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The naked truth about flesh in films

Who strips? Who won't? Who wishes they hadn't?

By Julie K.L. Dam

"I don't believe in censoring myself," Nicole Kidman (in "Birthday Girl" with Ben Chaplin) says of her nude scenes.

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(PEOPLE) -- The first time, they say, is the toughest.

"I was really nervous," says Christina Ricci, who stripped down for a scene in "Prozac Nation" (due in March). "I made (costar) Michelle Williams sit by the monitor and tell me, like, 'Ooh, sit up.' 'Ooh, put your arm back there so you look better.' But after a while it was like, 'I'm totally naked and I'm not supposed to be.' It's sort of liberating."

Welcome to the party. Thirty years after "Last Tango in Paris" shocked audiences with its full-frontal nudity and explicit sexuality, skin is well and truly in. In this year alone, five of the Oscar nominees for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress -- Halle Berry, Nicole Kidman, Kate Winslet, Sissy Spacek and Helen Mirren -- had at one time or another stripped naked for a part.

George Clooney bares his behind for the thriller "Solaris." And R-rated films like "Red Dragon," "Unfaithful" and "Monster's Ball" have caused barely a shrug for their nude scenes while raking in healthy sums at the box office. All, of course, in the name of realism. As "Unfaithful" star Diane Lane puts it, "You can't tell a story about infidelity without [it] . . . how can you have a hamburger without any meat?"

For young actresses the question may be: How can you expect to have a career? "They see [nudity] as a way into the business," says New York Daily News film critic Jami Bernard, author of "Total Exposure: The Movie Buff's Guide to Celebrity Nude Scenes." "After Sharon Stone did the leg-crossing scene in 'Basic Instinct,' she was offered 'Casino' with Scorsese." And for actresses of a certain age, she adds, "nudity keeps audiences thinking you are sexy. Otherwise they start offering you the 'Driving Miss Daisy' parts."

Regrets, if any, come after the paycheck is cashed. Selma Blair, 30, felt fine about her torrid love scene with Robert Wisdom in the small movie "Storytelling" until she considered her audience. "I don't know how I'll take my mom to it," she said at the time.

Plenty of moviegoers think like Mom. "People are tired of gratuitous nudity," insists Elayne Blythe, president of the Hollywood-based Film Advisory Board, which gives its seal of approval to movies it finds suitable for family viewing. "Bogart and Bacall or Tracy and Hepburn are sexier with their clothes on than [today's stars] are with their clothes off."

Tell that to the accounting department. "It's all about money," says British casting director John Hubbard ("Lord of the Rings"). "Any people you can get in to see Halle Berry's breasts, that's money."

Read more of this story on PEOPLE.COM: Bare necessity

For more Celebrity News, visit PEOPLE.COM

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