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‘Sex Education’s’ Tanya Reynolds Tells Us About The Sex Appeal Of The ‘Hardcore Nerd’

Sex Education’s second season has landed with a bang … or at least, a lot of banging.

The Netflix breakout dropped a follow-up season full of solo pleasuring sessions and anal douching seminars earlier this month, and amidst all the romping chaos and hormonal angst, fans got to see a bit more of the characters who populate Moordale Secondary. Sure, it’s great to see Otis (Asa Butterfield) finally getting the hang of this whole masturbation thing and Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) hooking up with multiple bad boys, but in season two, we get to dive more into the quirky, eccentric students who made the show’s first outing so memorable.

We’re talking, of course, about Lily, the offbeat, sci-fi erotica savant who spent most of season one trying to cure her sexual hang-ups and get laid. This time around, Lily’s more confident in her wants, striking up new friendships and orchestrating the show’s out-of-this-world season finale that involves Shakespeare, sex, and space aliens. We chatted with actress Tanya Reynolds about the return of the fan-favorite character, embracing her odd-ball vibe, bingeing Battlestar Galactica, and yes, sex. There’s lots of sex talk.

Lily is such a unique character. Can you think of a character like her that you had to look up to growing up?

I think as a teenager I was always drawn to characters who were a bit weird. Willow was my favorite in Buffy, Phoebe in Friends, Cassie in Skins .. I think I always saw a bit of myself in the underdog, in the odd ones. And I liked to see peculiar characters totally owning their peculiarity, which was something I wasn’t amazing at. I think deep down I always felt like even though I wasn’t fitting in much at school, that one day that, in itself, would become a strength. Which it has.

What made Lily stand out on paper and did you have the freedom to bring different elements to the character?

I had never read a female character like her before. The sheer self-confidence and impenetrable, rock-solid self-esteem are such gorgeous qualities to see in a female character, and from my experience seldom exist in television especially when the character is a “hardcore nerd,” which was how Lily was described in the very first brief I read. I think as soon as I read the sides, I had an instinct for who she was to me, and I just sort of went for it. Sometimes when you audition you get too in your head about the character description and trying to be what the producers want rather than doing what’s instinctive. But for Sex Education I genuinely did not think in a million years I would actually get the job, so I just did what I thought was right and funny.

Speaking of nerding out, how much sci-fi fanfiction did you have to read to get into Lily’s headspace?

In the first series, there was a mention somewhere about Lily being really into Battlestar Galactica, so before I started filming, I spent the entire weekend bingewatching the original series. And to tell you the truth, before Lily I wasn’t that into comics or sci-fi, but she’s honestly made me hungry for it. I think she feels at home in these fictional worlds because they’re so much more exciting and stimulating than her actual life. I think she also feels like an alien herself. I can totally relate to wanting to forget yourself and the world around you in fiction and seeing more of yourself in made-up realities than in your own reality.

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Lily was a bit obsessed with losing her virginity in season one. How does her attitude towards sex change in season two?

I think in season one she was focused on what the typical narrative expects of us. She was very much trying to tick all the boxes to complete “being a teenager” and one of those things for her was being penetrated by a boy. In season two she’s been awakened to sexuality in a way she wasn’t expecting. I think this happens more often than not. Our minds can be shut off because we’re fed a particular version of life, and then it just takes one girl to kiss you on your doorstep to make you think ‘Oh fuck that was nice… I hadn’t considered that before.’

Sex Education was the first Netflix series to use an intimacy coordinator. What’s it like shooting the show’s sex scenes with that extra voice on set?

It’s great. You feel very safe under the sometimes very scary lens of the camera with someone whose job is to make sure you are as comfortable as possible. The sex scenes are handled so well on this set. Everyone is incredibly professional about it. No one is ever made to feel uncomfortable.

Do you think how this series handles sex, both on-screen and how you approach filming it, might change how other series show sex on screen?

I think already intimacy coordinators are being used a lot more on sets which is vital. I think as actors as well, we all now know how these moments should be and can be handled, and so we will always expect that from any other job we do, and we now have the confidence to say what we are and aren’t comfortable doing on screen, which is important, not just for ourselves but for all actors. So many actors have stories of poorly handled sex scenes, and hopefully, this will mean an end to that.

Is there a sex scene you were nervous about filming?

I was nervous about the mutual masturbation scene in season two because it was actually my first successful sex scene in the show. The fact that it is successful, that was nerve-wracking, because orgasming on screen is an exposing thing to do. But me and Trish (Patricia Allison) just had a lot of fun doing it. We did a lot of takes where we made ridiculous orgasm faces and noises which took a lot of the embarrassment away.

The season two finale has a really fantastic school play that Lily directs. It’s Romeo and Juliet set in space with lots of humping aliens and sexually suggestive songs and it’s brilliant. What does that play say about who Lily is?

Oh my god, it was so much fun to watch. I was obsessed. I filmed the musical on my phone and would just watch it, over and over, weeks after we had wrapped it. I think the play is a little insight into Lily’s glorious mind. Her creativity, her curiosity, her sexuality, and the fact that she is actually a genius.

The second ‘Sex Education’ season is currently streaming on Netflix.

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