Sex as depicted on Normal People is unlike the sex we normally see on TV. Where often intimate scenes are hurried, frantic shots of flailing limbs and searching mouths, here they are languorous, drenched in soft afternoon light. There is a beginning, middle, and end. There’s consent-affirming dialogue throughout. Sometimes there are hiccups—like a stubborn bra clasp or a wrong word uttered that shatters the whole mood. There’s almost always naked lounging afterwards. Ultimately, these scenes just feel real, which is not something anyone’s ever said about Westworld or Game of Thrones. Part of that is of course owed to Rooney’s writing in the book, but the work of Ita O’Brien, the show’s intimacy coordinator, is what brought those scenes to life. While still a little-known field, the intimacy coordinator is becoming increasingly in-demand on sets (O’Brien’s other credits include Netflix’s Sex Education and HBO’s Watchmen) in recent years. “When Weinstein and the Time’s Up movement happened,” O’Brien says, “the industry started going, ‘Okay we have to do better, we can’t tolerate predatory behavior.’”
Somewhat counterintuitively, to achieve the naturalistic feel of the scenes between Marianne and Connell, O’Brien actually choreographed all their movements, down to every thrust. “The choreography brings a real safety and structure, so that everything is known,” O’Brien says, which then enables the actors to relax and really embody the character, rather than worrying about where arms and legs and other body parts need to go. “That’s where you get scenes like you’ve got in Normal People.”
Below, O’Brien talks in detail about producing the steamy scenes between Marianne and Connell, how consent should always come from a place of care, and the importance of PDA.
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