“Normal People’s” intimacy coordinator reveals how she works with actors to make steamy, believable sex scenes
- Clear Choreography helps to make hotter sex scenes.
- That's actually really hot.
- I'm Ita O'Brien, and I am an intimacy coordinator. An intimacy coordinator is a practitioner who brings in open communication and transparency throughout the whole production regarding intimate content. I can teach you where to hold on to body parts, what body part needs to be pushed into body part if you want to sell that moment of intercourse that's going to look right.
I have worked on "Sex Education," "Gentleman Jack," "Watchmen," "Normal People," "I May Destroy You," "I hate Suzie," "Brave New World," to name but a few.
So in "Normal People," one of the scenes that we all knew was a really, really important scene was Marianne's sexual awakening. It took all day to film, pretty much. They talk about the scene, I'm body-watching, listening what their impulses are. Where are you happy to be touched? Where's your no-go areas? For The dialogue is there, really exposing themselves to each other, and then standing and saying "all right."
- Connell, can we take our clothes off?
ITA O'BRIEN: And then, choreographing that journey through to undressing. You know, the angle of walking away in order to get the condom. You might have a moment of intercourse, and then the person just rolls off. And it's like hold on a minute, If there was penetration, then there needs to be withdrawal. Just adding those beats in. But it just means that everything stays believable so that as an audience, we can stay really enjoying the character's journey and storytelling of this moment.
The intimacy coordination allows for each of those delicate beats that Sally Rooney had so beautifully written to be honored. They were my most practiced actors at intimacy coordination because we'd done so many things together.
So one of the ways that we can talk about physical rhythms can be with animal rhythms. So they perhaps might have to go to the zoo and study a penguin, or a llama, or a gorilla. And you look at where's the body weight? Where's the center of gravity? What's the quality of the gaze? So, then I take that into looking at those animal rhythms mating.
And then you're stepping into who's this character? Who's this character in their sexual expression? So you can make different choices that allow you to keep who you are, personally and privately, private.
I do think that my role makes sex scenes hotter. And the reason that I think it makes sex scenes hotter is because we can stay as an audience, enjoying these characters through sexual expression. Boundaries are invited so the actor's going to be autonomous and empowered and, in that place, you're going to get better work.
An actor so often feels that they want to please. They want to be considered someone who's not a troublemaker. The risk when an intimacy coordinator isn't present is that the invitation for open communication hasn't been facilitated.
So an actor that I worked with, she had agreed like "no nudity." and then the directors goes, "Oh, for goodness. I keep on catching your bra in the shot. Just take it off." In that moment, with the lights, with the crew all standing around, so she took her bra off and then she's going, "Oh, this is exactly what I didn't want." You know, naked breasts pressed up against her. That agreement of touch wasn't there. That gut-wrenching feeling that you've overstepped your own boundaries.
As a really well-renowned Swedish actress said, "Every single sex scene that I have done, it has cost me."
Before Weinstein, there was an awareness that you needed to treat the intimate content professionally, just like anything else. So you know that if you're going to do a dance, you know that people don't know how to do a tango. You know you're going to need a choreographer who can teach the steps, who can choreograph it really clearly.
In the atmosphere of Me Too and the Time's Up movement, and in particular, the industry going, "We have to do better," we cannot just stand back and turn a blind eye to predatory behavior. I was there, ready with intimacy guidelines to say, "Look, here's a structure through which we can work with best practice in a professional way with the intimate content."