Not only was the BBC happy for Coel to write the entire series, but it also wanted her to star in it, direct it, executive-produce it, and maintain ownership rights over the original content. “This was a dream. … They really gave me what I needed, which is still quite hard to fathom,” she says, smiling. In addition to having more agency behind the camera, Coel advocated for both a full-time therapist on retainer for cast and crew members as well as an intimacy director, Ita O’Brien, to create a safe and supportive atmosphere on set.
I noticed O’Brien’s name in the credits, prompting me to ask Coel if she had ever worked with an intimacy director before. She hadn’t, and neither had Weruche Opia, the actress who plays Terry, Arabella’s best friend. “I’ve seen how complex things can get when you don’t have an intimacy director,” Coel explains. After first learning about O’Brien from an article in The Guardian, both Coel and her co–executive producer, Phil Clarke, felt that this off-screen role would be an essential element of the show, particularly given its subject matter. “It’s not just sexual intimacy,” Coel explains, “Some of it is sex without consent.”
O’Brien, who also worked on Hulu’s Normal People, played a significant part in empowering actors on set. This included Opia, who opted to use a body double for her character’s sex scene. “[O’Brien] was very inclusive,” recalls Opia in a separate Zoom interview. “She showed me what Terry would be doing as my character and made sure I was comfortable with what was being shown. I felt respected, and I felt heard,” Opia affirms, concluding, “I think it’s essential in filming scenes that are so intimate and vulnerable. I think it’s a brilliant idea and should be an industry standard.” Coel concurs, noting that it was important to her to create an environment in which her colleagues were supported. “You may be empowered [by O’Brien] to do the scene, but you’re also empowered to say I don’t actually want to do this,” she explains. “I love the fact that [Opia] felt she could express that. … To have that happen was incredible.”
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