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Normal People

Paul Mescal says Normal People sex scenes were ‘quite unsexy’ to film

The actor has recalled an awkward moment during one of his and Daisy Edgar-Jones’ intimate moments

In the midst of lockdown, one TV series came to save us: the BBC adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People. Starring Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones in the leading roles of lovestruck teens Connell and Marianne, the show became an instant hit – in part because of its revolutionary sex scenes.

Featuring awkward moments, explorations of consent, and a focus on both male and female pleasure and desire, Normal People offered a nuanced and authentic portrayal of sexual encounters – something rarely seen on TV.

Now, in an interview with The Mirror, Mescal has revealed that the sexiness on screen didn’t quite translate to filming. “Filming those scenes is probably the least sexy thing you’ll ever do in your life,” he said, “so it’s amazing that they turned out so brilliantly, because at the time, they are quite unsexy.”

The actor also recalled one particularly awkward moment. “On the Friday of the first week, me and Daisy had to do a day of sex scenes and we were covered in this gel called Egyptian Magic,” he explained. 

“It’s basically fake sweat. We had to switch positions and our bodies were in close contact. When we separated, it made a really loud fart noise. Me and Daisy started hysterically laughing, but the crew and director (Lenny Abrahamson) all thought that one of us had farted and really were trying to preserve our dignity.”

All of Normal People’s sex scenes were overseen by intimacy coordinator Ita O’Brien, who describes her role as similar to a stunt coordinator. “As an intimacy coordinator, we’re bringing to the industry a shift to help everybody know that just as with a dance or a fight, we’re doing intimate content, we’re bringing a skill and a structure that allows everyone to work professionally,” she told Dazed in May.

Speaking about the intimate moments in Normal People, O’Brien added: “It’s really positive. I’ve had other people say to me that they would even recommend that people show (the first sex scene) to their teenage kids as a really positive depiction of losing virginity.”

Mescal and Edgar-Jones cited O’Brien as being “wonderful” in taking “the pressure off completely” while the actors filmed sex scenes. In an interview with Dazed, Mescal said: “The first day in particular, they made us feel as safe as humanly possible doing something that is slightly bizarre in the context of the normal world.”

However, the world quickly proved that it can’t have nice things, as a 22-minute compilation of the Normal People sex scenes soon appeared on Pornhub. Ed Guiney, the show’s executive producer, said the incident was “a violation of copyright and, more importantly, deeply disrespectful to the actors involved and to the wider creative team”.

Look back at Dazed’s interview with Normal People’s intimacy coordinator here, and its stars here.