When people ask me if my husband is an actor, I always joke and say “No, I can’t be the stable one in the relationship,” but it’s true! I do believe there are a lot of advantages to dating people I call “civilians” (people with 9-to-5 jobs and careers). The next question is always: what about kissing scenes?
Working as an actor can make for a rocky ride: the endless auditions (or lack thereof); the excitement that comes with booking a job; the depression that comes from losing one (you were perfect for); constantly changing (and canceling) plans at a moment’s notice; the physical and emotional demands; the agents that drop you; the new ones you sign with; the negotiation of contracts; the years of training; the breakthroughs; the regressions; dealing with unrewarding side jobs; the dry spells; the financial instability…
The ups and downs can be difficult for an actor’s significant other to keep up with.
Dating & Relationships Between Actors & Civilians
While some aspects of a relationship would seem easier for a couple with two actors in it, for the most part, there is a lot more potential for turmoil (like having two unstable incomes, the potential for significant time away from each other, career-envy, to name a few). Not that it’s all roses the other way.
If you are a civilian, especially one who doesn’t work in the film or TV industry, the prospect of dating an actor can be exciting. Acting is mysterious to most people which makes it intriguing. “How do they do it?” “Is it real or not?” “What is real, and what is not?” The world of acting is fascinating and generally fun to imagine. Initially, you may take pride: My better half is on TV, in the movies! That’s pretty sexy, right?
Until (here’s the record scratch) you realize your actor/actress partner may have to kiss other people on the job. They may have to embrace and pretend they are making love or having sex. They may even have to get naked in front of many people on set, and be seen in these private ways by countless viewers on television and film. Before you can even make up your mind on what that means for you, you may think of your parents, siblings, friends, co-workers, roommates… What will they think?
Here I’d like to butt in (no pun intended) and say that there is no right or wrong way to think or feel about it. Some civilians will mind kissing scenes more than others and that doesn’t make any of them any better or worse than the next person.
These things are so very personal. For instance, my husband doesn’t like the idea of me getting undressed on set or having to kiss a pretend-husband in a kissing scene. Other civilians may be more open to it. One partner is not better than the other; I certainly wouldn’t trade my husband for anyone in the world. For the record, I have dated people who were more open to it than he is and I still didn’t marry them.
A relationship has many aspects; the sum of its parts is more important that any one single aspect. And let’s face it, most civilians never even have to consider such issues. So for the civilians who are reading: cut yourself some slack if this topic makes you uneasy (actors should cut their civilian-significant-others some slack too).
For actors, there are a few important things to address:
- Being clear on where you stand;
- Helping your partner find out where he/she stands;
- Creating guidelines that will be respected from both parties in the relationship.
Here I will point out that the more prominent the role, the more likely the actor will have a love interest or a partner in a movie or show. In this case, it will be difficult to rule out the things real people do within the confines of relationships (kissing, hugging and having basic conjugal interactions).
Consider the Hard Questions – Before They Come Up
Also note that roles (especially in television) often evolve, and writers can’t necessarily predict where your character will end up. For instance, Aaron Paul was meant to guest star in three episodes of Breaking Bad, so was Damian Lewis in Homeland. These actors had great chemistry with their co-stars (Bryan Cranston and Claire Danes) and so the writers changed entire story lines around them.
On the flip side, if as an actor you’re more likely to play small roles (“actor” and “small principal” roles in Canada or “costars” in the US), or you work primarily in the commercial sector, you are less likely to be asked to have physical contact with other actors. Still, nothing is impossible; you may be asked to play a couple, to be in bed with someone, and so on.
So, as an actor, you must answer some hard questions:
- Will you accept jobs that require physical contact with others? If so, what about same sex contact?
- Will you accept jobs that require you to get undressed? If so, are there any limits as to when you will or will not do so?
- How will your choices be communicated to your agent, manager, etc.?
Whatever your answers, I believe it is important, as an actor, to know why your choices are important to you. For example, I do not want to be restricted in my choices of roles because I view myself as a piano player: I want to play all the notes on the piano!
It’s important for me to be able to play all types of roles, regardless of whether there is intimate physical interaction with other actors or not. That said, I am not comfortable with getting fully undressed and I would only do so for a director, screenplay and production company I absolutely love, respect, and trust.
I would have to believe in the project and feel that it was essential to the story. This is easy to communicate to my agent. When she asks me if I’m ok with nudity, my reply is a resounding No, BUT, that under certain very special circumstances, I might consider it. Since she’s represented me for years, she knows what that means, and she’ll only ever approach me with nudity if she feels the project meets my criteria.
Navigating Your Decisions with your Partner
Once you are clear about where you stand (as an actor), and you realize that you don’t want restrictions on the roles you’ll play, you should ask your civilian partner how they feel about your decision:
- Can they accept your decision to work on roles that require physical contact with others?
- Can they accept your decision to work on roles that require you to get undressed?
As you have these discussions, you and your partner may need some time to digest this information and answer these questions. If so, both partners should be patient and not force the issue. Here, remember that time has a marvelous way of helping thoughts distill, so sometimes a talk that occurs over several days or weeks can yield more positive results than a one-time sit-down can.
If, as an actor you want freedom to accept all types of roles, but you feel some resistance from your partner, perhaps you can to ask them what they need to feel safe in the relationship:
- If they need control: Would your partner like to see you work in real time (in class perhaps?) so they can get a better sense of what it is you are doing exactly, and to get an idea of what physical contact looks like in real life?
- If they prefer letting go: Would they prefer not to know any details about what goes on set and/or in class? If so, should they be warned before a production airs that you have some scenes they won’t like?
- How will you discuss this topic going forward?
A good rule of thumb is to explain:
- A little bit about your process as an actor (what is real, what is not);
- Why accepting certain types of jobs is important to you, or not;
- How you plan on communicating in the future when certain jobs come up.
Whatever the situation, you are not wrong for wanting, or not wanting physical contact with other actors, or for being comfortable or uncomfortable getting undressed on set. No one should judge you for your decisions, and neither should you. You are an artist, so whatever your decisions are, own them.
As the civilian partner, you are not wrong either for not wanting your partner to have physical contact with other actors, or for not being comfortable with them getting undressed on set. No one should judge you for how you feel, and neither should you. You feel how you feel, so own it.
Lastly if you both cannot reconcile your preferences in your relationship, you will both have to decide if your partner’s views and choices are a deal breaker, and why. Again, there is no right or wrong answer here, just the one you can both live with without resentment for each other.
Conclusion: Finding a Peaceful Resolution
If you and your partner are struggling, consider couples therapy. It can be a wonderful way to air grievances in a safe space and if separating is a non-starter for you, it can help you find ways of dealing with the feelings around this complex issue. I also recommend a book called Attached about relationship attachment styles. It may give you a sense of your attachment style and of your boundaries.
As far as knowing when to discuss this, there is no wrong time. If you became an actor before you met, you can certainly discuss this topic as you begin dating. It is not a fun topic, but it will start the relationship on the right foot, since you will both have to be honest about your thoughts and feelings.
If you start acting after being in the relationship, then discuss it when this topic comes up for you or even before, if it’s something that you’ve been thinking about.
Either way, this conversation has the potential to strengthen your relationship, so go for it!
My name is Lili Wexu, I am a Canadian-American actress. I moved to Los Angeles some years ago and I’ve written a few e-books about acting in Los Angeles to help other actors who are considering relocating here (or have recently relocated). Feel free to check them out.