Seventeen minutes into my conversation with Emily Meade, she reveals an interesting (and in my opinion, very important) fact about herself: She collects wolf T-shirts. Yes, those screen-printed tees you find at mountain resort gift shops are an Emily Meade staple, and I’m actually here for it. Now, let me give you another reason to love the actress: The 30-year-old has brought incredible change to Hollywood.
It was the height of #MeToo and Time’s Up when Meade, after years of playing sexualized characters—most recently prostitute turned rising porn star Lori on the HBO series The Deuce—realized an important role was missing from TV and film sets. So she went to HBO and asked for what she would learn is a special position called an intimacy coordinator. Meade’s concerns about current sex protocols were heard, resulting in HBO announcing that it will have intimacy coordinators on all shows containing explicit sexual material. But the fight didn’t stop there. Meade, alongside Alicia Rodis, the associate director and co-founder of Intimacy Directors International, presented their case next to SAG-AFTRA (the American labor union representing television and film actors, among other media professionals), which implemented standardized guidelines for intimacy coordinators this July. It’s one of the proudest moments of Meade’s career.
Ahead of the third and final season of The Deuce (premiering September 9 on HBO), we talked to Meade about creating change in Hollywood, the surprising role she’d like to take on next, and, yes, wolf T-shirts.
It’s the third and final season of The Deuce. What have been some of your proudest moments working on this project?
I’ve had some really incredible moments in my career within the acting and the story of the show and then outside of the show as well. As far as outside of the show, having a part in bringing on an intimacy coordinator and helping to change the guidelines of sex scenes on the show has definitely been one of the proudest moments of my career. And as far as within the actual storytelling of the show, I think this season my character, Lori, has really come into her own as a character, and I’ve had some really profoundly sad moments but also some really fun moments as an actor and did a lot of things that I had never done. It’s interesting because you sign on to it not even knowing what you are going to be doing, so everything you do on it as it comes is this wild, exciting thing of like oh wow, I’m going to be doing this for the world. So yeah, there have been a lot of exciting things.
Let’s talk about the intimacy coordinator. You were instrumental in getting HBO to hire this position not just for The Deuce but for all of its shows. Can you explain the importance of an intimacy coordinator?
Yes, so long-ish story short is in the wake of #MeToo and Time’s Up, I just so happened to be in the middle of a show that not only was part of the conversation but had a large amount of sexual content. It’s something I’ve dealt with throughout my whole career and had my own issues with, but the timing of [the show] happening while Time’s Up and #MeToo were happening and all these conversations exploding gave me an opportunity to really reflect on how hard and perpetuating these issues have been, and so I came up with this idea to have a person on set whose main job was to just oversee, help choreograph, and help communicate when it comes to sex scenes. I thought I would feel a lot more comfortable, and it would actually help a lot of people I’ve witnessed being very uncomfortable on set. Part of my realization came from thinking about how with stunts, there are stunt coordinators, and with animals, there are animal coordinators, but there has never been a special person who is there to deal with the sensitivity of sex. So I went to HBO and asked them for this, and it turned out there was already a position that did exist called an intimacy coordinator, but we just weren’t utilizing it in film and television. So then they hired Alicia Rodis, and she came on, and it expanded to all of HBO, and now it’s actually become a SAG rule, which is something I’m also really proud of.
You have been such a champion for women using their voices in this industry. What are some other changes you would like to see implemented?
I went with Alicia Rodis and other intimacy coordinators directly to SAG, and we presented our case for why it should be a SAG rule to have somebody on set if there is going to be sexual simulation. For me, that in and of itself will trickle down and lead to evolution in other little issues. For example, I’ve lost certain jobs because I get asked, not directly by the director or the producers but by casting, if I’m willing to do full-frontal nudity, and when I said I wanted to have a conversation about it, I didn’t wind up getting the job. I think having an intimacy coordinator as a part of the new system would automatically change the way that was handled because the conversation about these things would be required, so it wouldn’t be an issue.
So many roles when you go to audition for them say nudity required or sexuality required, and obviously there are many roles that do require that to tell the story, but that’s always been a really scary, daunting thing when we don’t know what that means. You have to blindly sign on to even be seen for a part. That is something I’ve always been disturbed by. It will obviously be a process, and I’m sure there will be pushback, but if having an intimacy coordinator and having these conversations becomes part of the system, I think that’s just going to naturally change a lot of these issues. So I’m hoping this is not just about having an intimacy coordinator, but it has a butterfly effect on how the rest of these things are run.
