Emma Thompson Blasted Sean Bean’s Hollywood Sex Comments

Among the changes in ushered in by the #MeToo movement is the rise of intimacy coordinators. Responsible for ensuring the comfort of actors who appear in intimate scenes, they’ve been widely embraced by Hollywood. However, Sean Bean recently made headlines by complaining they “ruin” the spontaneity of sex scenes, drawing swift criticism, most notably from Emma Thompson.

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The Oscar winner wasn’t alone, of course. She was joined by such actresses as Rachel Zegler and Lena Hall, Bean’s Snowpiercer co-star. Like the actors union, SAG-AFTRA, and a growing number of production studios, they recognize the essential role of intimacy coordinators — even if Bean doesn’t.

Think of them as stunt coordinators, but for sex scenes.

Sean Bean’s Controversial Views on Intimacy Coordinators

Sean Bean and Lena Hall on Snowpiercer (TNT)
Sean Bean and Lena Hall on Snowpiercer (TNT)

Game of Thrones star Sean Bean made his controversial remarks in a recent interview with Variety. There, he suggested having an intimacy coordinator on set to negotiate details of sex scenes would only make him more self-conscious.

“It would inhibit me more because it’s drawing attention to things,” said Bean, whose most recent credits include BBC’s Marriage and TNT’s Snowpiercer. “Somebody saying, ‘Do this, put your hands there, while you touch his thing…’ I think the natural way lovers behave would be ruined by someone bringing it right down to a technical exercise.”

Asked whether intimacy coordinators could help to protect performers, Bean replied, “I suppose it depends on the actress.”

His comments obviously come from a place of privilege. A film and TV veteran, Bean has been fortunate enough to feel comfortable performing in sex scenes. As such, it apparently hasn’t occurred to him that others actresses, and actors, might be placed in awkward situations.

That’s why SAG-AFTRA has pushed to make intimacy coordinators standard practice on TV and film sets. And why they’re already mandated on every HBO production containing intimate scenes.

Daryl McCormack and Emma Thompson in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (Searchlight Pictures/Hulu)
Daryl McCormack and Emma Thompson in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (Searchlight Pictures/Hulu)

Bean undoubtedly isn’t alone in his dated view of intimacy coordinators. However, many performers praise their growing role in film and television productions. Some, like Amanda Seyfried and the cast of the 1990s sitcom Boy Meets World, even wish they had the help of intimacy coordinators in their early careers.

Emma Thompson, who’s generated buzz for her performance in the sex dramedy Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, spoke from experience when she was asked to respond to Sean Bean.

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“I don’t know if you were speaking to someone who found it distracting,” she told Australian radio show Fitzy & Wippa, “but [in] another conversation, you might find that people go, ‘It made me comfortable, it made me feel safe, it made me feel as though I was able to do this work.’

“And no, you can’t just ‘let it flow’,” Emma Thompson continued, never mentioning Sean Bean by name. “There’s a camera there and a crew. It’s not on your own in a hotel room. You’re surrounded by a bunch of blokes carrying things. So, it’s not a comfortable situation, full stop.”

Others were even more direct. West Side Story star Rachel Zegler tweeted, “Intimacy coordinators establish an environment of safety for actors. I was extremely grateful for the one we had on WSS — they showed grace to a newcomer like myself [and] educated those around me who’ve had years of experience.”

Leaving no room for misinterpretation, Zegler concluded, “Spontaneity in intimate scenes can be unsafe. Wake up.”

Sean Bean Draws in Snowpiercer Co-Star Lena Hall

Lena Hall on Snowpiercer (TNT)
Lena Hall on Snowpiercer (TNT)

Snowpiercer actress Lena Hall was drawn into the discussion by Bean, who referenced their unconventional Season 2 sex scene in the interview. (“This one had a musical cabaret background,” he said, “so she was up for anything.”)

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Hall responded with multiple tweets. “Just because I am in theater (not cabaret, but I do perform them every once in a while) does not mean that I am up for anything,” she clarified on Twitter. “Seriously does depend on the other actor, the scene we are about to do, the director, and whatever crew has to be in there to film it.”

“If I feel comfortable with my scene partner and with others in the room then, I won’t need an intimacy coordinator,” she continued. “BUT if there is any part of me that is feeling weird, gross, overexposed etc… I will either challenge the necessity of the scene or I’ll want an IC.”

Intimacy Coordinators in the Wake of #MeToo

Asa Butterfield and Gillian Anderson in Sex Education
Asa Butterfield and Gillian Anderson in Sex Education, the first Netflix production to use an intimacy coordinator

It’s no secret that Hollywood’s treatment of actresses has, historically, been a problem. Not only are they still paid less than their male counterparts, but increasing numbers of actresses have stepped forward to discuss the abuse and uncomfortable situations to which they’ve been subjected.

The #MeToo movement resulted in a reckoning inside, and outside, of Hollywood. Some perpetrators have been brought to justice, and steps are being taken to better protect performers. That’s why, in 2020, SAG-AFTRA created new standards for intimacy coordinators.

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An intimacy coordinator is, basically, the go-between for filmmakers and performers in any scene involving sexual acts or nudity. It’s their job to ensure the filmmakers’ vision is realized in a way that makes the actors comfortable. They negotiate details of the scene in advance so that everyone is at ease before the cameras roll.

It’s worth noting that actresses are frequently among the few, if not the only, women on set when those scenes are filmed. That, combined with a fear of upsetting influential directors and producers, frequently led actresses to feel pressured into situations in which they’re uncomfortable. Intimacy coordinators help to avoid any accidental abuses of power.

They’re also trained to perform what SAG-AFTRA calls “mental-health first aid.” That makes them particularly useful for scenes involving sensitive, or emotionally challenging, material.

Intimacy Coordinators and the Future of Hollywood Sex Scenes

Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar Jones on the set of Normal People (BBC/Hulu)
Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar Jones on the set of Normal People (BBC/Hulu)

With intimacy coordinators increasingly common, and vocally praised by performers, it appears as if they they’ll be a permanent fixture of TV, film and theatrical productions. That’s exactly how SAG-AFTRA wants it.

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“I’ve worked with some directors who initially felt hesitant about it because they didn’t really understand what the benefits of an intimacy coordinator were,” SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris told Vanity Fair.

“One of the directors I spoke to was initially appalled by the idea that someone would be there. She thought her job was to protect and direct,” she continued. “Then when she had the opportunity to work with an intimacy coordinator on a show, she found it to be a great support system for her. It helped her actualize her vision while knowing that her actors were feeling safe and seen.”


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