As an intimacy coordinator, Ita O’Brien is well versed in the art of sex as storytelling. As she explains via Zoom a few days after Normal People has landed on iPlayer, it’s her job to make sure the details provided by the writer and director are “honoured” in every intimate scene. Rather than rush through moments of sex or nudity for fear of embarrassment, O'Brien encourages actors and directors to take their time, to consider each touch, each subtle shift in tone, and to ask themselves how these moments can add to the narrative they've created elsewhere.
As well as offering creative support, intimacy coordinators provide practical guidance – they ensure the actors’ boundaries are respected. O’Brien begins each day by speaking to the director and actors about “agreement and consent.”
“We do that every single day because everybody is different every single day,” she tells me. “Even if [the actors have] worked with each other before, I always check in.” Although other aspects of her work will differ from project to project, the discussion around consent always comes first, O’Brien explains. It is the principle upon which her Intimacy on Set guidelines – the first of their kind in the UK – were built.
After this discussion, “I usually have the actors stand in close proximity, and have a hug,” O’Brien says. “That kind of icebreaker makes such a difference. People will instinctively always stand where it's socially OK – they won't break that. That's where, as the intimacy coordinator, I'm very consciously bringing them closer together.” But where do they go from there?
I asked O’Brien to talk me through three intimate scenes she helped choreograph for Normal People. Below, she offers rare, behind-the-scenes insight into the sex scenes that absolutely everyone is talking (and thinking) about right now.
More . . .