The Secret Behind James Franco's S&M Sex Scene In 'The Adderall Diaries' Is One Not All Actors Are Game To Try

One would think getting two ridiculously good-looking humans to pretend to have wild sex would be a somewhat easy task. But… not so much. In The Adderall Diaries , the on-screen adaptation of Stephen Elliot’s 2009 memoir, James Franco and Amber Heard brilliantly capture the intense passion of S&M — but none of it happened without direction, push, pull, and time. Lots of time. Director/writer Pamela Romanowsky explains how getting these scenes right was emotionally draining for the entire crew, and why it was so crucial for the movie to stand apart from mainstream elements portrayed in films like Fifty Shades of Grey .

In fact, the film portrays a woman dominating a man in the bedroom, the exact opposite of Fifty Shades, and that's refreshing. “In the story, it's important that Stephen (Franco) is submissive, because it's the nature of his psychology and his character,” Romanowsky says.

Franco plays Stephen, a troubled author with an adderall addiction who constantly fights the misconstrued memories from (what he believes was) a traumatizing childhood. “[He] has a deep need to be the victim and to tell his story, to the point that he can't get off without being the victim. He literally reenacts these scenes where there's an aggressor. He would never be at the top in this situation. He's very much a masochist.” So, no Anastasia Steeles here.

Obviously, being the pro that he is, Franco was totally game. In an interview with Esquire , he said after wrestling naked artist Paul McCarthy for a project, he could “do anything.” Granted, it wasn’t all real. “It's not as if they were really torturing me,” he said. “I haven't done much bondage myself. They didn't make me have real clothespins on my skin, and I didn't actually get whipped… Movie magic!” Honestly, his acting had me fooled.

Romanowsky explains the very deliberate choices that went into Franco’s scenes and capturing a sexual rawness that rarely graces the silver screen:

It's important to see sexuality represented in all kinds of ways on-screen because it's represented all kinds of ways in life. There's a reason sex scenes are stylized in movies — the protection of the actors. Culturally, we want sex scenes to be more suggestive than explicit. But it's exciting when you see a sex scene in the movie that feels like real life more than they usually do. I liked the opportunity to do the S&M scenes in a way that felt true to me and realistic. At this point, Fifty Shades of Grey has changed people's relationships with S&M, I don't think it's shocking at all. I didn't want anyone to be wearing latex, I didn't want it to be cliche or cheesy. I wanted it to feel like something that could be real. It's not there to be cool, it's there because this is what life is. Figuring out whether you're compatible, [or] can make each other happy.

That’s where Heard’s character Lana comes in. And her on-screen chemistry with Franco is on fire. But like anything in this process, creating that took careful practice and effort. “The way that rapport is built is always different depending on the actors,” explains Romanowsky. “Everybody [except Franco and co-star Jim Parrack] met for the first time while we were shooting. Building chemistry is just part of building character. It’s kind of hard to describe how you create it.”

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The actress expertly portrays a woman who’s open to, yet terrified of, exploring the newness of S&M, and totally nails it, especially in a scene where she chokes Franco. Ironically, Romanowsky says that scene was “so fun” to shoot, because they were able to rehearse it and dedicate most of a day to get it down. Although "fun,” Romanowsky admits that taking on this climactic scene was also tricky:

That one was really difficult. It’s tricky and exciting because it’s mostly a non-dialogue scene. All of the emotion happens through behavior. We spent a lot of time navigating each piece and transition and making sure [Amber’s] thinking and behavior [were] clear without saying it overtly. It’s a very emotionally-intense scene, we were all exhausted by the end of it. It was also really satisfying to shoot. Just a pure directing actors experience… finding authenticity and making the world real. We couldn’t do it over and over and over again, because it’s exhausting. We did do several takes. We took a lot of time to figure out the blocking and behavior and to explore it and change what wasn’t working.
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Even though Franco and Heard faced the challenge of building the strong intimacy they don’t have in real life, the director ensures none of that made it awkward on set. “Not at all,” she says. “One of the reasons I love filmmaking is you develop intimacies with people really quickly. A lot of [it] is exploring private behavior in public, we learn so much about each other. We have to talk about how you lie, charm someone, how you have sex. You don’t need to talk about them overtly but you all have to make suggestions on how you do those things.”

Guess they don’t call it acting for nothing.