Interview: Sex Education's Kate Herron

Asa Butterfield as Otis Milburn and Gillian Anderson as Jean Milburn in Sex Education. Courtesy of Netflix.

Asa Butterfield as Otis Milburn and Gillian Anderson as Jean Milburn in Sex Education. Courtesy of Netflix.

By Cassandra Litten

Director Kate Herron talks about her experiences filming the second half of Netflix’s Sex Education and the importance of telling authentic, sex positive stories in a changing industry.

[Cassandra Litten] What was the casting process [for Sex Education] like?
[Kate Herron] It was great! In my half a lot of the roles were in place so it was building on what they had set up. The most memorable auditions were definitely for Octoboy. The actors were reading the scene where he acts out Lily’s sci-fi erotic novel so it was quite Barbarella-tastic.

[c.l.] Sex Education does a fantastic job of avoiding teenage stereotypes, particularly the Gay Best Friend, Eric Effoing, as played by Ncuti Gatwa. Was there a conscious effort throughout filming to ensure that these characters were as fleshed out and real as possible?
[k.h.] Definitely! What excited me about the scripts was that they were taking these teen archetypes we’ve seen in countless movies but subverting them. The journeys the characters go on take place in a heightened teen universe but it was important to us all across the whole show that the emotion in the stories felt real. These were characters you could relate to.

Ncuti Gatwa as Eric Effoing and Asa Butterfield as Otis Milburn in Sex Education. Courtesy of Netflix.

Ncuti Gatwa as Eric Effoing and Asa Butterfield as Otis Milburn in Sex Education. Courtesy of Netflix.

[c.l.] What interests you most about sex as a source of comedy?
[k.h.] I think, honestly, sex can be very hilarious. It’s when we are at most exposed and in that there’s a lot of comedy to be found in that.

[c.l.] How did having an intimacy director on set put the actors at ease?
[k.h.] It was excellent. You have a stunt coordinator for stunts and a dance choreographer for any dance scenes, it makes complete sense to me that for a sex scene you’d have an intimacy coordinator there. No one should be going home after filming intimate scenes feeling like they’ve crossed their line of what they’re comfortable with.

[c.l.] Sex Education isn't the only show about the inevitable awkwardness of teen sexuality to do well recently (i.e., Netflix’s animated hit, Big Mouth, Hulu’s PEN15), not just in terms of popularity, but as authentic, non-cliched glimpses into adolescence. What do you think this is attributed to? Do you think that #MeToo and the shift in dialogue regarding sexual consent and assault has contributed to people being more open about discussing sex in general?
[k.h.] I think what’s happening in the industry in terms of how we talk about sex is really necessary and great. The thing that leapt out to me about Sex Education when I was sent the scripts is that it was really sex positive and discussing consent in a smart, great way, something I wish I had seen as a teenager.

Gillian Anderson as Jean Milburn in Sex Education. Courtesy of Netflix.

Gillian Anderson as Jean Milburn in Sex Education. Courtesy of Netflix.

[c.l.] How did you get involved in directing Sex Education? Was it a different experience than your previous work?
[k.h.] I bizarrely was working at a fire extinguisher company when I got the job. I had been going up for directing tv series work after the short I directed for BBC and always got to the final but never got the job because I needed experience to get experience. Sex Ed. came along like a wonderful olive branch. I had worked with the DOP [Director of Photography] Jamie Cairney before, who got me in the room for the job. It was a massive step up in terms of scale and budget, but I’m so happy I got the chance to show I could work at that level.

[c.l.] Sex Education isn’t your first venture in the realm of sex and comedy. Your short film Smear (2017) is one of the funniest, most clever shorts I've ever seen. Frankly, I wish it had been around before my first trip to the OBGYN. How exactly did you and writing partner Briony Redman come up with the idea?
[k.h.] Oh thank you! I remember going for my first smear test and having terrible anxiety about it and it was nothing like the dramatic story I had made in my head. I spoke to my writing partner about it and she had a similar experience so we thought it’d be fun to make a short pushing this worry to the max playing in the world of b-monster movies. We wanted to make something that would be the weirdest and worst scenario.

Sophia Di Martino in Smear (2017).

Sophia Di Martino in Smear (2017).

Kate is currently working on her debut feature film, a horror-comedy about a beauty pageant that comes under alien attack, produced by Dominic Buchanan (End of the F**king World).

Season One of Sex Education is currently streaming on Netflix.

Stay up-to-date with Kate’s projects via her website, www.kateherron.com