As well as being one of the most esteemed British actresses of her generation, Jenny Agutter has also been a lifelong crush of a great many film fans – and when she filmed her role as Nurse Alex Price in comedy horror classic An American Werewolf in London, it turned out she had a great many admirers on the set as well.
As director John Landis’ film was made back in 1981, long before the days of #MeToo and intimacy co-ordinators, Agutter’s most intimate scenes were not treated with the level of discretion they might have today.
According to David Naughton, Agutter’s co-star and on-screen lover, there were twice as many people as usual on set on the day that he and Agutter filmed their shower scene. The actor recalls, “There were people I’d never seen before – and they were all Jenny Agutter fans.”
Born in Taunton, Somerset on December 20, 1952, Jenny Agutter broke through as a child actress in the mid-60s, but really came to prominence with two very different films at the start of the 70s: family drama The Railway Children, and mature survivalist story Walkabout.
Though released in 1971, Walkabout had been filmed in 1969 when Agutter was only 16 years old, which raised some eyebrows as the role contained a nude swimming scene. Agutter admits shooting this sequence “wasn’t easy… I felt very uncomfortable about being naked. But they shot from a long way away and I didn’t have anyone around me.”
As she transitioned into adult roles, Agutter spent several years working in theatre before appearing in such major films as Logan’s Run and Equus, the latter of which won her a Best Supporting Actress BAFTA (both films also featured nude scenes). It was also in Equus that her future American Werewolf co-star David Naughton first saw Agutter, and in common with so many other men at the time, he developed a crush.
Agutter was 28 and accustomed to performing nude scenes and love scenes when she was cast as Alex Price, the London nurse for whom Naughton’s American backpacker David goes from patient to lover. The script gave them a love scene which included them sharing a shower, in preparation for which Agutter recalls Naughton “[had] to drink a couple of beers… so he’d feel relaxed.”
Agutter recalls the shower scene proved tricky to film because “it wasn’t a real bathroom” they shot the scene in, “so it was hard to get the temperature right. One minute you were enjoying the shower and the next it was freezing cold!”
On top of that, there was the sudden doubling of crew members on the day of filming. Even in the 80s, it was not uncommon for nude scenes to be shot on closed sets with minimal crew, but Agutter remembers on the day of the shower scene there suddenly being “[many] people there to look after all sorts of things.”
Despite the success of An American Werewolf in London, Agutter didn’t take many more film roles in the 80s. Despite being offered a lot more horror movies, she turned most of them down, with the exception of a role in 1990’s Child’s Play 2, and an uncredited cameo as a masked doctor – perhaps a casual nod to her famous nurse role – in Darkman.
Agutter has continued to work steadily in stage and screen in the four decades since, more recently appearing as Councilwoman Pamela Hawley in Marvel’s The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, as well as 2022’s belated sequel The Railway Children Return.
Agutter’s most prominent role, however, has been another character in the medical profession, albeit one rather far removed from Alex Price: Sister Julienne in TV’s Call the Midwife.
Even now as she hits her 70s, Agutter’s sex symbol status remains, particularly among men of a certain age. The actress once told The Guardian that the male attention her early roles receive is “flattering and terribly sweet. But, in truth, it’s nothing to do with me,” remarking that a “young woman in a uniform in American Werewolf… [is] perfect fantasy fodder.”
Agutter isn’t too comfortable with the way that screenshots of her early nude roles are used for titillation today. Agutter says that performing nudity “[is] not an issue with me. The exploitation of it is. You can end up naked in places you don’t want to.” What bothers her is images of those nude roles being presented online “out of context. That shocks me. Doing it doesn’t shock me.”