Female nudity is rapidly saturating the television industry; here is Cody Kennedy’s personal account of taking the topless plunge on the Golden Globe-nominated Hulu series “Casual.”
On an ordinary Tuesday, something pretty extraordinary fell into my lap. In front of me was the chance to audition for renowned screenwriter Jason Reitman’s newest comedy. Instantly, I was overwhelmed with the thought of showcasing for the man behind Juno (2007) and Up in the Air (2009). But before I rushed to confirm, I took a look at the fine print: NUDITY REQUIRED. Instant buzzkill. Over two decades worth of industry experience and I have had my fair share of provocative roles. As an “attractive” twenty-something, I tend to get pigeonholed into the racier characters – prostitutes, escorts, hookers. You name it, I played it. But I always manage to represent these ladies of the night dressed in lingerie, little black dress, or occasional latex bodysuit.
In the past, I had shied away from nudity as much as possible. This choice, which may come as a surprise to others, was NOT because I am uncomfortable with my body. Hey, I will be the first to thank my mother for the bountiful curves she bestowed upon me — but I still was not willing to uncover the goods onscreen.
My philosophy on nudity sways towards the less is more approach – especially on film and television. Nightmares of naked screenshots plastered all over Google is something I have always dreaded. Some people support the “Free the Nipple” movement; I was on the fence. My lack of support was not because I believe women deserve different rights to their bodies as men, nor should it be criminalized within our culture. Simply put, I was always the kind of person to keep things, especially my nipples, a mystery.
However, I started to examine this role from another point of view. The audition never mentioned what type of nudity, and the scene was well written. The next step was preparing for the audition. The character breakdown was described as an “unenthusiastic stripper giving a lap dance” – giggle-inducing. Call me crazy, but I think a lot of girls have had that fantastical vision of themselves as a stripper. Would it be fun with everyone watching me? Would I feel sexy? Or, would I look like a total moron and trip on my stripper heels? I had mixed feelings—somewhat curious and slightly apprehensive.
I had one day of preparation before meeting with the casting director. During this time, I shamelessly danced around in my room to Beyoncé and tried get in touch with my sexy side. After feeling like a total creep for the first half hour, I started to get into it. Feeling the burning sensation in my ass and legs verified that I was mildly out of shape, but had potential. There was a flickering light at the end of my stripper tunnel.
In no time at all, I headed over to the casting office wearing the most appropriate stripper attire I could put together. At times like this, I thank myself for not throwing out the outrageously slutty miniskirt from 7th grade, or platform heels I wore for Halloween. As I looked around the waiting room, I got dirty looks from the other two girls competing for the part. They both wore the predictable form-fitting little black dress and bedazzled push-up bra to match. Soon enough, the casting assistant called me in, so I grabbed the nearest chair and focused on my choreographed dance and deadpan line delivery. The scene was over within the blink of an eye. I said thank you and strutted out of the office, arched back intact. As I slipped into my flats around the corner, I brushed the audition off, thinking I was definitely not what they were looking for.
A cool five days later I got a call from my agent, “YOU BOOKED IT! And it shoots TOMORROW! Can I confirm you?” At this point in time, I had to remember what the role was—I recalled the vague nudity. After getting all the details, my agent shared that the role requires topless nudity. My heart stopped. This was the first important role I booked this year and I had to be topless? And I had to decide within the next few minutes? WTF?! For the first time, I felt more excited than I did scared. But, why? A part of me wanted to explore that side of myself that I never let out. A part of me wanted to shake what my momma gave me and be proud. “Yes, confirm me!” As I hung up the phone, I started to panic, shit, what did I just agree to? How am I supposed to remain authentic and funny in my scenes with my breasts out? I called my mom and she encouraged me. “Do it,” she said, “This is what you’re trained to do.” Umm thanks mom, but I’m not trained to give a topless lap dance…So I did what any girl about to be naked in front of a crew of strangers would do, I hit the gym and got a spray tan.
At 5 a.m., I woke and started getting ready, and by 6 a.m. I was on the road to Sun Valley. As I pulled up to the studio, I felt the nerves hit me and told myself to keep it together, be professional. I was quickly escorted to my trailer, where I started to feel better. Knock knock!! “You’re wanted for a wardrobe fitting, follow me please.” As I trailed behind an overwhelmed production assistant, I wondered, “Is a wardrobe fitting even necessary?” I arrived to a room filled with older ladies who greeted me with smiles and told me not to feel uncomfortable. Shoot, do I have “scared shitless” written on my forehead? They presented a rack of bottoms, everything from G-strings to booty shorts. I fished through the lace and spandex to find a pair of metallic purple panties. They barely covered my butt cheeks, but they hid enough of my lady bits. Next, I headed straight into hair and makeup. Two hours later, I was caked-faced with three-inch extensions subtly covering the girls.
