The Secret to Chemistry

leo-claire__oPtHow can two people dislike each other so much, that those around them say, they don’t get along, AND still have mad chemistry onscreen?

As a romance writer I’m obsessed (okay maybe it’s just me) with getting this on paper. In a bid to study this, I’ve also watched a lot of movies to see how directors and actors have conveyed chemistry to the audience. And as I found myself one weekend dusting off, what I consider to be a classic, Buz Luhrmann’s version of Romeo & Juliet, I couldn’t help thinking of the rumors that the main characters ignored each other on set.

leo claire 13jan12 06

In the case of my all time favorite remake of Romeo & Juliet, Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes was rumored to not get along. As in these two really wasn’t impressed by the other. Claire though the younger of the two, was a very serious teenager and actress who found Leo to be ‘irritatingly immature’. Off camera they ignored each other, she’d be in her little corner and he in his.

It baffled my mind. I’d watch the movie, these two great actors at the beginning of their adult careers, and wonder how in the world could they not like each other? Were they really that good? Did they turn all the dislike into such fiery performances that we’d caught on to something, yet didn’t know what that something was?

Or like so many times in life, you find yourself budding heads with someone whose outlook on life, personality etc. you really didn’t like, but your hormones didn’t seem to want to agree with you.

Could this be the case? This obsessive fan asked *laughs* Because I love them both. They might not have been that impressed by the other (something I think they’ve gotten over by now), but I was impressed by their onscreen chemistry.

As an observer of people, stuff like this was gold to me. I analyzed the movie because I wanted to know the ‘secret’ so I could put it into my writing. So I could create a scorching romantic story that left you breathless.

In romance novels, this element’s integral, therefore the main characters need to really, really like each other. My question revolved around, how do I convey this to the reader? There’s no screen, no Des’Ree to sing ‘Kissing You’, no mood-lighting, no submerged water scenes that made clothes cling like a second skin. Unlike the screen, I only have the written word.

Everywhere I’ve looked and read this seemed to be the answer:

Make your characters believable. Make them human. Make them have flaws. Then introduce them to each other. Think of the first time you met someone, what drew you to them? What made them stand out, out of everyone else that day? Could you still remember what they wore? Then focus on the emotion/tension of that moment. If it’s a second chance at love romance or friends to lovers, than there’s more to build on. But even here, you have to ‘sell’ it to your audience. Why am I rooting for them? Are they even compatible? Or likeable?

With Romeo & Juliet it was insta-like, insta-lust and insta-love. And Shakespeare sold us on the idea.


Then Buz sold us on this again in his remake. When I watched this movie as a twelve year old in 1996 I wanted Leo and Claire’s onscreen chemistry to be real. As an adult in 2015, watching the movie again, I want to be in on their secret, I want to have the eye of the director and do the exact same thing for my characters.


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