Miriam Lucia is one of the industry’s busiest intimacy coordinators. Recent credits include HBO shows House Of The Dragon, The White Lotus season 2 and The Nevers, and movies Catherine Called Birdy and Gareth Evans’ Havoc. She is currently working on Emerald Fennel’s new feature for Amazon, Saltburn, starring Rosamund Pike, Jacob Elordi and Barry Keoghan.
We spoke to UK-based Lucia about how she works with directors and producers, how vital her line of work has become to the industry in a short space of time and challenges encountered on House Of The Dragon. Lucia worked on all 10 episodes of the big-budget prequel series across 10 months.
DEADLINE: It has been noted about House Of The Dragon that it is probably as violent as Game Of Thrones but it’s less explicit in terms of sexual content and nudity. Is that your sense too?
MIRIAM LUCIA: Yes. Definitely. Game Of Thrones had a negative reputation – which they’ll admit — in terms of the press and the #MeToo movement, and with Emilia Clarke and other actors talking about how difficult and gratuitous it could be at times, and how much pressure they felt.
So, I think what you get on House Of The Dragon is not only a production team that are sensitive to that, but you get a cast that is very aware of it and careful about what they will agree to. That precedent had been set.
It was about finding the balance for [showrunners] Miguel Sapochnik and Ryan Condal. [Sexual content and nudity] is part of the show, it’s part of the essence of what it is, but we’re in a new era. I was invited at the very beginning to be involved in rehearsals, discussions, read-throughs, so that everybody knew who I was, and it was all open.
It was an open discussion because some actors — some of the older actors in particular — had never worked with an intimacy coordinator before, and that’s odd for them, too. They don’t really know what you do, or whether you’re there to police them. I’ve had comments on other shows from older actors who are nervous about me being there, thinking that I’m somehow watching what they’re doing. That’s not my job.
My job is to ensure that there’s a safe environment. And that was apparent on House Of The Dragon. It was very clear that the way the sex scenes were going to be approached, the way that the cast were going to be informed of what was expected of them, was different. Things were not just thrown in during the shoot.
DEADLINE: In terms of your remit, to what extent does it stretch beyond nudity and sex scenes? For example, there are some uncomfortable scenes in House Of The Dragon relating to underage marriage, incest and of course, the birth scene in the first episode…
LUCIA: I was on set for all those scenes and very much part of the discussions. HBO now has an agreement in place that if there’s any nudity or any simulated sexual intercourse on their shows then there is an intimacy coordinator expected on set. However, that’s flexible in terms of scenes like the birth scene. Actress Sian Brooke [who played Queen Aemma Arryn] felt that my presence made her feel more comfortable, so I was there.
Some directors and producers would think it’s a bit of a gray area, but I would consider that an intimate scene. The birth scene was very harrowing to do but I felt that Sian was in control of that scene, totally, from beginning to end. She offered what she thought was right for the scene. Obviously Miguel directed it, and he’s an incredible director, and it had to be portrayed as a terrible experience for it to work.
In terms of how she interpreted the scene, it was hers. The screaming, the relentless agony, was her. She was pretty clear there was to be no nudity. There could have been but there wasn’t any, which is great, to be able to suggest everything without showing it.
DEADLINE: To what extent is your work with actors physical – via blocking – and to what extent is it mental and psychological?
LUCIA: The first part is mental and psychological, working out what it is the director wants and how the actor feels about that, and working out what the limits and boundaries are. Where is the consent? And then, in a rehearsal, we work out the physicality and blocking of the scene.
Sometimes, you have directors who are very clear on that, and they have a very defined idea of how they want the shot to be, and they’re extremely good at communicating to the actor, as Miguel was. ‘We’re going to have X number of setups on this, there’s a closeup here, and then this happens, and then there’s a wide’. That helps actors. It helps me as well, in terms of knowing how we’re going to choreograph the scene and what is potentially going to be in shot.
If I’m on set and sense that somebody is finding it difficult — as Emily Carey expressed in her recent article with Newsweek about her sex scene in episode four — you make sure that you’re checking in with them, and that you’re spending time with them. I’m not a psychologist, and I’m not a therapist. I’m an actor, who is also an acting coach, who became an intimacy coordinator. I still do all three. So, I think my work as an acting coach helps in terms of me understanding how a particular actor works, and how they’re processing information, and how they’re then putting that information into their physical action, and whether it makes sense.
