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'Sessions' director strives for emotional realism in true story

BY GEORGE LANG Modified: November 21, 2012 at 12:58 am •  Published: November 23, 2012

Lewin, 66, a Polish-born director who emigrated to Australia as a child, cast Hawkes and Hunt based on their skills as actors, but also because they had never met or developed a rapport before the production. He said he was looking for “two total strangers to connect,” creating a realistic awkwardness on screen that would have to be overcome during the honest and frank sex scenes in “The Sessions.”

Beyond the social element, Lewin said each actor took on considerable challenges. For Hawkes, it was maintaining O'Brien's rigid horizontal posture, which was partly assisted by a foam ball wrapped in gaffer tape and placed at the base of the actor's spine.

With Hunt, the challenge was naked, pure and simple. She spends much of her character's screen time in “The Sessions” without any clothing. Lewin said that while this aspect of his film has created curiosity, it was essential to telling O'Brien's story without compromises.

“Actors are hungry for complex and challenging roles, and I think they resent gratuitous nudity as a crowd-pleaser,” Lewin said. “But given that it was an integral part of the character and the situation she was in, Helen embraced it as part of her job.”