Gentleman Jack creators reveal they brought in ‘intimacy director’ to help with lesbian sex scenes

The creators of Suranne Jones’ new drama Gentleman Jack have described how they brought in the BBC’s first ‘intimacy director’ to help with lesbian sex scenes in the wake of the ‘#MeToo’ movement.

The six-part series stars the actress as the ‘wildly promiscuous Regency lesbian’ Anne Lister.

The period drama features steamy scenes with Miss Jones and her character’s lesbian lovers, including Ann Walker, played by Sophie Rundle. 

Suranne Jones, right, as Anne Lister with Sophie Rundle in Gentleman Jack. Producers for the new Regency drama Gentleman Jack brought in an ‘intimacy director’ to coach the actors and ‘do right by the lesbian community’

Former dancer Ita O’Brien was taken on as an ‘intimacy director’ to work with the actresses to film the love scenes.

The show’s creators wanted the actors to feel comfortable in the wake of the #MeToo movement and ensure they were doing ‘right by the lesbian community’.

Executive producer Faith Penhale said ‘intimacy director’ is a ‘new role that has been devised for the industry’.

She said: ‘Employing Miss O’Brien is a positive consequence of the #MeToo movement…

‘We live in very enlightened times now and I think we were all very conscious going into this that a huge part of Anne Lister’s life was her sex life. She was very sexually active and she loved having sex with other women.’

Miss Penhale said they felt they had to ‘really take care’ of the actresses who were portraying the Regency-period lovers. 

‘For a long time we’ve had specialists who we work with if we’re thinking about stunts or if you think about your specialists in all different areas we’ve never had anyone really closely work with us to help us to think about how to approach those scenes and I think now that a new role has been devised for the industry which is the intimacy director,’ she added.

Miss O’Brien gave the team behind the drama ‘a language’ to be able to discuss sex scenes and intimacy.

‘I think it was a really fantastic thing to do,’ Miss Penhale said. ‘It’s now, interestingly, quite common across other shows and I think that it’s all for the better.’

Sally Wainwright, writer and director of Gentleman Jack, said she called in Miss O’Brien because she had never shot a sex scene before making the new BBC One drama.

‘I really needed Ita [the intimacy director] there because I think everybody had had more experience than I had of doing sex scenes’, she said.

Miss O’Brien told the Daily Mail she was conscious not to make the sex scenes a ‘caricature of lesbian sexuality’, adding: ‘I was making sure I was researching it and talking to whoever – colleagues – and people in the queer community to make sure the physicality that we were looking at developing and choreographing absolutely told the right story.’ 

Lovers: Miss Jones with Lydia Leonard. The makers of period dramas go to great lengths to ensure details such as scenery, dress and speech ring true. Now lesbian sex scenes can be added to the list of things to get right

Lovers: Miss Jones with Lydia Leonard. The makers of period dramas go to great lengths to ensure details such as scenery, dress and speech ring true. Now lesbian sex scenes can be added to the list of things to get right

Miss Jones, 40, whose previous roles include the lead in Doctor Foster, said: ‘Actually it’s the psychological, the intimacies, the tenderness is what we went for actually… it didn’t have to be gratuitous in any way.’

Meanwhile, Bodyguard actress Miss Rundle, 31, said sex scenes are ‘awkward for everyone’.

She added: ‘Having someone lead a discussion where you could talk about your experiences, both positive and not so positive, and it meant when we came to film it, the discussion was open and you were invited to be part of it and then it gave us the chance to sort of take it on ourselves and say ‘This works for us, this doesn’t’ and that’s really quite a rare thing unfortunately but felt incredibly important for this piece.’

Historian Anne Choma, who translated Anne Lister’s diaries, which are partly in code, for Miss Wainwright, said they ‘felt a massive responsibility because we wanted to get it right for the lesbian community as well so that was very, very important to us’.

Miss O’Brien, who also worked on Sex Education, said she is now inundated with work, including another BBC show.

She said on one programme she struggled to get a male actor to touch an actress’s bottom because he was too scared of being called inappropriate, despite the actress giving her consent. 

Gentleman Jack starts on Sunday, May 19 at 9pm