The creators and actors behind hit BBC and Hulu show “Normal People,” based on Sally Rooney’s bestselling novel and produced by Element Pictures, have revealed the process that went into the much lauded intimate scenes between leads Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal.
“The intimacy between the characters and the attraction and physical dimensions of the relationship is such a huge part of the novel that we knew it was something that we had to get right,” said director Lenny Abrahamson, during a “Normal People” panel discussion at the Edinburgh TV Festival on Wednesday.
“It was something that had to be thought through very carefully. I think one of the principles that we all shared among the creative bunch of people that made the show was to try to not distinguish the intimacy scenes from the rest of the drama, and not to go into ‘sex scene’ mode. Make sure what we were doing in those scenes deepened the understanding of the characters and what was occurring between them.”
“For me it was just keep a certain naivety in terms of how we shot, we weren’t overly concerned about with it being beautiful or classy, rather just say present with the characters,” Abrahamson said.
Mescal and Edgar-Jones were part of the conversation from the very beginning in order for them to feel comfortable, Abrahamson said. As the intimate scenes were a central dimension of the story, the production worked closely with intimacy coordinator Ita O’Brien, who created a space where the participants were encouraged to be completely honest about a scene and speak out if they were uncomfortable.
“After the initial awkwardness of the nakedness, it became creatively satisfying,” Abrahamson said. “A lot of that awkwardness that would normally attend the entire process of shooting scenes like that in a conventional approach, a lot of that just went away.”
“The idea of shooting those scenes may be far more anxious than the actual shooting process from day to day,” said Mescal. “There’s an awkward 10 minutes when you’re like, okay, I have to be relatively naked in front of a group of strangers… from an actor’s perspective you’ve got to treat that the same way you would a scene where you’re speaking to each other.”
“Another element that I was proud that was part of the series was the equality in nudity between Paul and I, I think that’s really important,” said Edgar-Jones. “Also, if you’re trying to tell the truth about a relationship, you have to also include the truth of what that means in terms of intimacy.”
“Having a sense of why certain scenes are happening and what is being communicated meant that we could just approach them like we would approach any dialogue scene. It became about the story,” Edgar-Jones added.
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