Sexy rhythms: how does the “privacy coordinator” of normal people work | Books

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IIt’s easy to forget how much sex there is in Sally Rooney’s Normal People, when many of her greatest romantic rhythms are carried in a sneak peek or something that is not said. But when you screen the most intimate scenes from the novel between Marianne and Connell, what used to be a matter of lines on the page becomes minutes of close-ups of reddened, sweaty skin.

Every sex scene from the long-awaited BBC adaptation, starting on Sunday, even the most awkward teenage goofs – a bra stuck over Marianne’s head, Connell tripping over his pants – has been carefully choreographed by Ita O’Brien, an “intimacy coordinator” who ensures that the actors are comfortable when filming pompous rumpy. Over the past decade, privacy coordinators have become more common on theatrical, film and television sets, especially in the aftermath of Harvey Weinstein’s downfall. Suddenly, producers and directors fall on their own to hire someone like O’Brien, who has worked on everything from Netflix sex education to HBO Watchmen and BBC London gangs.

O’Brien, who trained as a ballet dancer from the age of three and worked as an actress herself, says she should be considered a stunt coordinator. “I once called the role of ‘privacy director’, which was completely wrong, I made a lot of directors very nervous,” she said. “But just like a stunt coordinator, I try to improve communication, streamline production, serve the director’s vision and bring my choreography and dance talent together. “




Ita O'Brien.

“I made a lot of directors very nervous” … Ita O’Brien. Photography: Nicholas Dawkes Photography

One normal day on Normal People, O’Brien met with the directors, Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie Macdonald, and then visited the actors, Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones, to check for nerves. Then, after quickly breaking into the wardrobe to make sure they had enough genitals, she headed for the set, making a plan for each important moment in a scene, “where’s a look, where is a key, where a no becomes a yes ”.

Once on set, “Daisy, Paul and I were talking about where they could touch each other, where they could kiss – for example, in the first scenes, Daisy had to wear a wig, so she had a rule about Paul’s not running fingers through his hair ,? says O’Brien. “Although it may sound trivial, it is really important because an actor doesn’t want to have to worry about it during the sex shoot, he wants to be relaxed. “

Then, when everyone is ready, it’s time to give a quick hug as an icebreaker – and filming can begin.

In interviews, Edgar-Jones and Mescal praised O’Brien. “She’s the benchmark,” Mescal told the Observer, while Edgar-Jones called her “brilliant … it was her job to worry about how it would work and we just introduced ourselves, we did the choreography and continued. ” But director Lenny Abrahamson happily admitted that he was looking forward to working with O’Brien, “because I thought the most subtle and important moments would be between me and the actors. “

“But working with Ita was a nice creative conversation and there was always a way to say no. They were encouraged to say whether they felt good or not. “There was never any question,” Will you do this? “,” He told the observer.

O’Brien laughs: “I didn’t know Lenny was skeptical when we first met. But he knew very quickly that I was not there to put myself between Daisy or Paul. I’m here to provide a professional structure that didn’t exist before. “

Not all of his experiences are as happy as normal people. She remembers a director shouting to his actors: “Give him a good rogering, stronger and stronger, harder and harder! “(” I had to say, “Can we maybe take a break and talk about the penetration and the rhythm of intercourse?”, She said). And while the demand for his skills is higher, O’Brien believes that it is often seen as a checkbox by producers and directors who want to be seen as observing best practices in the wake of #MeToo, but don’t want to provide it.

“This year, more than ever, I have worked for producers who really do not want me there, who tell me:” Come in, prepare our nudity exemptions, then back off and do nothing, “she says. . She describes a set, where an actor asked for help with his very first oral sex scene. “The director refused him a rehearsal and I intervened and the director said,” Well, you’re directing now. “It is absolutely horrible and the poor actors then work in this terrible atmosphere. I always come across this and I feel like I am on the front lines of a war. “

Rooney herself compared sex scenes to another form of dialogue; for O’Brien, sex in Normal People “is not only there to show us sex – these scenes illustrate the delicacy, the beauty, the openness of this incredible relationship, something else. It was crucial for me to honor Sally’s writing. There is nothing free. But there is also a lot of sex. “

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