How Intimacy Coordinators Keep Actors Safe During Sex Scenes

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Photo Source: Courtesy HBO/Netflix

In the Envelope: The Actor’s Podcast features in-depth conversations with today’s most noteworthy actors and creators. Join host and senior editor Vinnie Mancuso for this guide to living the creative life from those who are doing it every day. 

The role of intimacy coordinator is a relatively new one in the entertainment industry. The job involves ensuring that actors in film, television, and theater feel safe and comfortable when performing sex scenes. While intimacy coordinators come from different backgrounds and have their own unique approaches, the origins of the role stem from a desperate need that went unfulfilled in the industry for far too long. 

“I did a call-out, I think it was on Facebook, and I just said, ‘Please send me your experience with intimate scenes. I want the good, the bad, the ugly,’ ” says intimacy coordinator Lizzy Talbot (“Bridgerton”). “My inbox was just flooded, absolutely flooded. And I think all of them were negative. Every single person who had written in had a negative experience.”

On this episode of In the Envelope: The Actor’s Podcast, we sit down with Talbot and her fellow intimacy coordinators—Alicia Rodis (“And Just Like That…”), Mia Schachter (“Blindspotting”), and Nisha Ahuja (“Never Have I Ever”)—for an update on how this role is changing sex scenes for the better. 

Actors should understand that intimate scenes aren’t a requirement and that the questions surrounding them certainly aren’t simple. 

“If nudity is something that you don’t want to do, you certainly don’t have to do it. That’s one of the things that I really stress for people: A lot of the messaging that you’ve gotten from old TV and movies about the industry from older casting directors, from acting teachers, from agents and managers [dictates] that in order to be successful, you have to do nudity and simulated sex. That’s not true. You can simply say that you don’t do that, and that’s fine. 

But if it is something that you want to do or if it’s something that you’d like to be open to doing, it doesn’t have to be this yes or no question. It can be: ‘I’m open to doing nudity, and I’m open to doing simulated sex, but not at the same time.’ Or: ‘I’m open to showing my butt, but only without showing butt crack.’ Or; ‘I’m open to implying topless nudity, but I don’t want to show nipple.’ And we’ve got loads of options to imply topless nudity without showing any nipple; we can shoot from in closer; we can shoot from behind; we can shoot from a side angle where you kind of angle your body. 

There’s always, always, always multiple ways to tell the same story. So knowing those things for yourself ahead of time is going to be really helpful when you’re either entering into a situation where there is no intimacy coordinator or entering into a conversation with an intimacy coordinator about your comfort.” —Mia Schachter 

Never Have I Ever

“Never Have I Ever” Courtesy Netflix

One of the biggest misconceptions about intimacy coordination is that it limits creativity. If anything, knowing the boundaries gives you more room to experiment.

“I usually support actors in coming up with essentially a menu of, like, kinds of touch. And then anything that’s not on the menu is not on the table; we’re not going there. Sometimes people think that’s limiting, but in my experience, the feedback that I’ve gotten from actors is the complete opposite. When you know what it is that you can do and what’s in your toolkit, you can actually feel way freer to play around and try new things—because your scene partner has told you, “You can touch me here; you can touch me there.” —MS 

“When we think about our creative energy…that kid part of us needs some sort of container. That container allows us to play in a really big way. I find when people have a sense of what the boundaries are, they can go right up to them, or they can go to the edge of the boundary without it being a threat. It’s like, just knowing someone is there to be able to hold that space allows for a lot more freedom and creativity. 

There are so many ways to tell stories. That’s what we’re there to do. So if we know what feels comfortable or not comfortable for an actor, then we can actually use that as part of the creative process. I think part of the challenge and the pushback is that people don’t recognize that having parameters or boundaries can actually [lead to] more creative impulse.” —Nisha Ahuja 

Though intimacy coordinators are still meeting resistance, things are changing for the better. 

 “A lot of the times, the people that were like, ‘Oh, we don’t need this role’ hadn’t heard the experiences that people have had where they’ve felt violated or things have gone wrong because they didn’t feel like they could tell [the director]. So I think that there’s been a huge U-turn [when it comes to] acceptance that actually, power dynamics on set do exist. If I’m in the position of a director, I have a lot of power, and therefore I might not hear these stories. Someone might not feel safe telling me because [they worry I won’t] work with them on the next project. I think that there has been very much a realization that this power dynamic exists. So therefore, we’ve definitely seen an acceptance of this role over time.” —Lizzy Talbot 

“[On] every set that I went on for at least the first two years I was doing this work, someone would come up to me—be it a boom operator, an actor, someone—and would say, ‘I’m so glad you’re here.’ And then [they’d] just unload this trauma that they experienced years before, or even weeks before. So I’m just so happy to be able to be of service in this industry and to be able to be doing the work—and, you know, also making good shit, as well.” —Alicia Rodis

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