K I N S E Y
With KINSEY, writer/director Bill Condon (GODS AND MONSTERS, screenplay for CHICAGO)
revisits the life and times of sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, crafting a drama that is at once a provocative thsexual history of America and a multi-faceted portrait of a quintessential 20 century figure. A journey
into the mystery of human behavior, KINSEY is the story of a man driven to uncover the most private
secrets of a nation– and those in his own heart.
Liam Neeson stars as Alfred Kinsey who, in the 1940s, let the genie of human sexuality out of the bottle with his groundbreaking research, changing American culture forever. His world-shaking effect remains the subject of heated debate. For some, he became a hero who championed tolerance; for others he was an adventurer who went too far. But most of all Kinsey was a human being – a man caught up in his
times, conflicted in his heart, yet perpetually hopeful of a better world.
Using the style of his own famous sexual interviews, KINSEY recounts the scientist‟s extraordinary
journey from obscurity to global fame to lasting controversy. He grows up the son of a rigidly pious teacher (John Lithgow) who rails against the evils of passion. Rebelling from his strict home life, and drawn to the world of the senses, Kinsey becomes a Harvard-educated zoologist specializing in insects. That is, until he meets a witty, free-thinking female student, Clara MacMillan (Laura Linney), who turns his mind towards a new subject: sex.
At Indiana University, Kinsey teaches the country‟s first groundbreaking course in “Marriage.” This leads him to discover an astonishing hole in human knowledge: a complete lack of scientific data on sexual behavior. When students ask Kinsey “what is normal?” he realizes he doesn‟t have a clue. Inspired to
explore the subject as no one ever has before, Kinsey forges a team of fearless researchers, including Clyde Martin (Peter Sarsgaard), Wardell Pomeroy (Chris O‟Donnell) and Paul Gebhard (Timothy Hutton), who find ways to break past guilt, shame and fear to unveil the truth among thousands of interview subjects. Yet the team not only studies what people do in their bedrooms . . . they explore the question on their own, daring to “swing” long before the 60s.
When Kinsey releases his book Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, the press compares it to an atom
bomb. Soon, Kinsey graces the cover of Time, becomes the subject of songs, is even lampooned in New
Yorker cartoons. But with his follow-up study of women, Kinsey‟s fate turns around. He‟s lambasted by
the media, abandoned by his supporters and caught up in the anti-Communist paranoia of the day. Behind the scenes, trouble also brews as his team‟s wild entanglements lead to conflict. Under the pressure, Kinsey‟s health and marriage suffer. Yet he also begins to see the results of his work – and to understand
that behind the fascination with human sexuality is perhaps something even more misunderstood: the need to love and be loved.
KINSEY is written and directed by Bill Condon and stars Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Chris O‟Donnell,
Peter Sarsgaard, Timothy Hutton, John Lithgow, Oliver Platt and Tim Curry. Gail Mutrux is the producer, with Michael Kuhn, Francis Ford Coppola, Bobby Rock and Kirk D‟Amico serving as executive producers.
Richard Guay is the co-producer.
THE GENESIS OF KINSEY
On January 4, 1948, American culture was irrevocably changed. That‟s the day Indiana University published Alfred C. Kinsey‟s book Sexual Behavior in the Human Male – and in a sense, it‟s the day
America started talking about sex. The book became not only a run-away best-seller and media sensation, but the spark that would later light the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the increasing sexual tolerance of the ensuing decades. At the time, Kinsey was dubbed the “American Freud” and compared
with other great pioneers into the unknown, such as Galileo and Darwin.
Before Kinsey‟s book, one of the most vital elements of human behavior was simply not studied by serious researchers. No one dared in a time of puritanical restraint and guilty secrets. But Kinsey was fearless. Why, he wondered, were people so silent about such a major part of life? Driven by his own
deep-seated emotions and fierce curiosity, he opened up a whole world of human exploration that had previously been forbidden. After Kinsey‟s book, nothing was the same. Yet today, the questions that Kinsey raised – about why and especially how we pursue intimacy – are as controversial, compelling
and relevant as ever.
