Philly native Shari Solanis stars in the erotic drama Now & Later, now out on DVD. Solanis plays Angela, an illegal Nicaraguan who takes in Bill (James Wortham), a banker-turned-felon who just jumped bail. The pair hole up in her apartment to talk politics and sex — and then have sex, and then more sex. While Wortham’s performance is about as stiff as his frequently visible erections, Solanis is compelling throughout. She makes Angela a feisty free spirit who's desirable for her mind and her body. City Paper talked — and talked sex — with Solanis on the phone from Los Angeles.
City Paper: What prompted you to make this film?
Shari Solanis: Well, there are not too many projects that are intelligent, interesting, and provide an opportunity to be creative. I think there is a lot of hypocrisy and Puritanism, and it’s very outdated. What’s wrong with the human body, and sex? Why can’t we talk about it? I wanted to be a part of a project putting forth that message.
CP: How do you prepare for the role, get into character?
SS: I watched a lot of movies, such as Last Tango in Paris, and I read a lot of books. The culture was what I had to really get in touch with. I’m mixed-race — my upbringing involved being raised in an all-white neighborhood in the Northeast. I went salsa dancing with our assistant director. That said, when I jump into a character, I don’t want to be too cerebral. I do my research, but I delve into it and … come what may.
CP: How did you identify with your character, whose background is revealed over the course of the film? What rang true?
SS: She’s artistic/creative, and very humane. I’m not Mother Teresa, but I care for people. Aside from the cultural differences, who she was at the core was something that I was able to sink my teeth into easily. I have strong thoughts about feelings and politics — my father was a Vietnam vet — and I’m outspoken and liberal.
CP: Angela talks about life — saying that we’re here by chance, that we should feel, not think, and make every memory as good as possible. How much of her philosophy do you subscribe to?
SS: I buy it intellectually — but is it something I am able to own at every moment? NO! I am a cerebral person but I don’t always have the [luxury] of enjoying the breeze on my face, and the taste of my food. But when I do, I do enjoy it. Especially as an American — which is what Angela’s speaking out against/breaking down for Bill. I’m on the other end of that lesson, as well. We care more about what’s happening tomorrow than today. I learned a lot from Angela.
CP: OK, let’s talk about the sex. You perform a blowjob and have multiple sex scenes. How much of what you did was simulated, and when it wasn’t, why did you cross that line?
SS: We kept it professional. We didn’t want the dynamic or energy of porn. It was all simulated except the blowjob scene — but that was it. It was not about [porn]. It was about showing a slice of life, and sex being very natural. We tried to capture that and not be exploitative.
CP: Did you have concerns about doing the sex scenes?
SS: Of course! I went through those fears. But the film’s been released, and I’ve spoken about it, I have to own it. Before I went into this project, I had those fears, but the sex wasn’t the focus of the piece. If there were no other content, than I wouldn’t do it.
CP: I think James Wortham is blandly handsome. Is he your type?
SS: I wouldn’t say he’s my type, but he’s not unattractive.
CP: If you could have picked any co-star to have/simulate sex with, who would you have chosen?
SS: I don’t want to sound clichéd, but tall, dark and handsome, rough around the edges, and educated. First comes to mind is Johnny Depp, but he wouldn’t work in the role. I can’t think of my ideal … um, Colin Farrell?
CP: Angela talks about fear and shame with regards to sex, so it makes sense that you have a vigorous masturbation scene. Did you ever feel self-conscious about what you were doing?
SS: I stand there intellectually. I still have vulnerability, and people misunderstand and judge — it’s their own [issue]. In the context of the film, it’s a personal, private and intimate moment. It’s intimidating when you know people are going to watch it. The goal isn’t pornography. I was a facilitator of the message. It’s hard to do nudity/sex. In the end I just let go. The point of the film is, Why are we as Americans so scared of our bodies, being naked, and sex? Other cultures aren’t that way, but we’re instilled with fear and vulnerability.
CP: Your character also gets worked up about politics, stating, “People don’t know what’s going on in their own country.” What are your political passions?
SS: Freedom. I hate judgment. I have radical opinions about our government and while I’m liberal-minded, I don’t like dogmatic points of view, or conservative mindsets. Maybe I live in a dream world of altruism and truth, but that’s my view.
GK: What are your views on Philadelphia?
SS: I was born and raised in the Northeast and went to the High School of Creative and Performing Arts on Catharine Street. I lived in South Philly, Center City, and went back to the Northeast. I miss it now that I’m gone. It felt like a big small town. I craved more, but now that I’m far away, its charms have come back into focus. Family is still there. Much a part of me, and will be. People are real!
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