The Myth of Sexual Chemistry And How It Is Created
There is a commonly held myth that sexual chemistry comes from the physical or aesthetic attractiveness of individuals. This hot and sexy scene from Mr. & Mrs. Smith would seem to be proof of the truth of that myth, as two very attractive people seem to create a chemistry together that is almost palpable.
Just remember, however, that the same two individuals that created such smoking hot tension in that scene, also created “smoke” of a very different kind in this one:
So what happened? How can two people create such intense sexual tension in one scene and such destructive energy in another?
Chemistry is created by polarity, conflict is created by singularity.
Or, to put it another way:
Opposites attract, likes repel.
Take a look at this scene where Jane and John encounter each other for the first time in the field – without realizing it:
Notice how the desert scene is set up: Angelina Jolie (Mrs. Smith) is sitting high upon her lofty perch. She is planned, prepared, calculated – she looks at her watch, her timing is precise, ordered, logical, executive. She takes a sip of water, kicks back and crosses her legs, waiting, biding her time; trusting in her meticulous and immaculate planning. She doesn’t make a move that isn’t thought out and rethought out with several alternate routes and plans in place.
Enter Brad Pitt (Mr. Smith): He bursts onto the scene in a burst of loud, raucous music driving an audacious dune buggy. He giggles wildly as he drives creatively toward the same task that Mrs. Smith has been tasked with, but in an entirely different manner. He has no methodically planned out goals or meticulous checklists of details regarding time, place and location. He flies by the seat of his pants, trusting his gut, his instincts, his training and experience. His methods are the total antithesis of Mrs. Smith’s and that is the basis for the ultimate “explosive” chemistry that develops between them.
In his book The Way of the Superior Man: A Spiritual Guide to Mastering the Challenges of Women, Work and Sexual Desire, author David Deida provides some insightful clues as to not only what creates great sexual tension in the first place, but also what derails it.
“If you are a man with a masculine sexual essence, you will always feel sexual polarity with anyone who animates female energy.” – David Deida
Now, while this may be true, (and true in reverse as well) it is not necessarily very helpful to an actor however, because you will sometimes be called to feel intense attraction to a woman who does not necessarily exhibit intense “female” energy or as a woman, intense attraction to a man who does not exude strong "masculine" energy. Remember that “acting” is being and while you can “act” attracted to a costar for whom you are supposed to have a palpable attraction to, it will come off as flat and unrealistic and won’t draw audiences in the way the above scene from Mr. & Mrs. Smith does.
While Deida’s work does offer some invaluable insight on what polarity is and how it is created, from an acting perspective (and possibly even a human one) the fact that he consistently refers to “masculine energy” and “feminine energy” is troubling. He does identify them as being present in both men and women (which is true), but by labeling energies as either “masculine” or “feminine” he perpetuates the idea that there is a certain set of behaviors that are in general more appropriate for women and a different set of behaviors that are in general more appropriate for men. In addition:
Same sex couples (both on screen and in real life) will still need to embody the same polarity in their relationships to maintain or create “chemistry.”
To fully understand both the damage and confusion this creates both in real life as well as for actors trying to create “chemistry” on screen, imagine that all girls had their right arms bound at birth so they could only use their left arm, while all boys had their left arms bound so they could only use their right. How do you think this might affect left-handed boys and right-handed girls? Rather than acknowledging that the problem is actually that all people were meant to use both arms – or that some boys had a natural inclination toward being left handed while some girls had a natural inclination to be right handed it might lead them to conclude instead that they were simply “born into the wrong body!” (sound familiar?)
The useful part of what Deida says is that (in essence) we were all meant to use both our left and right arms or both the left and right halves of our brain, (both types of “energy”) but the mistake he makes is in continuing to refer to one as being “masculine” and the other as being “feminine.” As an actor, however, imagine that you could learn to tap into both sides of your own energy so strongly as to be able to create polarity with anyone cast to be your love interest!
What I suggest is that instead of thinking of energies in terms of “masculine” or “feminine,” you instead think of them as either executive or creative energies.
- Executive energies, as the name implies, are much like the executive functions of the brain that accomplish the tasks that an executive would. They are the energies that help us plan, coordinate and strategize. They help up budget our finances, show up on time to meetings and achieve and accomplish goals and tasks. Very few “creatives” would ever be successful without developing their “executive” functions, and it’s a disservice to humans to think of them as being “masculine” functions.
- Creative energies, on the other hand, are what allow us to “think outside the box” or even let go of our rigid work schedules to engage in recreation. (Notice the word recreation comes from the root word “create.”) Remember that just as “masculine” energies are not limited to men any more than “feminine” energies are limited to women, neither are “creative” energies limited to writers, artists, actors and other “creative types.” Executives have to create systems that keep their companies operating and flowing smoothly, just as computer programmers create new programs.
We need to stop thinking in terms of some people being “executives” while other people are “creatives” and think in terms of all people needing to operate at different times out of executive or creative energies.
So, what does all of this have to do with sex?
Let’s go back to Mr. and Mrs. Smith again and watch the desert scene. As you watch it this time, ask yourself “who is operating in their executive function and who is operating in their creative energy?”
The answer is, of course – Jane is operating in her executive (or “masculine”) energy while John is operating in the creative (or feminine) energy. This is why it is highly detrimental to refer to these energies as “masculine” and “feminine.” There is nothing “feminine” about Brad Pitt in this scene, and yet he is operating out of what is generally referred to as “feminine” energy while Jolie is operating out of the “traditional masculine.”
“Chemistry” then is created by the dance between the two energies. What matters is not who is operating out of their executive (masculine) and who is operating out of their creative (feminine) but rather that their energies are polar!
Let’s go back once again and look at the “fight scene” between Jane and John in the house:
Do you notice the problem?
They are both attempting to operate out of their executive energy and singularity creates CONFLICT!
Now let’s look at the dance scene again:
Notice who leads who onto the dance floor. Jane takes the lead – which is an executive function, but once on the dance floor, John steps up into the Executive function and takes the lead – and she drops back into the “creative” or “following” function. The “chemistry” is still happening due to polarity but it is not based on a static “masculine” (executive)/ “feminine” (creative) polarity, but rather a polarity that flows from one to the other. She steps forward he follows, he steps forward, she steps back. It is both literally and figuratively a dance.
Now look at this image from the last scene of the movie:
This is the ultimate chemistry/ polarity and it doesn’t just apply to men and women.
This is the kind of polarity that makes or breaks any and every buddy movie, great romance or on-screen partnership. It all starts with true polarity – two people that have very different ways of doing things: an executive and a creative – and eventually they fight over who gets to be THE executive until eventually they develop a dance, a pattern, a rhythm in which they flow in and out of the executive and creative. We go in together, I go high, you go low. I kick the door in, you go in first. I write the play, you sell it – you sell your first house, I celebrate your success.
Ironically, whether buddy movies or romances work or not, depends on polarity between the actors – whether or not they can accept each other as equals. Almost all romance and buddy movies start with actors that have polarity. Whether or not they eventually fly or crash and burn depends on whether or not they try and push each other into static roles where one is “higher” and one is “lower” – or whether they develop a “polarity” dance, where they flow from top to bottom, front to back, left to right and back again.