It's a Sin director Peter Hoar on censorship, authenticity, and *that* sex controversy

David Opie
·10-min read
Photo credit: Channel 4
Photo credit: Channel 4

From Digital Spy

Rainbow Crew is an ongoing interview series which celebrates the best LGBTQ+ representation on TV. Each instalment showcases talent working on both sides of the camera, including queer creatives and allies to the community.

Next up, we're speaking to It's a Sin director Peter Hoar.

"Overwhelmed" is one of the first words that comes to mind when we think about all the ways It's a Sin made us feel, and "overwhelmed" is also one of the first words Peter Hoar mentions to us when we connect via Zoom.

Although he's referring specifically to the fan response, it seems that even the show's director couldn't escape the devastating feels of It's a Sin. "I watched it all again with my husband," Peter tells me, "And I just cried. A lot. Just looking at the cast playing these people was heartbreaking sometimes."

Across an enviable career that spans everything from Daredevil and Doctor Who to Umbrella Academy and The Last Kingdom, It's a Sin is Peter's best work yet precisely because it's so emotive. And nothing about the show is manipulative either. Every single tear it wrings out is absolutely earned thanks in large part to Peter and his authentic approach to storytelling.

As well as a deep dive into that Doctor Who tribute (which you can read here), Peter also shared his thoughts on sex, censorship, and why it's vital we tell the "right" kind of stories.

The AIDS crisis has been explored on screen before, so what sets It's a Sin apart for you personally?

I think that Britishness was quintessential to it, really. The crisis hasn't been spoken about much here. There were moments on EastEnders. There were moments on other shows.

A unique perspective is always something to cherish. Russell T Davies is someone who's never directly talked about this. It's been mentioned in passing, but it's not a story he's wanted to tell until now. And honestly, when a writer like that says, "I'm going to turn my gaze now onto this, and talk about it with my passion" – I think you can't not get behind it.

Photo credit: Channel 4
Photo credit: Channel 4

Russell, he's always had wisdom. But now, he's totally at the top of his game. He's always been good, but he's really good now. What makes this special is that it's Russell now, thinking back to then, with such power and insight.

So many people involved in the production of It's a Sin are queer themselves, and rightly so. Why do you think it's important for us as a community to tell our own stories?

Before I came on board, Russell had said he wanted a gay director to tell the story, because he wanted to make sure that the camera was looking at the right things.

There's a lot I have to do for my job, and it's not just about where I put the camera. But he wanted to make sure that the camera wasn't going to be too remote, and that it was intimate. Getting that intimacy through the camera is about getting it through the performance as well, and marrying the two together.

So I think, subconsciously, a gay man will think about all of that more… It's a given. You don't have to educate yourself as a gay man. Although, I'll be honest, I had to educate myself about a few things that I had sort of blissfully run past as a youngster.

I was a '90s emergent gay [laughs]. I was born in the '60s, but it was the '90s when I went a bit mad. And by that point, there was information. We knew what not to do. So I was really looking at those stories from the perspective of people who had nothing – no information.

You can really tell the difference between someone who has just researched marginalised experiences and someone who has actually lived them firsthand.

It's true. And recently, in my work, the word "authenticity" has been very important to me, no matter what I've done. I've done a lot of superhero stuff. I was very proud of The Umbrella Academy. And one of the things about that is, it's f**king mental, right? It's people with all sorts of weird powers. It's gothic-y. It's not really grounded. I don't like to do "grounded superhero".

Photo credit: Channel 4
Photo credit: Channel 4

But where you can bring it back to reality is by being authentic. If you had to live through all this, how does it really feel? It's been very important to me to be authentic within any kind of storytelling, because people will see through it if you're not.

My story is not unique. My story was: I was a very hesitant gay [laughs]. I was quite terrified.

I said to the boys, the cast, I was 18 when that advert came out, and I hadn't come out to myself at that point. But I still knew that sex could kill you. So from that point onwards, if I was honest, I'd been very careful and very scared. I'm not alone. There's hundreds of thousands – millions – of people who felt the same.

