In the opening season of The Deuce, Emily Meade’s character, Lori, has a lot of sex—all of it transactional, none of it glorified. Upon arriving in New York from Minnesota, she signs up with a pimp named C.C. and becomes a prostitute and later a porn actor. Both jobs are detailed graphically. Before The Deuce, Meade’s career had included several difficult sex scenes (the first, when she was 16, involved her character’s rape by an older man)—but she had powered through them with gritted teeth. Approaching Season 2, however, she felt ill: She now knew just how dense with difficult sex The Deuce could be, and #MeToo had brought back memories of sexual traumas she had suffered in her own life.
The first time Meade worked closely with Rodis was for a scene in which her character travels to Los Angeles for the Adult Film Association of America Awards. There she meets a talent scout named Greg, played by Ryan Farrell; they flirt, pile into the back of his limousine, snort some cocaine, and—fully clothed—make out. By any standard, let alone The Deuce’s, the scene is tame. Meade was nonetheless anxious. She didn’t know Farrell, and the atmosphere on TV and movie sets had recently grown tense. “This is right when we came back to work, right after Time’s Up. Everyone’s walking on eggshells,” she told me. “Obviously any decent man is going to feel uncomfortable just grabbing at my breast.” Farrell told me that he was, in fact, concerned about Meade’s well-being, but wasn’t sure how to effectively convey that concern. “If you keep telling somebody you’re not a creep, it’s kind of creepy,” he said.
Ahead of the shoot, the episode’s director, Steph Green, explained her vision of the scene to Rodis, who called the actors to run through a proposed plan. Afterward, Rodis made sure that each actor’s contract had a rider stipulating that Farrell would touch Meade’s clothed breasts, and Meade would grab Farrell’s crotch through his pants, under which he’d be wearing a prosthetic penis. The day of filming, Green, Rodis, and both actors met in private to prepare. (Green has long run trust- and chemistry-building exercises before intimacy scenes.) Before rehearsing the scene, she and Rodis asked the actors to hold each other’s gaze for a long interval. The actors also took turns inviting each other to touch agreed-upon body parts: hand, knee, thigh, and so on.
When it was time to shoot, the aforementioned prosthetic was produced. “It was an actual fake penis that they use in some of the scenes,” Farrell said. “I was like, ‘That’s pretty extreme!’ ” He put it in his pants. “Emily got to actually feel it when it was on top of me,” he said, “and when things like that start happening, it’s an icebreaker, and everybody loosens up a bit.”
Farrell and Meade got in the back of the limo, together with a cameraperson, while Rodis and Green watched the scene via monitor. (By long-standing tradition, TV and movie sex scenes are filmed on closed sets, without any unnecessary people milling around.) Early in the proceedings, they paused to fine-tune the way Farrell was touching Meade’s breast. “His hand was sort of flat,” Meade recalled. As a result, Rodis said, it looked as if Farrell’s character was pinning Lori down instead of caressing her. “If you give your hand just a little bit of a cup to it and bring it underneath,” she told Farrell, “it isn’t going to look like you’re forcing her down.” The small adjustment didn’t require added contact or pressure, Rodis said, but it made the scene into “an intimate moment and not something that he was pushing her into.” In the context of Lori’s story line, that was a crucial distinction. For all her sexual encounters up to this point in the series, this is the first one we see unfold entirely outside her pimp’s clutches—the first one she appears to actually want.