Becoming an Actor: Do Romeo & Juliet Always Sleep Together?Date: 7 October 2011
Eva Longoria, who you’ll know if you’ve watched Desperate Housewives, like I haven’t, said “I think what destroys Hollywood marriages is our work schedule, not so much infidelity.”
Perhaps she’s right. Whatever the justification, there certainly is a perception that actors struggle to maintain relationships. Although it could just be a skewed perception, as David Grewcock pointed out in The Stage last week “our industry is full of gossipy types”, there might be more to it.
Aside from the world of philandering celebrities that, as Dr Ruth Westheimer rightly points out, “tells us very little about the average couple," there’s apparently been a longstanding arrangement between actors and relationship instability. It appears not a lot has changed since the days of Shakespeare and his ‘dark lady’ as I heard recently that, for actors working with the RSC, Stratford‐upon‐Avon has always been known as "the relationship graveyard". There must be a degree of hyperbole there but, if there is a basis in truth, then I want to know why before I fall into the bear pit next year.
It might be because we’re in a ‘tactile industry’. Short rehearsal time dictates that we have to become more familiar with new people, more quickly than might normally happen, in order to create the best possible work. Where we differ from other industries is that we have to know each other physically and emotionally. It’s like jumping straight in at the deep‐end, without spending time in the shallows discovering who has a sister working as a lab technician in Hull. It’s necessary for a group to feel entirely comfortable with this in order to be able to play and take emotional leaps safely.
But where does the line get drawn? If you build up a tight romantic relationship with someone in rehearsals for a play it must be difficult for that forged closeness not to spill over into the pub. Not to mention that it might seem false if you were to be very ‘tactile’ with someone in rehearsals, then avoid them socially.
If actors, especially famous or respected actors, are designed to play and to push the boundaries, free from retribution, it’s not surprising that they start to believe that “they are above the moral standards of other people," as psychologist Colin Gill has pointed out. He also adds: “They are used to doing what they like, when they like... normal rules do not apply.” I should point out that, though Colin Gill was talking about fame, the sentiments behind it are applicable.
I’m not suggesting that Romeo and Juliet are always sleeping together backstage, but if you breach normal physical boundaries, even for the sake of a piece of theatre, it can only make it easier to fall into an unfaithful situation.
If Eva is right then perhaps it’s not temptation but workload we should be looking at. My girlfriend, though I can’t ever imagine her being unfaithful, is away on tour at the moment, and will be for another six weeks.
Touring, much like filming, will inevitably take you far away from your home for long periods of time. Though it’s easy to pick up the phone, or Skype, it’s not quite the same as being physically present with another person. You can still feel the distance, both physically and in terms of workload.
It’s easy to feel left behind if your partner is off having fresh experiences with new people who you’ve, very often, never met. If nothing else, it’s because you’re still in a world that reminds you of them whilst they are in places that they wouldn’t ever associate with you. Though it won’t necessarily lead to infidelity or a break‐up, it’s more likely to put you both in different headspaces, and put a tax on the relationship.
If you’re worried about maintaining a relationship then objectivity and professionalism is the answer. I’m sure that for all relationships that stumble there are many more that hold their stride... but perhaps, because we’re gossipers, we don’t hear about those quite as much.
The current plan to avoid relationship turmoil is to make sure my partner and I take the time to visit each other whilst she’s touring; it’s doubly nice for me because I get to see towns I’ve not been to before.
Anyway, it’s probably not a problem exclusive to actors, politicians have been known to do the same – though I’m not sure I like the idea of being put in that category.