Harlots’ Jessica Brown Findlay: It’s time to stop fixating on nipples and have intelligent discussions about sex

Emma Powell
Time to be open: Jessica Brown Findlay in Harlots: ITV

Jessica Brown Findlay has said it’s time to have intelligent discussions about sex – and to stop fixating on a “bum or a nipple” on screen.

The 27-year-old actress, made famous for her role as Lady Sybil in Downton Abbey, plays an 18th century sex worker in new ITV period drama Harlots.

Speaking to the Standard Online, she said: “If you’re going to have a serious and complex discussion about sex, bodies are going to come into it. However instead of finding a subject or a story and sexing it up [Harlots] is talking about sex because it has to be included. It’s not there by accident, it’s there by its subject matter.

“It’s time to be more open. In 2017 it feels time that we should be able to have that intelligent discussion and not get stuck on a bum or a nipple.

“I’m excited that it will make waves and spark discussions that need to be had.”

Brown Findlay plays Charlotte Wells, the most coveted courtesan in town, alongside Samantha Morton and Lesley Manville. She said the production was “incredibly difficult” to film, but that she felt “safe” working with an entirely female team from directors to writers and producers.

Sexual: Jessica Brown Findlay and Hugh Skinner as Charlotte Wells and Sir George Howard (ITV)

“Working in a female led piece was irresistible, and incredibly unusual,” she said. “Because of the subject matter it felt really empowering and safe to get vulnerable. I felt that the discussions and subject matter were able to go deeper. The whole thing felt emboldened. There was no gimmick about it – it just made so much sense.”

Speaking about why she was drawn to her character she said: “Charlotte is volatile and highly intelligent, especially emotionally. She wears her armour but underneath that is a lot of rage and she’s quite self-destructive and witty and funny as f***.

“That mixing pot and complexity to her is where that richness lies. She felt human, hence why it was complex. It was really liberating to be able to have all of that.”

Harlots is on ITV Encore on March 27 at 10pm.