Insider spoke with Katharine Hardman, the intimacy coordinator on season two of "The Great."
She said the amount of clothing a couple wears in sex scenes hints at the nature of their relationship.
Characters only have "implied full nudity" if there's true intimacy between them, Hardman explained.
Warning: Spoilers ahead for season two of Hulu's "The Great."
Katharine Hardman quickly learned that unique challenges arise while orchestrating sex scenes set in 18th-century Russia.
"You can't have undressing happening and [have] it be accurate," the intimacy coordinator for season two of "The Great" said during a recent interview with Insider.
Women in Catherine The Great's court, the epicenter of Tony McNamara's fictional series, wore tightly-laced corsets and wide panniers below thick, rich fabrics. Wardrobe designer Sharon Long warned Hardman that it would realistically take "about half-an-hour," and another person, for a woman to fully disrobe from her costume.
"We can't have that. It's going to be fully clothed, or you're seeing the end. It can be clothes strewn, but they won't be getting redressed because somebody would have to come in and do that," Hardman explained.
So, a set-wide effort commenced.
Hardman — with the help of the directors, wardrobe department, stunt coordinators, and actors — pieced together each of the show's many sex scenes. They factored in costuming, historical context, physical logistics, and, most of all, the story they were trying to tell.
The characters' nudity levels indicate their feelings for each other
Initially an obstacle, the difficult-to-remove costumery evolved into a narrative tool.
Casual, "quick sex up against a wall" meant clothes stayed on, Hardman explained. Sex with feeling, on the other hand, gave the team reason to find workarounds, like the Velcro corset Catherine (Elle Fanning) wears after declaring her love for Peter (Nicholas Hoult).
"If it's going to be fling sex, they don't take their clothes off. Whereas when you have the real intimacy, we're really showing another step up of a relationship. When two characters are in that postcoital bliss, that's when you're seeing the implied full nudity or there's more skin," Hardman said, adding, "It became quite a nice arc through the whole thing."
There are situations in "The Great" that could have easily fallen into the trap of showing bodies just to show bodies, Hardman told Insider. Fortunately, each episode's director was intentional about how they portrayed the show's more intimate scenes.
"It was about what the connection is, what the story is behind those intimate interactions," she said.
Even in the nude scenes, actors wore 'modesty garments'
Before the actors began shooting, they each signed a waiver outlining their comfort level in scenes with nudity. Hardman made sure the boundaries voiced remained in place on-set.
She also had one-on-one conversations with the actors after they read the script. They discussed the various "modesty garments" available to put in place, like barriers, cushions, sideless G-strings, and nipple covers.
"There is all the really unsexy stuff that goes into it. And the costumes are exceptional, so they can hide all sorts of things as well," she said.
According to Hardman, the waivers and check-ins allowed actors to say, "Oh, I can breathe because I know it's not going to go outside of that." A conversation with Gwilym Lee, the actor that plays Grigor Dymov, came to mind, specifically. He told her that it's "nice to know that somebody is there just for that reason."
"The Great" season two is currently available to stream on Hulu.
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