This authenticity is particularly important when it comes to sex. Can you tell us more about this and how the the intimacy coordinators helped bring that aspect of the show to life?

Firstly, intimacy coordinators – I'd never had that before, and I could not recommend them higher. It's quite lonely being a director sometimes, because everyone looks to you to be the decision-maker. The buck stops with you. You have to make things happen, and make it move.

Sex scenes are one of those areas. I want the people involved to feel OK, to feel safe, to feel comfortable, and to be able to perform while they are naked or simulating sex.

But I've done it on my own up to this point, and it's horrible. When I say "on my own", I've done it with the actors. But all these other crew members are just sitting around on their phones, and going, "Have they got it on yet? Are they naked? Have they got their tits out?"

Then along comes an intimacy coordinator, and the first thing I thought was, "Why on earth had we never done this before?" The funnel of information was perfect. Not only did they have rehearsals, but they did talks. They're actors, most handily. They're actors, these intimacy coordinators, so they understand the process of performance.

They took the guys aside, and they asked some questions about the scene, and how they felt about it. They also talked about it from a performance perspective, about what sort of animal you might be with the level of sex that you were having, and all sorts of things – in character, obviously.

It brought up a lot of thoughts, a lot of feelings from my cast. They had to go through that, but they did it in a safe space. They didn't do it on set in front of all these guys. They did it safely.

Photo credit: Channel 4
Photo credit: Channel 4

Obviously, I'm a gay man. I have watched a lot of terrible sex in my time [laughs] – be careful how you print that. But one thing that used to really annoy me about Game of Thrones is that every time I saw it, if there was sex going on, it would always be from behind.

Now, I have spoken to one of the operators, who's a good friend of mine, who said, "We did it that way because that's the Game of Thrones life. It's brutal. It's not fun, happy sex. It's brutal sex, because that's the world that they inhabited." So there was a conscious choice as to why they did it, but I just got so bored.

And there was a comment – I think Russell would probably be a bit more bold about getting this out there, because we've had incredible support from the channel – but there was a comment to him, early in the process, that we should be aware of how we shoot our sex scenes, because there are certain things that people will be OK with, and there are certain things that people won't.

He and I sat down, and we basically both agreed if that's the case, that's not how we're going to do it. We're not doing this to keep people happy. We're doing this to tell the right story.

The whole thing about Ritchie's sex montage was that it's about him getting more confident and more open. He starts off with a timid little blowjob. Then it's a bit more than that. Then he's a timid bottom. Then he's going for it – flipping here and there and everywhere. Plus, then it's fun, and he's laughing, and he's giggling.

There were things that had to be there. We had to see how much fun it was, because he says that right at the very end. That's his line, you know? We have to see them looking at each other. Again, it felt like a lot of gay sex had been – what's it? – doggystyle or whatever, which felt less personal. I made sure that that wasn't the case.

We did have to lose a couple of moans. The censors said that there was too much pleasure. Again, I'm now thinking back to that moment, and going, "F**k off!" [laughs] It's not porn. But it was Ritchie in a three-way, and he was having the time of his life. So why did I have to take the tone of that out?

You've probably seen what The Sun wrote?

I have, and I was appalled.

Outraged. They've now edited the headline. That's all I've seen. I don't want to look at the paper, because they probably get a little hit if I do that. Basically, it started off by saying viewers were 'shocked' – and then it went to the Bridgerton thing, and it was like, "How much great sex is this?"

Oh, yes – "liberating". The headline has now been changed to "liberating".

"It's a Sin viewers praise drama's 'wonderful' sex montage and say raunchy scenes came 'thick and fast'."

I think it was literally a day later, two days later. Because the writer had been given a lot of stick. And I have no sympathy for them whatsoever.

I'm not going to worry about how people feel about the sex because this is our sex, and this is the way it is. How can you show the story of men having a life they loved, and dying from it, if you don't show that sex?

It's a Sin airs on Fridays at 9pm on Channel 4. All five episodes are now available to watch on All4.

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