Going back to the final season of The Deuce, what are some of your fondest memories working with the incredible cast?
It’s been so fun, and I think each season it got more and more fun because not only did we get to know each other more, but I actually just think even the things we got to do, the performances became more fun. It started in this very bleak world, and we were all just trying to figure out that world and each other, and by the end, it’s cheesy to say because everyone says it, but we really did become a family and there really was that symbiotic connection that we all had. I feel so fortunate that all the people I’ve gotten to work with have been so wonderful. And especially this season being in the ’80s, there was something about that that was so much more humorous, just like the goofy clothes and the music. I think it really helped to balance the darkness of the show. We’ve all known each other for five years now, and seeing everyone walk around in their silly wigs and costumes looking kind of ridiculous was nice.
What are you taking away from playing Lori for five years?
I think I’m taking away a lighter load in a lot of ways. A lot of [this role] was a huge catharsis for me. The strange thing of art imitating life and life imitating art and how I realized we needed this intimacy coordinator and that this is something important was by having such a high volume of sexuality on the show and realizing my own personal issues. I had to disassociate a lot in my life and my career and disconnect from myself sexually and emotionally in that way to allow myself to be more in touch with my feelings and get more sensitive. I see how much it has transformed my intimacy in real life and my relationship with my own sexuality. I do connect to that desire when you are young to have sexual power and to be seen in that way and feeling like it’s your only source of power in the world. And so to kind of morph through that with Lori and come out the other end of it very different and having a very different perspective than I started has been hugely transformative. I hope after this I play some lighter, more humorous characters.
Season three takes places in 1985, which was an interesting time for fashion. Can you tell me about some of the standout looks we can expect to see?
I had some great matchy white leather outfits, a lot of shoulder pads. In general, I kind of expected this year to be the most uncomfortable and ugly clothes, but it didn’t end up that way. Practically everything I wore I would wear in real life. It was a lot of fun stuff and actually a lot more comfortable because it was so much spandex and stretchy material versus the really unforgiving polyester and leather of the ’70s. I always joked that it became the same evolution as Sex and the City. Each season, the clothes get so much better, going from the beginning and this sort of drab world to this really fabulous-looking world where the characters are making more money, and it’s the ’80s. I kind of loved everything I wore. I was very pleased every time I went to fittings. I thought it was going to be scarier.
Do you have an all-around favorite Lori fashion moment?
That’s hard. I feel like there are looks that are more iconic looks of hers, and then there are more casually what I would wear in my life. I think on a character level, it was really fun and funny seeing Lori in her Little Red Riding Hood porn outfit. There are all these paparazzi pictures of me running around the street in it, and I personally think it looks like a superhero costume, which I love. I liked that look. Oh and the robes! Those are my favorite. Lori would wear these glamorous silk vintage robes, and I’m always in the market for something like that.
How would you describe your personal style?
I always feel goofy describing my style, probably eclectic. I’ve always been more about timeless and vintage. I’m not very good with modern, current fashion. I’m always aspiring to another era and switch back and forth between very glamorous, pretty ’50s/’60s/’70s and boyish oversize T-shirt and jeans. I used to dress a lot more ’70s until I was on The Deuce, and I felt very cheesy and like I was wearing a costume in real life. I think I have to wait a few years to go back to it.
What would you say is the Emily Meade staple, the piece you are always wearing?
I would say vintage T-shirts in general. Wolf shirts, I collect wolf shirts. You know, they have those cheesy shirts with wolves on them, and they are made for slightly nerdy people. Any good wolf shirt I can find. If someone in my life were to see a wolf shirt, I would hope they would associate it with me.
What kind of role do you want to tackle next?
I think it’s surprising because I’m usually doing dark, severe stories and roles, but I really want to do something funny. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something light. My favorite comedy has humor in darkness and finding that balance. Of course, I want to do every genre and work with amazing directors and actors, but I would love to next, especially coming out of [The Deuce] world, play some sort of ridiculous human being and dive into that more than working through my demons. I’ve been really desiring to sing lately too. So either some sort of musical thing or comedy thing, different from what I’ve done.
Shop Meade's Fall Fashion Essentials
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“Love a clunky fall boot. It keeps me warm while summoning my teenage tough girl.”
“Love a long floral skirt for any season. This is a perfect fall option for those days that still have some sun.”
“A classic brown leather boot is another favorite fall item. [You can] dress it casual or dressy—the perfect accent.”