Ita O’Brien is sitting in an office chair, her hands resting on its arms, leaning slightly forward, her expression rapt and panting like a dog. “Huh, huh, huh! OK, now you’ve got the wild cats,” she cries, beginning to wiggle while softly wailing. “Eeh, oowah, ooow. OK. And now let’s gently allow that to become human.” O’Brien exhales, one could say orgasmically. “Er, aah.”
O’Brien is a pioneer, Britain’s first intimacy co-ordinator, a woman who choreographs sex scenes and — through exercises such as the animal ones she is demonstrating — teaches actors how to be comfortable rolling about virtually naked, apparently in the throes of sexual ecstasy, in front of a film crew.
The growing use of intimacy directors in the industry is a sign of progress, according to Gentleman Jack executive producer Faith Penhale.
Talking at a screening of Sally Wainwright’s BBC1 period drama last week, Penhale said the #metoo movement had led to the creation of a role in an area of drama that had previously been overlooked.
“We were all very conscious going into this that a huge part of Anne Lister’s life was her sex life,” said Penhale. “She was very sexually active, and she loved having sex with other women. In all areas of drama, you need to consider how you are going to take care of people playing this out for us.”
Penhale said working with intimacy director Ita O’Brien was “terrific” and said seeing her in action was a really interesting process.
“O’Brien worked very closely with Sally and the cast, including Suranne Jones and Sophie Rundle. We had lots of conversations that I do not think we would have had otherwise,” said Penhale.
It was Gentleman Jack creator, writer and director Wainwright who originally called for an intimacy director after hearing O’Brien on Radio 4.
“I had never directed a sex scene before and I thought it was important to do these scenes responsibly,” said Wainwright. “If female directors cannot do it responsibly, then who else can?”
Interview with Helena Whitbread and Ita O'Brien on Anne Lister and the making of Gentleman Jack.
Creator Sally Wainwright brought an intimacy coordinator on board to choreograph the (many) sex scenes on the series. And it shows.
What we may now call a butch lesbian, Anne Lister ‘wanted to deny her own femininity and didn’t want to show her own breasts and wanted to give pleasure to her partners,’ intimacy coordinator Ita O’Brien tells GSN.
‘We just looked at someone coming from that place of empowerment and coming from that more masculine point of view and just took that into the dynamic of the intimacy.’
O’Brien has spent years developing the best practice when working with intimacy, scenes with sexual content, and nudity in film, TV, and theatre.
If you had no idea such a role existed, you’re not alone. The profession is brand new and it’s a positive consequence of the MeToo movement.
It all comes down to safety and consent. If it’s common practice to have a fight coordinator on set to plan a duel scene, why can’t you have an expert working through a sex scene with the actors to make sure it feels natural and everyone is comfortable with it?
‘The intimate content in our lives is natural and so it should be in our storytelling,’ O’Brien continues.
‘It should be dealt with in an adult, open and actual way. It should be dealt with in the same way as any other part of the script or play is dealt with.’
An intimacy coordinator talks the actors through the quality of a sex scene, including the positions and the lead-up to it.
She is known as Britain’s first modern lesbian: a 19th-century Yorkshire landowner who chronicled her passionate sexual encounters with women in code in her voluminous diaries.
When the code is deciphered for viewers of BBC One’s much-anticipated new drama about the life of Anne Lister, they can be sure of one thing: the sex scenes were sensitively filmed.
That is because Gentleman Jack, starring Suranne Jones as Lister, is one of the first major BBC series to employ an intimacy co-ordinator, a role that has come to prominence in Hollywood in response to the MeToo scandal.
Intimacy co-ordinators are hired to guarantee the wellbeing of actors taking part in sex scenes, making sure that they are comfortable with everything they are asked to do.
DailyMail - Gentleman Jack creators reveal they brought in the BBC's first 'intimacy director' to help with lesbian sex scenes after the '#MeToo' movement
The creators of Suranne Jones' new drama Gentleman Jack have described how they brought in the BBC's first 'intimacy director' to help with lesbian sex scenes in the wake of the '#MeToo' movement.
