Oh, Sean. As Tyra Banks once said to Tiffany in cycle four of America's Next Top Model, we were all rooting for you. He's always gently encouraging us to "believe in better", his enthusiasm for Yorkshire Tea warms the cockles of our hearts, and there's the acting. Let's not forget that. Broken! Game of Thrones! Time! Lord of the Rings! He's given us so much, with plenty more still to come.


But the affection that myself and so many others have for Bean is rooted in personas, and not the man, because we don't really know the man at all. However occasionally, we gain some insight into what the people we blindly ascribe so many positive attributes to think and feel about certain things, and the truth can leave you feeling deflated.

In a recent interview with The Times, Bean was candid about his thoughts on intimacy coordinators, a now common but relatively recent introduction on film and TV productions.

"I should imagine it slows down the thrust of it,” he said of how actors on sets decades ago might have reacted to the mapping out of a sex scene with a qualified professional, rather than the off-the-cuff approach that was not just widespread practice, but the only practice.

Bean added: "Ha, not the thrust, that's the wrong word. It would spoil the spontaneity. It would inhibit me more because it's drawing attention to things. Somebody saying, 'Do this, put your hand 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."

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Nicola Walker and Sean Bean embrace in Marriage
Nicola Walker and Sean Bean in Marriage. BBC / The Forge / Rory Mulvey

Bean's comments, while disappointing, are not unsurprising. He has operated within certain parameters for the vast majority of his long and illustrious career. Why tinker with what has worked so seamlessly for him? But new measures, such as intimacy coordinators, are not for his benefit.

Sure, men can gain invaluable insight from their input as they really consider how their female counterpart is feeling in a given moment. It is an opportunity to reevaluate entrenched behaviours that harm women. But first and foremost, the practice was introduced to protect women given that they are the ones who have been and continue to be subjected to the lion’s share of abuse and exploitation.

Losing the "spontaneity" that Bean values so highly is a small price to pay for women feeling safe doing the work that they love, and that painfully obvious truth should have stopped him dead in his tracks before pressing ahead and laying it on the table.

Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones in Normal People.

It also suggests that Bean hasn't actually worked under the guidance of an intimacy coordinator, or spent time in the company of the most accomplished of the bunch. I've spoken to multiple actors who have praised those facilitators for making their jobs significantly easier, and even making their approach to sex scenes more intuitive.

Speaking to RadioTimes.com about the excellent BBC comedy Cheaters, which utilised an intimacy coordinator, Susan Wokoma said: "I'd only done one other sex scene [before Cheaters], and that was like, 'Off you go.' It was pretty embarrassing, and I can't believe that's been the norm because actually, what having choreography, or at least a couple of discussions means, is it makes you braver, actually. It made me braver. I lost a lot of inhibition in the process at certain points.

"It's really safe, and everybody's intentions are good, and the scenes aren’t weird. And I think that people sometimes think that if something is really choreographed or rehearsed, it takes the spontaneity out of it. And I just don't believe that. When it comes to anything that's intimate on screen, it's worth it. I feel like knowing exactly what you're doing, knowing that you can agree to something, or say no, makes you go further."

Cheaters, BBC Three
Susan Wokoma and Joshua McGuire in Cheaters. Natalie Seery/BBC Studios/Clerkenwell Films

Intimacy coordinator and founder of Intimacy On Set Ita O'Brien (Sex Education, Normal People, I May Destroy You) echoed that in a comment to RadioTimes.com: "It is great that Sean is highlighting the desire to be spontaneous and in sync with one's acting partner to be able to create something beautiful. With regard to [his work on] Lady Chatterley's Lover [that is referenced in the Times interview], he is celebrating the intention to follow the storyline and portray the truth of DH Lawrence's writing, and all of that is indeed the focus of what we do as intimacy coordinators and as is detailed in the Intimacy On Set guidelines.

"However what he doesn't acknowledge is that they are acting like one would when working with a stunt coordinator on a fight. An actor would, of course, work very openly and collaboratively with a stunt coordinator to create a fight that looks flowing and spontaneous, understanding that there is potential for risk. It is of course great that the industry now understands the additional risks associated in the creation of an intimate scene, which ensures that an actor's requirements regarding nudity and intimate touch are honoured so that everyone can work with freedom and spontaneity.

"When you have clear choreography, the scenes become natural and celebrated as witnessed in dramas like Normal People and I May Destroy You."

The casts of Sex Education and Normal People have publicly praised O'Brien's contribution and the end product in both titles, particularly the latter, is some of the finest I've seen on-screen, as previously highlighted in this review.

I'm certain that Bean would say he's sympathetic to the concerns of women (who wouldn't be given the horrors and indignities that come with the territory?!), but the cognitive dissonance on display in that interview communicates the inverse. Bean and his male peers will naturally have had their various respective challenges to weather over the course of their lives and careers, but they will never understand the alienating feeling of being on the back foot for the simple fact of being a woman.

Had that safety net been put in place aeons ago, countless female performers could have been protected from predatory behaviour, and in turn the industry transformed. For Bean to lament the absence of impulse behind-the-scenes in the capturing of those intimate moments is to ignore the bigger picture.


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