SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers from the series premiere of Showtime’s “Fellow Travelers,” now streaming on Paramount+.
The first episode of “Fellow Travelers” may have made you blush. The premiere of the historical miniseries features several explicit sex scenes between Tim Laughlin (Jonathan Bailey) and Hawkins Fuller (Matt Bomer), two very different men who meet in 1952 in Washington, D.C., in the middle of the McCarthy Era. While Hawk, working behind the scenes in politics, avoids anything emotional with his conquests, that changes upon meeting Tim, a religious man struggling to find his place.
In the exclusive video above, executive producer Daniel Minahan, who also directed the first two episodes, explains the making of one of the unique sex scenes. Tim arrives at Hawk’s apartment and wants an invite to an exclusive party, sitting on his lap to ask.
“We really exercise this mantra of ‘Who has the power?’ You would think that Hawk has the power, we’re in Hawk’s apartment. Tim turns the table on him and seduces him,” says Minahan. Hawk stops him at first, pushing him to the floor.
“This is where the power dynamic keeps flipping,” says Minahan. Hawk pushes his foot up on Tim, who ends up sucking on Hawk’s toes. After doing so, Tim gets to go to the party. “In the end of the scene, Tim, who was at a disadvantage, clearly got what he wanted. In reality, they probably both wanted the same thing.”
Behind the scenes, there was a bit of a problem: Two days before filming, Bomer stubbed his toe and thought it was broken.
“He had a big bandage on his toe. I said, ‘Well why don’t we put the other toe in Johnny’s mouth,’” says Minahan. “And then of course, in between takes, we would wash his feet. You have to think those kinds of things, especially poor Johnny, he had to do that scene a number of times.”
The show’s intimacy coordinator worked closely with both the actors and producers to prepare and choreograph all the love scenes. While the eight-episode series, created by Ron Nyswaner, includes multiple sex scenes, they didn’t want to repeat the same sexual activity more than once. It was something finessed first in the writers’ room, then continuously worked on during production.
In an interview with Variety, executive producer Robbie Rogers described how Nyswaner and the production handled intimate scenes on the whole. “There were plenty of times I know where Ron met with actors and they would have input. Ron was our guiding light in everything. He was very open-minded to having discussions with other writers and the actors,” Rogers says. “Gay sex has been depicted on television and film, and exists in some of my favorite films, but in this, I feel like it’s a little different. It’s the power dynamic that shifts throughout all the episodes, and the characters change and adapt. Our characters change over the course of their sexual experience.”
It’s important to note that while the show contains graphic sex scenes, that isn’t and shouldn’t be the focus.
“There was no intention to push the envelope, or be salacious,” says Rogers. “It was about being authentic to the feeling of when you are so careful with every decision you make in your life and keep secrets and are hiding things away from everyone, when you finally get those intimate moments, that sex can be incredibly passionate or aggressive or tender or very emotional — because every other aspect of your life is so protected.”
The series, based on the novel by Thomas Mallon, chronicles Tim and Hawk’s romance through the four decades, including through the Lavender Scare in the 1950s and the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, during which Hawk visits an ailing Tim.
Before reading the novel, Rogers didn’t know much about the Lavender Scare, a movement by the U.S. government during which they fired any gay man or woman, claiming they were a threat to national security.
“I was drawn to the love story, set where the stakes are really high and there’s a lot to lose. To look back in our history, it’s an incredibly sad thing — but as a storyteller, and just as an audience member, it’s an interesting place to set a love story,” he says. “In my past life, I was a professional athlete who grew up in locker rooms and was closeted for half of my career. I would never compare it to the Lavender Scare or the AIDS epidemic, obviously, but I very much could relate to the feeling of being extremely closeted and secretive, and living in a very homophobic environment.”
In addition to the love story, Rogers hopes viewers learn a bit about history and how, unfortunately, it’s similar to some things happening today.
“History really does repeat itself if we’re not aware of what’s going on,” he says when asked what he hopes the audience takes from the show. ‘
He warns the next point is cheesy: “It’s never too late to embrace love or accept love.”
“Fellow Travelers” airs Fridays on Paramount+ and Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime.