However basic all of this might seem, Rodis’s work represents a major departure from how sex scenes have historically been planned—or, as has often been the case, improvised. Rodis, who is 38, began acting onstage in her teens and continued through her 20s, when she added some TV acting and also took up fight directing and stunt work. On TV sets, she found, actresses were sometimes expected to shed their shirt without advance notice. As for sex scenes, performers were often left to muddle their way through the action. Some directors had an attitude of, as she put it, “I want to discuss what your character does for everything until it gets to anything sexual, and then just go for it.” The message that sends to actors is: “ ‘You know how to kiss; kiss how you kiss.’ But no one should give a shit about how the actor kisses”—or comports himself sexually—“it should be about the character.” At best, this inattention produced lackluster sex scenes. At worst, it suggested an unserious attitude that could leave performers feeling confused if not traumatized.
Rodis was struck by how much more care went into staging physical interactions that were violent or dangerous than into staging those that were sexual. For a fight scene, choreographers mapped out every beat, helping actors work through each movement in slow motion, over and over, until they were automatic. In stunt work, a focus on safety was considered “nonnegotiable.” Why weren’t sex scenes governed by the same approach?
When Rodis heard that a fellow fight choreographer, Tonia Sina, had begun offering what she called intimacy direction and choreography services, she reached out to her. In 2015, the two women joined forces with a third actor turned fight director, Siobhan Richardson, to found their own company, Intimacy Directors International. Initially most of their work was in the theater, where a series of scandals had focused attention on the question of how sex was performed onstage.