"It allows for more freedom": Bridgerton's intimacy coordinator on pre-planned sex scenes and working with trauma
If there's one thing Bridgerton is known for, it's sex scenes.
Sure, it also boasts a diverse cast, great performances, and a script that hooked 82 million households, but for the most part, we can't talk fantasy Regency London alá Julia Quinn without talking sex.
And you can't talk sex in Bridgerton without talking Lizzy Talbot. One of a number of advocates for intimacy on stage and screen, Lizzy choreographed every intimate scene on Bridgerton; from passionate kisses to simulated sex.
Working as a stunt coordinator earlier in her career, Lizzy soon became aware of the gaps that existed (and still exist) in the entertainment industry when it comes to sex.
After founding a training organisation for intimacy directors and coordinators in 2016, Lizzy has worked as an intimacy coordinator on shows across HBO, Netflix, and other networks.
"The day to day of the job is difficult to describe," Lizzy tells Her. “The core of the role is to do with pre-production; we’re meeting with directors, we're at rehearsals, we're on set."
"We liaise with a lot of different members of the crew and make sure we’ve got everything we could possibly need to film safe intimate scenes. A typical day is difficult to describe because they can all be so different. You go from shooting something like a gentle kiss between two people to a simulated sex scenes involving multiple actors.”
Lizzy's experience as a stunt coordinator allowed her to recognise the gaps in the entertainment industry when it came to intimacy. There were safety protocols in place for fights scenes, but the same attention was not paid to sex.
"When filming fight scenes, the protocols are regimented and we train extensively," she says. "They’re designed to be physically safe. Yet when it came to intimate scenes, actors were struggling. We didn’t have those protocols."
So, Lizzy started researching - the discomforts many actors experience, the worries they have, the optimum way to ensure that both the director and the actors are comfortable and content with how intimate scenes are being shot.
The issue wasn't that productions were unwilling to recognise the needs for intimacy coordinators - it was that they had never had one before.
“A lot of intimacy occurs in people’s personal lives, so there’s the automatic assumption that you can recreate it on screen," Lizzy says. "With stunts if an actor has got a physical trauma, they can’t do that stunt. Physical trauma is obvious, so it makes sense to have a stunt coordinator.
"Intimacy, on the other hand, is rarely spoken about. Often, a director won’t know if something has happened that an actor didn’t like. That’s what happened with the #MeToo movement, people finally started to speak out about that power dynamic and the industry realised there was a problem that needed solving.
"We were already there and we had been researching this, so we knew the protocols that had to be put in place, we knew how to tackle it. Before #MeToo, information around consent wasn’t being applied to the entertainment industry. There was a huge gap there."
Lizzy's most recent work includes, of course, Bridgerton. A show that has received much praise for its sex scenes - of which there are many - and its discussions of sexuality, the series was one of the first to bring the job title 'intimacy coordinator' into mainstream media.
The role didn't just allow for comfort among cast members, but for proper planning and of course, fun.
“There's more freedom," says Lizzy. "If you don’t have scenes like this planned, you have the potential to run out of time. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you might cause trauma by rushing something.
"If you’ve done the work beforehand, it’s a lot more straight forward on the day. It’s more effective. We’ve rehearsed it, we’ve got all the equipment, we know what we’re doing, and we can have fun doing it too. We want the actors to enjoy themselves, there’s nothing worse than a very serious, heavy sex scene.”
Back in December, Phoebe Dynevor, who plays Daphne Bridgerton, told Her that she was incredibly proud of the show's sex scenes, and that Lizzy's role really made a difference.
"It was such an important aspect to the story and we worked with an incredible intimacy coordinator who allowed us to feel comfortable," she said at the time.
"It's quite surprising that a lot of shows haven't used them before because they make the scenes even better. You feel really safe and free to go for it knowing you're not going to be exposed in any way."
Lizzy says that this safety doesn't just come from her expertise, but also actors' knowledge that an intimacy coordinator is a third party role.
“We’re not someone who has hiring or firing power," she says. "It’s easier to talk to someone who can’t kick you off the production, who isn’t directly involved in you keeping your job. They tell us their boundaries and we work around that.
"Sometimes an actor might not even go into detail about any past trauma, they might just say ‘don’t grab my shoulder in this scene.’ We don’t ask details. It’s a nice way to be able to flag that someone might not be comfortable with the choreography without having to share it with the entire set.”