HBO May Have Just Changed Sex On TV Forever

Photo: Courtesy of HBO.
As part of ongoing efforts to stymie the film industry's rampant sexual harassment, HBO will be hiring "intimacy coordinators" for all shows on its platforms, per a Twitter press release from the network. HBO first hired an intimacy coordinator for The Deuce, David Simon's gritty drama about the porn industry. Back in September, star Maggie Gyllenhaal told Refinery29 at 29Rooms that the show had built a new role, the sole purpose of which was to keep actors comfortable during intimate scenes.
"If you do a fight scene, there's always a stunt man on set there to make sure that everybody's physically safe," Gyllenhaal explained, adding, "We created a new position for sex scenes. Where anybody involved in a sex scene — which is many, many people on The Deuce — there was somebody there to protect you, to make sure your boundaries were not crossed, to make sure that you had a place to go if you had a complaint or a concern."
Following that revelation, Rolling Stone profiled HBO's first intimacy coordinator, a woman named Alicia Rodis. Rodis, a former stunt coordinator and actor, co-founded the nonprofit Intimacy Directors International, which specializes in exactly what HBO needed. Actress Emily Meade, who plays Lori on the show, is responsible for Rodis' hiring. She went to HBO network executives in late 2017, following the burst of exposés on Hollywood power players, and asked to have someone present on set who would be willing to support the actors involved in an intimate scene. During these scenes, Meade said that Rodis would provide things like knee pads to protect Meade's legs when she knelt and mouth spray between takes.
"With intimate moments, from kissing to intense sex scenes, it’s been the practice [for directors] to just say ‘Whatever you’re comfortable with, just go for it,’” Rodis told Rolling Stone. “But if you’re not giving someone a map or an exit or a voice, just asking actors to roll around and get off on each other, are you asking your actors to do sex work? Or tell a story with their movements?"
Rodis' role spans wider than just standing by during filming. Rodis also meets with actors one on one to discuss upcoming scenes and, when a sex scene is revised, Rodis is the one to approach actors to ask if they are comfortable doing the revised version. She also works with directors to ensure their language regarding the sex scene is movement-based, not sex-based. (For example, it is appropriate to tell someone how to move their body, i.e. 'lurch forward.' It is inappropriate to give sexual instruction, i.e. 'grab his cock.')
Per Rolling Stone, Rodis is also working on the Watchmen reboot, the upcoming series Euphoria, and the HBO reboot of beloved show Deadwood. New intimacy coordinators — ones that Rodis trained specifically to do this — will be assigned to Euphoria, a high school show, and the third season of HBO's Crashing.
This is the first instance in which the Time's Up effect appears to have changed something fundamental about the moviemaking process. This is in part due to The Deuce's unique position. A show about sex work and power, it was already having the conversations that the New York Times Harvey Weinstein exposé inspired. Then, one of its key players was accused of sexual misconduct — James Franco, faced with accusations, found himself in the center of the conversation. Franco denied all allegations through his lawyer and proceeded to apologize on various late-night shows. He appeared in the second season of The Deuce despite the accusations, and it seems that the intimacy coordinator might be integral to this decision. One of the accusations against Franco claimed that he'd removed a plastic guard over an actor's body parts during an intimate scene. Incidentally, this is one of Rodis' tasks on set — she ensures that actors have everything they need to remain comfortable, which sometimes means she provides nude thongs or creative covers for actors' bodies.
The Deuce will be ending after season 3, HBO revealed earlier this summer, but its legacy will be far and wide. It's not every day a show introduces a new role that is so necessary.
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