Bridgerton certainly had us hot under the collar when it came out, thanks to all the pearl-clutchingly sexy moments between Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) and the Duke (Regé-Jean Page).
However, the real mastermind behind Netflix’s regency romp is former fight director turned intimacy coordinator Lizzy Talbot, 33.
While she shares the ins and outs of what makes the perfect love-making scene, that’s not all there is to it. A huge part of Lizzy’s job is to also make sure the actors are as safe and comfortable on set as possible.
How are you involved in the build-up to filming a simulated sex scene?
We read the scripts and look at the intimacy scenes, and there’s a discussion as to what we need to be called in for and what we don’t.
That comes down to actor comfort level. We have to be there for scenes of simulated sex and nudity. We have come into this industry as advocates, and that’s important, but at heart we really are choreographers.
Bridgerton director Sheree Folkson and actress Kathryn Drysdale have sung your praises. Are there scenes you’re particularly proud of?
There are a few but one is the wedding night between Daphne and Simon, directed by Sheree. Her vision of how to do that scene was just incredible. It’s all flipped from the male gaze to the female gaze.
Typically it would be a naked lady lying on a bed with the camera moving up and down her body and, of course, this time that wasn’t it. We weren’t following the curves of Daphne, we were placed directly behind Simon.
Phoebe Dynevor, who plays Daphne, has talked about filming sex scenes on other productions where the direction has been simply, ‘go for it’. Are things changing?
I hope so. Having an intimacy coordinator is becoming more standard. There is still a long way to go but it is exciting working with young actors now whose experiences of simulated sex scenes have only been with intimacy coordinators and have only been positive.
With more experienced actors, every single one of them has a horror story about either them personally or someone they know. So they are coming into a sex scene with a bit of trepidation or anxiety.
What questions do actors ask you?
They might ask about the nudity rider [contract clauses]. It might just be them informing me, ‘Hey, I’ve got a dodgy right shoulder so can we avoid this choreography?’ or ‘I had a really bad experience where someone grabbed my buttocks so if we could avoid that…’
That information is helpful when it comes to choreography.
What sort of things are you taking into account when you do risk assessments?
We are taking into account location, the type of choreography we are doing and the type of nudity we are doing, because context is everything.
That’s what’s been missing from intimacy scenes for a long time. On a nudity rider you can say, ‘Yes, I agree to simulate sex,’ but are you simulating sex with three other people or by yourself or outside at night in the freezing cold or on a romantic candlelit bed?
What are post-closure exercises?
What I’ll do on the day is a closure exercise between the actors because we want there to be a divide between the personal and the professional.
These scenes can be incredibly taxing, physically, emotionally and mentally. I think it’s really difficult for people to just walk out of the door after that because you are still carrying it somewhere in your body.
You might be carrying tension in your shoulders. You might still be a little bit in the character and a little bit still in the scene. We take some time at the end of the day to work with the actors so that when they leave, they feel that they are leaving all of that intimacy and all of that work they did that day on set. They can go home and be the person they are when they’re not at work.
It’s incredible this has all taken so long to happen…
I think it’s really the rise of the importance of mental health. If trauma has occurred from a simulated sex scene it may not be immediately visible – chances are it’s manifesting over the next few days, weeks, months, years. So it wasn’t seen as something the industry needed to do anything about.
Did you start in stunt coordinating then go to intimacy?
I trained and worked as a fight director but I went into intimacy because there are so many protocols and procedures and techniques when working with violence, yet there were absolutely none when working with intimacy.
Both are equally dangerous, just in different directions. So I started to see this big gap that no one seemed to be addressing. I started my company in 2016.
What sort of resistance have you met with in the industry?
When we were first researching this, the response I got consistently was: ‘The industry has always been like this. It’s never going to change.’
One comment was, ‘Oh, do we need an eating director now if we’re going to have an intimacy director?’ It was very disparaging but then the #MeToo movement hit and everything was brought to light.
What are the misconceptions about your job?
There’s a perception that what you see on screen is what it’s like in real life. I can guarantee that is not the case. You see a beautiful scene between two people and it can be incredibly romantic but what you are not seeing is someone calling ‘cut’ in the middle of it.
It’s a closed set but there still are people around. People are wearing modesty garments. There is far more paperwork involved – if you don’t like spreadsheets, this is not the job for you.
Find out more on Lizzy’s website or find her on Twitter @lizzyhtalbot.
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