In a recent interview with Insider, actress Carice Van Houten looked back on her run as ‘the red woman’ Melisandre on HBO’s Game of Thrones, and asked why so many of her scenes had to involve nudity.
Since the actress was no stranger to filming sex scenes by the time she landed her role as the mysterious sorceress of Essos, she wasn’t particularly surprised to discover that one of her very first scenes on the show saw her disrobe and engage in intercourse with co-star Stephen Dillane, who played the stern and sturdy would-be-king Stannis Baratheon.
Reflecting on the now-finished mega production through the lens of the #MeToo movement, however, Van Houten wonders why her character – by all means one of the most compelling and alluring of the entire cast – had to show as much skin as she did.
“When the #MeToo movement started, that’s when it started sinking in for me,” she told the reporters over at Insider. “And it did sort of change my perspective on my whole career, not just Game of Thrones. In retrospect, I thought, ‘Why did that scene have to be nude? Why was that normal?’ I did question things and it was not so much that I was blaming anyone, but that’s just how we evolved, and just how the movement affected me.”
Her point is a valid one, especially considering that Game of Thrones was always renowned (and criticized) for its large amounts of nudity. But while the showrunners – alongside Westeros creator George R.R. Martin – claimed these scenes made the story realistic, more often than not these bits constituted little more than cheap marketing ploys that appealed to an entertainment culture which had for long oriented itself through the eyes of men.
The problem of nudity on screen is, of course, a multifaceted one, and the actress noted she considers all its sides, both good and bad.
“I was always very liberal and I defended nudity because I thought, ‘Why can you have a machine gun and not see a nipple?’ I thought it was so weird.”
Since then, however, Van Houten has been confronting her own feeling of “‘that’s what the audience wants’ and not feeling confident to say, ‘Wait a minute, why would I have to do that?’ It’s just our conditioned behavior as females, and not thinking about what that means.”
While HBO is hard at work on multiple Game of Thrones spinoffs, the vast majority of which we can expect to deliver exactly the kind of exploitative nudity that Carice Van Houten is calling into question, the actress herself has been making content that challenges this archaic attitude, like the Dutch production Instinct, which she says was conceived as a critique of the “male gaze.”