September 23, 2018
How Emily Brought Change to Set
Interviews The Deuce

How Emily Meade Started a Conversation and Brought Change to Set

With an intimacy coordinator on The Deuce set, surprises are for the audience, not the actors.

HBOThe Deuce’s Emily Meade, whose character Lori is “looking for trouble and fame” in New York City, and Alicia Rodis, the show’s intimacy coordinator, spoke with HBO.com about making sets more comfortable when actors are at their most vulnerable.

HBO: What was your role in bringing an intimacy coordinator onto the show?

Emily Meade: With all of the conversations that have started with the Times Up movement, I think most people were asking what our parts have been in perpetuating the problems in this industry. People in this industry, especially women, never thought it was an option to discuss their boundaries, or what makes them uncomfortable.

I’m somebody who has played really sexualized characters my whole career. I did my first sex scene at 16, in the first film I ever did. And there are many times I’ve felt uncomfortable, whether I’ve realized it in the moment or looking back retroactively. There was no specific incident or anything outside of what I’ve been used to for the past 13 years. The only thing that makes The Deuce different is the story itself is about sex, and sex scenes are an integral part of the story. And because it’s a series there are more of them.

I started thinking about how when you’re doing a stunt of any kind, even as simple as crossing the street with cars, or if there’s a child or animal on set, there are people who legally have to be there to protect and facilitate. People who have expertise. And yet when it comes to sexuality, which is one of the most vulnerable things for all humans, men and women, there’s really no system. There’s never been a person required to be there to protect and bring expertise.

I went directly to the creators, David and George, and HBO and told them I’d feel much more comfortable if there was some sort of advocate purely for the sexual scenes — especially on a show where not just my character, but everybody on the show has so much sex. I think that’s something everybody involved creatively knew and has been respectful of, but because there wasn’t a system for this sort of thing, no one knew how to properly do it. They were very helpful and instantly hired Alicia. And it’s transformed the entire thing.

HBO: How so?

Emily Meade: Specific to me, it’s hard when I’m being asked things from the director first, whatever it may be. I’m worried about letting people down. So I like to have Alicia talk to the director first and get briefed on what they want. She comes to me and tells me what the director is asking for, and I can tell her what, if anything, might make me uncomfortable. Then she goes back to the director and we can all discuss.

It’s so much more difficult with a TV show because you’re telling an ongoing story; you don’t know the material you’ll be working with later, and you don’t necessarily know what you’re doing until a few days before shooting.
I’m open to pretty much anything that serves the story and makes sense, but I just need to be clear on that, and process what is being asked of me, so to have her as the messenger is very helpful. To even have 5 or 10 minutes or a whole day to process it before responding is really helpful.

I think at first a lot of the actors were nervous she’d come in and wipe away all of the sexuality, but that’s not it at all. She’s not taking over the scene, or telling anybody to make it more PG than it is. Alicia has a background in stunt choreography, physicality, body language and how to perform and protect. She says, “If you know how many feet you’re going to jump, it’s easier to fully go into it.”

A lot of people like to be in the moment, and for me, the preparation allows that more because the boundaries and parameters are already in place. You know there’s somebody making sure lines don’t get crossed so you don’t have be worried about it while naked and performing.

HBO: What preliminary discussions did you have with the creators before taking on the role of Lori?

Emily Meade: I auditioned for Candy (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) and Abby (played by Margarita Levieva) but taking on Lori was purely from a conversation. I sat down with David [Simon] and he explained it was a difficult part. There would be a lot of tragedy and sexuality, and he was fully understanding of how much that was asking, and I should only do it if I was OK with it. I definitely had to think about it, but ultimately I trusted David’s vision, and part of my job as an actor is tell that story and depict it. Sometimes you have to immerse yourself in something difficult to tell the story.

HBO: How have those conversations continued or changed as you moved into Season 2?

Emily Meade: I was conditioned both in my life and career to just accept whatever the circumstances of playing out sexuality is. I remember being like, “Yeah well, I’ve done it before, I can handle it.” I think a lot of actors have to detach themselves in a lot of ways, and not only did the process of filming Season 1 bring a lot more awareness to my own sensitivity of sexuality, and how I didn’t want to disassociate anymore — I want to be a lot more connected to my body both in my personal life and my career — but I’ve realized it’s my job to express what I need to be comfortable. That’s what a lot of the conversations with the creators became, and they really listened. They took it very seriously and they made a change.

That is the next step in Times Up we really need to get to: not just talking about what the problem is, but fixing the system from within. I was very impressed and happy with the way HBO and David and George handled making a change that makes an actual difference. This season was like a completely different experience. Not just having Alicia on set, but having had those conversations and bringing more awareness to the personal experience of it all.

HBO: Do you imagine we’ll be seeing more shows hiring intimacy coordinators in the future?

Emily Meade: We’d better! It’s just mind boggling to me I’ve never been on set with an intimacy coordinator before; it felt so natural and so necessary. It’s crazy it took to 2018 for sexuality to be treated with the same sensitivity and vulnerability as violence, or animals or children. I hope it gets to a point where it’s not a choice, it’s necessity, just like stunt coordinators, or a chaperone for children and animals. I know HBO is already expanding to other shows. I’m going to make as much effort as I can to make sure it’s on any set I am on going forward.