Emma Thompson hits back at Ian McKellen amid row over intimacy coordinators

Emma Thompson wearing red lipstick

Dame Emma Thompson has hit back at Sir Ian McKellen’s comments about intimacy coordinators, calling them “absolutely essential” to the film industry. 

On Sunday (5 February), McKellen was interviewed by poet Simon Armitage on his BBC Radio 4 show The Poet Laureate Has Gone To His Shed

During the interview, the 83-year-old actor questioned the need for intimacy coordinators, saying in the earlier stages of his career, matters requiring intimacy coordinators would have “taken care of themselves”.

“I can imagine there are situations when you have to be careful and people find it difficult to be intimate, and therefore a coordinator is just the thing,

“But why can’t it be the director who does that? Why has it got to be somebody who’s been trained in how to do it?” he said. 

Intimacy coordinators specialise in choreographing and coordinating scenes of simulated sex and nudity for film and tv, ensuring the moments of faux intimacy are consensual and safe. 

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The role is a relatively new profession in the world of TV and film but following the #MeToo movement has become a staple on sets across the world. 

In response to McKellen’s comments, Thompson – who has been outspoken in her support for intimacy coordinators in the past – said “It’s all very well, if you’re a bloke it’s a different kind of thing.”

“I think if you’re a young woman on a set, which is largely peopled by men, the crew will be 90% men and the women won’t be on the set with you, because generally speaking we do not have parity on any level on film sets, it’s all men.

“And that’s a very uncomfortable position for a young woman who’s starting in the industry, but it is absolutely essential that there is someone there to protect them. Absolutely essential,” she told Andrew Marr on his LBC radio show.

Continuing, the 63-year-old Matilda the Musical added: “You cannot imagine what people went through in some of those big series when they first started the streaming series. They were just told when they walked on set, now this is what we’ve got to do… And that’s absolutely outrageous.”

Clarifying her experiences, Thompson said she has worked with young actresses who have been left “traumatised” they their experiences on film sets. 

“My passion for intimacy coordinators and protection for young women particularly, and young men, I mean, it’s not necessarily an easy thing for any person,” she explained.