“Ita [O’Brien] was the intimacy coordinator, and before we started filming we had a whole day [with a] big ‘ole conversation with producers, directors, cast, about intimacy scenes, about our fears and worries, just a general conversation, really in depth, for hours,” series star Emma Mackey told IndieWire during an in-person interview. “Then in the afternoon, we had a workshop where we physicalized it more and we did animal rhythms and mating rhythms and stuff.”
As Maeve Wiley, the sexually liberated brains behind the sex therapy operation, Mackey had some of the most explicit intimacy scenes in Season 1.
“The most important thing is physical consent,” she explained. “So it’s like a dance. We learn a dance. My scenes with Kedar [Williams-Stirling], who plays Jackson, for example — we would have Ita talk us through it, and then when we were on set we would put a dance together and we would talk about it with Ben [Taylor, the director] and we would be like, ‘Right, so we’re gonna kiss for three beats, and then you’re gonna put me against the wall, and you can touch me here, and then we’re gonna make out more and then you’ll lift me after four.’”
If it doesn’t sound very sexy, Mackey says that’s kind of the point. “The whole point is it demystifies sex scenes. It makes them more practical and actually more fun, because then suddenly you’re like, ‘Oh, actually this is fine,’ ’cause you’re almost making it mechanical. And the whole aim of the game is to make it look as real and truthful and messy as possible,” she said.
“Just making people feel really safe and comfortable is the most important thing,” added Asa Butterfield, who plays series lead Otis. “Establishing that conversation and knowing you can have that conversation if there’s anything you’re worried about. … Some people are naturally more confident or comfortable in those situations than others, so you’ve gotta find that balance and meet in the middle.”
Ncuti Gatwa, who plays Otis’ best friend Eric, pointed out the importance of actors feeling safe on set. “There’s not a human resources department in acting. You can’t file a complaint,” he said. “So putting these structures in place is important to help us do our job better. It’s important, because we are asked to do things that are absurd.”
In addition to feeling comfortable, Mackey said that choreographing a sex scene down to every minute movement actually freed her up to play her character more authentically.
“It separates you from your character, that’s the reason why it helps as well. ‘Cause all the noises and the things that turn your character on are different to what turns you on in your life,” she said. “So it separates you from the character. Which means you’re more free because you’re crafting a character as opposed to using something very personal. So it’s kind of like an experiment in a way — it’s quite cool.”