The six-part series stars the actress as the 'wildly promiscuous Regency lesbian' Anne Lister.
The period drama features steamy scenes with Miss Jones and her character's lesbian lovers, including Ann Walker, played by Sophie Rundle.
Former dancer Ita O'Brien was taken on as an 'intimacy director' to work with the actresses to film the love scenes.
The show's creators wanted the actors to feel comfortable in the wake of the #MeToo movement and ensure they were doing 'right by the lesbian community'.
Executive producer Faith Penhale said 'intimacy director' is a 'new role that has been devised for the industry'.
She said: 'Employing Miss O'Brien is a positive consequence of the #MeToo movement...
'We live in very enlightened times now and I think we were all very conscious going into this that a huge part of Anne Lister's life was her sex life. She was very sexually active and she loved having sex with other women.'
Miss Penhale said they felt they had to 'really take care' of the actresses who were portraying the Regency-period lovers.
'For a long time we've had specialists who we work with if we're thinking about stunts or if you think about your specialists in all different areas we've never had anyone really closely work with us to help us to think about how to approach those scenes and I think now that a new role has been devised for the industry which is the intimacy director,' she added.
Miss O'Brien gave the team behind the drama 'a language' to be able to discuss sex scenes and intimacy.
'I think it was a really fantastic thing to do,' Miss Penhale said. 'It's now, interestingly, quite common across other shows and I think that it's all for the better.'
Sally Wainwright, writer and director of Gentleman Jack, said she called in Miss O'Brien because she had never shot a sex scene before making the new BBC One drama.
'I really needed Ita [the intimacy director] there because I think everybody had had more experience than I had of doing sex scenes', she said.
Miss O'Brien told the Daily Mail she was conscious not to make the sex scenes a 'caricature of lesbian sexuality', adding: 'I was making sure I was researching it and talking to whoever - colleagues - and people in the queer community to make sure the physicality that we were looking at developing and choreographing absolutely told the right story.'
A “intimacy director” was brought into Suranne Jones’s new drama to mastermind her lesbian love scenes.
In Gentleman Jack, Suranne plays Anne Lister, a 19th century lesbian landowner given her nickname because of her taste for dark, masculine clothes.
The production’s intimacy director Ita O’Brien, who has worked on a wide range of TV and theatre shows, says she consulted a lesbian handbook compiled from Lister’s coded diaries to ensure the sex was always authentic.
She said: “I was looking at several books and I got hold of the lesbian handbook again to make sure I’m looking at the focus and equality of queer relationships.”
Ms O’Brien said one of the challenges was helping the actresses playing Lister’s lovers to feel valued, when they sometimes had no lines “other than sexual noises”.
She said: “We have to make that person feel really important because she’s an integral part of the drama – so it wasn’t just an empty moment of full-on orgasm.”
Producer Faith Penhale said hiring O’Brien was a positive reaction to the #MeToo movement.
She said: “A huge part of Anne Lister’s life was her sex life. She was very sexually active and loved having sex with other women. You have to think about how you take care of the people who are going to play that.”
MeToo has created a new profession: Intimacy Coordinators like Ita O'Brien are supposed to make sure that there are no assaults when shooting erotic scenes. The sex in the film can only be better.
Anne Lister also happened to love women, and enjoyed a healthy sex life, so the Doctor Foster actor says the show's creator - award-winning writer Sally Wainwright - hired an intimacy co-ordinator so that she could depict the sex scenes convincingly and with sensitivity.
"I was quite nervous about the sex scenes we had to do, because I thought they should be approached as sensitively as they could be, " Suranne told The Mirror. One of the great things she brought was an articulacy – we could talk about the scenes.
"She just started talking about body parts and positions in a matter of fact way, which just liberated us all. As well as helping us sculpt the sex scenes, the positions, she’s also there to provide support to the artists."
Intimacy coach Ita O'Brien advises sex scenes are meticulously planned in advance, explaining, "Fight scenes in films are carefully choreographed and rehearsed. Sex scenes should be the same."