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We worked with an amazing intimacy coordinator, and it taught me so much about how phenomenal they are and how important it was. We worked with Ita O'Brien who also did Normal People. We spent two weeks rehearsing. It meant that Jack and I could get to know each other as friends and become comfortable. We sort of went through every scene and broke it down, like a dance, like with the stunts. It made everyone aware of our limits of where we can be touched or don't feel comfortable being touched. Once you have all these boundaries established and made clear, and once you mark through all the beats, then everyone knows where they're at, and so then you can have fun and freedom within it, which was so important for this because those scenes are so liberating for both of them.
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The Hollywood Reporter: Ruth Wilson on How Intimacy Coaches Change Sex Scenes: “There’s a Dialogue Now”
Whether onstage or onscreen, Ruth Wilson has never shied from intimate and demanding scenes, and she’s got plenty in her new film, True Things.
Based on the book by Deborah Kay Davies, it casts Wilson as Kate, a benefits worker who can’t resist a torrid affair with an ex-con known only as “Blond,” played by Tom Burke. Wilson says the pair and filmmaker Harry Wootliff loved working with “the queen of intimacy coaching,” Ita O’Brien.
“She was brilliant,” recalls Wilson, who reportedly left The Affair over issues with the way nude scenes on Showtime series were handled, among other concerns. “I’m really hoping it results in more interesting sex scenes on our screens because there’s a dialogue now and there wasn’t one before. Having an intimacy coach now means the discussion can happen in a pragmatic, practical, rational way.”
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Translated from Spanish
For the intimacy coordinator of the series, also Irish Ita O'Brien, all this duality of opinions lies in a change of perspective, in a generational leap when it comes to understanding sexual consent. It all depends on whose eyes you look at those scenes. "It's a matter of will and autonomy," she says in a conversation via Zoom, the person responsible for choreographing the intimate scenes on the set, for the performers to feel safe and secure during their creation. “This is not just sex. It's not the pum-pum-pumthat we used to see in the past. Here the meetings are not flat and isolated, each scene says something new about the relationship of the characters. There is a choreography of breathing, of details, of what it implies in its own story, ”she explains, and recalls a scene in the second episode in which it is the protagonist, Frances, who takes the initiative until orgasm with Nick. “She is the one who knows how to find the rhythm, she asks him what he likes and she guides him, she takes control. There is a power in that discovery,” she explains. Far from aligning herself with those who see it as something soporific, she says that Sally Rooney “writes about sex in a totally innovative way, especially when it comes to intimacy. I have no doubt that she writes for this era and generation.”
O'Brien, who has become the guru who marks the new times of television sex —she has coordinated the sexuality and intimacy of Normal People , I could destroy you , Sex education , It's a Sin , Gentleman Jack , or the last season of Master of None —, considers that everything is due to a change of prism: the masculine gaze that prevailed in the erotic thriller of the nineties, that way of understanding sex in the noir style as in Basic Instinct, it has disappeared. “It influences that we now have more women writing about all the facets of sex, from erotic enjoyment, to the acceptance of their own sexuality or to abuse itself, as Laurie Nunn has done in Sex Education , Sally Wainwright in Gentleman Jack or Michaela Coel in I Could Destroy You . We are broadening our sights. And they don't just have to be women, there's Russell T. Davies, who brings a queer perspective to It's a Sin on relationships between men”, he concludes.
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BY JESSICA DERSCHOWITZ
A pioneer in the field of intimacy coordinating, Ita O’Brien has brought her expertise and perspective to projects including “I May Destroy You” and “Sex Education.” Here, she guides us through working with the directors and stars of Hulu’s “Conversations With Friends.” Like “Normal People,” which she also worked on, the series is an adaptation of a Sally Rooney novel that examines a nexus of complicated (and extremely sexy) relationships.
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As well as being all-round brilliant and landing you BAFTA and Emmy nominations, I May Destroy You was one of the first shows that was celebrated for using an intimacy co-ordinator, Ita O’Brien. And there were a lot of those intense, sexually rough scenes. What was that experience like for you?
To be fair, I actually loved it. Ita is a very weird and wonderful woman. She’s absolutely integral to the creative process. All the scenes that have been much heralded after the fact, or that people have talked about as having had an impact on them, wouldn’t have been possible without her work and process. We prepared those scenes three or four months before we shot them – that’s how she works.
It’s about creating a dynamic on set where everyone is pulling in the same direction, and everyone feels safe and comfortable to go the extra mile to recreate something that is hard to do off the bat.
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While there are fewer steamy moments to linger over in Conversations With Friends, Alison and co-star Joe did have to navigate filming some sex scenes, as Frances and Nick embark on an affair. Intimacy coordinator Ita O’Brien – who’s worked on I May Destroy You, I Hate Suzie, It’s A Sin, and yes, Normal People – was on set to oversee the process, much to Alison’s relief.