Which is why Academy Award winning writer and director Bill Condon thought now would be a good moment to revisit the revealing life and times of Alfred C. Kinsey. “Kinsey changed the way America thinks about sex and the way we talk about it, yet as a man he has mostly been forgotten,”
explains Condon. “He was a fascinating personality who had an ingenious idea that was liberating in his times, yet is still seen as radical today. For it was Kinsey who first said that each person‟s sexuality is different and individual, and that there‟s no real definition of normal when you‟re dealing with human intimacy. He was a lightning rod right from the very start.”
The more Condon read about Kinsey, the more he began to see that the man‟s story was rife with mysteries: on a larger level, there was the epic mystery of sex itself and why our desire is so vast but our willingness to talk about it so limited; but there was also the more intimate mystery of Kinsey‟s personal life as a son, husband and friend, of a how a pioneering explorer of human behavior may have been driven by his own demons, past and fears.
Kinsey‟s life rife was not only rife with mystery, but also controversy – from those who have
questioned his research methods to those who have decried his lifestyle as a sexual libertine. But Condon refused to flinch from it. Indeed, to do full justice to the story, Condon decided there was no other way to approach it but with a Kinsey-like attitude: using an utterly frank and inquisitive point-of-view that would present Kinsey‟s history, and its intertwining with American history, in a manner that allows each individual to make up his or her own mind about it all.
“The film becomes a sort of litmus test for each person‟s own approach and ideas about sexuality,” says Condon. “Kinsey was a very complex man in very complex times, and I understand there will always
by strong reactions to him both pro and con. But I don‟t think you can sugarcoat his story in any way or focus on one simple side of who Kinsey was and what he represented. You have to present it all, and let people react to it. So that‟s what I tried to do.”
Still, there is little doubt that Condon himself marvels at Kinsey‟s bold willingness to go where few scientists had ever gone before. “I find him a complicated man, but also an admirable one,” he summarizes. “He pursued this project with a fevered passion, and was able to get people to open up to him in ways that were extraordinary in that time and broke new ground. He was somebody who tried to separate sex from everything that is laid over it – culture, religion, society, politics – and at the same time,
like an artist, he tried to work out very deep conflicts within himself about his own sexuality. When those two things converged, it was very powerful.”
Condon pursued Kinsey‟s life story with his own fervent passion, starting by scouring the available biographies. He then contacted Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy, who wrote the acclaimed Sex: The Measure of All Things, A Life of Alfred C. Kinsey,” and began collaborating closely with him. As Condon explains,
“There‟s the official version of Kinsey‟s life, which is less interesting, and then there‟s the stuff that Johnny was able to uncover, which is really fascinating. So I started with that.”
Condon also went to the Kinsey Institute in Indiana and interviewed scores of people who had known and worked with Kinsey. “One great source was a man named Clarence Tripp, who‟d gotten involved with Kinsey‟s project after the male volume was published,” notes Condon. “The other source was Bill
Dellenbeck, one of two main photographers Kinsey used for the filmed parts of his research. Bill was a real protégé of Kinsey‟s and later became a noted author and psychologist. He turned out to be forthcoming about everything, very honest and full of interesting stories.”
Of Kinsey‟s three research team members only Paul Gebhard (played by Chris O‟Donnell in the film) was still alive. “Gebhard‟s in his „80s now but absolutely sharp,” says Condon. “He‟s a remarkable character. I had to ask him about some delicate things such as the adultery that went on among the team members, how it would happen, what the specifics were – and he was as open about
that as he‟d be about what he had for lunch! And at the end he said this really nice thing – that I made a
good interviewer. Hearing that from him was a real thrill.”
Kinsey‟s wife, Mac, also passed away a few years ago, but Condon had the chance to meet with two of her granddaughters. “They have such a strong resemblance to her,” he notes, “that I got a wonderful sense of her character through them. She really lives on through the stories they tell.”
When Condon began writing the script he took all the facts and remembrances he had gathered and attempted to mesh them together in way that would become more than the sum of their parts. Most of all he wanted to avoid the usual sentimental conventions of biography and create something more dynamic. So just as Kinsey described his famous sexual interviews as “prisms” that revealed a
person‟s past, Condon designed his film to act as a prism, reflecting the many facets of a man as well as the shifting sexual attitudes of a society.
