The dystopian undertones that run through Season 3 of “The Girlfriend Experience” were in the script long before the first wave of COVID-19 brought much of the world to a standstill. And while filming during the pandemic had its own challenges, the crew of the show was able to work lockdown to their advantage.
“It was a surreal experience to be suddenly confronted with a London, or a version of London, where big buildings are just boarded up,” writer-director Anja Maquardt told deputy awards and features editor Jenelle Riley in the Variety Streaming Room presented by Starz. “We have this drone shot in the 10th episode where you just see blacked out high-rises at Canary Wharf, and it’s very surreal. And there were some silver linings, too, where we got amazing locations for imaginably long stretches of time all to ourselves, and we probably would not have had that opportunity had it not been for COVID.”
Director of photography Zachary Galler described it as “definitely different” than most of his previous work in television. Ultimately, it matched the themes the show explores concerning technology and artificial intelligence.
“I think that a show like ‘Girlfriend Experience’ was almost perfectly suited for shooting in a pandemic because of the small footprint,” Galler said. “The technical realization of the show really strips away a lot of indulgence that we have in other places, or not necessarily indulgence, but it makes you think in a leaner way, I guess. And that’s just the ethos of the show, and it lent itself well to shooting in a pandemic.”
The third season of the limited series is set in London’s tech scene and focuses on a new lead, Iris, played by Julia Goldani Telles, who is exploring an AI marrying project. Even for Telles, the pandemic affected what was going on on the other side of the camera. Iris doesn’t kiss anybody, which was a “COVID decision,” but it also informed her character— after giving so much of herself away, this is one part she keeps private. What’s more, Telles sees the pandemic’s impact as reinforcing the work of intimacy coordinators.
“Just having the respect that we have for each other’s bodies during COVID and for each other’s health was so important,” she said. “On top of that, having somebody talk about consent both for men and women because I learned that a lot of male actors are never asked, ‘Is this okay? Are you comfortable?’ during sex scenes. We think it’s a gendered issue, but it’s not.
“The Girlfriend Experience” airs Sundays on Starz and wraps up with the finale episode on June 27. Watch the conversation in full above.