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What It's Like to Play a Corpse in the Year's Most Controversial Sex Scene

We spoke to Cody Renee Cameron, who plays an exquisite corpse in "Neon Demon," Nicolas Winding Refn's new movie about the horrors of modeling.
Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Neon Demon, the gorgeous and psychedelic new thriller from Nicolas Winding Refn, takes us into a world of sequins, blood, and models. The film stars Elle Fanning as a new model in town and Jena Malone as a makeup artist. Keanu Reeves and Christina Hendricks make deliciously dark guest stars, and Abbey Lee Kershaw and Bella Heathcote play established models set on devouring the fresh meat.

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Despite the film's star-studded lineup, the most memorable scene is one of passion between Jena Malone and a corpse, played by Cody Renee Cameron, who knows what it's like to be the new blonde model in town in real life. She was scouted by Playboy while a student at University of Illinois and eventually moved to Los Angeles to pursue a plethora of creative endeavors.

We got the chance to chat with Cody about what Neon Demon gets right about Hollywood, getting into character, and, of course, necrophilia. (Spoilers ahead.)

BROADLY: How did you get into acting and modeling?
Cody Renee Cameron: I got scouted at the University of Illinois to do Playboy. I represented U of I in a college issue of Playboy, [Playboy's College Girls August 2011]. That was my first real modeling gig, which was naked, so that was pretty crazy because Southern Illinois is very conservative, Republican, and Christian; it's the Bible belt. So that was terrifying—­but awesome. So when I finished college I decided to try my hand in LA.

So tell me about your scene in Neon Demon.
That's the biggest thing I've done to date. We filmed it a little over a year ago, and it's kind of all a blur because it was so fun and so exciting and so surreal. We did full body makeup to make me look like a corpse and the prosthetic of having been cut open.

What was the make-up process like?
You come in and you strip down and sit in a chair and then you're there for like six or eight hours. There were two people working on my body, and then [other] people came in and worked on my face and hair, so there were four people working on me at once to get it all done.


So how do you stay that still when you're acting as a corpse?
Oh my gosh, so I was, like, Googling YouTube tutorials on how to play dead. I tried different things, I tried to hold my breath for a long time but I found that that didn't work very well, because then you have this big outlet of "aah!" when you let everything out. I tried to flex my stomach and then take really small short breaths. I practiced a lot.

You did a great job. You seemed totally dead.
I was so nervous to see it myself at the big screen but then at the premiere I was like, "Wow, yeah, I [look dead]."

Your scene must have been more difficult than a standard corpse scene, because Jena Malone is having sex with you.
Yeah! It was really crazy. A lot of times when you're in scenes with people you make it all about yourself. I just tried to be incredibly dead and considerate of how emotional it was for her. It was so short, but we worked on that scene for like six hours shooting and shooting and shooting. I laid flat like that for six hours on like this cold, hard, steel table. [Jena Malone] was awesome.

But there was a lot of discussion before we started shooting—like Nick [Nicolas Winding Refn] and Jena and I talked about how they wanted to shoot it and where they wanted to take it. Originally it was supposed to be a really quick scene of just her touching my hands and giving me a kiss. It sounds weird to say the chemistry between a corpse and a person, but her chemistry with me—like, she felt comfortable to like take it further. Nicolas Winding Refn is directing and he's like, "Oh, spit in her mouth, and sit here, and rub here," and the scene escalated. So that was really cool to be a part of that.


Have you ever played a corpse before?
No, I don't think that I had. I've been killed off in things and have laid there dead, but anything close to that scene? No, not like that.

How did that role come to you?
Oh my god, so I had to audition for that role. It's always so funny to tell people this. I probably beat out 200 girls to be that girl. I went to the casting place and they had us come in a bikini and lay down on the floor while two people just like fucked with us—like, messed with our hair, lifted chairs over our body, just to make sure that they could film and watch your breathing. So that was kind of cool to know that I could play the best dead girl while getting fucked with.

So how was the premiere?
It was super exciting because it was a premiere at [ArcLight Hollywood], it was the first time I had seen myself on the big screen there. It was really well done, they had a red carpet area [with] Keanu Reaves and Elle Fanning and everybody; I was so honored to be on the red carpet with them. It was so cool to watch the movie with the entire cast and the crew in Hollywood, it was so humbling and surreal. I really didn't know anything about the movie other than my scene and obviously just a general plot. There were definitely some big shocking points, like the eyeball part and all the blood and gore. The cinematography was just incredible. [Nicolas Winding Refn] outdoes himself every time.

It was beautiful to watch.
Especially being in the industry, to watch a show about a model going through it—it was incredibly relatable, and I hope that the people outside the industry kind of felt that too.

I wanted to ask you that. There was so much about the body, and being a woman in Hollywood, and female competition. What did you take away from being in the industry?
I think one of the points he hits on a lot is the incredible pressure to always be younger, which impossible to achieve. No matter how much time or energy or how talented you are, there are always going to be new people coming in, and it's really maddening. You see what happens. I always say you are what you eat, you are what you surround yourself with, you are what you put into your body, what you watch on TV, or have conversations about. That's what makes you, and so I love the idea of them devouring this younger girl to take on those properties. I thought that was fucking brilliant.