Neal McDonough, Hollywood’s confused morals, and our confused reactions

In a recent article on, author Nikki Finke states that actor Neal McDonough was fired from the new ABC series Scoundrels because he refused to do sex scenes with his on-screen wife, played by Virginia Madsen. His reason – he’s a family man and a devout Catholic, and has made it clear throughout his career that he won’t do sex scenes.

First up, let me say that I applaud McDonough for taking this stand, even though it has cost him jobs over the years. For most men, the temptation resulting from indulging in steamy sex scenes with a beautiful woman other than your wife will almost invariably lead to unfaithfulness and possibly divorce (see: Brad Pitt, Ben Affleck, and Ryan Philippe). For McDonough to recognize this and intentionally avoid such situations is commendable.

My first reaction to reading about this story (and I’m sure the initial reaction for most Christians) is to immediately praise Neal McDonough and elevate him into the “Carrie Prejean-Jon and Kate Gosselin-Miley Cyrus” category of celebrities who are verbally outspoken and committed to their Christian faith. We (Christians) love these celebrities. We get behind them, buy their books, attend their speaking engagements, listen to their music, watch their tv shows and movies… And it’s not until they fall from grace because of some sin or character flaw that we look up and realize that we never really knew anything about them to begin with (see: Carrie Prejean, Jon and Kate Gosselin, and Miley Cyrus). The Christian community must be always on guard from blindly elevating a celebrity simply because they claim to be Christian, and from adopting Hollywood’s confused moral system.

Here’s what I mean – Neal McDonough won’t do sex scenes on screen because of his faith. But when I see his picture, the role I most identify with him is that of Jay Hamilton, the crooked, drug-dealing casino owner-scoundrel in 2004’s Walking Tall. So, portraying sex on screen is not okay, but portraying illegal drug use, profane language, gambling, assault, attempted murder, etc., are…? More people probably recognize him as Nicolette Sheridan’s psycho husband on season 5 of Desperate Housewives. Again, he didn’t do any on screen sex scenes, but most of the events on that show certainly fall outside of what most Christians would consider Godly morals.

Perhaps his unwillingness to do sex scenes is less about portraying sex on screen and more about him not wanting to be in an intimate situation with a woman other than his wife. Okay, but again, if it’s something you won’t do on screen because you would never do it in real life, then what makes sex scenes different from violence, drug abuse, or gambling?

I don’t want to sound like I’m blasting Neal McDonough, because I’m not, and he really did go up in my esteem after I read the story. I think it’s awesome to have another Christian in Hollywood who is standing firm in their faith at the potential expense of their career. I just want to point out that we Christians are called to live our whole lives from a Jesus-centered worldview. That means having consistent morals, no matter the situation.

So again, just to be clear – Kudos to Neal McDonough for putting his family ahead of his career. You, sir, are part of the vast minority in Hollywood. But Jesus calls us to put Him first in all things (see Luke 14:25-33).

Ultimately it comes down to Neal McDonough’s own conscience and his relationship with Christ as to what parts he takes and what actions he portrays on screen. I pray that he will continue to stand strong on the issue of sex scenes, at least. My guess is that, if he does, his will remain one of Hollywood’s few successful marriages.



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