The teen sex romp genre has come a long way since Porky’s. In Netflix’s funny and heartfelt new U.K. comedy Sex Education, Asa Butterfield stars as Otis, a sweet but shy teen would very much like to ignore his burgeoning hormones — but his sex therapist mother Jean (Gillian Anderson) makes that quite difficult. (Anderson describes her character as “a somewhat inappropriate, boundary-less mother.”) Though Otis is “terrified of sex,” says Butterfield, he also has “sort of a weird understanding of it” thanks to his mom’s occupation. Encouraged by his crush, brilliant “bad girl” Maeve (Emma Mackey), Otis puts his knowledge to good use by opening an underground sex clinic at his high school.
Though Otis’s therapy career gets off to an awkward start, he eventually finds his confidence and helps a variety of students — from a lesbian couple with communication issues to an impotent school bully — deal with their sexual hang-ups. “It’s a very honest, frank, unflinching look at teenage sex and teenage sexuality,” says Anderson. “It’s so refreshing in that way.”
The actress says playing Jean — a liberated single woman who is open about her love of sex but isn’t looking for a committed relationship — is “incredibly freeing.”
“Most of the characters that I’ve played haven’t necessarily been comfortable with their sexuality,” says Anderson. One notable exception is The Fall‘s steely Stella Gibson, and Anderson says playing her “sort of opened me up to my own sense of myself and not just sexuality but a sense of sexual appeal and sexiness and femininity that I hadn’t really paid attention to,” she says. Watch the video below for more from Anderson on her on-set sex education:
Sex Education premieres Friday on Netflix.