Paul Newman once said that making it work as Hollywood’s golden couple (along with wife of 50 years, Joanne Woodward) took “some combination of lust and patience and respect. And determination.” We all know, it’s nothing short of complicated when co-stars fall for each other. Add to that, doing so amidst filming the sort of intimate, so-steamy-it-might-fog-up-your-screen series that only Netflix is capable of delivering these days. Throw a pandemic in the mix, two easy-on-the-eyes rising stars, and you’ve got just the recipe it takes to set fan tongues wagging. But rarely do we get to hear a candid, frank, considered conversation from the other side of that lens. In this case: Sarah Shahi and Adam Demos—stars of Netflix’s newest, highly-antipicated series Sex/Life, from in-demand creator and showrunner Stacy Rukeyser.
Inspired by BB Easton’s self-published memoir 44 Chapters About 4 Men, Sex/Life finds Demos as Brad Simon, the heartbreak which Shahi’s Billie never got over and now rises from her past, turning her marriage and suburban life upside down.
We handed the two actors some of our most burning, prying questions about getting involved on and off screen, and had them interview each other. Here, the good-natured Aussie (Demos), and game-for-anything Texan (Shahi, who will star as the female lead opposite Dwayne Johnson in next year’s DC release Black Adam) did just that, and the result just might charm your pants off. So to speak.
Sarah Shahi: Mr. Demos, thank you for doing this interview with LEO.
Adam Demos: It’s my pleasure. So professional.
Sarah: Why do you think the public is so hungry for such sexually driven content right now?
Adam: Right now, because of the wild times we have been through in the last year or so, those kinds of shows and scenes and what not can help you escape more easily. I think we are hungry for that kind of freedom at the moment.
Sarah: I think you’re right. For myself, I really clung on to shows that had that sense of escapism and intimacy and all that other stuff because I felt I was missing it so much. Connection and all that other stuff—which Sex/Life has. And a little bit more.
Adam: And a little bit more than just that.
Sarah: How would you say series like Sex and The City or Bridgerton or films like Fifty Shades of Gray have influenced a show like ours?
Adam: I can’t speak on behalf of those shows, but Sex/Life was adapted from a book, 44 Chapters by B.B. Easton. [Creator and showrunner] Stacy [Rukeyser} adapted the story. It was more of an idea, then Stacy created her own world.
Sarah: What are some of the more emotional tones the show hits that goes beyond the sex aspect?
Adam: Well, you should answer that on behalf of Billie [Shahi’s character on the series].
Sarah: On our show, the sex is not just about sex. It’s not a gratuitous sex scene. Sex really helps to inform the emotional storylines of the characters. If anything, with our show, we’re telling a story through the sex.
Adam: It shows where each character is at emotionally.
Sarah: Yes. With Brad [Demos’ character on the series] a lot of the sex was very intimate, and it was super sensual, and with Cooper, the sex scenes felt like we weren’t as connected. It was a bit hit-and-miss and they were comical. And the other thing that I loved working on, when we were working on these sex scenes, was the breath of the sex scenes. We talked about that a lot. There literally was a whole bunch of breath design that went into these sex scenes. We would talk about: are these characters breathing hot and heavy? Is it more: the sex is so good that it’s a lot of eye fucking and you almost hold your breath—t’s so good you’re not making any sound?
Adam: It was important to go down to that much detail because there wasn’t a sex scene there for no reason. It’s important to make sure we did more justice and show exactly where the characters were at emotionally in their relationships and personally. Did we answer that question correctly, though? [Laughs]
Sarah: Oh no, wait, we got more.
Adam: Yeah, you just went straight to sex scenes [laughs]. You get used to those questions. The emotional tone that I can speak on, on behalf of Brad, is that he’s not dealing with these abandonment issues from his childhood. The connection he forms with Billie forces him to finally deal with those, and that’s a scary thing for him, which causes the friction and relationship to sort of… it’s kind of the reason why it doesn’t work. You have those emotional situations he goes through, then when you come to the present day, he’s dealt with all the issues from his past—but now lives with the regret of not doing it sooner. It’s very complex emotionally from my character. For all of it, actually.
Sarah: With Billy… you know, I think you can be a mother, and you can be a great mother, but you can still be confused about who you are. And you can be in a long-term relationship and have children and want to feel like a sexual goddess at the same time, and Billy is missing a lot of these things. As a mom of three myself, I know what it’s like to sort of put parts of that on hold in order to fulfill other things that take precedence.
Adam: But also, does it feel like when you become a mother that those sides of you shouldn’t exist anymore? That people expect that to now no longer be a part of you?
Sarah: I think society has done a really good job of making women feel like: now that your mom, now that you’re a wife, you have to put those things on hold. Not even on hold—you just can’t even be those things anymore. You’re supposed to put your wants and your desires away just because you’re a wife and you’re a mother, when the truth of the matter is that these things don’t go away. On the show, when we first meet Billie, she’s having a bit of an identity crisis because she looks in the mirror and she wonders: where did that other girl go? The girl who used to be fun, where did she go?