Emily was only 18 when we did that scene [in which her character is made to have sex with her much older husband]. It was also about talking Paddy [Considide, who plays King Viserys Targaryen] through the whole thing, and checking that he was okay. He has a child Emily’s age after all.
DEADLINE: For those who haven’t read it, what did Emily say her experience was of that scene?
LUCIA: Well, she basically said she was very frightened ahead of that scene, and that without an intimacy coordinator she wouldn’t have known how to handle it. It was good to hear that following on from Sean Bean’s comments about how intimacy coordinators ruin spontaneity. But I get why he said that, because he doesn’t have the same experience of it, and because this is a new function on sets.
People don’t really know what it is that we do. Some question why we’re there. It can still be weird for people who wonder if I’m checking up on whether they’re adhering to the rules of a closed set. But often my work has been done beforehand behind the scenes, talking to the director, the producer, the actors, even lawyers if necessary, in terms of waivers and things that need to happen. And if there’s an issue or a change, or something becomes physically uncomfortable, or mentally uncomfortable, we shift it, but at that point, the work has largely been done, and hopefully it’s seamless. We need to be ready for the shoot date but also to know there won’t be any ugly surprises.
DEADLINE: I wondered about that dynamic between yourself and the director who has traditionally been so powerful, especially in their dealings with actors. To what extent can that relationship between you and a director become strained in terms of them feeling there are layers in the way of what they are trying to achieve creatively?
LUCIA: It’s a really good point. It’s something that I was acutely aware of when I first started doing this work. Having directed at drama school and having been an actor I can see how I could be perceived as an obstacle. I’m acutely aware of not treading on toes and from the very beginning trying to establish a rapport with the director and how they work.
Sometimes it’s easier than others. It’s about understanding what it is the director wants from the scene but sometimes being able to intervene and relay that an actor isn’t comfortable with that line of thought so that the director has time to rethink it before they get on set. Some people would say that takes all the spontaneity out of it, but actually, most of the work, as far as I can tell, is done by the time you go to shoot it.
You can’t drag an actor screaming out of their trailer to do something they don’t want to do. I think directors have become far more sensitive to the whole process now. I had a great discussion with Emerald Fennell last week who told me how grateful she was for the collaboration because she has been an actress herself and said she wouldn’t want to put anyone in an uncomfortable position.
DEADLINE: So you act as a go-between for the actor and director with the actor confiding in you that they feel uncomfortable after a rehearsal, for example?
LUCIA: Sometimes, but hopefully that has happened before we’re rehearsing. On my latest production we did the rehearsal, we had the talk-through, the director left and I had a few minutes with the actors to discuss any concerns, because we were about to shoot it. With other directors, it will all be done before shoot day.
There was a lot of discussion with director Clare Kilner about the House Of The Dragon episode Emily was anxious about. There was a lot of preparation before shoot day. In the past, a director would say in the moment, ‘yeah, you know what, actually, I think it’s better if she takes her shirt off now’, or, ‘actually, just go for it guys, see what happens’. You can’t do that anymore.
DEADLINE: Do you report to the producer on set or someone else at the studio?
LUCIA: The producer on set is always my go-to person. It was great on House Of The Dragon because Miguel is the showrunner and executive producer and he was right there. Equally, on the second season of White Lotus, I would always communicate with co-EP Mark Kamine and to director and creator Mike White.
It’s tricky. Sometimes, you have to know when to just leave it alone, too, and not over-protect, or keep checking in with the actor, or keep reporting things back to the producer. You’ve got to be efficient.
DEADLINE: To avoid increasing any potential suspicion or frustration?
LUCIA: Yes. The word is trust. The director has to trust me, the actors have to trust me, the actors have to trust each other, and they have to trust the director.
DEADLINE: To what extent were there discussions around the scenes in House Of The Dragon concerning marriage to children (which of course happened, and still happens in some countries, but is still jarring to watch)?
LUCIA: I had to think about it from the very beginning, because I knew that that was the story. Also knowing that Rhaenyra was going to have a sexual connection with her uncle. I was acting coach to Milly Alcock [who plays princess Rhaenyra] so that was something that did come up and we had to think about and process. Going back to Emily, we didn’t go too deeply into the emotional part of it, because I think it always needs to be character-driven, and if it makes sense to the actor because it’s what the character would do, it’s easier to do. That sort of approach tends to really help young actors in particular. When Emily is lying there, and Paddy is on top of her like that, I don’t think of it as Emily. She’s almost representing a cultural practice that did exist.
