This is how Normal People got the sex and consent scenes spot-on
They hired an ‘intimacy co-ordinator’ to choreograph the steamy sex scenes
Normal People is out. And it is actually good. However, anyone trying to watch it with parents will be painfully aware of the sex scenes.
On one hand, it is the new Horny Show, with lots of sex scenes to artfully choreograph and make you awkward with. On the other, it is about a complex relationship played out as much through intimacy as it is through dialogue, needing to treat the sex sensitively. Either way, you can’t just let the actors go at it.
In particular, one early sex scene in Normal People – where Connell and Marianne first have sex and Connell says it won’t be awkward if she decides to stop – has won plaudits.
This isn’t an accident. Shows like this use someone called an intimacy co-ordinator. Sex Education did it, and as with that, the sex scenes just seem to land right. Ita O’Brien, who worked on the Normal People production as an intimacy co-ordinator, has revealed the process behind all this.
Sex scenes are planned out in meticulous detail before, using a host of tricks. “I’m bringing in techniques, like holding onto different body parts, looking at what we can push against each other,” O’Brien told The Times.
“You never want to have pubic bone against pubic bone,” said O’Brien.
As an intimacy co-ordinator, O’Brien also talks to the actors so everyone knows what’s off-limits – some actors might or might not be okay with kissing nipples, for example. In Normal People, Daisy Edgar-Jones, playing Marianne, wears a wig in early scenes. Consequently, co-star Paul Mescal was warned off running his fingers through her hair. More broadly, “Daisy, Paul and I would talk through where they could touch each other, where they could kiss each other,” O’Brien told The Guardian.
This means that by the time the actors get to film the scenes, they’re basically just acting out a routine. Wearing genital guards, they usually hug each other to break the ice, then start filming.
One particular challenge filming Normal People was not just the physical aspect of the sex, but also the emotional. After all, in the book, so much of the plot takes place essentially in the characters’ heads, with their remarkably self-knowing inner monologues. On screen, a lot of that is told visually. “That gaze is everything when someone is really connected — when do they look away?” O’Brien told The Times.
However, alongside loving gazes, Normal People does have a lot of shagging. However, it’s not there for its own sake, says O’Brien. “Those scenes chart the delicacy, the beauty, the openness of this incredible, something-other relationship. It was crucial for me to honour Sally’s writing. There is nothing gratuitous. But there is also a lot of sex,” O’Brien told The Guardian.
That really is no overstatement. By the end of shooting, O’Brien – who also worked on Sex Education – told Mescal and Edgar-Jones: “You have done the most scenes of anybody I have worked with.”