he explains. "That first scene was at one point written as a long and explicit sex scene. As we got closer to shooting, Ryan was massaging it into a scene about two people encountering each other in the context of sex. The sex has more to do with their feelings of wanting to be needed and wanting to mean something."

Refreshingly, the show also doesn't judge or punish its character for their choice to be sex workers. It simply acknowledges their lack of options and the reality of why such a career might appeal. "We're not shaming people's sexuality and we're not shaming sex workers," praises Laura Harrier, who stars as contract player Camille Washington. " It's showing the realistic side of human nature and not depicting it as a negative. I think that's really brave. The message is loving who you want to love and not shaming people for what they're interested in or who they're interested in."

Jeremy Pope, who plays screenwriter Archie Coleman, echoes this, and notes that Archie's choices actually gave him more faith to take pride in his own struggles. "I love how fearless Archie is. We talk about the sex work, but it's not something we look down upon," he reflects. "When you watch Archie's narrative and this group of individuals, I don't think you feel sorry for them. They're hungry, they're ambitious, they want it, and they'll work hard to get it...If anything, it's teaching me to stand in my blackness with pride and strength."

On the flip side of that, the series also acknowledges the grittier aspects of casting couch culture. But whereas these stories so often are focused on how vulnerable women are taken advantage of, Hollywood focuses more predominantly on its impact on men, particularly through lecherous agent Henry Willson. "It's not just the typical actress on the casting couch story that everyone's heard a million times," says Harrier.

A real agent of this era, Willson was notoriously abusive, forcing his clients to undergo intense physical transformations and reportedly coercing them into sexual relationships. For Parsons, who brings Willson to life in the series, it was an opportunity to interrogate how Willson was viewed in contrast to the current #MeToo movement.

"Some of Henry's behavior, vile as it may be, when practiced by a heterosexual executive was much more, especially at the time, lumped into a power thing," he notes. "But because it was gay, it was deemed disgusting. Nobody should be behaving this way, but I know from having read about him a lot of the things that he was doing was looked down upon or not accepted because it was gay and not because it was an abhorrent way to treat people."

Hollywood is now streaming on Netflix.

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