Actor fired from ABC for refusing sex scene

In a town where keeping your marriage together is this tough, maybe Neal McDonough is on to something

By Margaret Eby
April 1, 2010 11:34PM (UTC)
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LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 18: Actor Neal McDonough (r) and wife Ruve Robertson arrive at the premiere of Overture Films' "Traitor" held at the Egyptian Theatre on August 18, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Overture) (Frazer Harrison)

In the glittery, tawdry jungle of the entertainment world, it’s rare that actors get in trouble for not having sex -- or simulating sex -- on camera. But not doing sex scenes is exactly why Neal McDonough, an actor perhaps best known for his role as Nicolette Sheridan's sociopathic husband on "Desperate Housewives," got the boot from the new ABC series "Scoundrels." Deadline Hollywood reported that James David Elliott replaced McDonough three days into filming, a casting change caused by McDonough’s kibosh on doing racy scenes with co-star Virginia Madsen. This can’t have come as a surprise to ABC: McDonough, a devout Catholic, has apparently had long-standing policy against acting in intimate scenes because they conflict with his values.

McDonough isn’t the first person in Hollywood to reject getting it on on-set. Julia Roberts won’t do sex scenes now that she has children, and is famously averse to acting in the buff. ("To act with my clothes on is a performance. To act with my clothes off is a documentary," she once quipped.) Other actors draw the line at nudity in films -- Sarah Jessica Parker, Jenna Fischer, and Rachel Bilson, to name a few -- but McDonough’s case is unusual because, well, he’s a guy. Granted, there isn’t as much male nudity as female nudity on film, and it’s not clear how raunchy the "Scoundrels" scenes were actually going to be -- one assumes ABC isn't exactly delving into HBO territory. But for whatever reason, there are fewer headlines about the pressure for male actors to bare it all on screen, and what kind of effect the steamy scenes have on relationships outside of TV-land.


It’s easy to dismiss McDonough as out of touch with the industry or perhaps even a religious nut, but the more I thought about it, the more I admired the guy. (It also may have something to do with his role in the baseball cheese-fest "Angels in the Outfield.") Given the constant turmoil in most stars’ love lives and how difficult it seems to be to stay married in Hollywood (see: Sandra Bullock, Brad and Angelina, and, well, any acting couple ever), maybe McDonough’s move isn’t so much self-defeating as it is smart. 

Margaret Eby

Margaret Eby has written for the New York Times, The New Yorker, Salon and the Los Angeles Times, among other publications. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, she now lives in New York City.

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