The premise of Good Luck to You, Leo Grande — an older woman hiring a sex worker to help her achieve her bedroom fantasies — could devolve into a broad joke with minimal substance. But the movie, newly released on Hulu, tells a much more thoughtful story about gender roles, often-toxic relationship with our own bodies, and how people relate to each other.
The tenderness that pervades the movie is thanks to the chemistry of its two leads, Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack. The actors didn’t let the considerable difference between their age and experience in the industry interfere with their dynamic on or off-screen. The unique way they prepared for the role brought them closer together. It also gave them both a deeper understanding of intimacy at any age.
‘Good Luck to You, Leo Grande’ is an empathetic look at middle-aged sexuality
Thompson plays Nancy Stokes, a retired religious education teacher uncharacteristically looking to spice up her life. Nancy has lived a deeply repressed life up until this point. Her husband, who passed away two years earlier, was her only sexual partner. He possessed a narrow view of what could happen in the bedroom.
As a result, she never experienced an orgasm during their marriage. She hires Leo (McCormack) out of curiosity. But her anxiety leads to a movie-length conversation about what led the two of them to this hotel room.
It is now commonplace in the industry for sex scene productions to incorporate the use of an intimacy coordinator to make sure everyone is on the same page before shooting. However, McCormack told the Irish Independent that he and Thompson did not see the need for a coordinator.
“We just thought if we really focus on getting to know one another and being comfortable with one another, that we’ll be able to do all the work ourselves,” he says before elaborating on what they did to create a connection between them.
McCormack and Thompson are on the polar opposite sides of their careers
“We would walk to set together, we would walk home together. We would eat together, run the lines for the next day together, go to sleep and then repeat. So, for like a good four weeks we were just living in each other’s pockets and we became so close. We are very close now.”
On the face of it, McCormack and Thompson have little in common aside from having the same profession. At 29, McCormack is still in the ascending phase of his career. His first major film role came in the 2020 heist comedy Pixie. He made his name in Shakespearean theater and supporting roles in shows like Peaky Blinders and The Wheel of Time.
By contrast, Thompson, who is currently 63, has been celebrated as an actor for longer than McCormack has been alive. She is the only person to win an Oscar for acting and writing. She’s also one of the 12 performers to be nominated for two Academy Awards in the same year, and has dozens of other highly regarded roles.
A peculiar rehearsal technique helped Thompson and McCormack get in touch with their ‘Leo Grande’ characters
In a piece she wrote for British Vogue, Thompson revealed some of the process behind making Leo Grande. Coronavirus restrictions encouraged her not to lose any weight for the role of Nancy. Although her character choice didn’t make it easier to undress in front of her co-star.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever taken all your clothes off in front of a young person you don’t really know. Never assume anything,” Thompson advised. “But if you haven’t, I’m here to tell you that it’s a little bit intimidating. Especially if you’re a post-menopausal woman in her sixties who’s recently eaten far too many Tunnock’s Tea Cakes owing to lockdown comfort-seeking, and the young person is in startlingly perfect shape owing to playing someone whose job requires them to be in perfect shape.”
To help Thompson and McCormack adjust to nudity, director Sophie Hyde guided them through naked rehearsals. (Hyde was also nude.) Baring it all made it easier for them to be vulnerable about themselves. They discussed what they liked and didn’t like about their bodies en route to better performances. “It’s easier to be honest when there’s literally nothing to hide, and it’s unavoidably humbling. And after that, there’s nothing much to fear,” she concluded.
Body image issues are as rife as ever thanks to the constant comparisons and visual filters on social media. Those issues can have a deeply negative impact on a person’s self-esteem, especially during sex. Leo Grande attempts to show viewers that creating confidence in yourself and what you want is the only way to maintain healthy relationships, whether you keep your clothes on or not.
“I think we have the ability to share intimacy across all ages, and I don’t think we have to be super-sexualized in order to attract people of the opposite ages,” said McCormack.
Thompson agrees: “Before making Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, I had no idea how much I would learn about my attitude to my own body, to pleasure and to shame — how much I would laugh about the genuine silliness of so many of our responses to sexual pleasure, and how much I would cry about what is lost in life when it is repressed, ignored and punished. I hope the film reaches as many people as possible and does the same for them.”