Emily Meade plays a porn star in HBO's "The Deuce." The actress started a conversation about intimacy coordinators at HBO, which now employs them for all shows containing intimate scenes. Picture: Paul Schiraldi, HBO

Washington - Emily Meade felt uneasy. The actress, who plays a porn star on HBO's The Deuce, was about to film one of the most vulnerable scenes of her career - a graphic sequence in which she had to simulate oral sex. At one point in the lengthy scene, she was supposed to stand in the corner, half-nude, while other characters spoke.

"Reading that was a bit scary to me. I'm not only a little worried about the act of doing that, which is pretty vulnerable and potentially embarrassing, but especially with the internet, there's going to be images of me, topless, pretending to give oral sex for the rest of my life," she said.

So, she asked Alicia Rodis, an on-set intimacy coordinator and co-founder of Intimacy Directors International, to walk through the sequence with Uta Briesewitz, the episode's director. Rodis helped Meade have a conversation about her concerns and discussed the possibility of using a robe.

As a result, Meade felt comfortable doing the scene as written because it "gave me the confidence to know we are all on the same page." And in the end, the director decided not to show any close-up images of Meade during the act.

In the past, this wouldn't have been much of a conversation - if it was a conversation at all - because most major productions didn't work with intimacy coordinators.

With the rise of the #MeToo and Time's Up movements, however, structural changes in Hollywood are underfoot, as the industry shifts from the old, problematic phrase "that's just how things are" to facing issues of consent, harassment and sexual assault head on. 

Those changes have found their way onto sets, which are increasingly staffed with intimacy coordinators - movement coaches who help choreograph intimate scenes with a focus on the actors' safety.

"This in an industry where actors are told that 'Yes, and' is the only answer," Rachel Flesher, an intimacy coordinator who worked on Netflix's GLOW, said. "Not just 'Yes.' It's 'Yes, and I'll do more, and I'll do anything.' And their hireability is based off their willingness to do whatever it takes."

Rodis, who began her career as an actress, experienced that firsthand. She said she had her first kiss onstage at age 15 and did her first nude and simulated sex scenes when she was 18.

"I had some really negative experience that when I look back I realize were quite dangerous," she said. "I was told, 'That's just how the industry is. If you don't do it, there are a thousand people behind you, and that's just how it goes. You're going to be harassed, mistreated, mishandled.' And I accepted that."

After hiring Rodis to work on The Deuce, HBO declared in October that it would require intimacy coordinators for all shows containing intimate scenes. Showrunner David Simon, also known for creating The Wire and Treme, told Rolling Stone he'd never work without intimacy coordinators again. 

One role intimacy coordinators play is helping choreograph scenes with the actors' boundaries at the forefront. That can mean anything, such as monitoring actors' hand placements, ensuring they have certain types of genital barriers and guaranteeing that no one is pressured into nudity that wasn't previously agreed upon.

They also speak with actors, crew members and directors to guarantee no one is emotionally hurt by a scene. For example, if someone has past trauma related to sexual assault, an intimacy coordinator will talk through the scene to make sure it isn't triggering.

It often comes to down to communication, Rodis said.

The Washington Post