Even before #MeToo brought some of these stories to light, movement director Ita O’Brien had been creating an on-set intimacy guide. After working with actors on movement workshops, she noted that many of them felt vulnerable, unsure and compromised while filming sex scenes.
After working on her own project exploring the dynamic of sexual abuse, entitled Does My Sex Offend You? she realised that something had to change.
“I started my project in 2015 and was looking at how do we keep actors safe and what practices needed to be put in place,” she reveals. “When the Weinstein thing happened [as a number of women came forward to highlight instances of harassment at the hands of movie producer Harvey Weinstein], I was ready to say to directors, ‘here are the guidelines. This will give you a professional structure in order to do intimate content in a professional way’.”
With directors and producers keen on fostering a safer workspace, O’Brien soon found herself hired as an on-set intimacy co-ordinator. After “choreographing” the sex scenes on Gentleman Jack, Watchmen and Netflix’s Sex Education, O’Brien recently worked on Normal People, the TV adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel, along with director Lenny Abrahamson.
“I can’t imagine doing things like that without Ita,” its star Edgar-Jones recently said. “There was a sense with Ita in charge of the physical stuff, that all we had to worry about were the story beats, and doing the writing justice. Then, it becomes like a job. You’re such good friends with the crew that you do a scene like that, then you break for lunch. It’s a bit odd.”
With a mum from Cookstown in Co Tyrone and a dad from Clonmel in Co Tipperary, O’Brien laughs when I ask about how a nice Catholic girl like herself has wound up on film sets, essentially showing actors how to simulate sex.
Yet she takes her work very seriously, and is passionate about getting the scenes right. O’Brien likens her work, in a way, to that of a stunt co-ordinator, or dance choreographer. Her job is to serve the director’s vision, while also advocating for the welfare of the actors involved in the scenes.
“You wouldn’t say the stunt co-ordinator is there to make the actors safe – you would say the stunt co-ordinator is there to give you really exciting, convincing, full-on fight scenes that will have people on the edge of their seats,” O’Brien explains. “You’re putting in techniques that keep your actors safe, which will let them act their socks off and create the best intimate content that they can.”
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