- 01 May 20
"I’m totally responsible and would never do anything to make anyone feel uncomfortable," Lenny Abrahamson says of portraying the physical relationship between Marianne and Connell
Some of the listeners to Joe Duffy's Liveline yesterday were scandalised – were they ever going to be anything else? - but generally the reaction to how Lenny Abrahamson's TV adaptation of Normal People handles the intimate, complex, tumultuous relationship between students Marianne and Connell has been extremely positive.
Starring Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal, the twelve-episode series had its own Intimacy Co-ordinator – a role that has become more popular on film and television sets since #MeToo. Ita O’Brien took care of that side of things on Normal People, and Abrahamson can’t sing her praises highly enough.
“When I heard about this role, my first reaction was to be sceptical, thinking, ‘This isn’t stunts or car chases, it’s just human behaviour'," he reflects. "And then I thought: is this just like having a health and safety person on set, or just a response to MeToo – and of course I’m totally responsible and would never do anything to make anyone feel uncomfortable. But then I met Ita and she’s so great, funny, down-to-earth and brilliant at setting up a way of working that gives you space as a director to shoot in a way that’s really safe and positive for the crew and cast.
“She has brilliant tricks for making it look like things are happening when they’re not," he continues. "She has videos of every kind of animal having sex, so that if it’s useful for the actors, they can say, ‘Oh this is like slugs, it’s about twisting and turning around each other'. It gives a vocabulary and gets rid of that fear of people being asked to express things about their own sexual life, which is not something that anybody should be asked to do. It turns it into choreography, and we can talk about it very clearly, with no euphemisms, every body part is named. And after a while, it just feels real and grown-up and not silly and coy and worrying.”
Abrahamson believes that Normal People succeeds in challenging the coyness of how films in particular have often handled sex scenes. There are no sudden cuts between couples kissing and curtains billowing or fires flickering. He stays with his characters throughout their experiences.
“How I shot, if we were moving from dialogue to sex, there’s no point where we enter a different dimension; it’s just a continuation of their interaction. We didn’t want to be coy, or arch, and didn’t want to make it conventionally beautiful, but to be truthful to who they are and what they’re doing, whether they’re talking or making love. The reasons the sex scenes are so powerful is probably because we are just trying to continue telling the story of this relationship, and we’re not just going into sex mode. In some movies, they treat sex scenes like they treat car chases or gun fights, like an opportunity to try a different form of filmmaking.”
Shooting with intimate close-ups of his lead’s lingering glances, capturing every electricity-creating touch between them, and with a soundscape that makes you feel like you can hear the character’s skin, the show is incredibly sensual. Basically, it’s torturous for people who haven’t touched another human being in a month.
“Yeah, I don’t think it’s going to satisfy people’s cravings, I think it’s going to sharpen them!” Abrahamson laughs, half sympathetically, half sadistically. “I was thinking about everyone who is isolating alone or with a pal, how are people coping? Because you start to miss the human touch, people’s skin – and that is all over the show. God help everybody! It should come with a warning!”
Read Roe McDermott's full interview at https://www.hotpress.com/culture/interview-lenny-abrahamson-adapting-sally-rooneys-normal-people-22813457
The third episode of Normal People airs on RTÉ One at 10pm on Tuesday May 5.