Adam: She’s battling with not wanting to let it go because it’s a part of her, but also then dealing with: do I have to? Because everyone else is telling me that I should, in our society.
Sarah: Yes. You’d make a great Billie.
Adam: I’d be Billie. I’d have to grow my hair longer.
Sarah: [Reading the question] When we were cast, what was your first impression of each other, and had you done any background research on each other? I know what you first thought of me.
Adam: Yeah, I thought that you were the PA because I walked into the makeup trailer, and I bumped into you because you were about to walk out, and I was like, “Oops, sorry.” I looked down, and you had this green ugly Christmas sweater on in February, which was confusing, and that was my first impression.
Sarah: You were about to give me your coffee order I think.
Adam: Nooo, don’t tell people that. That was my first impression. I was confused because it was February, and you were wearing a Christmas shirt.
Sarah: My first impression of you… I almost literally ran into your chest, and I just remember looking up at you thinking, “Oh, he’s a tall drink of water.” Then going, “Hey I’m Sarah, we’re going to get to know each other real well.” That was about it.
Adam: That was it.
Sarah: Had we done any research on each other?
Adam: I mean, I didn’t. I looked up who you were, but I didn’t do deep research. I’ve never done that, really. The internet’s crazy. I don’t know what’s true on there. I’d rather just meet the person and see what they’re like.
Sarah: I didn’t really do any research on you either. I’m like you. I don’t really do it with any co-star because I want to see them at face value. [Reading] Did you have to do a chemistry read or audition first?
Adam: I had to do an audition. Two, actually. But I was in Australia, and luckily for me, I’ve worked with Stacy before. So I knew her. She’s a friend of mine, but I still had to put down tapes and prove that I could do it because Brad’s the lead character and, emotionally, I’ve never had the chance to do such deep and challenging work like that before, so I had to prove to her that I could do it. Luckily it went my way. We didn’t know each other until we were there so there was no chemistry read.
Sarah: No chemistry read, but Stacy was quite witchy. It worked out after all.
Adam: It worked out after all.
Sarah: In general, how comfortable are you shooting sex scenes on set?
Adam: This set was more comfortable because of all the protocols and procedures that they put in place and having an intimacy coordinator. They were really on top of it and strict about how they closed sets and everyone’s safety, so that made it a lot more comfortable. Now, it’s always awkward because those scenes just are—but, all things considered, I felt they made it as comfortable as possible. Do you agree? As awkward as those scenes are, they created a good environment to make it as comfortable as possible.
Sarah: I think so. It was helpful having that intimacy coordinator because you get to really break down the nitty-gritty details of the sex scene.
Adam: It becomes choreography.
Sarah: Yeah, it’s super choreographed, and you get to have these super frank conversations and be like, “You know, I feel comfortable with you touching the left side of my boob. I don’t really feel comfortable with you touching my whole boob.” Those kinds of conversations made it… not really comfortable, but as comfortable as it can be. It’s always going to be awkward and a bit weird.
Adam: And there were no surprises.
Sarah: No surprises is the most important thing.
Sarah: There was no accidental rubbing of anything because we had patches on.
Adam: They created as safe an environment as possible.
Sarah: [Reading] When you guys became involved in real life, how did it change or affect the scenes?
Adam: I don’t think it affected… I mean, maybe the chemistry. People talk about chemistry. I think that will come across just because of the way we feel about each other. The scenes were already written, so it doesn’t matter how much chemistry you have with someone—the show is written, so you’re doing the work that’s there.
Sarah: I think it was an interesting thing. As actors, we both were playing characters that fall for other people. For me, there’s just a noticeable difference between playing like you’re falling for somebody, and actually falling for the person you’re falling for in real life. But we did make a promise to each other; we care about the show and we care about our characters, so on the days that we had super emotional, intense scenes—we were actors first. Because our characters go through a lot. We wouldn’t even talk to each other. We would barely look at each other, and then when the day was done, we would stay up till six in the morning. We would order burritos, play country music, and we’d tell each other we did a great job.
Adam: Drink tequila and debrief.
Sarah: [Reading] What would you say is the best part about working with someone you were involved with and what’s the worst part?
Adam: I wanna go back to that previous question very quickly. Because we met as actors on the show, and that was always the most important thing—the job, and not to let anyone down, especially Stacy who had the belief in both of us. I think that’s a boundary that we set straightaway. You know, you have feelings for each other, but the job is not going to suffer. We are going to make sure to be beyond professional, because it’s a privilege to be employed as an actor, but then it’s on another level when you get to do characters like this. So that was always something so important and will always remain important to us. The best part about it?
Sarah: The best and the worst.
Adam: The best part about it is getting to experience being on set and telling these stories, because I’ve never seen characters like these before. And then you get to have someone who fully understands what your day was like, because they were there, and someone who understands the hours. But my favorite thing was being able to debrief when we got home. That was my favorite part because sometimes, like you said, we wouldn’t talk to each other because there were really intense scenes, and then once those scenes were done we got to talk about them later on. I felt like that’s an experience and opportunity that hardly anyone gets.
