We are in 2015. Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons just met on the set of Fargo. For the next few months, as they worked on the show’s second season, they played a married couple. They kiss, cuddle and argue, just like real couples do. Their on-screen chemistry is enough to make you forget they’re acting at all.
But then again, maybe they weren’t acting? This week the couple announced they had married in Jamaica, six years after their on-screen romance and nine months after their film The power of the dog premiered, in which they again starred as a couple.
Dunst and Plemons are by no means the first Hollywood couple whose romance began on screen. Of course, the infamous romance between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie started on the set of Mr and Mrs Smith in 2005. Although Pitt was married to Jennifer Aniston at the time of filming, Jolie has since admitted that it was while they were working together on set that they first fell in love.
Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson know the feeling. Branagh ended his marriage to Thompson in 1995 after falling in love with Helena Bonham Carter on the set of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. She was playing her love back then.
And the scandals continue: last October, Dominic West and Lily James were spotted kissing in Rome after filming a TV series The pursuit of lovedespite West’s 11-year marriage to landscape designer Catherine FitzGerald.
Then there’s Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, whose relationship began playing the tortured high school lovers in the Dusk movies, creating a real-life relationship that lasted four years.
There was Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder, who met on the set of Edward Scissorhands. Depp was so smitten with his on-screen girlfriend that while filming, he got a “Winona Forever” tattoo. Let’s also not forget Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, who dated for three years after playing Notebook‘s doomed protagonists.
And Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton; Ryan Gosling and Eva Mendes; Rachel Weisz and Daniel Craig; Kit Harington and Rose Leslie; Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield; Freida Pinto and Dev Patel; Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck. The list is lengthened increasingly.
Yet the connection between romance and acting is still understudied, so to speak. The researchers Thalia Goldstein, assistant professor of psychology at George Mason University, and Paul Bloom, a psychology professor at Yale University, are among the first cognitive scientists to study what happens to the brain during a theatrical performance. They found that when preparing for a role, actors typically spend a lot of energy rearranging their mental state to fit the character they are playing.
And when actors have to pretend to fall in love? “They put their bodies and their words into positions and interactions that are fictional, but their bodies and actions mimic reality,” Goldstein said. I. “So actors may interpret fictional behaviors as real and therefore follow their emotions.”
Likewise, actors are also trained to be open and emotionally intelligent in order to play a variety of characters. “They may be more likely to be open to the possibilities of emotional connections with others who are also emotionally intelligent and open,” Goldstein suggests.
The phenomenon of actors falling in love is well known in the industry. “It’s called a mild form of possession,” says Dr. Glenn Wilson, psychologist and author of Psychology for performers. Although extremely common, it is still considered a professional hazard for administrators.
Zendaya and Tom Holland have been warned to keep their relationship professional before playing MJ and Peter Parker in Spider-Man: No Coming Home. “I took Tom and Zendaya aside, separately, when we first picked them up and gave them a talk,” Spider Man producer Amy Pascal said The New York Times Last year. “Don’t go – don’t go. Try not to. I gave the same advice to Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. It can just complicate things, you know? And they all ignored me.
An assistant director of an upcoming big-budget Hollywood film, who asked to remain anonymous, said nothing in the contract prevented actors from getting involved with their co-stars. “There is only a conflict of interest clause in the contracts. So maybe if you hooked up with another crew member or actor it would become a conflict of interest if it got in the way of you doing what you were hired to do but nothing specific says you can’t log in.
This can mean film sets are littered with inappropriate relationships. “There’s nothing stopping older actors from dating younger actors – I’ve seen that happen,” he says.
Wilson says actors who end up falling in love with their co-stars often want the role to support them. “They engage in character, immersing themselves in the feelings of the character,” he says. “The more real they can make it, the more compelling the performance will be. Often there’s a kind of chemistry that comes out that would be hard to replicate through a more technical approach to acting.
Technical actors maintain more detachment from their character, retaining a clearer sense of self throughout their performance, Wilson explains. Immersive actors, however, are more likely to live and believe the emotions of their role, which makes them vulnerable to romantic “possession.”
“It can be terribly destructive. For the cast of Method, the deeper the immersion, the more real it’s going to become for you, even though from an outside perspective it may be a fantasy,” Wilson explains.
Often romantic relationships conceived on screen do not last; take the couple Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth, who met during filming The last song in 2009. Or Blake Lively and Penn Badgley, who met and then finally broke up on the set of Gossip Girl. And the The Big Bang Theory‘s Kaley Cuoco and Johnny Galecki who, after two years together, broke up as the series was about to enter its 10th season.
“I think that’s why we see so many divorces in Hollywood. Actor couples are often possessed by the characters they play and really feel in love, if only temporarily. is that when the couple get married that they find out that it’s a bit of a fantasy or an illusion,” says Wilson.
But let’s not dwell on unfortunate endings when we could be congratulating the new Mr and Mrs Plemons on their big day. Here’s hoping their union is a smash hit rather than going straight to DVD.