Best of 2021 (Behind the Scenes): Sex Education boss breaks down Otis and Maeve's first kiss
It finally happened. After two and a half seasons of friendship and poor timing, Otis (Asa Butterfield) and Maeve (Emma Mackey) locked lips on Sex Education. And all it took was a chaotic school field trip, one poop-filled sock, and some forced one-on-one time at a desolate gas station in France.
EW spoke with series creator Laurie Nunn about crafting that first kiss and the pressure that comes along with such an epic moment.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You established Otis' crush on Maeve pretty instantly in the series. Were Otis and Maeve always going to be a will-they-won't-they for the show?
LAURIE NUNN: Yeah, I think, the show, in many ways it's trying to push a lot of the kind of rom-com themes and conversations forward and make them feel more progressive. But at the same time there is just something so lovely about a good will-they-won't-they. I really wanted to have that and pay homage to that at the core of the show. But at the same time, I'm making sure that both those characters feel like really strong individuals and that they have their own individual arcs, even though we're also rooting for them to get together.
Did you ever consider having them kiss sooner? What has the journey of crafting that been like for you?
It's been difficult because I think there is definitely a truth in, once you break the tension, you can't really go back. And there's something very delicious about playing with that tension of like, when's it going to happen? So I sort of knew that in series one and series two, it didn't feel quite right. We had an almost-kiss in series one. And then in series two, they were both going such different directions. But really by the time we got to series three, that sexual tension between them was just getting a little bit too much to handle. So we knew that it was time and they had to make physical contact.
It's an intricate balance of figuring out how to drag it out long enough but not so long that the audience loses interest. I'm always so impressed when a show can truly draw it out. And like you said, I think it allows the show more time to develop them as individuals first.
Yeah, because then you have to figure out what they're going to look like as a couple and what that tension is going to be. And I mean, obviously the classic is Ross and Rachel. And I think that they, did they get together in season 2? I think that was season 2, but then they so brilliantly play with those personality types to continue that drama and that tension. But it's a hard thing to pull off.
And that's one where they kiss and get together but then manage to break them up and draw out that tension again. They draw it out on the back end.
Yeah, you still want them to get together. It's quite magic.
Did you feel any sense of pressure from a growing fandom that wanted these two to get together?
I try to block out as much of the noise as possible. I've usually started writing the new series long before the previous one comes out. So I have to try and stay focused on what my instincts are telling me to do with the characters. But, at the same time, I think when you can feel that the audience is really willing something to happen, there's definitely a bit of pressure. But we've now got lots of Rotis shippers as well. Lots of people are really wanting Otis and Ruby [Mimi Keene] to be endgame. So it's all changed.
You touched on this a little bit, but why now? Why was season 3 the right moment for that first kiss?
There were a few things. Often when I'm writing, stuff just appears quite organically. The story starts to kind of tell you where it wants to go. And there was something about the image of them being stuck together, abandoned together on this school trip. I loved the visual element of that. I also really liked the fact that in that episode, we've got some very, very heightened, gross-out humor. I liked the idea that we would also have this very romantic kiss in the same episode. And the two things feel like they just shouldn't go together. Also I think that in series three, we go to some dark emotional places. The characters are all of growing up and maturing. I wanted to balance that with that real teenage kind of yearning and first love, first big fireworks kiss, where you know you're always going to remember it. I wanted that in the mix as well.
Nothing bums me out more when a first kiss is a little bit of a let down, like The West Wing. I love The West Wing so much, but they drag out Josh (Bradley Whitford) and Donna (Janel Moloney) for seven seasons and then their first kiss is kind of accidental. I was so bummed about it.
I can't even remember that they did kiss. But I was so invested in that. I love The West Wing, but that was one of the main reasons I watched The West Wing. And I think I do remember it was maybe a bit anti-climactic.
So how did you come up with the way you wanted to do the kiss and what it was going to look like?
It's playing with those rom-com tropes. There's always something quite visual with the two people being brought together. And I also really enjoy a good heightened bit of dialogue. When Harry Met Sally is one of my favorites. It's got to feel like there's a buildup and that there's also something special about that moment. Our director, Ben Taylor, absolutely loves teen films and particularly a lot of 1980s teen films. He really wanted to make it feel like that could be the image that would be on the poster. So it's Maeve and Otis at the gas station sort of framed by the lights and there's just something quite romantic about it.
I was so glad that the voicemail finally came out. It was so sweet and felt like such a big part of their story that she just had no idea about.
Yeah. That was one of the most interesting challenges in writing series three, because at the end of series two, Isaac [George Robinson], was seen as a villain because he'd done this act at the end. But I also really love Isaac as a character. It was really trying to balance making sure that he still felt really human and that we understood that choice and why he did that, and that there is a connection between Maeve and Isaac, even though it might not be exactly the right one for that moment. And I was just always trying to keep that in our head as we were writing and it was really nice to see that the tide really turned, and people were quite on Isaac's side by the end.
In terms of actually seeing the kiss, were you on set? What was your experience with seeing it for the first time?
I wasn't on set it. We were one of the first shoots to go back after COVID so things were still very kind of touch and go. We were working with a lot of skeleton crews and it was just a very different filming experience. I think because everybody knew that this was a very special moment, rather than just sending the dailies, they did cut it together as a scene so that everybody could see it with the emotional impact. It was a great moment. There was also a feeling of relief because I think we had no idea what that was going to feel like, like maybe they would kiss and you would just think, 'Ooh, that's not right,' but it was great. And Asa and Emma just act beautifully in that scene. I really enjoyed watching it.
Was the gas station element scripted?
It was always written in that it was going to be at a gas station. I think the main reasoning behind that was, I just really liked the idea that there's something quite creepy about it. Because Otis is always in panic mode, he always thinks he's going to die. So the scene sort of starts in quite a comedic way and then becomes more serious as it goes on. And then it really was our incredible production designer that brought it all together. Now we just have to see where they're going to head next. That's the pressure, right?
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