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Why I've no regrets about having sex on film . . .


Margo Stilley and co-star Kieran O'Brien in scenes from Michael Winterbottom's 9 Songs

Margo Stilley and co-star Kieran O'Brien in scenes from Michael Winterbottom's 9 Songs

Margo Stilley and co-star Kieran O'Brien in scenes from Michael Winterbottom's 9 Songs

Margo Stilley comes into the bar wearing a pretty, if slightly see-through, white cotton dress. It's eye-catchingly crotch-skimming but she's teamed it with black opaque tights, a denim jacket and a cotton scarf, so it's not too revealing.

Her hair is pulled back into a severe ponytail and she is wearing no make-up. No one in the room seems to recognise her. But maybe that's because she's got clothes on.

I only mention this because Margo Stilley came to the attention of the public when she starred in 9 Songs, the 2004 Michael Winterbottom-directed film billed as the most explicit mainstream film yet.

It showed Stilley and her co-star, Kieran O'Brien, engaged in a variety of real-life sex acts (rather than simulated ones). This is what she is best known for. In fact, it's really the only thing she's known for.

We are here to talk about Portfolio, a fashion show she is presenting for Capsule 96, a new Nokia mobile television channel.

In the first episode she takes the viewer through her extensive, and frankly chaotic, wardrobe. In episode three she showcases six pairs of cutting-edge trainers, but I'm not that interested in her clothes and choice of footwear. I'm more interested in finding out why she chose to star in 9 Songs.

Back then, Stilley was a not particularly successful 21-year-old model who'd never done any acting before. She's 25 now, and has spent the past few years dealing with all the sniggers and comments and intense media speculation that surrounded her when the film came out.

"I mean, people were really angry with me," she says, sipping a mineral water and opening her eyes wide. "When I did press conferences people would shout abuse at me."

"What type of abuse?" I ask her. "Oh, my God!" she says. "You'd think I invented sex! I got told I was a whore and a slut and how could I do it. And what kind of role model did I think I was giving young women?"

Interestingly, her male co-star received very little criticism.

"I mean, please," she continues. "I didn't invent sex! There's a huge sex industry out there that's worth billions. People ask me if I felt that Michael Winterbottom took advantage of me because I hadn't acted before, but they forget that I developed the character.

"I am not at all like my character Lisa, and I was genuinely shocked by the reaction to the film and, particularly, to my role in it."

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But what on earth did she expect the reaction to be? She took off all her clothes and had real-life sex on screen for all of us to see.

'Oh, come on," she says. "It was a film about love and sex. It wasn't porn. I mean, I had sex with my boyfriend last night and that wasn't porn. It was just hot sex! 9 Songs was a real film about love and sex, and I wanted to do that film and I am proud of it."

To find out why she wanted to do it, and how she ended up becoming an actress, you have to go back 20-odd years to the American South where Stilley spent her childhood.

"The South's the best place to grow up," she says. She tells me that her father's family were genteel plantation owners.

"We had a big Southern house in Conway [a town in South Carolina], and I had nannies and stuff." She tells me she loves her father. "We are very close," she says. She barely talks to her mother. Her parents separated when she was seven-years-old and she ended up moving with her mother, Debbie Collins, to the Bible-belt town of Hubert, North Carolina after Collins took a third husband, a devout Baptist.

"I had to go to church at least twice a week," she says. "We were told sex was bad and sex was wrong, and if you had sex outside marriage you'd die and stuff. I found it all very depressing."

Her parents threw her out of the house at the age of 16. "They said I was no longer welcome," she says. She ended up at university in North Carolina but college life didn't suit her either, so one day when she received her grant, instead of using it on her education, she took the money and left.

"I wasn't sure what to do with myself. So I thought, 'Oh, I know, I'll be a model'."

She got a plane to Milan and then called some model agencies. "I went in to see one of them and they basically said, 'Great, you're hired'." The agency gave her money and a key to a flat.

"It was full of girls like me, only they weren't like me," she says. "They weren't really interested in anything apart from clothes and their nails. They were very boring and silly. I looked at all these very young girls and thought, 'Since when did I get so short and fat?"'

And so, eventually, she ended up in London. Until she landed (via a modelling contact) a part in an Israeli advertisement, she claims she had no plan to be an actress. "The people making (the advert) somehow knew the casting people for 9 Songs," she says.

Then, abruptly, she tells me she doesn't want to talk about 9 Songs any more. Instead she tells me about filming the fashion series for Nokia and about a recent stint in a Miss Marple drama.

She's currently starring alongside Simon Pegg in How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, and will soon appear opposite Cillian Murphy and Sienna Miller in Hippie Hippie Shake.

"I am not naked in any of them!" she says. So she doesn't feel she has been typecast, then? "No, I honestly can say it hasn't affected my career. I don't get seen only for roles as women who have sex a lot."

These days, Stilley is still religious -- she is currently converting to Judaism.

"I find it impossible not to have it in my life. But I've seen so many people chasing false religions -- drink, drugs, therapy -- constantly searching for something to believe in. I'd rather believe in something soulful and healthy."

She tells me she's just got back from China and North Korea. "That was pretty extreme," she says of the latter. "It's like going into a time warp." She says she felt quite drawn to communism. "If I wasn't a democrat, I'd be a commie," she says. "They really look after each other. I mean, kids there are safe, everyone's safe. I'm not safe in Soho."

Next she's off to Iran and then Cuba, and after that? "Who knows," she says swinging one leg over the other and finishing her glass of water.

"I write as well. I've just done a piece for a magazine about a biker's bar in the States called Suck Bang Blow. I went to work there for a bit. It was fun!"

"Suck Bang Blow?" I ask.

"Yes," she says nonchalantly. "I just go where the mood takes me. Nothing wrong with that, is there?"

To view the shows, visit nokia.co.uk/n96

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