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Conversations With Friends star Lenny Abrahamson says film industry had to 'clean up its act' when shooting sex scenes

By Sandra Mallon

Award-winning film director Lenny Abrahamson has said the industry has to “clean up its act” when it came to shooting sex scenes.

Lenny has directed a second TV adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends, which airs next Wednesday on Rte One.

The ‘Room’ director who previously found global success with Normal People opened up about filming sex scenes – saying having Intimacy coordinator Ita O’Brien on set helped make actors more comfortable.

Read More: Conversations With Friends confirmed to be coming to RTE screens next month as bosses release new clip

He told us: “I think we have all heard stories from actors who haven’t had good experiences on set. Not necessarily abusive but situations where people feel uncomfortable and not supported.

“There was a feeling the industry had to clean up its act around a lot of this stuff. "Normal People was the first show of scale where an intimacy co-ordinator was used. I think the danger is, if you’re a renowned director that’s a bit older than the cast, as an example, you might say what you want to happen in this scene to a young actor.

“And maybe the actor doesn’t feel comfortable but doesn’t want to upset you? You don’t want people to feel like I’d better do it because I don’t want to upset. I have worked with actors who can tell stories about how it’s been. Directors who have said look I’m embarrassed to talk about this to the actors.

“You guys figure it out. That’s way too much pressure on two actors who may not know each other very well".

However having Intimacy co-ordinator Ita on set helped actors have comfortable conversations about sex scenes while filming Conversations With Friends.

Lenny said: "I have been always very tentative about approaching those scenes. Having an intimacy co-ordinator just provides a way of talking which gets past that. "Separately who is really encouraging the actors to be complexly candid about what they might feel good about doing.

“Then because nobody is feeling awkward or embarrassed it allows you to do good work. The actors are lending their bodies to the making of these shapes.

“On a practical level too, an intimacy co-ordinator knows about every form of padding and cover up on set which is good for the crew as well who could feel embarrassment".

When Normal People first aired during lockdown, the series sex scenes between adolescents left some viewers shocked, with many airing their disgust on Joe Duffy’s Liveline at the time.

A number of the callers were upset with the amount of sex and nudity shown in the show, and the fact that it is secondary school students being portrayed.

One caller, Mary, complained that the show was like "something you would expect to see in a porno movie", while another caller claimed that the show was "sexualising our young people. It's not normal".

But Lenny doesn’t think the same uproar will happen when Conversations With Friends airs.

"I remember with Normal People, friends texting me saying 'quick switch on Radio One.’ The thing is the outrage this time will never be as pure as it was the first time. And it depends on whether Liveline wants to invite the same responses on.

“I'm sure people will feel the same way. I'm pro any forum where people can say what they think, and Joe moderates, so it’s not like an Internet forum where people can slander each other.

“I think Joe does a great job and he certainly has no shortage of listeners".

“This show is it talks about what it’s like to be in your early twenties and not really know what you want and being desperately self-conscious.

“And it asks questions about relationships and the shapes of relationships and is monogamy the only option. I think those are important questions that are being asked and are in people's minds.”

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Dive Deeper:
Who is on the Late Late Show with Ryan Tubridy this week? Westlife and Toy Show stars lead line-up
The line up for the popular chat show has been revealed
‘Enlightening, funny’: Why Aussie film about male house cleaners with benefits is making waves
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There’s a conversation that bubbles up every so often about the absence of sex scenes in contemporary film: Why is…
Where was Conversations with Friends filmed?
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One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
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Get all your news in one place