TV show Adult Material: 'We left before the sex, because I got nervous’

A new Channel 4 drama presents a female perspective on the porn industry, and it probably isn't surprising that one  of the cast had mixed feelings about being on set during the making of a real adult movie
TV show Adult Material: 'We left before the sex, because I got nervous’

 Siena Kelly in Adult Material on Channel 4.

The new, female-led Channel 4 drama, from Skins writer Lucy Kirkwood, is different from anything on our screens lately, exploring a career most people wouldn’t know much about – it’s a thought-provoking look at the 21st century world of porn.

And so they “watched every documentary we could get our hands on, and read books and podcasts”, notes London-born Squires, 32.

“Also, we had an adviser on the show, Rebecca More, who’s worked in the adult industry for quite a few years,” continues the chatty star.

“I had lunch with her a few times, and she did rehearsals with myself and Siena and taught us the body language of a porn star, and the mindset, and all of those kinds of things.

“She was very open about her life, and advised and encouraged and really let us in.” 

Squires, who has also starred in Ken Loach film I, Daniel Blake, and BBC series The Miniaturist, recalls visiting a real-life porn set while they were shooting, too.

“We left before the sex, because I got nervous,” she quips, laughing. “I was like, ‘I think it’s time to go, they’re taking their clothes off!’” “We were there for four hours,” pipes up rising British star Kelly, 24.

“And they still hadn’t got down to it!” Squires follows. “It takes hours and hours and hours to make these films, it takes so long.”

 In four-parter Adult Material, Squires plays Jolene Dollar, a regular mother of three, who is proudly the breadwinner of the family – but is also one of the top porn performers in the UK.

One day on set, Jolene is introduced to Amy, played by Kelly. At 19, she is not much older than Jolene’s oldest daughter Phoebe (played by Alex Jarrett) and straight away Jolene looks after Amy the way that she looks after every new girl on set.

 Hayley Squires in Adult Material on Channel 4.
 Hayley Squires in Adult Material on Channel 4.

But she can’t protect Amy from her own choices, and soon her relationship with this unstable young woman will see Jolene’s own career and home life start to unravel.

“I had never read a character like that,” Kelly says when discussing the appeal of playing Amy.

“When I first read the scripts, I never knew what was going on.

“My mouth was on the floor pretty much every scene, I never knew what she was going to do next or what she was capable of. I just thought she was fascinating.” “I knew she definitely reminded me of people that I’ve met before,” adds the actress, who also appeared in Sky One medical drama Temple last year.

“So, I definitely took influence from friends that I have, and a couple of people on [ITV 2 reality show] Love Island as well… “But, yeah, she’s a bit ‘out there’ and a very instinctive young girl.” Kirkwood’s writing is full of shocking twists (you just wait for the end of episode one…) What also attracted the pair to the Adult Material scripts was how Kirkwood doesn’t try to make the viewers feel a certain way about the porn industry and those who work in it.

“I’ve never read anything for TV where it’s looking at a particular industry or a particular way of life and it isn’t prescriptive,” suggests Squires.

“There isn’t a kind of judgment on it, and there isn’t a black and white answer as to how you’re supposed to feel. And it isn’t preachy.

“Lucy’s writing is so clever, her dialogue’s so clever, the way she tells stories is so clever and complex and with something like this, it’s so easy for people to just preach and for writing to just be a mouthpiece for their opinion, and it was the complete opposite for me.” There is one clear message in the show though, according to Squires.

It comes down to basic humanity, and being a morally good person… regardless of what anybody does for a living, and regardless of what anyone does with their life, nobody deserves to be abused and nobody has the right to abuse somebody. 

The co-stars agree they had to immerse themselves in a very different world for this show.

But Squires reasons the show is a family drama as much as it is about porn.

“She does it for a living, and porn is where these events unravel that lead them on the journey that they go on, but I didn’t really ever feel overwhelmed with all of that.

“I always felt more to do with this character and who is she and how does she relate to the rest of the people in her life.” Kelly reflects on this too, noting how there are probably fewer sex scenes in Adult Material than there are in, say, a period drama.

“And I think also this show is probably going to make you think you’ve seen more than you have,” she elaborates.

“When I auditioned, they sent out like a three-page piece of text explaining how they were going to film everything, and why they were making this programme, which you never really get when you’re going for auditions.

“But I think they were just making sure that the actors felt safe before they even decided to walk in. A lot of it they were like, ‘We’re going to be filming people’s faces and things that are around the set rather than filming the sex’.

“Sex is like the least important thing of it, it’s more about we’re following these humans who happen to work in this industry.” What does Squires think viewers will take away from watching Jolene and her story?

“I kind of think people are going to react to her in different ways,” she muses.

“Some people might find her irritating, I think some people might find her too bold, and other people are going to love her.

“But I suppose ultimately it comes back to this universal thing that Lucy does – you never know what’s going on in people’s lives.

“Meeting Rebecca, who’s been a porn star and was our adviser, she’s the kindest, smartest, empathetic woman who helped us so much and was so kind and generous and encouraging and was for women and loves women.

“You can’t judge anybody on what they do for a living.”

Adult Material starts on Channel 4 on Monday October 5. All episodes will then be available to boxset on All 4.

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