I walked back to my trailer in my white robe and start blasting my iPod, hoping the music would distract me from my thoughts. I looked at myself in the mirror and saw the flaws I never wanted anyone to see. The cellulite below my butt, the stretch marks on my hips, the lack of distinct thigh gap. Everyone on set is going to see it, it’s going to be magnified, and then the whole world will see it. I want to run away. What am I doing this for? I started acting because I love to tell stories, not to wiggle my ass in front of strangers and shimmy my breasts for comedic relief. I am better than that. Aren’t I? Why do girls have to be manipulated into believing that a part with nudity could parlay their career into something great?
Maybe because it has—countless actresses have bared all and catapulted themselves into success. But that isn’t how I want to break into success. Call me crazy but I want my work, not my bra size, to speak for itself.
With “Casual'” actor Tommy Dewey
At this point, there was nothing I could hide behind, nothing shielding me from the nakedness. Eventually, I was calmed and present, which is when I gave myself the permission to commit to the role and experience all that comes along with it. I believed the biggest person I was trying not to disappoint was myself. Why had I put so much stigma on that fact that I will not be fully clothed on television? Was it the overbearing cultural and societal standards in the media that made me feel so ashamed? Or was it the fact that my friends and family would see me exposed? Whatever it was, I was done putting myself down for taking on a role as a stripper. At the end of the day, I am an actress. This is my job. I was determined to bring truth to “Destiny”, no matter what mental mind games I was deterring.
After some light stretching and a much-needed pep talk, I arrived on set full of confidence. This lasted for about 30 seconds, until I felt leering stares from unfamiliar crew guys. I was placed in my cast chair and am told my scene was next. No surprise, the nerves come back to bite me in the ass. Before I had another second to overanalyze my situation, I looked around and saw 10 female extras standing around topless. I pulled the string of my robe a little tighter. But then I look closer—no one was making a big deal about the naked ladies or bringing any attention to it. Everyone there had a job to do and that was clearly understood.
Hours passed by and I was still waiting to do my scene. “That’s lunch, people!” a crewmember announced. Oh no, wait! What happened to my scene? I was frustrated that I had to keep myself from having a meltdown for another hour. At this point, I just wanted to get it over with. Mentally drained, I lined up in the lunch line. Then it hit me, whatever I eat will not help how my figure looks on screen. Yes, vanity moment, I know. In an effort to avoid a bloated situation, I turned my back on the steak sirloin, pasta salad, and chocolate soufflé. Instead I took my pathetic tray of herbal tea and tofu to the nearest seat. After what felt like an eternity, an hour passed and the crew headed to set.
With “Casual” actress Jennifer Daley
I was back in the hot seat. Time for my scene? Nope, try three hours later. This is the business of “hurry up and wait,” sounds like the most perplexing command on the planet. Two decades spent as an actress in Hollywood, and suddenly, this has become the mantra with which my career has started, stopped, and started back up again. But finally, it was my turn. I waited for more people to clear out for my “closed set,” but no luck. I turned to a PA and shared my concern. Within a matter of minutes, the amount of people cut in half.
The director led me to the actor I would have my scene with. We nervously laughed together, knowing the awkwardness of the situation. He sat down and the director asked me to show him my dance. I swallowed my pride and grinded on him in the most sensual way I could. And yes, I felt like an uncoordinated spaz trying to look appealing. Luckily, they had an actual stripper on set who lent me a couple tricks of the trade. We tried a number of moves to incorporate into my routine. By the end of rehearsal, I had a professional lap dance ready for its close-up, but hopefully not too close. The room was tiny and quickly heating up as six crew guys huddled into place. I looked up at the camera guy and coyly asked, “Is it time to…?”. With a nod in agreement, I undressed and stood there half naked in nothing but my booty shorts and stilettos. The Brittney Spears classic “I’m a Slave for You” began to play and I smiled. I listened to the music and arched my back like nobody’s business. As we cut to different shots, I started to feel more and more alive. Comfortable. Beautiful, even. I never expected this relaxed feminine spirit to emerge within me. I was no longer Cody, I was Destiny.
“THAT’S A WRAP ON CODY!” I did it. And I was not ashamed at all. Instead I was proud of myself. I felt that I had grown not only as a performer, but as a woman as well.
Images courtesy Cody Kennedy
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