She believes that the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the upheaval it caused across the industry also led to questions about how actors can perform intimate content in a safe and a responsible way. “Intimacy guidelines are about taking away that mismatch of power on set,” O’Brien says. “The structure allows everyone to work to the best of their skill in order to create intimate content that serves the writing. After Weinstein, the industry said they had to do better and work with respect, and within that environment, they had to observe how to perform intimate content well.
“In newer productions, the intimate content is absolutely part of the core, the integral essence of what the storytelling is about... Through intimate content now, we’re able to better serve the writing and really serve storytelling.” She cites the example of Normal People, in which the intimate content tells as much about the characters as other scenes.
An influx of female talent into the television industry has also seen a further emphasis on women’s pleasure during sex scenes. Netflix’s Sex Education, written by Laurie Nunn, and Sally Wainwright’s Gentleman Jack are two examples to which O’Brien has brought her expertise.
“I worked with director Kate Herron for Sex Education’s masturbation montage, which I’m so proud of,” she says. “We spoke about how important it was that we showed that normalness and the joy of discovering yourself as a young woman. I met with Aimee Lou Wood, who acted the scene, and she was saying that she gets 100 texts a day about it.
"With Gentleman Jack, on our rehearsal day we had all the actresses doing the scene, and we had Sally Wainwright, the writer, and the director of the scene.” She says they all felt it was a “radical” moment.
“We were making sure this intimate content, particularly with a lesbian scene, had that female gaze and female perspective. We interrogated what is female love-making — and how different it looks from a male gaze.”
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