“To me, the thing that makes Kinsey‟s project and his life so unique is that he had an unprecedented genius for getting people to open up and talk,” explains Condon. “So it seemed to me that it would be interesting to tell his life story in the context of Kinsey showing the audience how you get people to say the most private things they have ever told anybody. In the process of giving us all the tricks of the trade, Kinsey also gives us a full measure of who he is. Once I figured out the structure it became a really fun and challenging way to look at a whole life in just 2 hours.”
After producer Gail Mutrux, who had been interested in making a movie about Kinsey since the 1990s, read Condon‟s script, she was impressed at how he had concentrated a very intricate and knotty life into a compact and entertaining experience. Mutrux had previously worked on such acclaimed biographically-based films as RAIN MAN, QUIZ SHOW and DONNIE BRASCO, so she already knew it takes a nuanced approach to turn real lives into movie experiences. “I liked that Bill Condon‟s script presents a man who was so important to American culture in a very even-handed way,” she
comments. “What‟s wonderful and rare about it is that the story doesn‟t make any final judgment about Kinsey or his work, but simply presents his life, and what was happening around him, letting the audience come away with their own feelings about the man and his effect on the world.”
* * *
WHO WAS ALFRED C. KINSEY?: A BRIEF PRIMER ON HIS LIFE AND TIMES
Alfred Charles Kinsey, whose name would for a time become synonymous with sex, was born in 1894, in the midst of a Victorian America that kept all talk, and often even thoughts, of the body and its desires under strict lock and key. His father, a stern Methodist and Sunday school teacher, as well as an engineer, taught Kinsey that a sexualized modern society would inexorably lead to the downfall of human morality. Though his father wished him to follow in his footsteps, Kinsey was from the start a free spirit and rebel. Against his father‟s demands, he instead studied biology and psychology at Bowdoin University, graduating magna cum laude in 1916, then received an advanced degree at Harvard. In September 1919, Kinsey came to Indiana University as a Zoologist, but few could have foreseen the sharp turn his life would take when he began to study what he called “the human animal.”
Kinsey made his mark early on with his research in taxonomy and evolution. During the first 20 years of his career, he became the world‟s foremost expert on the gall wasp, a non-stinging insect about
the size of an ant. He amassed one of the world‟s premiere collections of the insects, which is still held
today by the American Museum of Natural History, where it is considered an important resource.
At Indiana, Kinsey met Clara Bracken MacMillan, a bright biology student and fellow free spirit who shared his interest in insect evolution, and with whom he fell in love with and quickly married. Then, in 1938, in response to student demands for a realistic sexual education course, Kinsey began to teach a course entitled “Marriage,” which, despite the mild name, focused daringly on the sexual aspects
of partnership. The classes became hugely popular and students began to ask Kinsey for sexual advice. Unable to answer many of their urgent questions and seemingly desperate concerns, and still reeling from his own confusion about sex, Kinsey began to realize that very little was known about human sexual behavior.
Abandoning his entomological research, he devoted himself to studying the physiology and psychology of human sexuality, pioneering a field that was essentially absent in America. Kinsey assembled a research team to take “sex histories,” elaborate interviews that aimed to get to the root of what people were doing in their bedrooms. By the mid 1940s, he had opened the Institute for Sex Research (since renamed the Kinsey Institute) on Indiana University‟s campus and started compiling the data for a book, funded by the prestigious Rockefeller Foundation.
Kinsey began by collecting the sex histories of his students, then his colleagues, then as many people as he could convince to take part in the study in places ranging from gay bars to suburban neighborhoods, hoping to get as diverse a sampling as possible. Through a process of investigation, Kinsey developed a unique questionnaire and interviewing technique that addressed more than 200 different types of sexual behavior. His researchers were trained to be friendly, easy-going and
completely indifferent to what they heard, no matter how shocking or surprising. This allowed for the participants in the study to open up and share their most intimate secrets. Once the interviews were completed, the compiled data was crunched on an early-era computer.
