“The idea of creating time and space for rehearsal of the intimate content wasn't there, and there was pushback from that. The production, if there's a fight or a dance, they will make time, they'll know they have to put in a schedule time to choreograph, time to rehearse, and that's the shift that we were asking for in the industry,” O’Brien explains.
It was an ask that Sex Education director Ben Taylor eagerly said yes to.
O’Brien held a workshop for the cast a crew a few weeks before filming began. “I share how the guidelines work, and then they get up on stage doing a warmup,” O’Brien says. “Each of the actors look at the different scenes that they had and then I put them into groups, and we worked through the various scenes, helping them find the structure, the guidelines. And it was a joyous day, it was so lovely. And, of course, in asking people to get hot and sweaty together, physical work just helps to make a connection with each other, to help to open that ensemble feeling.”
From there, O’Brien stays in constant contact with the actors, directors, assistance directors, and wardrobe technicians, mapping out scenes away from set, walking talent through choreography, and assisting on the day of shooting, acting as an advocate for the young cast members, many of whom have never filmed an intimate scene before.
For Wood, who got her big break playing the lovable Aimee, having O’Brien there to guide her through the mechanics of shooting a sex scene like the one series one opens on, meant she could forget about any embarrassing hang-ups and focus on acting out her character’s desires in the moment.
“I feel really grateful and also quite sad for the people who didn't have that because even if the director is amazing and open and lovely like any of the directors on Sex Ed, it is still nice to have someone who you can run stuff by,” Wood says.
One hurdle she still encounters when working with directors, something she hopes seeing how Sex Education handles its intimate moments will change, is the myth that an intimacy coordinator is there to stifle spontaneity.
“Some of the fear from directors is that if you choreograph the scene, one, you're taking away their direction, and two, that you're stopping creativity but actually, it's the reverse,” O’Brien explains. “I'm not directing them how to act, what I'm doing is giving a shape, a pure form; there is agreement and consent to touch and there's a clear shape to the physical journey. And then it means the actors are free to then act. The actors can be comfortable and free to bring different aspects to each and every take because there's a clear physical frame, they know that where they're touching their fellow actor is okay, they know that they're not going to be touched anywhere that's not okay for them, so they really can release into enjoying serving a scene.”
It’s something Wood thinks helped her character’s sex scenes come across more authentically which, in turn, helps young women watching the show to identify with their own sexual desires.
“I want people to watch it and relate,” Wood says. “Not watch it and go, ‘Oh, why is this girl wanking in a private space with sexy lingerie on looking all made up?’ The desire for it to be relatable and human kind overrides the vanity.”
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