August 15, 2022

‘I want this utopian world of sexuality to be one where everyone just sleeps with everyone else’

When it premiered in early 2020 – which, if you haven’t successfully buried the memory, was also “early pandemic” – Normal People arrived on its self-made tsunami of headlines thanks to a series of intimate sex scenes.

Viewers had rarely felt as voyeuristic as they did watching Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones act out those sex scenes, and the show itself definitely went some way in normalising conversations around sex.

Jump forward two years, and Conversations With Friends is likely to do for sexuality what Normal People did for sex.

The same creative team are behind this Sally Rooney adaptation, too: director Lenny Abrahamson, writer Alice Birch, producers at Element Pictures. The story revolves around Frances (Alison Oliver) and her best friend/ex-girlfriend Bobbi (Sasha Lane), and their chance encounter with famed novelist Melissa (Jemima Kirke) and her actor husband Nick (Joe Alwyn).

As Bobbi finds herself being more and more drawn to Melissa, Frances embarks on an affair with Nick, and every relationship within the quartet is put to the test.

While this show also delves into some intimate, realistic sex scenes, what makes it stand out from being a Normal People clone is that it isn’t just about sex but presenting some bigger questions about modern sexuality.

This was a question we put to director Abrahamson when we had the opportunity to talk to him in the run-up to the show’s release.

When we asked Abrahamson about how they approached sexuality and LGBTQ+ topics for the new show, he told us the following:

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“I think that is really important. It was one of the things that Sally has done so brilliantly in her novels. And it was one of the reasons I was attracted to them in the first place. The revelation for me when I was reading her books was both the familiarity – namely being in Dublin, going to college – I had so many of the experiences that are in those novels that I relate to.

“But also the vast gulf that separates my generation from the generation of the characters that she is writing about. The fact that they are not bombarded with all of the negativity around sex, that was absolutely a staple of the culture when I was growing up. It is amazing.

“And I know there will be people who will go ‘God, it is so woke, everybody is so open about everything!’ but actually, call it what you like, I don’t care. It is healthy for me that people are open to each other in whatever way they present themselves and that that expression of your desire doesn’t have to be fitted into some sort of narrow category.”

When we asked Sasha Lane about sexuality in the show, she responded:

“I think that [it is all about] exploring your own sexuality in general and having an open mind. I just knew that Bobbi should feel a certain way, which was ‘You can love multiple people, you can try it out for yourself, I only care for women, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be intrigued by this person’. It is all just about exploring and going with your own mood of the day.

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“I think that’s the beauty of it. Can’t knock it til you try it kinda thing. And who are you to judge and who are you to answer how you feel about yourself and how you feel about what you want unless it is right in front of you and you decide you want that.”

And when asked if the topic of sexuality came up while making the show, Jemima Kirke told us:

“I don’t remember there ever being any conversations about anyone being gay or straight. It was just how Melissa and Bobbi are attracted to each other, but [Melissa] is in love with Nick. [The sexuality] wasn’t pointed out, and I liked that it wasn’t.

“For me, how I want this utopian world of sexuality to be at some point, is where everyone just sleeps with everyone else. It’s not labelled, it’s just attraction.”

You can check out our interviews with all of the cast – Alison Oliver, Sasha Lane, Joe Alwyn and Jemima Kirke – below.

Conversations With Friends is available to watch on BBC iPlayer now.



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