In 1948, Kinsey published Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, which quickly sold out its first
printing of 20,000 in days. In just a few months, the book had sold over 200,000 copies, a seemingly impossible achievement for an academic tome. It was even translated into eight languages, demonstrating the worldwide hunger for sexual information. The book‟s revelations were myriad. Kinsey‟s research
suggested that 70% of men had sex before they were married, that 40% of husbands had extramarital affairs, and that 10% of American males had engaged in a period of homosexuality.
The response was a mix of shock, exasperation and celebration at the release of this long-hidden information. The typically bow-tied professor quickly became a household name and legend. His wife, Clara, also made the media rounds, memorably telling McCalls magazine that her husband‟s work
represented “an unvoiced plea for tolerance.”
Five years later, Kinsey published the companion volume Sexual Behavior in the Human Female,
which reported similar results. But the reaction was entirely different. Whereas the book about male behavior was mostly lauded, the book about women was primarily attacked. It seemed that America wasn‟t ready for Kinsey‟s finding that 50% of all women had premarital sex and 25% percent had extramarital affairs, among other bombshells.
Soon Kinsey became a scientific and cultural pariah. The Reverend Billy Graham preached against his effect on moral purity. Congressional investigators, in what was then the McCarthy Era, suggested he may have been influenced by Communists and be part of a plot to weaken American values. The Rockefeller Foundation dropped its support of Kinsey and he even lost his vital academic grants.
The battles took their toll on him, and in August of 1956, Kinsey died of a heart attack at the age of 62. Had he survived, he would have lived to see that decade later, William Masters and Virginia Johnson continuing in the same vein would publish their own landmark study Human Sexual Response which
further redefined sexuality as a healthy human trait of vast individuality. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, America was fully in the midst of a sexual revolution, with millions of high school and college students attending the sexual education courses that Kinsey had pioneered three decades earlier.
Today, the controversy over Kinsey and his reports continues to rage on. Yet no one has dared to repeat Kinsey‟s extraordinary experiments on a broad scale, or been able to conclusively disprove his data. Meanwhile, the institute he founded at Indiana University, renamed the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, continues to carry out scientific study in a field that may never have existed without Kinsey.
KINSEY IN CONTEXT: THE HISTORY OF SEX RESEARCH
1880s: Psychology pioneer Sigmund Freud shocks the world by suggesting
repressed sexual feelings are at the root of many mental disorders
1897: Physician Havelock Ellis publishes Studies in the Psychology of Sex,
which discusses in scientific terms such taboos as masturbation, orgasm,
homosexuality and the notion of sexual pleasure between husband and
1898: German neurologist Richard Krafft-Ebing publishes Psychopathica
Sexualis, the first book to describe a broad range of what he terms deviant
1890s: Female doctor Clelia Mosher conducts an unprecedented sexual survey of
46 American college-educated women, finding that women do desire sex
and enjoy having orgasms
1900s: Jewish physician Magnus Hirschfield creates the first institute devoted to
sexual studies in Berlin, which is later destroyed by the Nazis
1947: Alfred Kinsey establishes America‟s first institute for sexual studies at Indiana University and a year later publishes Sexual Behavior in the
Human Male, the most comprehensive study of sexuality in history
1966: Masters & Johnson publish Human Sexual Response, which posits
a wide variety of sexual behavior is a healthy human trait
1972: British medical doctor Alex Comfort writes The Joy of Sex, a medical
manual that reveals the details of a large number of sexual practices
including oral sex, bondage and “swinging,” further spurring on the sexual
1973: Nancy Friday collects the revealing sexual fantasies of more than 10,000
women in The Secret Garden
1976: Sher Hite publishes The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female
Sexuality and follows this in 1981 with The Hite Report on Male
Sexuality, revealing widespread dissatisfaction and anxieties, though her
methods are considered controversial
1990: Four decades after Alfred Kinsey‟s death, the Kinsey Institute publishes
The Kinsey Institute New Report on Sex : What You Must Know to Be
Sexually Literate, which includes a Kinsey/Roper poll revealing that
sexual ignorance is still considered a major problem in America by many
As Bill Condon wrote about Alfred Kinsey‟s life, one actor kept popping into his mind for the intense title role that spans several decades and a complicated, genius-style personality: Liam Neeson, the Academy Award nominee best known for his stirring role as Oskar Schindler in SCHINDLER‟S LIST.
