In the weeks and months following #MeToo, the absence of safety measures in place for filming sex scenes became increasingly perplexing. The term “intimacy coordinator” began cropping up everywhere, with sets and studios scrambling to find solutions. Fight scenes and stunts are choreographed to the millisecond; why should sex scenes be any different? For decades, filmmakers directed deeply intimate or often violent sex scenes with nothing more than the vague refrain: “Just go for it!”
Enter Alicia Rodis, a former actress, stunt performer, and currently HBO’s in-house intimacy coordinator. Not only is Rodis the gold standard of intimacy coordinators, she also has defined the standards, training a growing network of acolytes in methods and protocols. Rodis is a founding member of Intimacy Directors and Coordinators, the leading organization for intimacy professionals in the entertainment industry. IDC is working with SAG-AFTRA to implement industry-wide standards that will universalize protection for actors during the filming of intimate scenes.
As the industry has scrambled to establish a foundation of protections for performers, Rodis has emerged as the unequivocal expert. Those who work with her say her presence liberates the creative process and deepens storytelling while creating a professional atmosphere; many say they will never work without an intimacy coordinator ever again.
“She’s so fluid about what the camera has to capture, but at the same time what the actors need for comfort and protection,” said showrunner David Simon, who worked with Rodis on the final two seasons of “The Deuce.” “She was not only protecting the actors, she was also protecting the story. She wasn’t against the production.”
As a gritty, hyper-realistic period drama about the porn industry in 1970s New York City, practically every other scene in “The Deuce” involves nudity or intimacy. Simon acknowledged some initial anxiety that Rodis’ presence would curtail his creative choices, a fear he believes is shared industry-wide. “There’s a little bit of fear of that,” he said. “If you’ve never worked with somebody before and you’re a producer, you’re thinking, ‘I don’t want them legislating the story.’”
In fact, having a neutral party to negotiate between the actors and director freed up the entire production. While HBO had some checks and balances in place for Season 1 of “The Deuce,” it wasn’t until actress Emily Meade threatened not to return that the network brought Rodis on for Season 2. In addition to feeling vastly more protected, Meade also emphasized the creative freedom Rodis allows.
“Once Alicia came, I was allowed to find more freedom and humor in the sex scenes. There was more room for everything to have color, because it wasn’t this tense protective energy,” said Meade, who plays Lori on “The Deuce.” “It’s been incredibly freeing and just safer and therefore a more fun process.”
So what exactly does an intimacy coordinator do? Turns out the better question is, what doesn’t she do? For Meade, the most beneficial aspect is the ability to process the scene with a neutral third party before discussing anything with the director or producers. Both Meade and Rodis acknowledge the power dynamic inherent on any film set. No one wants to say no to the person signing their paycheck, and everyone wants to be a team player, especially in a cutthroat business where so few make it.
“One of the things I struggle with as an actor is the actual communication with the director, because you don’t want to disappoint people and you don’t want to slow down the process, but you don’t always know what your sensitivities are,” Meade said.
Much of Rodis’ work is processing with actors, navigating boundaries between performers and production, and providing physical protections like undergarments and knee pads. Rodis works closely with the costume department to make sure nothing is revealed that wasn’t pre-approved, and often shows the actor how it looks on the monitor. She’s even been known to give positive performance notes, relieving tension in a high-stress situation.
“I always like to talk to Alicia first so that I can have my knee-jerk reactions and talk things out,” Meade said. “If there’s anything I’m uncomfortable with, I have her inform the director so that’s all clear and out there before the director and I actually talk. So there’s time to process and it’s not just an awkward on-the-spot conversation.”
But she’s also invaluable to the production when it comes to getting coverage and watching the monitor to ensure the camera isn’t picking up something they won’t be able to use. Rodis comes from the film world, she understands how a set works, and she understands that sex is often an integral part of the storytelling.
“Once Alicia started doing her job, it was incredibly liberating. It wasn’t limiting, it was the opposite,” Simon said. “It was, ‘Now we know what we’re chasing and we have all the tools to do it while giving everybody their space and dignity.’ She understood what we had to get and why, and then she was trying to get the actors there in a way that felt comfortable. So I’m never working without an intimacy coordinator ever again.”
But she’s also been in the same position many of the actors have: Rodis laughed recalling a background stint on “Boardwalk Empire,” where she had to hunt someone down to tell her when to take her top off.
“She’s not coming in and trying to desexualize things or be puritanical,” Meade said. “She’s fun and funny and sees the humor, but also has a real empathy and a real understanding and is smart without pushing. She just has that perfect bedside manner.” –Jude Dry
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