Based on Normal People author Sally Rooney's debut novel, the 12-episode Hulu series follows Frances (newcomer Alison Oliver), a 21-year-old college student, as she navigates a series of relationships that force her to confront her own vulnerabilities for the first time. It all begins to unravel when Frances meets married couple Nick (Joe Alwyn) and Melissa (Jemima Kirke), and embarks on a secret affair with Nick -- forever testing the boundaries and friendships she's put in place. The story, which also stars Sasha Lane as Frances' ex, Bobbi, is told from Frances' perspective through voiceover narration.
"One of the reasons I loved Sally's book is because it was so heavily disguised and messy in the best way, and complicated in the best way. And I like the theme she was touching upon and the questions she was provoking about love and happiness and finding love and happiness outside of conventional stuff," Alwyn told ET's Cassie DiLaura of what initially drew him to the adaptation. "It’s all wrapped up in this beautiful coming-of-age story for Frances and feels like quite a modern love story. I think that all of that finds a place in the show and is translated [through] the show instantly. [It's] engaging and thought-provoking."
Because of the nature of the story, Conversations With Friends -- much like Normal People-- isn't afraid to go there when it comes to steamy, intimate sex scenes. Oliver, who makes her screen debut with the series, credited intimacy coordinator Ita O'Brien on making what could otherwise be an awkward experience comfortable and engaging.
"She kind of comes on from the get-go when you’re approaching those scenes and has a real system that she goes through with you. You go through all the scenes in depth and what I think is really great is her and [executive producer/director] Lenny [Abrahamson]... would always make sure they felt like it was all part of the storytelling," she said, acknowledging that she was "a bit more nervous" about it beforehand. "The intimacy between Nick and Frances is actually, I think, crucial to their relationship because they are people who struggle to communicate quite a bit. They communicate through intimacy so having those scenes and putting importance on them did feel important. That is how I communicate and making sure it wasn’t just thrown in there for the sake of it."
Oliver offered a glimpse into the process of how she and O'Brien worked together to choreograph the more intimate scenes. "Ita will go through the the bulk of the scenes with you and then you’ll begin to choreograph in it. She'll try different shapes and you go through quite a rehearsal period of all of that, like you would with any kind of stunt," the actress explained. "So by the time you actually have to do it, you’ve been through so much talking about it and rehearsing, you’re just made to feel really safe. Also, the people around you, like Lenny, he lets you embrace the awkwardness or silliness of it and really welcomes that and so it just really creates a safe environment to do those things, I think."
Added Alwyn of filming the love scenes with Oliver: "I read the books, I knew the situation and those scenes are going to be a part of it. And as long as they’re handled in the best way and you're doing it with people that you can trust, [I] felt completely safe to be honest and having such a good system set up... They kind of just feel safe and empowering more than anything."
Lane also credited O'Brien and Abrahamson for getting those vulnerable moments right and creating a safe environment.
"There's a huge amount of care that goes into it and thinking of our dynamics: Would Bobbi be more aggressive, not aggressive? Would she be a bit more dominant? At what moment would this happen? Making sure each other, we're comfortable and that's why an intimacy coordinator is nice. You get to start in with a bit of safety, just a hint of safe words and stuff like that," Lane said, adding that it helps to get the giggles out "100 percent" before stepping into vulnerable territory. "If you're so serious the whole time I feel like that's what makes it a bit uncomfortable. But at one point, you're in a small room in a studio. It is hot, there's tons of lights, you're sweating and you're practically naked. It's hilarious. Like, we just were laughing at that point and there’s no going back from this. There's no going back. You've seen it all, girl!"
Kirke noted that Conversations With Friends delving into nontraditional relationships and showcasing them without judgment is crucial.
"I think it's important 'cause it's specific and I think anything specific in storytelling is always going to be more intriguing," the Girls alum said. "This story is talking about such a specific kind of love that it's -- I don't know if it's ever been repeated. I don't think that you could put a label on what this love is. I don't think it's polyamory or anything like that. I think it's an individual specific story -- people making choices for both unconditional love and self-preservation."
With the premiere just days away, Oliver and Alwyn hope that people who are fans of Rooney's book are anticipating the series as much as they are.
"We're so excited for people to see it 'cause we shot it for about six months and we wrapped it in October, so we were just so buzzing for people to finally see and connect to it," Oliver said, with Alwyn adding that he's "excited for people to see it."
"It’s a funny thing, like, it still feels like we're in this bubble and you forget that other people will see it, so it's nice hearing people's reactions," Alwyn said. "I think it’s really nice seeing people's reactions and I just hope people enjoy it. I really do hope people enjoy it."
And Alwyn's ladylove, Taylor Swift, is reportedly very much a fan of Conversations With Friends.
"To be a part of something universally liked and a writer like Sally has captured a generation of being young while they’re writing, it’s amazing to be a part of and I would say that as someone who is a huge fan of her books," he said. "So getting to be a part of telling one of those stories and being given the privilege of one of those characters to play, it just means a lot."
Conversations With Friends drops Sunday, May 15 on Hulu.