“Liam has all these qualities that really capture Kinsey as a man,” comments Condon. “Liam has a power, an intelligence, and this sense of being a force of nature, of being a leader among men that is also something people say about Kinsey. Yet he has a gentle side at the same time. It‟s a rare combination.”
Neeson knew the role would be a challenge but was drawn to it strongly. “I liked that Kinsey was an individual who saw a huge gap in human knowledge and set out to fix it, no matter how much controversy arose,” he says. “That sort of a character appeals to me. He also lived in a time, as history attests, that was an extraordinary period of scientific discovery into new frontiers. Basically, he showed the world that what we assume people do and what they actually do are very, very different!”
The unflinching nature of Condon‟s script also attracted him. “It doesn‟t make Kinsey into a saint or paint him with a rosy hue. It certainly doesn‟t avoid controversy,” observes Neeson. “Instead, it shows Kinsey as a complex person who had an incredible will power, a fierce work ethic and, most of all, an obsessive quality that I think many people who ultimately change society have. But if he stood for one thing, it‟s a respect for individuals, for their uniqueness, and I think his story is an important one.”
Once Neeson accepted the part, Bill Condon sent him a vast box of files, featuring the best of his five years of research into Kinsey‟s life and work. “It was an enormous amount of stuff to read, digest and
absorb,” admits Neeson, “but it was very helpful.” And like Condon, Neeson met with some of Kinsey‟s living associates hoping to get a better sense of the man‟s real-life gestures and mannerisms. But the
physical was just Neeson‟s jumping off point.
“We did try to emulate his famous hair,” comments Neeson. “He had this extraordinary hair that stood up like a wheat field that just told me something about the man. It‟s hard to explain but it revealed to me something artistic about him. And he had rickets as a kid, which can lead to curvature of the spine, so I adopted a stooped sort of posture.”
Still, when it came down to fully bringing to life Kinsey‟s famously eccentric, charismatic and sometimes hard-edged personality, Neeson says he ultimately “had to take an imaginative jump.” He elucidates: “This role tweaked every artistic muscle I have in my soul and in my body. You really had to dig deep into one‟s own psyche to fully flesh out the character. It was hard work, but I like hard work.”
Neeson also saw within the script an unconventional love story – between Kinsey and his wife of 35
years, despite their unusual marriage. “For all the controversy surrounding them, Kinsey was devoted to
her and she to him. They had this extraordinary partnership, stable and rooted in mutual respect. They successfully raised three wonderful children in addition to all the work they both did. I think in this film you see that there was a very true bond there, and that it really mattered.”
KINSEY is the third project Neeson and Laura Linney, who plays his wife Clara, have starred in together, following the acclaimed Broadway revival of Arthur Miller‟s classic play, “The Crucible” and the recent film comedy LOVE ACTUALLY. The ease with which they perform together fostered the dynamic Condon was searching for to expose the volatile yet close partnership between Kinsey and Clara.
“Laura‟s an amazing actress,” states Condon. “She‟s someone whose strength of character really
comes through on the screen which was particularly important for the role of Clara because she‟s really the person who helps us see Kinsey and understand him. Laura was capable of creating a character who your heart goes out to, while at the same time you see that she‟s got her own very complicated desires.”
Linney found herself compelled by the film‟s subject matter. “Alfred Kinsey and his work were so interesting and the impact of that work was so remarkable,” says Linney. “I think we have taken for granted
the repercussions of his work and how it has affected our culture, no matter how you feel about it.”
She was also drawn to Clara as an independent-minded woman who is way ahead of her times. “She
was extraordinary,” states Linney. “They both were really remarkable people, unique, thoughtful, brilliant
and also very human.” Yet unlike Alfred Kinsey, little has been written about Clara Kinsey, which gave Linney an opportunity to really create the role from her heart.
“The main thing I learned from what has been written about her is that clearly, she was a woman of
enormous heart and she loved him deeply,” notes Linney. “But I came to realize that the thing that Clara was able to bring to Kinsey is that she was interested in the topic of love, as well as sex. As a character, she is the one who asks: how does love fit into all of this? How do you separate love from sex – or can you?
