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Asylum sex scenes made Natasha cry

Arthur J Pais | August 18, 2005 17:08 IST

AsylumThe sex scenes in the harrowing, riveting movie Asylum were so strong, confesses actress Natasha Richardson, that she cried a couple of times in her trailer to let off the tension.

"They were raw, and I knew they had to be there in the film for a purpose," the 42-year-old actress, also one of the film's executive producers, says. "And yet, I found the intensity of it all was too much. Those scenes messed with your head."

She knew it, she admits, that doing the scenes "behind the bed sheets would not do it. You know you are pretending, and yet you cannot but help feel overwhelmed by them."

David Mackenzie, who directed the film, created quite a furor with the nude scenes in his previous film, Young Adam, which also received very good reviews.

"David is a very rigorous director," Richardson says. "He picked up on everything; he pushed me very hard."

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Richardson, who is married to Oscar-nominated actor Liam Neeson -- they have two sons aged nine and 10 -- was also recently on Broadway playing another fractured character in the Tennessee William classic A Streetcar Named Desire. Soon, she will be seen, along with her mother Vanessa Redgrave and aunt Lynn Redgrave, in the Merchant Ivory film The White Countess.

"It has been one intense year," Richardson says. "I am looking forward to a long break after I do the press for The White Countess."

There are already whispers of an Oscar nomination for her work in Asylum, now showing in New York and Los Angeles.

The movie is based on a critically acclaimed, best-selling novel by Patrick McGrath dealing with the extreme form of obsessive, erotic love.

AsylumSet in 1950s England, the highly atmospheric film with Hitchcockian moments explores the world of Stella Raphael (Richardson), a restless woman who has sex with an inmate in a mental asylum where her husband is a psychiatrist. Running the asylum is a senior physician Peter Cleave (Sir Ian McKellen), who is manipulating, ruthlessly ambitious and perhaps as confused as some of the inmates.

When Stella's lover Edgar (Marton Csokas) escapes from the asylum after being denied parole by Cleave, Stella pines for the man. She knows that he viciously murdered his wife in a fit of rage, but can't stay away from him.

Her obsessions and his demands set in motion events that lead to several startling tragedies and a sad conclusion.

Richardson first read the novel about 10 years ago and has been trying to make it into a film since then. She says though Stella is seemingly villainous, she felt a visceral connection to the character

Asylum"In the present day, a woman going through a loveless or unhappy marriage can go for a divorce," she says. "It was not that easy at all in England in the 1950s."

"Many of the things she does are unforgivable, but I think I truly understand her," she continues. "And I feel constantly for her."

The producer of the film, Mace Neufeld, agrees with her, saying one of the reasons the book took about a decade to become a film was not giving in to Hollywood demands that the film be set in America, in contemporary times.

Neufeld, whose hits include several films based on Tom Clancy novels including The Hunt for Red October, says the period of the film is one of its strong characters. And Richardson, who fought along with Neufeld to retain the authenticity of the novel, agrees enthusiastically.

"I had made couple of promises to Peter (McGrath) like retaining the period and locales in the book," Neufeld says. "And I was honour bound to stick to them."

McGrath, whose father was the medical superintendent at the notorious Broadmoor Hospital near London, lived as a boy on its grounds. Many of the insights in the book (and the film) came from his direct observations at Broadmoor. But he insists the story of the book is all fiction.

"I have been haunted by the book ever since I read it," Richardson says. "And now that I have done the film based on it, I find it difficult to get Stella out of my mind."

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