Watching a steamy sex scene on HBO—whether its The Deuce’s wide-ranging exploration of sex work, or Game Of Thrones’ infamous “sexposition”—it’s easy to forget that you’re watching a bunch of people at work, just like any other poor schmuck collecting a paycheck. That’s part of the point, of course—nobody on the creative side of things necessarily wants the audience thinking about the mechanics or comfort of a sex scene, rather than the intended impact of the moment—but that doesn’t mean it isn’t vitally important for them to be thinking about it, on behalf of the flesh-and-blood people they’re employing to be immensely vulnerable, both on-camera and on-set.
To address that vulnerability, and the massive power balance that can happen when a powerful showrunner or director asks an actress or actor (but usually actress, if we’re being real here) to get naked and simulate sex for the camera, HBO has now announced a radical change to its policy for sex and other “intimate” scenes: From now on, any HBO show that features a sex scene is required to have an intimacy coordinator on set. A sort of hybrid of advocate and acting coach, the coordinator’s job is to ensure that someone on set is looking after the comfort, both physically and emotionally, of the people doing this demanding and frequently terrifying work, as well as helping everyone involved make on-screen sex look real without violating their boundaries, because, again: workplace.
Per a long and fascinating piece in Rolling Stone today, this new direction stems from The Deuce, and specifically, a demand made last year by actress Emily Meade, who grabbed the momentum of the #MeToo movement to tell her bosses that actors doing sex scenes on the show needed someone on set who was fundamentally on their side. The network acquiesced, and the practice was so successful—with series creator David Simon saying he’d never work without one again—that it’s now become network policy.
Per the RS piece, The Deuce’s coordinator, Alicia Rodis, is also currently overseeing similar scenes in Crashing, Watchmen, and the Deadwood movie. (This being a new sort of idea for Hollywood, she’s also training other people to do the same work on other network shows.) The coordinator’s duties are wide-ranging, stretching from being the one to talk a performer through the news that an intimate scene has been added to their schedule (which often happens on extremely short notice, thanks to the rapid pace at which TV is shot) to ensuring that, say, someone simulating a blow job has a knee pad to rest on, the sort of commonsense safety precautions that get missed in the rush of shooting, and the general discomfort most people have about talking about the physical mechanics of on-screen sex. “It’s not the things [she does] that are so radical,” Meade told Rolling Stone “It’s just having someone other than yourself to think about it. It shouldn’t be a radical concept to give someone something to cover their private parts. But to have someone do it at all—the gesture of it—it helps.”