‘It’s so mad to me that having an intimacy coordinator is a relatively new thing. I can’t imagine doing those scenes and not having an expert to guide you through it,’ she says. ‘Ita choreographs it like you would a stunt – the shapes we are trying to make, and the story we are trying to tell. But it was never too serious; we really celebrated the silliness and the awkwardness of it. We could laugh about it. Because those scenes are kind of odd.’
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Elle: How Intimacy Coordinator Ita O’Brien Got The Conversations With Friends Cast Comfortable On Set
In ELLE.com’s monthly series Office Hours, we ask people in powerful positions to take us through their first jobs, worst jobs, and everything in between. This month, we spoke with Ita O’Brien, a pioneering intimacy coordinator who’s brought her expertise to groundbreaking shows like Sex Education, Normal People, I May Destroy You, Gentleman Jack, and, most recently, Conversations with Friends, out now on Hulu. O’Brien, a trained dancer and actor who received her Master of Arts in movement studies, was one of the first in the U.K. to develop guidelines for intimate scenes, creating best practices for working with any kind of nudity and sexual content.
In her role now, she helps to carefully choreograph scenes on set, ensuring all actors feel safe and comfortable, while also serving the vision of the project’s director and writers. “There’s a brilliant system in place for it,” Alison Oliver, who plays Frances on Conversations with Friends, told ELLE about working with O’Brien. “We’ll discuss the scene: What’s the trajectory, and what’s the quality of intimacy? And why is it happening? It’s a continuation of dialogue, in a sense.” Below, O’Brien discusses what it was like shooting the highly-anticipated show, how she first came into this line of work, and the way she copes with the psychological toll that comes with the profession.
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Conversations with Friends executive producer Lenny Abrahamson and director Leanne Welham consulted doctors and women living with endometriosis to ensure their depiction of the disease was as accurate as possible. Given that endometriosis can also cause pain during sex and infertility, intimacy coordinator Ita O’Brien advised on the way Nick and Frances’ lovemaking might be impacted by her chronic pain condition. “The concern when the pain first started was, had she been pregnant, and what was this all about?” O’Brien says, adding that she factored Frances’ emotional journey into staging sex scenes “that further discovery of herself ... and all the complexity it brings.” After her diagnosis, Frances feels broken, sick, and unlovable and her relationship with Nick changes. She decides that she will figure out how to function with a body that actively revolts against her, alone, away from prying eyes.
France’s endometriosis might start as a side plot, but by the end of the series, it’s clear that the condition is inextricably linked emotionally and thematically to her affair with Nick. Her diagnosis arrives just as Nick starts sleeping with his wife again, and Frances learns of his desires to be a father, making her feel both broken and unwanted. “Many women contend with that question of: Is my body going to serve me?” O’Brien says. “Frances has to ask, ‘How will the endometriosis affect if I want to get pregnant, if I want to have a baby. Is my body as a woman going to do what it’s supposed to do?’”
Frances may be grappling with friendships and relationships, but by the end of Conversations with Friends, it’s clear that there is no more intimate and frustrating relationship than the one she has with herself.
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By Emma Firth
Indeed, these brushstrokes of authenticity are alluring. I cast back to when Normal People was first released two years ago, dissecting the frenzy around these ‘graphic’ scenes with girlfriends over WhatsApp. “They’re realistic,” one posted in the chat. There’s the build-up, the taking off of underwear (again, a televisual rarity), grabbing condoms, consent-affirming dialogue, pre-and-postcoital laughter, lounging nude and happy-drowsy in bed together. It feels up close and personal and, above all, joyful, even in those flickering embers of awkwardness. The characters in Sally Rooney’s adaptations are so viscerally present in their bodies, and in synergy with someone else’s, it’s impossible not to be entranced by its magnetism.
Credit here goes to O’Brien’s physical storytelling. “I’m looking at the details, how body parts meander into each other, such as the spines moving together, pulling the hip towards a thigh [and] bringing the energy down to the pelvis during intercourse so that, anatomically, we believe them,” she says. “That allows us to stay more connected to the emotional journey.”
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Daily Beast: ‘Conversations With Friends’ Star Alison Oliver Makes a Strong Case For More Sex Scenes on TV
“I found that really interesting, that we could explore that too, of how the different sides of a relationship would bring out different qualities of intimacy,” Oliver says.
To help out in that department, Conversations hired Ita O’Brien, the same intimacy coordinator who worked on Normal People. That intimacy coordinators is still a relatively new thing and shows like Conversations used to film sex scenes without them is “so mad,” Oliver says.
“In terms of the difficulty of it, it’s probably always the initial stuff of the embarrassment in the beginning of, like, ‘Oh, god. We’re doing this,’” she continues. Luckily, director Lenny Abrahamson—who also worked on Normal People (notice a pattern?)—encouraged the actors to embrace “the weirdness of it” from the start. “When you have someone like that, it really, really puts you at ease, more so than someone to make light of it.”
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