Intimacy coordinators are catching on in film and TV, but one says it’s female directors and actors who can be uneasy about the role
Phoebe Dynevor says her intimacy coordinator, Lizzy Talbot, helped ensure her sex scenes with Regé-Jean Page’s Duke in Bridgerton were ‘fun’. Photograph: Liam Daniel/Netflix
The Guardian-Alex Mistlin
When Keira Knightley declared last week that she would no longer shoot sex scenes directed by men, she became the latest actor to express her discomfort with an issue that has come under particular scrutiny since the #MeToo movement of 2017.
In the intervening years, studios have begun hiring “intimacy coordinators” to oversee sex scenes to ensure that actors feel comfortable, but in an interview with the Radio Times, one prominent intimacy coordinator has revealed that the resistance she’s experienced has actually been from “female directors and actors”.
“My hunch is that, for some women, having me present means they have to examine their past experiences on set without an intimacy coordinator,” said Mia Schachter, intimacy coordinator on ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy and HBO shows such as Insecure and Euphoria
“I’ve wondered if the introduction of this role challenges some people to look back and interrogate the ways in which they might not have recognised exploitation.”
In January 2020, SAG, the US actors’ union, issued new protocols designed to standardise the qualifications required to be an intimacy coordinator and encourage productions to hire one of their own. Their presence is not yet mandatory; however, a number of actors, including Normal People stars Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones, have praised the practice.
Bridgerton’s Phoebe Dynevor has also credited intimacy coordinator Lizzy Talbot for the show’s “modern approach” to sex scenes, saying that Talbot helped ensure her sex scenes with Regé-Jean Page’s Duke were “fun”.
Also speaking to the Radio Times, Sonya Barnett, intimacy coordinator on Guillermo del Toro’s new film, Nightmare Alley, starring Cate Blanchett and Bradley Cooper, outlined the need for an intimacy coordinator on set.
“The industry is still very masculine,” said Barnett. “I think until intimacy coordination becomes a staple position protected by a union or legislation, there are going to be people who say, ‘I don’t have to follow intimacy coordination rules.’ It’s on sets like those where actors might do things they’re not comfortable with. For somebody who is young and starting out, they may get pressured in those roles.
“There are a lot of people who are thankful for the rise in intimacy coordination and who have said that in the past they’ve had horrible experiences, like Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke, who wasn’t expecting the role [of Daenerys Targaryen] to entail so much nudity. Now she is expected to do nudity in other roles.”
Beyond ensuring that both male and female performers are comfortable, the responsibilities of an intimacy coordinator include drawing up a nudity or sex “rider”, which outlines in detail what actors will be expected to do, or show, well in advance of the shoot. As such, many intimacy coordinators are versed in masking or blocking techniques so that they can suggest shots or angles that maintain the performer’s modesty.
A good intimacy coordinator will also carry an extensive kit bag filled with tools to help an actor to be as comfortable as possible. This includes pubic wigs, prosthetic penises and bright green tape so that camera operators are aware of what not to film.
Crucially, intimacy coordinators are an independent third party who are on hand to communicate the actor’s concerns. “Ideally, I’m not there to put out a fire, I’m there to make sure everyone is communicating and feels comfortable,” said Schachter.