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‘Game of Thrones’ Actress Says Filming Sex Scenes Could Be ‘Frenzied Mess’: Just ‘Go For It!’

Gemma Whelan: "A director might say, 'Bit of boob biting, then slap her bum and go!' but I’d always talk it through with the other actor."

"Game of Thrones"

Gemma Whelan and Alfie Allen, “Game of Thrones”


Gemma Whelan made a name for herself around the world by playing Yara Greyjoy on 16 episodes of HBO’s blockbuster fantasy series “Game of Thrones.” In a new interview with The Guardian, Whelan reflected on what it was like shooting the series and how sometimes filming sex scenes became a “frenzied mess.” Whelan started her “Thrones” run in the show’s second season, long before HBO committed to having intimacy coordinators on set for all sex scenes (that order didn’t come until October 2018).

“Almost literally. They used to just say, ‘When we shout action, go for it!’ and it could be a sort of frenzied mess,” Whelan said about the early days of filming “Thrones” sex and nude scenes. “But between the actors there was always an instinct to check in with each other. There was a scene in a brothel with a woman and she was so exposed that we talked together about where the camera would be and what she was happy with. A director might say, ‘Bit of boob biting, then slap her bum and go!’ but I’d always talk it through with the other actor.”

Whelan’s own history of sex scenes on “Game of Thrones” included a second season moment between her character, Yara, and Alfie Allen’s Theon Greyjoy. Before the show revealed these characters to be related, it depicted the two on horseback together and Theon performing a reach-around move on Yara.

“Alfie was very much, ‘Is this ok? How are we going to make this work?'” Whelan remembered. “With intimacy directors, it’s choreography — you move there, I move there, and permission and consent is given before you start. It is a step in the right direction.”

How “Thrones” depicted nudity and sex scenes was a major talking point during the show’s run on HBO. First season cast member Jason Momoa recently made headlines for shutting down a reporter who was trying to get him to answer questions about filming a wedding night rape scene between his character, Khal Drogo, and Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys. Momoa found it “icky” that he’d be asked whether or not he regrets filming the scene.

“Well, it was important to depict Drogo and his style,” Momoa said. “You’re playing someone that’s like Genghis Khan. It was a really, really, really hard thing to do. But my job was to play something like that, and it’s not a nice thing, and it’s what that character was. It’s not my job to go, ‘Would I not do it?’ I’ve never really been questioned about, ‘Do you regret playing a role?’ We’ll put it this way: I already did it. Not doing it again.”

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