DEADLINE: Do you find that you spend more time with actresses than actors?
LUCIA: That’s a really interesting question. I think that my work on the first series of HBO’s Industry taught me about how vulnerable young men are in this industry as well. The experience on that has always stayed in my mind so I try and balance it. Perhaps because I’m a woman, and given the history of everything women have had to do that was beyond the pale on film and TV sets, perhaps I am inclined to check in with them first. But I am acutely aware that young men often are just as nervous, and wary, and not sure about trusting what’s being asked of them. So, I try and remember that.
DEADLINE: What has been the most challenging scene so far on House of the Dragon?
LUCIA: I can’t really talk about the new stuff that’s coming up. I’ll say probably the scene with Emily and Paddy because of her age, and the implications of that, and maybe the way that would be viewed, and whether I had done enough work on that. But I felt very good about working with Clare [Kilner] on that.
But also with Milly in the same episode. When we shot her intimate scene with Daemon, Matt Smith was in his late 30s and she was only 20 or 21? She’s not underage but many of these young women haven’t done scenes like this before.
DEADLINE: Where do they rank in your career in terms of challenge?
LUCIA: There were things that I did early on that were probably more challenging. Industry was challenging because actors Harry Lawtey and Marisa Abela were literally just out of drama school, and they had a huge number of sex scenes to do. Scenes were being written all the time and added.
At that stage, my role was not as understood. But the producer was brilliant on that and it was great to work with Lena Dunham on the first episode.
I also worked on Blue Story [released in 2019], which was challenging. It was low budget film and there was little understanding at that stage of my role. The director was great but it was his first film and an early film for me in this role so there was little understanding of how to deal with me. There were some fairly out-there scenes and quite a bit of spontaneity from the director so I had to do a fair bit of instructing. Ultimately, the film worked out well.
On House of The Dragon, the stakes are of course very high because it’s probably the biggest show on the planet.
DEADLINE: You’ve been doing this for five years, so you’re up there in terms of the more experienced intimacy coordinators. Is there a school where intimacy coordinators can train?
LUCIA: There are a couple of training courses and they’re now accredited. There are more and more people training and coming to it from different branches: choreographers, dancers, etc The reason I’m an intimacy coordinator is during my work as an acting coach, I was very interested in how you approach a sex scene. How do you alleviate embarrassment, humiliation, awkwardness? And so, I thought, I’m going to train. And then it just took off.
DEADLINE: And you still act?
LUCIA: Yes, I had a recall just a few days ago. As a teacher I always think it’s important to get back out there and keep doing it every now and then because you don’t want to forget what it feels like. At my age, I’m not being asked to do any kind of sexual content, but I do know what it feels like.
DEADLINE: Sean Bean’s comments about intimacy coordinators kicked up a fuss recently. What were your thoughts on those?
LUCIA: I love him as an actor, and I’ve just watched Marriage: he’s great in that. I just think he is a man of a certain age, who has been in this industry for a very long time, and he doesn’t have an experience of the other side. Or maybe he’s had a bad experience of working with an intimacy coordinator. All I would say is that in my experience so far, I don’t think it gets in the way of the creative process. I think it helps to enable the creative process, because I think once you’ve worked out what the actors are comfortable with in terms of touch and consent, and what the movements are going to be, then you add the emotion to it. And then you find the freedom, because you’re not scrambling and fumbling and trying to find it there and then in the moment.
DEADLINE: So in your view there is room left for spontaneity?
LUCIA: I think of the spontaneity as what we do as actors. We have to pretend that we have never done this before. We have to suggest that everything is spontaneous. You have a script, so you don’t come out with these words spontaneously. You have to work on it so that it appears to be spontaneous. That’s where it doesn’t make sense to me, what he said.
DEADLINE: How was it working on The White Lotus?
LUCIA: It was actually wonderful to go on something like that after House of the Dragon, because it’s a very different show. Mike White is very clear about what he wants, but also very open to suggestions from the actors. The good thing about that was that some of the cast were Italian, and a couple of them didn’t speak English, and I speak Italian, so that was very useful because I was able to communicate what he wanted.
In Italy they don’t really have a lot of experience of intimacy coordinators yet, but the actors I worked with are now advocating for intimacy coordinators going forward.