She scored a global smash with her TV debut. As the taboo-busting show is green-lit for a return, the writer reveals how she turned teenage dorkiness – and her own experience of sexual assault – into dynamite drama
Laurie Nunn is remembering her own experience of sex education. It was, she says, “practically nonexistent” at her school, which is ironic, given that she is responsible for one of the most candid TV shows ever made about the subject. “They didn’t talk about female pleasure at all,” says the writer. “I’m in my 30s and I feel like I’m only now starting to get the right language to talk about my own body. I think, ‘God, I wish I’d known this stuff when I was in my 20s.’”
When Sex Education was picked up, Nunn had no big credits to her name. She had written and directed a couple of short films and had worked up ideas for production companies, but nothing had quite landed. Then, suddenly, she had a hit – such a hit that Netflix’s UK headquarters now has a Sex Education-themed floor. (We meet on the Stranger Things floor, though. Perhaps the Sex Education floor would have been just too weird.)
When hit Netflix series Sex Education (hopefully) returns to production this summer, it will be one of the first major shows to do so following the coronavirus shutdown.
Asa Butterfield, who plays lead character Otis, is looking forward to it. “We’re going to be paving the way, potentially, for how things are done for the next while,” he says. “They want to get it right – there will be a lot of safety protocol put in place.”
Shot predominantly in south Wales, the high school drama’s sun-kissed visuals require long days of light. It was scheduled to film season three in May, before lockdown intervened; the restart is now tentatively scheduled for August, according to Sony, parent company of the show’s UK-based production company Eleven.
The option of quarantining a full cast and crew has been floated as a solution to Covid-19 transmission concerns in the industry. “If that’s what needs to be done, then that’s what needs to be done,” says Butterfield of the possibility that Sex Education could adopt such a measure. “I’m lucky that Wales isn’t that far from home – it’s in the same time zone and relatively similar. I’ve been staying in my apartment for the last few months so it wouldn’t be all that different – it’ll just be a different apartment!”
Whatever social distancing measures are required on set, he is naturally keen they don’t alter the essence of the show. “The foundation of this show is relationships, friendships, and intimacy, and it gives such a positive message. Otis and [best friend] Eric are always hugging and jumping around – we can’t change that. I would rather we all quarantined and we keep the heart of the show than lose that.”
Butterfield hopes the detailed work the industry is doing for a post-pandemic return as a chance to adopt greener shooting practices. “People are realising what’s important and what’s necessary, and then what’s just being wasteful. I know Sex Education is really pushing to minimise waste; taking that even further would be something that could come out of this.”