Among its many strengths, Bridgerton is successful because it delivers exactly what it promises. Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) marries Simon, the Duke of Hastings (Reǵe-Jean Page) under unfortunate circumstances, but then it turns out that they actually love one another! Then they have lots of sex.
Unlike a more straitlaced period show where two people never get farther than a tongueless kiss, the writers, actors, and directors of Bridgerton had to figure out the precise mechanics of how the sex was going to work. The person who organized all that — the modesty wear, the choreography, the specific changes in power dynamic — is Lizzy Talbot, Bridgerton’s intimacy coordinator. When I spoke to her over the holidays, Talbot told me about the many misconceptions about her job and the delicacy of portraying Regency-era consent in a fantasy for modern viewers.
Could you pick one scene from Bridgerton and talk through what the challenges are as an intimacy coordinator?
There are so many! I was very busy. I’m cheating and saying a montage: There’s a montage at the beginning of episode six, and there’s a lot of work we did in the rain — outside, in the middle of the night, in Regency costume, which included corsets and long boots, and clothes that do not come off as easily as modern clothing does. There’s a scene outside in a stone folly, and there are two wet actors, in the middle of the night. Even though it was August, it was very cold that evening. There were so many things that had to be taken into consideration. How do you keep the actors warm? How do you re-create the fact that they’re just coming in from rain, so the hair and the makeup department has to work really hard to keep re-creating this dew.
Also we’re working on stone, so how to make that comfortable? How to make sure we’re protecting the actors’ backs? All the modesty wear is either taped on or otherwise secured, so there’s a lot of complexity just keeping them all on. Part of my role is working with the costume department to keep checking and making sure the actors feel secure and covered all the way through, and that they’re immediately swarmed with coats and hot water bottles in between takes.
There’s a well-known scene from the book that also appears in the series adaptation, where the two leads have sex that becomes nonconsensual by the end of the act. Daphne forces her husband Simon to orgasm inside her, even though he has been clear he does not want children. What was the process of developing it between you and the actors and the writers?
For my part, in terms of the narrative, we have no control over that. One of those things for me is really working in partnership with the actors to make sure their comfort needs are being met between one of those scenes. We’re very clear about what the action is, we’re very clear about all the preparation beforehand. What are you comfortable showing, and what are you not comfortable showing? What positions are you comfortable being in? Not everyone is comfortable being in every single position, even though they are performing a simulation.
When you get a script with a scene like that, though, the script probably doesn’t lay out exactly what everyone’s doing in relation to everyone else. How do you and the actors decide how to portray that shift in power dynamic?
We had discussions surrounding the switch of power in that moment, because obviously you have an actor who is physically much bigger than the other one. On a tangent, one of the interesting things about Bridgerton was that so many scenes we did involving beds were on beds of Regency size. That was honestly one of our biggest challenges. Reǵe being as tall as he is, is not really suited to a Regency-sized bed, lengthwise or even widthwise when there’s two people on it. So we had to work really hard to make sure that if there’s ever any rolling action — which happens quite a lot in these scenes — that they didn’t accidentally roll off the bed. That was a real issue! On nearly every bed that we had. These beds were not built for someone as tall as Reǵe, and he’d be hanging off the bed. That’s honestly where some of the key choreography comes from, is positioning people on beds, and working out, “Okay, if there’s a roll-off here, how do we make it so he’s not rolling onto the floor, or his feet aren’t hanging off?” So that’s a side tangent, but it’s very important. Crucial.
How you depict the switch in power, we had a lot of conversation about that. We were figuring out what the dynamic looks like in this journey with Daphne having zero information about what happens post-marriage. In Regency England, consent happened at the point of marriage, which is of course unthinkable to us now. But we’re working with the story that’s been given to us, which is essentially about the power switch that happens in that moment with the new information that Daphne has.
It’s interesting to think about the Regency idea of consent versus our modern one, given that Bridgerton is so explicitly about seeing that period through a modern lens.
For sure, and one of the things we really specifically focused on was portraying the power balance. For example, leading up to it, it’s Daphne who is leading the moment of intimacy up to the intercourse. We were very clear that there needed to be a show of power, so it’s Daphne who takes her own hair out of the braids, and it’s Daphne who pushes him away so he can see her. She is leading it in a way that perhaps she hasn’t done before, and she’s making choices leading up to that scene, so that we can clearly see the shift of power.
These actors know these characters inside out. They’re living in the world that Julia Quinn has created. It’s so important that they have the agency to make some of these decisions; Phoebe (Dynevor, who plays Daphne) wanted to remove her hair from the braids herself, because it’s an empowering moment and so much is tied up in women’s hair at that time. That’s a very definitive moment that isn’t necessarily rooted in the sexual act, but it is paving the way for it.
There’s intimacy on the show other than the scenes between the lead two characters. Did you have any favorite scenes outside of Simon and Daphne?
The Anthony and Siena story line is really exciting. It was so much fun to film — they had such great chemistry. There were moments where there’s such joy in the room with those scenes. Everything is so nuanced, it’s forbidden or at least it’s looked down on, so everything was done in secret. That was one of the fun things working on that story line; they’re having intercourse at her opera quarters and under the boxing-ring seating. Their story line was really exciting because there’s such clear chemistry between them.
What do people assume they know about your job that they don’t actually understand?
There’s a bit of a misconception as to how much control we have over narrative. I think that because our role suggests intimacy coordinator that we’re involved in the writers’ room, but we’re very much not. We’re involved in preproduction, for sure, and in terms of lots of meetings before that, lots of rehearsals. Which, I have to say, Bridgerton was so incredible about giving us time to rehearse, which is absolutely key. There’s a misconception that we’re from the adult-entertainment industry as well. There’s a big [difference] there, between the actual act of sexual intercourse versus the simulation of sexual intercourse.
How did you get into intimacy coordination?
It had always been floating around in my brain, from when I was 18 in theater roles. I came in through stage combat and the fight side of the industry. It is full of techniques and safety protocols, and rules and established ways of doing things. It’s very regimented, and what’s so interesting is that intimacy is not. I really saw that, especially when working with scenes of domestic violence. The violence was handled brilliantly, but there was something not quite right about the intimacy. That brought it into a stark contrast for me.
The regimented aspect of the stage combat world didn’t add up with what I saw onstage and screen in terms of intimacy. I started researching it in about 2015, I started having a look at what we could do about it, how we could change it. People hire stunt coordinators and fight directors because they understand that even if we might experience some aspect of violence in our personal lives, that doesn’t mean we can automatically direct it, with no training and technical aspects. There’s been a confusion for a long time that because lots of us might experience intimacy in our personal lives, that then it’s easy to re-create it for an audience. And that’s not always the case.
What’s something people assume they know about intimacy onscreen that tends to be forgotten?
It’s all the in between moments that we don’t always see onscreen. What’s lovely about working in a Regency-esque world is that we see all those hand touches. It’s a world of restraint and rules, but you get the slight touch of a hand, and even taking someone’s arm is so heightened. And sex can be so silly! It’s often portrayed so formally, when the actual act can be quite silly and fun, and I think we can see glimpses of that throughout Bridgerton.
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