One of the strangest sex scenes that daytime veteran Vincent Irizarry (ex-David Hayward, All My Children; ex-David Chow, The Young and the Restless) can remember filming was for the 1980s soap opera Hotel. He had a guest-starring role that required him to jump straight into the sack with Dee Wallace (ex-Patricia Spencer, General Hospital), who played Helen Johnson on the Aaron Spelling production.
"On my first day of work, my wardrobe was a robe, and I had to walk over on the set and meet her right next to the bed where we were going to be making love on," he tells Soap Central. "We had just met each other: 'Hi, I'm Vincent.' 'Hi, I'm Dee.' And the director said, 'All right, guys, let's get you into bed for action!' It's not your everyday job."
Irizarry's experience isn't the exception; it's the norm. So, it's a wonder that the major entertainment news circulating the Internet this week didn't come sooner: HBO has confirmed that all of its shows featuring sexually intimate scenes will now have a monitor known as an "intimacy coordinator" on set.
The intimacy coordinator job has existed in the theater world for years but is new to film and television. Essentially, the person in the role acts as a mediator among actors, directors, producers, and crew.
For example, Alicia Rodis, whom HBO brought on to assist on The Deuce, reviews scripts, facilitates group discussions about the sex scenes that will be filmed, and meets with actors individually to clarify what their personal boundaries are -- to make sure, as she explains, "consent is informed and certain before we move forward."
As it stands now, daytime stars must fend for themselves when it comes to filming sex scenes. Each performer has his or her own way of handling on-screen intimacy, but most agree that being open and straightforward is the best practice -- no matter how awkward it can be.
"The only times I've had uncomfortable love scenes have been when someone wasn't being communicative or vocal beforehand," Kate Mansi (Abigail Deveraux, Days of our Lives) tells Soap Central. "Alison Sweeney [Sami Brady] actually gave me the best advice ever when I talked to her before I had my first love scene. She said, 'Just talk about it. It feels weird, but the best thing you can do with your costars is to just be honest and communicate with each other because it is like a relationship.' So, I kind of just took that and ran with it."
DAYS star Arianne Zucker (ex-Nicole Walker) agrees that it never pays to be coy about coitus. When discussing love scenes with her costars, she says the more businesslike the preparation, the better.
"If it's a quick meet and you have a very fast love scene, you really have to set the tone and say, 'Hey, listen, this is how I operate,'" she tells Soap Central. "As a woman, you kind of get the lead on how the love scene is going to go, and you have to just be confident to set those boundaries. And [with the crew], you say, 'If you don't like it, then don't write me a love scene!' [Laughs] It is demanding, but I'm sure many actresses can say they have felt taken advantage of, so you just put your foot down. And then it makes everything easy. It's like getting the business out of the way. You get the contract out of the way, and then you can do your job. It's kind of weird, but that's how I look at it. It's a business, and this is work."
This past year's #MeToo movement was part of what influenced HBO to make the groundbreaking move of adding intimacy coordinators to their sets. But it's not just personal boundaries that intimacy coordinators watch out for. During a scene in which The Deuce star Emily Meade had to give simulated oral sex, Rodis looked out for technical details, as well, to help the actress feel as comfortable as possible.
As Meade knelt down to perform the scene, Rodis was near, watching the monitor. As Rolling Stone reports, she provided Meade a pad for her knees, knowing that the hard floor might bruise them otherwise; between takes, she offered mouth spray and flavored lubricant; and she spoke with Meade before the scene about her concerns and relayed them to the director.
According to The Bold and the Beautiful's Courtney Hope (Sally Spectra), having someone around to provide such physical, social, and professional protection during love scenes is of immeasurable valuable. Thus far, she's leaned on her scene partners for that type of support and considers herself lucky that she's only worked with respectful gentlemen.
"Love scenes are very technical. It's like, which way does the head go? And how many times do you kiss? Is it four, is it three, before you say a line? It sounds weird, but sometimes I forget what I'm doing,'" she reveals to Soap Central. "I've been very fortunate over my career to have men that are very comfortable, and they take care of the girls and make sure for example, 'Okay, we're going to pull the sheet over here so no one sees this,' or 'Let's pull your strap up here.' Which is nice."
Some may argue that the need for intimacy coordinators on soap operas isn't great because daytime series aren't allowed to push the envelope when it comes to nudity and sex.
"On daytime, you don't have to show as much, so it's definitely a safer environment," explains General Hospital star Lexi Ainsworth (Kristina Davis). "Everything is with pasties and sticky boobs, they have a robe for you. It's totally safe."
But the lack of extreme nudity and blatant sexuality doesn't mean that daytime actors don't feel uncomfortable from time to time with the love scenes they're given.
"Sometimes I'm wrapped up in a sheet, and it's the same sheet color that's on the bed, and I kind of wrap myself up in it, so then I can roll around and be on top or something but not have to touch somebody," says Laura Wright (Carly Corinthos, General Hospital) of such instances. "I don't want my body up against that person; that's not my person! But I want the freedom to move around."
For male performers, other issues may -- pardon the pun -- arise during love scenes. Not many actors feel comfortable admitting to such instances, but John-Paul Lavoisier (ex-Rax Balsam, One Life to Live; ex-Philip Kiriakis, DAYS) bravely shared with Soap Central that involuntary physical responses sometimes happen when the scripts call for characters to jump between the sheets.
"I've done a lot of love scenes, and it's just work, and I'm very comfortable. However, if John-Paul is attracted to her, if I actually feel something for her, then it's going to be a little more difficult," he explains. "I'll leave it at that and won't say any more. But if and when John-Paul actually likes them, it can be more difficult because you have to remember that you're at work and you've got lines and blocking, and you're like, 'Hold on, this isn't real!' But it is, and it isn't. That can be difficult."
Such involuntary physical responses are completely natural during intimacy -- whether simulated or not -- and it is a concern that intimacy coordinators, if brought onto daytime sets, could assist with and help tone down, so to speak. In fact, it's part of Rodis' job. She uses her background in choreography and movement to help actors approach the physicality of sex scenes differently.
"She understands how to help us choreograph things to make them look more real than they are, by actually doing something less real," Meade tells Rolling Stone. "Left to your own devices, you're just sort of doing what you do in real life. And that's a problem if you don't want it to feel like real life."
Rodis calls this "separating the sexuality between the characters and what's actually happening between the actors."
Now that the role of intimacy coordinator exists on HBO, actors from all television genres -- daytime and primetime alike -- may desire to have them on set. After all, when everyone is as comfortable as they can be, sex scenes can be an enjoyable part of the job. As Alicia Minshew (ex-Kendall Hart, AMC) explains, they're meant to be fun.
"Everyone wants to do a good job, and [your partner] is vulnerable, too. And if you have a good director and someone who makes you feel safe, and the crew makes you feel safe, and everyone makes you feel like it's a safe environment, they can be damn fun, actually!" she enthuses. "Whenever I did [love scenes], I always made sure I was having fun and was laughing through it, because I feel like it sort of relieves the tension and makes you go, 'Let's have fun with this.' Because they're meant to be fun! So, let's just not be uptight about it and laugh and giggle, and in between the serious, sexy takes, just laugh it off."
Editor's Note: Soap Central has requested comment from all four daytime soap operas regarding interest and/or need for intimacy coordinators on soap opera sets. None have had any official comment for this story.
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