Warning: the following interview contains spoilers for Sex Education season 4!
For Sex Education's intimacy coordinator David Thackeray, it's pretty easy to sum up what he does in his role on movie and TV sets. "The foundation is consent, boundaries, and respect," he tells GamesRadar+ when we sit down to chat over Zoom.
His work, which also includes shows like It's A Sin, I Hate Suzie, and Industry, begins before the cast and crew get to set. It starts with "talking with the producer and the director and hearing their vision, calling the actors and hearing about what they feel comfortable with, any questions or concerns, and going through each scene," Thackeray explains.
"Then, from that point, we make sure that there are nudity garments in the costume department suitable for the particular artists." On the day, it's a case of choreography, like with any other physical scene. "We mark through where [the actors] are happy to be touched and where they're not. It's bringing the word 'no' into the space and respecting that. From that point, we choreograph the intimate scenes like a dance or like a fight, step by step."
Singles or doubles?
Thackeray has worked on Sex Education since the show's second season, which was released on Netflix back in January 2020. "What's great about this show is that they have completely brought on the intimacy coordinating role as a head of department," he enthuses. "It's implemented from the get-go, it's not questioned."
Much of his work on the series has been with Asa Butterfield and Emma Mackey, who play will-they-won't-they couple Otis and Maeve. While Otis takes on the role of on-campus sex therapist at school, he's awkward and anxious when it comes to his own performance in the bedroom, while Maeve is much more experienced.
Their real-life counterparts, however, had very much found their groove on set by the newly released fourth and final season, Thackeray tells us. "They've done it so many times now that we're already just talking through it. They're like, 'Yeah, I'm gonna put the hands here' and 'I feel comfortable with this' and, 'Oh, we can do this position like this.' So they're already ahead of the process, which is great, and it's a privilege to be able to work on a show for so long."
Intimacy coordination doesn't just deal with sex scenes between two people, though. Thackeray's work is also concerned with solo activity – and Sex Education has no shortage of self-pleasure – but he approaches these moments with the same strategy. "For masturbation, instead of an agreement of consent and touch with the other person, it's with yourself. You know, where does your hand go? We can put a barrier in place, as well. What are we going to see? What's the rhythm? How far into [it] are we? Do we go to climax or not? The pace? Where's the camera going to be? Is [the camera] going to be on the face?"
He continues: "The question for me is with the director and finding out when the scene finishes, so the actor isn't just carrying on for ages and going, 'Are we ever gonna stop? Or are they waiting for something else?'"
"The best thing about Sex Education is these intimate scenes serve a purpose"
It's important as well for Thackeray to know the 'point' of the scene. "Just saying, 'Okay, so how is this going to affect [things] later on down the line?' You know, 'What is this for, for the audience? What's the story here?'" he explains. "The best thing about Sex Education is these intimate scenes serve a purpose. We want to find out, 'Oh, that's one way of looking at it' or, 'I never thought of dealing with it in that way.' And Otis' character, that is exactly what his job is. It's really well done."
The role isn't without its challenges, and Thackeray feels the pressure on the set. The most demanding part of the job, for him, is "carrying everyone's nerves. Not just the cast, but the whole crew as well, and the director, the producers," he explains. "You can feel their nerves, you can feel there's like a high level of anxiety, so I personally feel like I'm holding that space for everybody. People always say, 'You've come with such a calm, grounded energy when you're on set,' but inside, I'm like, 'Whoa, this is a lot.' I come home exhausted, so that's super challenging."
Of course, there are highlights, too and he singles out a particular favorite scene that occurs at the start of season 4's first episode. "Where we see Maeve in the States, and she's getting heated, and she's wandering around seeing different people making out and all that kind of stuff. That was fun to shoot because you're working with all different people."
The best parts about season 4, though, were the scenes between Otis and Maeve. "We've gone from the nude pics, the phone sex, them trying to work out their long-distance relationship and trying to find a connection with each other, trying to navigate so much of their relationship," he says. "It's great to watch those hurdles and to go through that, and then we come to the Ross and Rachel moment, their Friends moment. I thought their simulated sex scene was done really, really well."
Sex Education season 4 is now streaming on Netflix. For more viewing inspiration, fill out your watch list with our guide to the best new TV shows coming our way in 2023 and beyond.