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Clarie Foy says that the work of intimacy coordinators on sets is useful but that even they aren’t enough to stop her from feeling exposed while performing sex scenes.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour Podcast while promoting her latest series, A Very British Scandal, Foy elaborated on why she feels sex scenes make her feel exploited as a woman, regardless of how a scene is handled on set. The actress, who plays Duchess of Argyll — a woman who was unfairly branded a nymphomaniac and adulterer by the media and her then-husband, the 11th Duke of Argyll, during their 1963 divorce proceedings — had to perform intimacy scenes while filming BBC One series.
“It’s a really hard line because basically you do feel exploited when you are a woman and you are having to perform fake sex onscreen,” she told Woman’s Hour host Emma Barnett. “You can’t help but feel exploited. It’s grim — it’s the grimmest thing you can do. You feel exposed. Everyone can make you try to not feel that way but it’s, unfortunately, the reality.”
Foy went on to add that her decision to do the scenes for A Very British Scandal was rooted in the fact that for the subject matter it was pivotal. But that she didn’t want it to be what people traditionally see when it comes to sex onscreen.
“My thing was that I felt very strongly that it had to be in it, but I wanted it to be female,” she said. “I did not want it be that sort of awful climactic sexual experience you often see on the cinema screen.”
The Electrical Life of Louis Wain star also praised intimacy coordinators for how open and frank they are about the subject matter of their work while on set.
“It’s sort of amazing the things that they are able to say. It just makes me feel like a 12-year-old. I just start laughing talking about what body parts people have and where you cannot and where you can touch them and the padding that you can use, but it’s really useful,” she explained. “I don’t even know how you get to the point where you make something like Normal People, for example, which I think was extraordinary in the way it portrayed actual intercourse.”
Foy’s upcoming BBC 4 series is arriving at a time when Hollywood is increasingly reframing the narrative around how women have been portrayed and treated by workplaces, the media and cinema’s own lenses. When asked about whether Foy believes there’s been a cultural shift around listening to women, the Emmy winner says “a genie has been let out of the bottle and it can’t go back in.”
“I can only speak from personal experience as opposed to like a cultural revolution kind of way, but I feel like there is a room and an acceptance now that I never would have had,” she said on the podcast. “It wasn’t just the fact that you were told — there will be scenarios at work, for example, where things will be happening that I would feel were wrong, but I was told that I wasn’t right by society. And now what happens is there’s a forum for me and my friends and my colleagues where, if something’s wrong, there’s someone who goes, ‘Yes, I’m affirming that is actually wrong.'”
Foy says there’s now more room in society for women to “come out with things and talk about experiences and share what you feel is right and wrong” and be supported and backed by an “avalanche of people” that, in her experience of being a woman, “wasn’t there before.” Still, Foy has reservations about just how widely this change has occurred.
“I also think it’s taken us this long to get to this place,” Foy admits. “And I think it would be very naive to think that just a couple of events can change how everyone thinks.”
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