Do Actors Really Kiss?

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Photo Source: “Love Life” Courtesy HBO Max

For new and aspiring actors, the prospect of playing a role that involves kissing can be daunting. One of the first questions you’ll most likely ask is: Do actors actually kiss? This can be a major concern if you’re uncomfortable with the idea of being intimate with someone you may just be meeting for the first time. 

So, do actors really kiss? It depends. They usually do some form of kissing, but there are ways to get around it, such as with carefully chosen camera angles or smart editing.

Whether you wind up locking lips with another actor or not, there’s a lot that goes into kissing scenes that you should know about.

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How do actors kiss?

Scene from 'Love'“Love” Courtesy Suzanne Hanover/Netflix

The mechanics of kissing scenes vary wildly; the famous Tobey Maguire–Kirsten Dunst upside-down “Spiderman” kiss required different logistics than the three-way Gael García Bernal–Diego Luna–Maribel Verdú “Y Tu Mamá También” kiss, for example. Scene tone and rhythm, magnetism, and kissing style are the main elements that factor into any kissing scene.

  • Scene tone and rhythm: Matching the kiss with the tone and rhythm of the scene is the most significant factor; you don’t want to bring the hilariously awkward Kathryn Hahn–John C. Reilly “Step Brothers” kissing energy to a scene that calls for Kate Winslet–Leonardo DiCaprio “Titanic” romantic kissing (or vice versa). Your director or intimacy coordinator may instruct you on how they want your kiss performed, or they may leave it to the discretion of you and your castmate. Don’t forget: the timing and intensity must be just right for the scene to work.
  • Magnetism: Actions like maintaining eye contact, holding each other, gradually leaning in, slightly opening your mouth, or puckering your lips during the lead-up help visibly create magnetism between you and your partner that will elevate the chemistry of the kiss. 
  • Kissing style: After you decide how to dress the kiss, figure out if it should be open- or closed-mouth. Unless the scene explicitly calls for it, keeping your tongue to yourself is usually a good idea. 

If you’re acting out a tender love affair, consider making the kiss delicate and drawn-out. When a sudden burst of passion is called for, try going for it with reckless abandon. With longer kisses, you may want to mix it up; try breaking it off before going back in or moving from closed-mouth to open-mouth. In all cases, work with your scene partner to figure out what feels natural and comfortable.

How to prepare for a kissing scene

Florence Pugh and Harry Styles in 'Don't Worry Darling'“Don't Worry Darling” Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Considering how complicated kissing can be off-camera, it’s important to prepare for your onscreen kiss before lips meet lips. Having a familiarity with the script, rapport with your scene partner, good oral hygiene, and openness with your real-life partner, if you have one, will all help prepare you for a kissing scene. 

  • Know the story: Understanding the dramatic weight behind a kissing scene will help you get in the right mindset to perform. Without this knowledge, the moment may fall flat. For example, in “The Notebook,” Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams play a couple whose relationship is riddled with hardship and tragedy. But despite many setbacks, their passion endures, culminating with a heated confrontation and an iconic rain-drenched kiss. What makes the moment so impactful? The lead-up. When the two embrace, they release the emotional pressure that has been building up between them, making the kiss more than just a kiss. 
  • Break the ice with your kissing partner: Review the scene with your castmate before rehearsals begin. Discussing the kiss, joking around, and building a rapport can go a long way toward nurturing the all-too-crucial chemistry that will make your fictional romance believable. If you both stay friendly, respectful, communicative, and professional, the scene is more likely to go smoothly. 
  • Keep it clean: Practice good oral hygiene if you’re participating in a kissing scene. Floss, brush your teeth, and rinse with mouthwash before rehearsals and performances. (Of course, if you’re like Jennifer Lawrence, you can play a prank on your Liam Hemsworth and chow down on some tuna and garlic before your kiss to cause a chuckle—but we don’t recommend this as standard practice.)
  • Be honest in your relationship: If you’re in a romantic relationship, discuss your kissing scene with your real-life partner(s) in advance. Knowing that your partner is aware of the kissing scene ahead of time will make you more comfortable when it takes place.

READ: 10 Actors on How to Respect Your Scene Partner 

Do actors rehearse kissing scenes?

Scene from 'Killing Eve'“Killing Eve” David Emery/BBCA

Actors may be asked to practice kissing scenes during rehearsal to resolve any issues, or they may be asked to hold off so the kiss feels organic. Usually, a director will request that the scene be rehearsed (or not) and discuss that choice with the actors until a decision or compromise is reached. Intimacy coordinators can assist with this process during rehearsals by emphasizing technique, consent-forward frameworks, safety, and open communication.

While you may be able to fake kissing for some or all your rehearsals, it’s usually a good idea to try the real deal out at least once before shooting for several reasons:

  • To break any anticipation brewing between you and your castmate
  • To figure out each other’s bodily rhythm and sync up. If you’re not moving at the same pace, it’ll throw the scene out of whack.
  • To practice your kiss in front of your peers in a constructive setting prior to a performance, when the pressure will be higher

Before and during rehearsals, you and your castmate should discuss all the details of kissing we mentioned earlier. Outline your boundaries and talk about where you can touch each other (on the shoulders, waist, thighs, or even lips only) before you start getting physical. After rehearsal, go over the scene with them. Did you feel good about it? Were you uncomfortable? Let them know!

Can actors refuse kissing scenes?

Scene from 'Outer Banks'“Outer Banks” Courtesy Jackson Lee Davis/Netflix

Actors may hesitate to kiss another actor for a myriad of personal reasons, including sexuality, religion, relationship status, germophobia, or fear of an orally transmitted disease. You are within your rights to refuse a kissing scene, but the director will also be within their rights to find an actor who will perform the scene as written. 

Many directors are empathetic when it comes to the concerns of their actors. Be honest with them about your reservations. If they’re aware of how you feel, they might adapt the rehearsal environment to make you more comfortable.

Alternatives to kissing on set

Scene from 'Kissing Booth 2'“Kissing Booth 2” Credit: Marcos Cruz/Netflix

If your anxiety over locking lips begins to overwhelm you, here are a few options for avoiding it altogether:

  • The stage kiss: In this technique, one actor cups the other’s face in a way that appears natural and romantic before drawing them in. Right before they connect, the former places their thumb over the latter’s lips so that no direct mouth-to-mouth contact occurs.
  • Blocking: The director can position you in relation to the camera or audience in a way that disguises what’s going on up close. 
  • A blackout: If you’re working on the stage, the technical director can cut the lights just as the kiss is supposed to occur. If you and your partner are positioned to suggest a kiss is happening, the audience will fill in the blank with their imagination. 
  • A stunt double: This only works if you’re filming, and it’s highly circumstantial. Not only will you need someone who you are comfortable kissing on hand, they’ll also have to look like the actor they’re standing in for. 
  • A different action: Your director may be willing to substitute a kiss for another physically intimate movement that conveys the same meaning, such as a loving embrace. 

Unfortunately, not every director will bend the rules for you. If everything else fails, maybe the part just isn’t for you. You can always try to find another role within the production and leave the kissing to someone else.

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