As we head into Oscar® weekend a lot of the attention is being placed on films like Lincoln, Django Unchained and Les Miz but keep an eye on the lone nomination for Ben Lewin’s film The Sessions.
Lewin was intrigued when he stumbled upon a column written by Mark O’Brien, a man severely stricken with polio, who while living a majority of his life in an iron lung hired a sex surrogate to help him lose his virginity. Determined to bring the unique story to screen, Lewin transformed O’Brien’s column into a screenplay and saw the project through to create The Sessions.
While John Hawkes was cast to play the lead character, Helen Hunt was called on to bring his sex surrogate to life; the result…Hunt finds herself nominated for an Academy Award.
In 1998, Hunt hit the trifecta with her performance in a lead role in As Good As It Gets taking home an Oscar®, Golden Globe® and SAG Award. Since then she has been cast in some decent roles but none as powerful as her performance playing sex doc Cheryl-Cohen Greene.
Director Ben Lewin who won the Audience Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival for the film will be attending the Oscar® ceremony to support Hunt. Lewin faced the challenge of mixing sexual chemistry and awkwardness between these unique characters while keeping the technical components of the graphic sex scenes true to life. The final results delivered sentimental, intellectually stimulating moments between Hunt and Hawkes.
“There was no rehearsal [of the sex scenes]. In fact, I think the natural anxiety of the actors worked in our favor,” Lewin told LA Splash Magazine in a recent interview. “The main challenge was creating a comfort level for the actors whereby they could treat the sex/nude scenes like any other scene on the movie and not have to feel we were going into ‘special’ mode.”
Lewin’s decision to not rehearse to create ‘natural anxiety’ proved to be a great choice. Many viewers felt uncomfortable for Hunt’s character as the surrogate attended the first few ‘appointments’ with her physically challenged sex partner but as the film progressed Hunt took each sex scene to another level, evolving the awkwardness into a genuine heartfelt relationship.
When asked if he was sensing award-winning performances coming from Hunt and (or) Hawkes while shooting the film and these scenes he said that never entered his mind, adding, “The whole awards thing is an industry unto itself, which I do not begin to understand.”
Although he has no immediate plans to work with Hunt, Lewin said he would be delighted to team up with the actress and other members of the cast again if the opportunity comes along. In the meantime, he has stopped to smell the roses and relish the success and positive reviews from critics and audiences across the globe saying, “I will enjoy the whole experience of The Sessions for the rest of my life. It was truly transforming.”
It may be renovating for Hunt’s career as well as the talented actress is just a vote away from hoisting another Oscar…that’s about as good as it gets.