Getting into Character for sex, lies, and videotape

Inside Criterion / Sneak Peeks — Jul 22, 2018


At the core of writer-director Steven Soderbergh’s award-winning debut feature, sex, lies, and videotape—a provocative chamber piece about desire, self-deception, and the ways we keep each other at arm’s length—is a particularly fraught family dynamic. Straitlaced housewife Ann (Andie MacDowell) couldn’t be more different from her younger sister, the proudly promiscuous Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo), who doesn’t seem to have any second thoughts about carrying on an affair with Ann’s hotshot-lawyer husband, John (Peter Gallagher). The siblings do have at least one thing in common, though: both find themselves drawn to Graham (James Spader), a mysterious former fraternity brother of John’s who blows into town with few belongings but a video camera.

In this clip from a supplemental piece on our new edition of Soderbergh’s film, MacDowell and San Giacomo show the deep understanding of their characters’ psychologies—the respective hang-ups and compulsions that eventually lead them both to reveal the details of their sex lives to Graham and his camcorder—that made their performances so remarkably complex. Here, nearly thirty years after sex, lies helped usher in a new era of American independent film, MacDowell looks back on her interpretation of why the propriety-obsessed Ann tends to shy away from the subject of sex, while San Giacomo observes that, in playing her role, she saw Cynthia’s self-conception as rooted in the competitive drive to outshine her sister.