Intimacy Coordinator Katie Groves Bridges the Gap Between Directors and Actors During Their Most Vulnerable Performances
An intimate direction.
- Written byAmber Klinck
- Photographed byKen Pagliaro
Katie Groves didn’t set out to build a career in film and television. “I kind of fell into it,” she explains. “I went to school for journalism, and then it evolved into working in entertainment.”
Whether kismet or by design, for roughly a decade and a half Katie’s path has led to creative opportunities in front of the camera, as well as behind the scenes. Friendships have evolved into partnerships—one might even lead to a reality show based here in the South Bay. But it’s her relationship with director and stunt performer Mam Smith that led Katie to her role as an intimacy coordinator.
“We met on a cop show in New York a long time ago. We basically kept each other sane for years. She’s one of the most badass people I’ve ever met,” Katie says. “I was the stunt double, and she was the photo double—we played the same person on TV for about four years,” Mam adds.
As a stunt performer, choreographer and acrobat, Mam’s experience spans film and television, Broadway and Cirque du Soleil. But after roughly two decades in the industry, Mam was looking to transition into directing.
She traveled to Ireland for a director’s training centered around intimate themes. Shortly after she returned to the United States, Mam learned that HBO had just mandated intimacy coordinators on set. And just like that, her new expertise was in high demand.
“At first I didn’t want to do it. I really wanted to direct,” Mam says. “But it was an interesting position, and I think it’s needed. It’s been an incredible experience. I’ve worked on shows like Westworld and Euphoria, and a new show called The Idol that’s going to be amazing.”
The term intimacy coordinator may sound relatively new, but the position itself is not. What is new is having intimacy coordinators mandatory on set. In 2018 HBO became the first network to mandate the position, with heavy hitters like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu following suit.
“I think mandating the position is a good idea because it sets a precedent for the industry and, I believe, puts a spotlight on scenes that have needed a spotlight for a while,” Mam says.
“It was fun and colorful and cheeky and campy at times. It’s just a really fun, smart show. Honestly, we got so lucky with everybody that’s involved—from cast and crew to producers. It’s like lightning in a bottle.”
With intimacy coordinators suddenly in such high demand, Mam approached Katie about assisting her on a number of projects. After a few years of training with Mam, Katie started working on projects independently, forming relationships with different studios and bouncing from one opportunity to the next.
Both women’s experience in entertainment gives them a unique perspective. “A lot of times you’re the one put in positions where you’re getting beat up, left in the street, left for dead, whatever your character is going through. So I knew what it was like to be on camera and to be exposed and vulnerable,” Mam says.
“I have so much experience on the other side. I take a situation and I’m like, OK, what would I need? What would I want to know? What would I want to happen now?” Katie notes.
Having an intimacy coordinator on set ensures everyone is on the same page and that there won’t be any surprises. “It allows us a sense of freedom if we set healthy boundaries for the performer and the performance. Then the actors have a tendency to relax and enjoy the process rather than feeling unsafe or pushed or not looped in to what’s going to happen,” Mam explains.
Because no two scenes are exactly the same, the role of intimacy coordinator requires some nuance. “It’s very different when you have one or two actors that you’re hyperfocused on versus eight nude people for a magazine shoot. It ends up becoming a team effort,” Katie points out.
Then there’s the context behind the performance itself, whether it’s comedic, romantic or dark. One of Katie’s most recent projects, Minx, a new comedy series on HBO Max centered around an erotic magazine for women set in the 1970s, is a prime example.
“Comedy is just lighter, especially a show like Minx,” she explains. “It was fun and colorful and cheeky and campy at times. It’s just a really fun, smart show. Honestly, we got so lucky with everybody that’s involved—from cast and crew to producers. It’s like lightning in a bottle.”
In addition to her work as an intimacy coordinator, Katie is the COO of Poppy Montgomery’s Wild Poppy Entertainment. “We’ve worked together for so long. It’s such a big part of my life because I’ve literally worked with her since 2011.”
From New York to Manhattan Beach, Katie’s career has evolved in so many different directions, and she shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.