Getting actors to kiss on screen is something that is sometimes awkward for directors to ask their actors to do. And if you find yourself in this position, you might be wondering: Do actors really kiss? For me, as the actor and the director starring in my own film, oftentimes it is not the easiest thing either. Make it another girl and you are asking a lot.
The one thing that has helped me in this role was having a super professional cast that believed in my vision 1000%. I had to kiss three different characters (all women) in my new film, Little Fishes. In a commercial for VH1, I had to kiss a robot, but that’s another story.
Do Actors Really Kiss?
Other actors and directors ask me all the time about on-screen kisses. Whether you are the actor, director or both, there are ways to keep the process painless.
1. Be clear and ask – Make sure the actor is okay with kissing on camera. Seems easy, but some actors will refuse to do it. Funny thing is that it has nothing to do with being camera-shy. My opinion is that they think that they cannot stand up to the pressure or they will be judged by their lack of prowess in the kissing department. Anyone on a film set can tell you that the set is the least erotic place on earth, due to a glut of extra personnel on hand. As an actor, be sure to tell the director that it’s your first time if it is.
2. Steer clear of joking about it – It’s true for cast and crew. I tell my actors not to joke with each other about “having to kiss” later on. The kiss is part of the script as is everything else in the script.
3. Nerves are going to happen, so embrace it – Do actors really kiss? I approach this question by having my actors do a bit of simple partner yoga to relieve the stress of doing a love scene.
4. Don’t do a lot of rehearsing – This is a way to keep the moment fresh. Save it for the screen. I like to say, “And then they kiss.” I can recall some stories I’ve heard that actors will actually sleep with each other (by accident, they claim) rehearsing for an upcoming love scene. Save it for the screen.
5. Chapstick and peanuts – Be frank about allergies or aliments with the director before the kissing scene takes place. Play it safe by letting the other actors know if they are at risk.
6. If it’s the first time with a member of the same sex – Remind your yourself or your actors that this is a role you’re playing in a movie, not a life choice or coming out to your family and friends. No director will force you into a role you don’t agree to do. If you don’t want to do it, let the director know before any shooting happens. It may not be the right part for you.
7. Keep it to the script – Sometimes the action in a love scene goes further than just kissing. What I get asked all the time by actors is how “far” they should go in the scene. My answer is: GO BACK AND READ THE SCRIPT. If the script suggests “They kiss and Winnie removes her shirt,” then the character will remove their shirt. The actor will sometimes then ask: “Does she have another shirt on under that?” Lately, I write my scripts (or add notes to a script) like this to avoid confusion: “They kiss and Winnie removes her shirt, baring her breasts to her partner.” And yes, the camera, too.
8. Make it personal – Not every kiss is a passionate one. A goodbye kiss is different from a first kiss, a mafia kiss of death or a Your Back from the War kiss. Every actor must know that they will communicate a lot of information in how they approach their kiss. So make it personal and use Sense Memory if you can.
9. Discussing with you significant other about your upcoming scene – I think it’s important to do that. However, if you want to be a professional actor, you will, at some point, need to kiss another actor. If your partner doesn’t understand this fact, the reason is that they don’t respect your craft. Jealousy is a human emotion and should be dealt with. Remind your partner why you are doing the role and what it means to you.
10. Don’t sweat it and have fun – Making art is what you love to do or you wouldn’t be doing it. Dreading an onscreen kiss can be devastating to your psyche. It will only make it harder to perform and, in the process, the fear will only build up. Excuses will come to your mind only because of fear. Take a meditative 20-minute break when you get anxiety. Close your eyes and ask yourself: “What is the worse thing that could happen if I do this?” The best part about being an actor is going for it. So go for it and have fun.
Alexia Anastasio is an independent female filmmaker and producer best known for her internationally celebrated documentary, Adventures in Plymptoons. Her work on the feature documentaries includes: Editor of Vampira: The Movie; Associate Producer of The Wild World of Ted V. Mikels; Co-producer of Beyond the Noise: My Transcendental Meditation Journey; Director of documentary, Ginger Girls: The Secret Lives of Redheads and Director of narrative, Little Fishes.