‘Truly traumatised’: Emma Thompson explains why intimacy coordinators are ‘absolutely essential’

Acting grandees clash as Dame Emma says sex scene monitors are needed to protect women after Sir Ian McKellen says they spoil ‘purity’ of drama

Ellie Harrison
Friday 10 February 2023 07:17 GMT
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Good Luck to You, Leo Grande trailer

Dame Emma Thompson has passionately advocated for intimacy coordinators on set – putting her at odds with fellow acting grandee Sir Ian McKellen.

Earlier this week, Sir Ian claimed that coordinators ruined the “purity” on set. But Dame Emma said the roles were “absolutely essential” for young women on sets that were dominated by men.

Speaking to Andrew Marr on LBC, Dame Emma, 63, said: “I think if you’re a young woman on a set, which is largely peopled by men, the crew will be 90 per cent men and the women won’t be on the set with you, because generally speaking we do not have parity on any level on film sets. It’s all men.”

She continued: “And that’s a very uncomfortable position for a young woman who’s starting in the industry. It is absolutely essential that there is someone there to protect them. Absolutely essential.

“You cannot imagine what people went through in some of those big series when they first started, the streaming series where women just had to take their clothes off.”

Marr interjected at this point, saying: “Like Game of Thrones, for example.”

“Yes, absolutely,” replied Thompson, “And that’s absolutely outrageous…

“It’s not to say that they’re going to be in there all the time arranging your boobs, it’s that they can be there in case you might feel that there’s a position that you’ve got into that you’re not quite comfortable with, you know, your bum hole’s waving in the air, and you just think I don’t feel quite comfortable.”

Thompson added: “I’ve worked with young actresses who’ve been truly traumatised by their experiences on set. And so, my passion for intimacy co-ordinators and protection for young women particularly, and young men, I mean, it’s not necessarily an easy thing for any person.”

The actor namechecked Ita O’Brien, an intimacy coordinator who has worked on the sets of Sex Education, It’s a Sin and I May Destroy You, to name a few.

Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack dance away insecurities in ‘Good Luck to You, Leo Grande’
Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack dance away insecurities in ‘Good Luck to You, Leo Grande’ (Bryan Mason)

Sir Ian, 83, spoke about the production roles on BBC Radio 4’s The Poet Laureate Has Gone to His Shed programme, telling Simon Armitage: “This isn’t yet mandatory, but I can imagine there are situations when you have to be careful and people find it difficult to be intimate, and therefore a co-ordinator is just the thing.

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“But why can’t it be the director who does that? Why has it got to be somebody who’s been trained in how to do it? This has been a huge change and it’s a little bit of beef for me, because with all these names of people doing all these jobs which would previously seem to have taken care of themselves.”

Sean Bean, Sir Ian’s Lord of the Rings co-star, has also warned intimacy professionals can “spoil the spontaneity” of a scene.

One of the lead actors in the Game of Thrones, Emilia Clarke, previously revealed that she felt overwhelmed by what she described as the “f*** ton of nudity” in the show’s first season – which aired on HBO in 2011.

Interestingly, there was not an intimacy coordinator on the set of Thompson’s recent film Good Luck to You, Leo Grande. Read more about how the actors approached the sex and nudity in that movie in our recent interview with Thompson’s co-star Daryl McCormack, here.

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