She plays a very important part in his journey not just as a scientist but as a man.”
Yet despite Clara‟s struggles to come to term with her husband‟s work-aholism and open sexual
dalliances, Linney believes the Kinseys pioneered a very modern style of marriage. “Prok and Mac change and grow together which is the key to a good marriage more than anything else, I believe,” she says. “It‟s
a testament to the two of them how they really did love and respect each other enough so they were able to grow in ways that, I think, shocked and surprised them both.”
With Kinsey and Clara cast, the filmmakers turned to the circle of researchers with whom they were intimately – literally – involved. For the roles of Kinsey‟s three associates, Condon and Mutrux chose acclaimed actors: Chris O‟Donnell, Peter Sarsgaard and Timothy Hutton. Bill Condon felt that O‟Donnell, Sarsgaard and Hutton all had key qualities that mirror their real-life counterparts. “When you hear or see
Pomeroy, Martin and Gebhard in interviews they‟re all so Midwestern,” explains Condon, “and you think it‟s so odd that this all happened out there in the middle of the country when there was a war going on. So
our three actors are all sort of clean-cut types in their own way. Each one has eyes that are bluer than the other. And they‟re all very distinct characters.”
Condon continues: “Tim created this kind of midwestern roué, a bit more sophisticated and educated
than the other two, but also a bit dissipated, which I love,” says Condon. “Chris just has such endearing qualities. He‟s the ultimate, preppy boy-next-door. But he‟s also capable of being quite complicated which
you see in KINSEY as never before. Peter‟s a true original. There‟s an interesting tension between the character he‟s playing who is so of his time, so guileless, open and Midwestern, and Peter who is all those things but in a very contemporary way. I just love the way he filled out that character.”
Peter Sarsgaard, who plays Clyde Martin, Kinsey‟s assistant who grows dangerously close to both Kinsey and his wife, was attracted to the project for a variety of reasons. “I read the script and thought it
was outstanding, with subject matter that interested me a lot. I‟d also worked with Liam before on K-19:
THE WIDOWMAKER and enjoyed it a great deal. Everything made it seem so obvious that this was a project for me. It was twenty different reasons and all of them said `yes.‟”
To prepare for the role Sarsgaard was initiated into the intriguing history of Kinsey‟s team – their
probing interview methods and the web of personal relationships that surrounded them. “Maybe three days after Bill offered me the part, I received this Fedex box from him with all this material on Kinsey: audio and video tapes, including home movies and a documentary, as well as the book Taking a Sex History, with
which Pomeroy was involved. It was really a surplus of information, and a great place to start.”
But Sarsgaard, who has previously played real-life characters in a number of memorable films, including BOYS DON‟T CRY and SHATTERED GLASS, has learned that just one detail about a person can spark an entire recreation. “With KINSEY there was a photograph,” elaborates Sarsgaard. “Clyde‟s
standing there, with pants that come up to the navel and no shirt on, and Kinsey‟s standing next to him in his briefs. It wasn‟t anything in particular about it, but it just gave me a way in to their relationship. Little
things like that can really inspire you.” Another thing that inspired the actor was working with Liam Neeson. “He has such moral integrity and conviction,” offers Sarsgaard. “ Liam has a `gravitas‟ that he doesn‟t have to try for. It‟s just there and perfect for the movie.”
When Chris O‟Donnell was first approached about playing Pomeroy he wasn‟t familiar with Kinsey or The Kinsey Report at all, and was impressed with what he learned about the man and his work. “It‟s amazing that this guy was, or a few years, one of the most widely known people in the world and I never even heard about him,” says O‟Donnell. “So the screenplay and my research were kind of a history lesson for me. I thought it was really interesting that when Kinsey began his work, we‟d done research on every
kind of animal‟s mating rituals, but no one had ever done any on us. It‟s amazing it took so long.”
The more O‟Donnell read, the better understanding he got as to why someone like Pomeroy would risk his own career to work with Kinsey. “Kinsey was really a passionate person,” relates O‟Donnell, “and I