If you’ve seen a sex scene on HBO in the last five years, it’s likely that Alicia Rodis helped make it. As one of the industry’s leading intimacy coordinators, it’s Alicia’s job to ensure that any actor involved in any intimate action in a scene—be it wearing a bathing suit or sussing through orgy logistics—understands what they’re doing at any given moment. She can help people feel a little less naked.
Rodis wasn’t always an innovator, and was frequently aware of how awkward the conversations around intimate acts were. “I had my first kiss on stage when I was 15, and I did my first nude scene when I was 18,” she says over a video call. “I never had any major issues with those scenes, but I definitely was aware of the lack of language that people had to respectfully talk about the scenes. What I noticed on other sets were people would— instead of skirting around the issue—go straightforward [into the act], but with some inappropriate language or slang term to try to make light of the situation. But it actually just made people more uncomfortable.”
Much of Rodis’ job now involves “allowing the actors to be able to be collaborators and part of the story” by providing a safe environment to work in—not unlike how a stunt coordinator ensures no one is actually getting punched in the face. Men’s Health spoke with Rodis about how she got her start, the importance of genital diversity on-screen, and more.
MH: How did you get your start doing intimacy coordinating?
I went to school for acting, was acting since I was a kid, and got into my adult life doing that work. I was often cast as the ‘slutty best friend’ character, so from probably the age of 14, I started to play roles that had some sort of sexuality involved in them.
When I was on set as a stunt performer, I had a stunt coordinator who was making sure that I knew exactly what the high fall was. I knew exactly what it was that I was walking into. And then I would go in to do a scene of intimacy—be it stimulated sex or nudity—and I didn't have anyone. Even [with] the folks that were working [with me]—and these are professionals who were working for many years—there was no set vocabulary. There was no real protocol around how they were doing these scenes. So I saw that as an opportunity of, "I think this is really needed."
Was that structure what was missing?
You know, there was just sort of a general idea of there being a closed set. There was a general idea that these scenes were difficult, but there was nothing really set down of how this is the beginning, this is the middle, and this is the end. I was on Boardwalk Empire, and I was [about to do a] topless [scene]. We're doing the rehearsal, we're going through everything, and I'm like, "Are you gonna tell me when I'm supposed to take my top off?" Cause I had no idea what's going on and no one really had the language in that moment—the ADs, the director, or anyone—to tell me, "Okay, and now you're gonna take your top off." I think there was some fear and skirting around the issue.
Do you think part of the reason there wasn't a process around these things is because there was a fear about trying to broach these conversations?
Big time. Something we noticed within the industry is that you could talk about stunts, you could talk about all these different things, but everything was a story you were telling. Then you would get into intimate scenes and it would be this blurry line of like, "Okay, just go for it."
I ended up working with actors on The Deuce, which was the first show I worked on. I would work with background performers who were put into positions—and actually, some were also main cast members—where they were asked to actually engage in sexual acts on set, when the director would say "Just go for it," but not explain what that was.
People were under the impression that they actually had to have sexual acts with folks, which is completely not what should be happening and is actually against multiple laws. That's not what these actors are being brought on to do. They're not being brought on to do sex work. They're being brought on to tell a story.
Do you think that lack of language contributed to people actually engaging in sex in order to sell a scene?
I do. I think, especially in the entertainment industry, we can get really cavalier about things. There's a lot that has an absurd nature in our jobs, and this was something I think would get swept under the rug. There was a blurring of lines, and no one wanted to come out and say what exactly they wanted.
How involved in the process are you? Are you there in the casting stage? Or you brought in kind of closer to the time of a scene?
Most of the time, I'm brought in during pre-production, before they've started filming. My questions are like, "What's coming up? What are we looking at?" There's a conversation about what the actors have agreed to—what was in their casting notice—before [they’ve] starting filming.
Then it's a series of meetings—just like any head of a department has a meeting with the director and producers, and the showrunner—where we go over the intimate scenes. I ask what they want from it, what they're looking for, have they spoken to the actors? From there I go and talk to the actors and the director goes and talks to the actors and we make sure we're all on the same page. Everything is communicated—from what they're wearing to how much nudity, how little nudity, are we using prosthetics, etc—we talk about what the process is going to be like, how many setups we're looking at, et cetera. I work with the other departments to make sure we're all set and that everyone knows exactly what is to be expected for the day that we're shooting.
Then we go in to shoot. During that time, I'm assisting with movement coaching. I'm assisting if something goes wrong, I'm making sure that the set is closed up, so we have flags up over all the monitors, and people who don't need to be there aren't there. And just making sure the scene is looking how we want it to look, but also everyone is in a safe place so that they're able to really do their best work.
You mentioned using prosthetics. Do you have any insight into the decision-making processes around using prosthetics or even using a body double? Is that something that comes out of those initial conversations that you're having?
