In director Drake Doremus’ new romantic sci-fi, Equals, human emotions have been eradicated from society. Contact between people is not allowed. And sex is the forbidden fruit of society. Upon any hint of feelings (a condition called “Switched on Syndrome”), that citizen is forced to take a suppressant until they’re better or they are eventually ostracized.
It’s Gattaca for a new generation with Nicholas Hoult playing Silas, a handsome, mannequin-like worker (“This is the perfect specimen,” Doremus says of him) who becomes drawn to Nia (Kristen Stewart). Consumed by feelings he doesn’t understand, Silas is forced to medicate — but finds himself resisting as he attempts to get Nia to acknowledge her emotions for him.
Barely interacting and only talking in hushed whispers throughout the film, it comes as a huge emotional release when the two finally embrace in a bathroom stall. There, Nia reveals she was secretly diagnosed with SOS. Suddenly, the two are touching, feeling and interacting with each other. Their hands touch, their breathing grows deeper, and they go in for their first kiss. (They later have sex in the shower.)
The scene itself, sensual and explosive, will surely be nominated, if not win, the MTV Movie Award for Best Kiss.
“We carefully structured the shoot so that the bathroom scene was the first time they really touched in the film and really touched when we were shooting,” Doremus tells ET. “It was this release and this feeling. What happens in the film was really happening on set.”
“I have hours of footage, essentially of them touching each other’s faces and hands and everything like that,” Doremus says of the scene, which was filmed in 30-minute takes. “It was kind of impossible to cut it down into a couple of minutes.”
Hoult and Stewart’s on-screen chemistry is undeniable, so much so that rumors of Hoult’s ex-girlfriend, Jennifer Lawrence, being jealous ran rampant through the press. (Lawrence told Marie Claire that the rumors were completely untrue.) In fact, both actors just came off of high-profile breakups — it was confirmed that Stewart and Robert Pattinson had finally called it quits — when the film started shooting in August 2014.
“We wanted to make it look foreign, and found, and completely natural — but new,” Stewart told The Daily Beast about the scene in particular, adding that “it was a really good time for both of us to make this movie.”
“I think they were just losing themselves,” Doremus says, revealing that he was very much “a passenger” during filming. “At that point, they’re just in it.”
At the movie’s Tribeca Film Festival premiere, Hoult admitted to Vulture that it was very uncomfortable to watch the first time. “I was like, ‘Wow, that’s me, but I feel I shouldn’t be watching it,’” the actor said.
“It feels like you’ve almost stolen something,” Doremus says of Hoult’s comments, explaining that the scene was largely improvised on set. “It’s kind of inappropriate almost, which is what I love about it. It’s so intimate and personal that you shouldn’t have experienced that. You shouldn’t have watched that. I think it was weird for him watching that.”
Though, Doremus is quick to clarify this happens on all of his films. “All my actors, even Felicity [Jones], have always said, ‘It’s really strange watching myself in your movie because I don’t remember saying or doing any of that.’”
Hoult and Stewart’s explosion of human emotions in Equals can be seen on DirecTV Cinema starting May 26 followed by its limited theatrical release on July 15.