Sean Baker

Source: Locarno Festival / Samuel Golay

Sean Baker

Anora writer-director Sean Baker has said sex workers should be decriminalised in a lively press conference on Wednesday.

“It’s important to experience what sex work is right now and how it applies to capitalist society,” Baker told a press conference after Tuesday’s well-received world premiere of his Competition film starring Mikey Madison as an exotic dancer who falls for the son of a Russian oligarch.

“It’s a career, a job, and one that should be in my opinion respected and at the same time decriminalised and not in any way regulated because it’s a sex worker’s body and it’s up to them how they used it in their livelihood.”

Baker, who added that his next film will involve a sex worker character, said no intimacy coordinators were used on set, although they were offered to cast.

The filmmaker, who premiered Red Rocket in Competition in 2021 and The Florida Project in Directors’ Fortnight in 2017, is known for working with a combination of professional actors and first-timers. On this film he said he worked mostly with professionals.

“My proudest on the film is casting,” he said. “It was a nice experience because of their incredible talent and what they bring to the table every single day.”

Mark Eydelshteyn, who plays Anora’s love interest, Ivan, said he sent in an audition tape of himself naked.

There were no intimacy coordinators on set, although the producers offered them to the cast, and Baker and his wife and producer Samantha Quan demonstrated positions to the cast. That remark drew a big laugh from reporters.

Madison met with sex workers while preparing for the role and said the book Modern Whore: A Memoir by Andrea Werhun and Nicole Bazuin was useful resource.

“The environment was very comfortable,” said the lead, whose credits include Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood and Scream. She added that she got used to walking around naked among other exotic dancers on set. “For Ani, her nudity is always her costume in a way.”

Baker approached Madison to play the lead and consulted with her during the year-long process of writing the screenplay. “I wanted this movie to explore different themes and one of them is power and power dynamics,” he said. “Anora has her power and is aware of her power and is on control, even when the world around her is coming down.”

The filmmaker also highlighted the importance of levity in his storytelling and how he blends it with serious episodes in his stories.

“Humour is necessary in human stories because it’s part of our lives; we all use humour to cope and to get by,” he said. “I can’t stand when I see a story without humour because it’s not real. The challenge is balancing that. When you want to tell a story that is tragic how do you balance that… Without humour it’s not real.”

Throughout filming Baker worked with a Russian-speaking consultant to ensure that jokes and dialogue accurately captured the authenticity of the Russian and Armenian characters. The cast includes Karren Karagulian and Yura Borisov.

Neon holds North American rights to Anora and FilmNation handles international sales.