Yeah, [it] comes out of the initial conversations we're having and also what the actors want—what the actors are okay to show or share. And also, depending on what we are doing with the genitals that were involved, because obviously, we can't have any interaction with people's genitals. It's all smoke and mirrors. So people either have barriers on—like padding—between them, or, if you see direct interaction, there's probably a prosthetic there. Sometimes it's the necessity, that if you wanna see that [direct interaction], we're not doing this to the actual actor— we're doing this to a prosthetic.
We're seeing a lot of conversations about the rise of full-frontal nudity, especially on HBO shows. I'm curious about your perspective on it as somebody involved in these conversations from the get-go.
I think there are a few different ways and a few different lenses through which to view it. One is, of course, that there has been so much more in the world of seeing women nude. We've seen so much more of that in the past 30, 40 years of filmmaking and television that it’s nice to also have external genitalia being shown as well. I think there are a lot of wins and a lot of positives in that. What I’m more interested in and excited about—just from a societal standard—is the normalization of different bodies and seeing not our usual cookie-cutter, white male gaze feminine figure.
We're seeing different types of bodies. We're seeing different sexes. We're seeing people along the gender spectrum. We're seeing cis[gender] and trans representation. That’s what's been really exciting about there being more nudity being shown and not just, cis-hetero women—often white women. But when it comes to seeing more penises on screen, I think as long as we’re allowing representation of what different penises look like. A beautiful thing about there being a lot more shown is that we get to see a lot of representation. I think that's important.
What is the process like at HBO versus different places? I'm sure it varies, but you and HBO pioneered this profession in a lot of ways, so are you establishing best practices that are then adopted by other productions?
Everyone, of course, is interested in saving their ass as well, but truly, from everyone that I work with at HBO, they do this because they know that they're doing right by the folks that they're working with. What was really cool was that as it started, when it came out in the press that this was happening, there were a lot of other studios that started reaching out to them and reaching out to me being like, "Can we see what your protocols look like? Can we see what's going on?" HBO was very generous in allowing folks to take a look at their protocols, and other protocols in a lot of other studios have been set up based on what the HBO protocols are.
It does feel like intimacy coordinating is becoming an industry, so what do you want to see from that industry moving forward?
I want to see it normalized and mandated on every set. Any set that has intimacy, actors should have a right to an intimacy coordinator. I want to see a SAG-AFTRA contract for intimacy coordinators, because they've done so much great work in getting us on sets and really supporting us. I think that's the natural next step. I would like to see more diversifying of the folks that are doing this work— a lot of companies are doing a lot of great work in uplifting and making sure that BIPOC voices are in the room so that we [as an industry] have that representation, especially because we're advocates.
I also think there need to be standards for intimacy coordinators. There needs to be a certain amount of training, a certain amount of work that you do in order to be recognized in the industry as an intimacy coordinator, because, with anything— but especially with this—the wrong person in this role, or someone without the right training, can be much more detrimental than not having anyone at all.
How would you begin to have the conversation about making an actor comfortable with something like a 50 Shades of Grey-style project?
Gosh. I would make sure that at casting, they know exactly what it is they're signing up for. If they don't have the full script, they should have a really detailed idea about what the expectations are. If the director or the showrunner wants something specific from that actor, they need to put that out there way before getting into final casting. I tell this to young filmmakers all the time—cause I do a lot of workshops and a lot of educational work—be explicit in your asks. There is nothing shameful about wanting to tell a story of sexuality. There is actually an incredibly empowering way that you can tell stories of sexuality and empower actors to be able to tell those stories.
What I think has been so successful is allowing it to be a process, so it's not just one person in a power position saying, "You get naked here, you do this."
If you're allowed to talk about it, what is the most challenging or most memorable shoot that you've been on?
I've been blessed to have been on so many shoots that it's tough to think about what was the most memorable. I will say that there were just so many fantastic days on The Deuce. There was one day that we were shooting a porn party in LA. That was just a very funny, lighthearted, and amusing day. We were shooting fake porn. We were shooting, telling the story of all these folks doing fake porn. What was really cool was that the feeling on set was like it was a well-oiled machine. Everyone knew where they were supposed to be. Everyone knew how the set was gonna be closed up, how the work was gonna be done. There were no questions, so it was able to be light and fun. Like, dare I say, we had fun [laugh] doing some work that could really be quite scary.
Was that a surreal moment?
Almost every day I'm on set that there is a moment of just realizing how surreal the job is. I'll text with another intimacy coordinator and we're just like, "What do you have?" "Oh, I've got an orgy scene next week. Do you have any idea about a prosthetic maker in Vancouver?" The conversations we have—we just kind of sit back and sort of laugh and are like, "This is life. These are our lives."
This interview has been condensed for content and clarity.
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