Sarah: And the worst part? [Adam thinks a moment] Do you want me to take that one?
Adam: You can take that one.
Sarah: Sometimes I think the worst part about working with your partner is, depending on how heavy the workload is, you can just never see each other for a while. You are just like two ships passing in the night. That kinda sucked.
Adam: Yeah, and don’t get me wrong, but it’s not always awesome to be in those intense, emotional scenes with your partner. That can be kind of tough.
Sarah: You had to say some pretty cold stuff.
Adam: I had to say some really cold, mean, hurtful, intense things to Billie—and you have to make that as real as possible. So that’s never great, but as long as you make sure that you do the job, and once the scenes are done you throw that away and don’t let that linger, then it’s all good. There aren’t really many negatives to me, it was basically all positives to me.
Sarah: Yeah, it’s nice being able to have someone who really understands how your day was, and whom you can really sort of break it all down with. And you just share a lot of reality with each other. [Reading] So, I would imagine when two co-stars start getting involved during a production, which happens all the time, that the creators of the show have a reaction. Is that usually a good reaction or are they shaking in their boots? I think shaking in their boots is the normal reaction.
Adam: I would assume so, but I don’t know. You would have to ask Stacy because no one made us feel like it wasn’t okay, or that we were doing something bad, so I can’t really speak on behalf of [other people]. I never felt like we were doing something wrong.
Sarah: I mean, but I think in general, usually people…
Adam: They would shake in their boots for sure because of all the horror stories.
Sarah: Yeah, exactly. I think producers would shit themselves a little because, if it doesn’t work out, which for a lot of people it doesn’t, then you’re left with that awkwardness of two actors who used to be and no longer are.
Adam: And now they’re trying to do these romantic scenes together.
Sarah: And they secretly hate each other. You know, there is a fine line between love and hate so maybe a good enough actor could take that and translate it into something else, but here we are standing the test of time.
Adam: Here we are.
Sarah: What are some rules or guidelines you would advise to anyone for making that work or just separating the professional from the personal? What do you think?
Adam: You have to always remember, as I said before, that it’s a gift to be employed as an actor, and you don’t want to let anyone down. Make sure the job is the most important thing. If you fall for someone on set and you really, truly believe you’re meant to be together, then it’s strong enough to survive after the job—but the job is how you met, so make sure you do that justice.
Sarah: That’s right.
Adam: And trust that once the job’s done, it’s all going to work out. But I feel like it’s extremely disrespectful if you don’t put the job first, because that’s how you met.
Sarah: That’s exactly right. [Reading] When the show airs, will we be watching it, and will we be watching it together? Yes!
Adam: We already watched it together. We got sent the show.
Sarah: We both love this show so much, and we’re not saying it just because we’re in it. I’m a super harsh critic of shows, as are you. And not only is the storyline something I never get tired of, but it’s shot so beautifully. And the music is so amazing. And the issues that it tackles. And the emotions of long-term relationships, and kids, and old boyfriends that come back who happen to be the best sex of your life—and what are you going to do? And choices, choices, choices. It just does that so well. It really is my favorite show. We probably will be watching it even though we’ve already seen it.
Adam: Even though we’ve already seen it, I’m sure we will put it on.
Sarah: It’ll just be on in the background
Adam: Yeah, we’ll just wait and see what the world thinks, but luckily enough we’ve seen it and couldn’t be prouder, really.
Sarah: Last question. [Reading] When you do a show as graphic as this, are you going to tell your parents to watch it or not watch it?
Adam: I have the most biased mother in the world, and she’s my biggest fan, so if I told her not to watch something, she’ll always find a way anyway. I just told her to make sure to be ready to close her eyes or to turn the other way for a lot of the scenes that I’m in, because they’re those sex scenes, and I don’t think you want to see your grown-up son nude like that. So she’ll watch, but I’ve warned her. It’s more my mates back home in Australia that are going to give me the hardest time, and they will now have ammo on me to give me shit for the rest of my life. But luckily enough, if you’ve got supportive people around you, they’ll always watch it.
Sarah: Yeah, I think my mom is going to watch it. I don’t think my brother is going to be watching [laughs]. But, you know, one day I’ll do something everybody can watch.
Adam: Well, LEO, I’d like to thank you for sending this cute little reporter out here. It’s been a real pleasure.
CHECK OUT ADAM
As Brad Simon on Netflix’s new series Sex/Life
As August on Lifetime’s critically-acclaimed series UnReal
As Jake Taylor in Netflix’s Falling Inn Love
As Nate Baldwin in Australia’s ABC1 series Janet King
CHECK OUT SARAH
As Adrianna Tomaz / Isis in DC’s Black Adam
As Billie Connelly on Netflix’s new series Sex/Life
As Rachel Benham on Showtime’s City on A Hill
As Sameen Shaw on Jonathan Nolan’s series Person of Interest
As Carmen de la Pica Morales on Showtime’s The L Word