It’s tragic. The pain and longing a viewer goes through hoping almost-relationship characters get together can be unbearable. Yet it makes a great, timeless story.
For example, Casablanca’s Rick and Ilsa. Their deep love for each other is insufferable. Rick (Humphrey Bogart) is really never able to move on and Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), who is married to Victor (Paul Henreid), realizes she will never have a love as great as she had with Rick.
Portraying an almost-couple is no easy feat. There are several factors that actors need to be aware of and control.
Here are three tips you should conquer in order to play an almost-relationship:
FEELINGS vs. LOYALTY
The Tip: Learn how to distinctly divide emotion from devotion.
Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish the difference between feelings vs. loyalty. Why should you? The answer seems simple – because not distinguishing the difference between feelings and loyalty will literally rip you (and the others involved!) in two. But that kind of is the point, isn’t it?
However, the answer isn’t simple. As an actor in an almost-relationship, you need to be able to portray emotions / feelings and loyalty as separate entities. By having an awareness and being able to separate feelings from loyalty, you create a “pull” that just sucks the audience in… and they won’t be able to escape.
Example: In The Vampire Diaries, Elena unknowingly teases vampire brothers Damon and Stefan with different parts of herself. She has strong feelings for Damon, yet feels a sense of loyalty to Stefan. By Elena being pulled in two different directions, it makes it super hard for her to choose who she wants to be with. It also drives the brothers, and the audience, crazy!
FRUSTRATION AT AN OBJECT BLOCKING THE RELATIONSHIP
The Tip: Learn how to portray frustration.
Another reason an almost-relationship sizzles is when two or more characters are destined to be together but something blocks it from happening. Sometimes even forever. It’s not enough to be frustrated for a small time being, but to find out your character will never, ever be with that person would pretty much send anyone to an early grave.
Example: Legend of the Seeker character Kahlan Amnell is a Mother Confessor, meaning she has a speial power to put people under her control. Because of this power, she could never be with someone she loves since their fate would be sealed by her touch. When Kahlan sets off on a quest to defeat evil with a young man named Richard, they are drawn together in such a way that leaves the audience wanting more of something that they know they could never have.
In the Legend of the Seeker case, the object blocking the full relationship is Kahlan’s power.
The Tip: Become an expert in showing tension.
Tension is a common theme in almost-relationships, yet it still makes the audience yearn for more. With tension comes stress, emotional or mental strain, imbalance… you get the drift.
Example: The X-Files. Fox Mulder and his FBI partner, Dana Scully have spent countless television seasons in dingy motel rooms while working on cases. As a result, they grow closer as colleagues but also as an almost-couple. It becomes clear that they both love each other. As time goes by, the audience can feel the sexual tension building up, episode after episode. But as platonic co-workers, each with their own insecurities, deep down they know they could never be a couple (until Season 7).
The tension in The X-Files is romantic, sexual and everything in between.
Once you’ve mastered the above tips, you’re sure to sweep the audience off their feet!
Share other film and television examples with us at @DirectSubmitNYCastings!