The Surprising Truth About *Those* Sex Scenes In ‘Conversations With Friends’

Alison Oliver and Joe Alwyn tell marie claire what actually happened behind the scenes.
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If there’s one thing we can always be sure of, it’s that any production involving the prose of Sally Rooney will involve a whole bunch of sex scenes. 

The Irish author’s unique writing style and raw observations of sexual relationships have cemented her as one of the most talked about, if not one of the most popular authors of our time. So when we discovered that her 2017 debut novel Conversations With Friends was getting the TV treatment, we knew we were headed down the same route as Normal People, her second (very horny) book which became one of the biggest television series of 2020. 

On May 16, the 12-part series finally dropped, and over the next few weeks, you can rest assured everyone is going to be talk about the show, and specifically, the chemistry between the two main characters. 

Conversations with Friends follows Irish student and script writer Frances, who meets husband and wife Nick and Melissa during a performance with her best friend and former lover, Bobbi, at a local bar. Frances and Nick have instant chemistry, and they begin an affair. The narrative follows Frances’ internal conflict as she navigates her first relationship with a man, while trying to maintain her friendship with her ex and best friend. 

Series director Lenny Abrahamson cast newcomer Alison Oliver to play the introverted, considered character of Frances in the series, while Joe Alwyn plays Nick. Like their characters, the pair’s instant chemistry is undeniable, though that’s not to say they got there in the most traditional of ways. 

“It was Covid, so a lot of [our meetings] were over Zoom,” Oliver tells marie claire Australia in our own Zoom interview alongside Alwyn.  

“But then we finally first met in a hotel in Belfast,” she adds as Alwyn chimes in: “Yea we had some beers and then spent a few days together and reading through the episodes. We just hung out.” 

It sounds pretty simple in theory—but their dynamic on-screen is something else, particularly during the more intimate sex scenes. So how did they do it, despite having met mere months before, with half of that being in tiny pixelated squares? 

Well as it turns out, there’s a lot more to filming it than you’d think. 

(Credit: Amazon)

“With the intimate scenes, you do so much rehearsing for it, and you talk about it there’s so many things there to protect you and to make you comfortable, ” Oliver tells us.

“They’re actually the less difficult ones [to film] because its so rehearsed, and to an extent, we know how it’s going to go.” 

In fact, the hardest scenes to film were unexpected, the pair tell us. 

“It’s the little moments that are kind of harder in a way to unpick, you need to sit in them for a while,” Alwyn describes. 

At this point, Oliver’s memory is jogged as she recalls her first day on set: “That reminds me, the first day there was a scene where I was running up the stairs, and I had to do it 10 times because I was thinking about it too much. Stuff like that I found so hard [to film], like just being normal.” 

(Credit: Amazon)

While the series stands out for its simple, yet loaded dialogue (thanks to Rooney’s descriptive writing and Abrahamson’s directing), there’s just as much weight in the silent moments. 

This, more than ever, is where we see the chemistry between Frances and Nick begin to build. There’s long stares, there’s darting eyes and there’s lingering eye contact. 

“Sally [Rooney] is so good at those small moments of miscommunications and the things unsaid as much as what’s said,” Alwyn tells us. “And I think that’s kind of what’s great for Lenny’s [Abrahamson] world as well, he’s so good at creating those environments.” 

“I find it more interesting when you’re playing out that style rather than just saying what you’re feeling all the time, it feels more true to life—we often don’t know how to communicate what we want to say and if the person is on the same page as us.”

Oliver agrees, adding that if these characters were to be in real life situations, they probably wouldn’t speak much either because of the intensity they’re going through, and because that intensity is difficult to pin-point.

“That’s what makes the silence so loud, it’s just really exciting to play and feel.” 

When it came to understanding their characters a little more, Oliver had a slightly easier time spotting similarities than Joe did. 

“There are probably elements of the character I could’ve drawn on in a broader scene, but specifically and contextually I wasn’t like ‘oh yea I did that a few years ago’,” he laughs. Thank goodness, too—Alwyn has been in a relationship with famous singer Taylor Swift since 2016. 

Oliver, on the other hand?

“There’s loads of things I recognised [in similarity between herself and Frances], particularly the friendship dynamic and that deep innate understanding between women,” she says, referencing the close friendship Frances shares with Bobbi. 

“I have sisters and I recognise that with our bond with each other. That felt very close to home I think.” 

You can watch Conversations with Friends by signing up to Amazon Prime here.

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