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How Matt Bomer and Jonathan Bailey navigated the sexual politics of “Fellow Travelers”

"The art of the sex scene is so profound." The two stars talk about their explicit moments on screen and the powerful storytelling that's really at play.

<p>Ben Mark Holzberg/SHOWTIME</p> Hawkins (Matt Bomer) and Tim (Jonathan Bailey) dance on Fire Island in

Ben Mark Holzberg/SHOWTIME

Hawkins (Matt Bomer) and Tim (Jonathan Bailey) dance on Fire Island in 'Fellow Travelers'

Matt Bomer and Jonathan Bailey do some pretty unspeakable things to each other on camera for Fellow Travelers, whether it's the Bridgerton and Wicked star sucking on Bomer's toes in the premiere episode or the White Collar and Magic Mike stud channeling his inner dom daddy throughout. It's the kind of sexual escapades that force you to clutch your pearls and then realize, "I wasn't even wearing pearls. How did these get around my neck?!"

Maybe it's because we don't often see this kind of raw, unfiltered depiction of gay sexuality put on display for television, even on a premium network like Showtime. "I had never read anything like that before in a screenplay," Bomer tells EW.

"It's provocative and it's all the things that will draw an audience in, or at least get people talking," Bailey remarks in a separate interview. "But then, why is it there? Well, it makes sense." To Bailey's point, there's a lot of story packed into the intimate moments of Fellow Travelers. It's like tricking someone to eat their vegetables: the two nearly naked handsome Hollywood actors in their prime is the alluring melted cheese, but that desperation you feel emanating off two societally suppressed gay characters is the broccoli underneath.

"Anything that feels voyeuristic or chemical to the audience whilst watching it is right, because that is just how overwhelming it is when you do finally come together in a world that deems your love and intimacy foul or incorrect," Bailey explains. "So it becomes a multidimensional experience for the performers, but also for the people watching at home. I just think there's no doubt with this that the art of the sex scene is so profound."

Ben Mark Holzberg/SHOWTIME Jonathan Bailey's Tim and Matt Bomer's Hawk in 'Fellow Travelers'
Ben Mark Holzberg/SHOWTIME Jonathan Bailey's Tim and Matt Bomer's Hawk in 'Fellow Travelers'

Bomer and Bailey star in Fellow Travelers as Hawk and Tim, who first meet and start an intoxicating affair in 1950s Washington, D.C., a time and place when Senator McCarthy (Chris Bauer) has launched the "Lavender Scare" purge of homosexuals from government positions. The series continues to track Hawk and Tim's relationship across decades, often bouncing between the past and the drama's 1980s present, when Bailey's Tim is stricken with AIDS.

The seventh episode, "White Nights," premiering on Paramount+ Friday and on Showtime this Sunday, sees these on-again, off-again lovers in the '70s on Fire Island. Bailey's mustache says it all. The sex reflects this next setting, which was (and still is) a rare safe haven for these men to express themselves openly.

The actors knew how much emotional and physical intimacy would be required of them for Fellow Travelers from the jump. "It was all on the page," Bailey recalls. "I read the script before I spoke with [showrunner] Ron Nyswaner, so I knew exactly what they were trying to do." The pair recall meeting with each other in Toronto, where the show primarily filmed, at Goldstruck Coffee on Cumberland Street. "It writes itself," Bailey jokes of the shop's playful name. "We were like, we need to see how each other are doing. We got to know each other in a way that was vicariously through the characters. That first conversation, we were totally committed to having each other's backs."

<p>Ben Mark Holzberg/SHOWTIME</p> Matt Bomer's Hawk stands on the shores of Fire Island in 'Fellow Travelers'

Ben Mark Holzberg/SHOWTIME

Matt Bomer's Hawk stands on the shores of Fire Island in 'Fellow Travelers'

The sex scenes weren't something they overly discussed with each other, beyond "certain intricacies" they had to work out, Bomer says. "Obviously, we were very respectful of each other's boundaries. You did the work on the character, you showed up on set, you knew what your job was, and then you just hopefully try to let it fly when they call action."

"When you're going on set and it's 3 in the morning and you've done 16 hours worth of filming and you are about to only start the intimacy scenes, you do have to summon the angels and listen to Enya and draw from the ground to muster up the courage," Bailey says, playfully. "But that feeling of having to build your confidence and to put your armor on to do that is exactly right, because that's what the characters are feeling."

For Bomer, when it came to the onscreen sex, he enjoyed what he calls Hawk's "zero f---s given" vibe. "Hawk does have a public persona that he needs to survive and maneuver in the world that he's in, but underneath it all is a real 'f--- you,'" he says. "That for me was so refreshing to get to play, but it was also really refreshing to see — not that every intimate gay relationship is like that, but to see an aspect of gay sex brought to life in such an authentic and unflinching way."

Fellow Travelers airs Fridays on Paramount+ and Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime.

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