Chemistry – everyone talks about it, no one defines it.


I started thinking about this when I saw a debate on a message board a few months back about Daniel and Nicole. Since Ari and Shawn are dating, one person speculated the show wanted to capitalize on that, that it would be cute to pair them onscreen too. Another countered with the Joey Tribianni rule of chemistry:  you only have chemistry if you are NOT doing it offscreen.

Casey Moss (JJ) and True O’Brien (Paige), a couple in real life, are an example of the Joey Tribianni rule. But then there’s Bill and Susan Hayes, Doug and Julie, married off screen and on. The first supercouple! — could anyone say they don’t have chemistry? Stephen and Mary Beth are great friends; Peter Reckell and Kristian Alfonso have a prickly relationship. Both couples have loads of chemistry on screen.


My opinion: it has nothing to do with real life. And when you think about it, that makes sense. Chemistry is a screen phenomenon. When was the last time I said to my husband, “Let’s not invite that couple over – they have no chemistry”?

Chemistry is subjective. Let’s get that out of the way first. There are oddballs out there right now who prefer Nicole with Daniel, Abby with Ben. But it’s not wholly subjective. It’s not just who you like. Ten years ago, when the Shawn/Belle/Phillip triangle was dragging on endlessly, I grew to hate the character of Belle. I loved Jay Kenneth Johnson’s Phillip and wanted him in a better pairing. But, I completely agreed that Belle had much more chemistry with Phillip than she did with Brandon Beemer’s Shawn. That seems to be the consensus on the boards, too, and I heard Martha Madison reference it when she interviewed Brandon Beemer on SoapBox, so it seemed to be the opinion of TPTB as well. The only reasonably popular Days couple where I genuinely saw no chemistry between them are Abe and Lexie. I thought he seemed more like her father than her husband. The show can go on detours pursuing pairings that don’t work, but over the long haul, the couples that the show commits to are the ones that I perceive as having the most chemistry.

Abigail is unsettled by Chad's confession.

So, let’s try to define the undefinable. I think there are two things that factor into two actors/characters having “chemistry.”

Responsiveness. This is primarily an acting phenomenon. When actors talk about chemistry, I think this is what they are talking about. One actor throws out an emotion through a line reading, look, or touch, and the other actor can catch it and throw it right back.

Tension. This, on the other hand, is more a phenomenon due to the writing, how the characters have been created or what they are doing in the scene. One example is the “opposites attract” situation, two people who are so different they should have nothing in common. Or there is a barrier that separates them:  one is committed to another person. Or one is a priest. Or one or both of them are convinced they are all wrong for each other. That’s at the level of the characters, the story.  At the level of the scene, there’s argument scenes, one or both fighting their feelings, and my favorite — longing looks across the room.

I think a lot of what we call “chemistry” is the interplay between these two factors. The inherent responsiveness of the actors breaking through the tension of barriers keeping the characters apart. The spark of a heated argument igniting that responsiveness into a flame.


Tension can also stem from the differences in acting style. Personally, I tend to like couples where where one person is a “big” actor, and the other is quieter and more subtle. This works particularly well in the “opposites attract” type of couple. Stephen and Mary Beth are a perfect example. Stephen can overact with lesser actors, whereas Mary Beth’s subtlety can fade into the background. I think Arianne Zucker and Greg Vaughan, and Patsy Pease and Charles Shaughnessy, are also good examples of this phenomenon. One reason, aside from anything else, Shayla were not supercouple material is that Mary Beth and Charles are both quieter actors, and together they were too quiet. Having one bigger, showier actor brings zip and sizzle to the pairing – but two can lead to chewing up the scenery.

(Of course, we all know that Mary Beth can bring the intensity and take center stage sometimes — like the drunk Kayla scenes, like when she tells Steve Jack raped her. That’s true of Greg and Charles as well. But the default style for these three actors seems to be a quieter, more responsive one.)

Chemistry is multifaceted. We can talk about friend chemistry and sibling chemistry, too. The connection and responsiveness between actors isn’t a singular phenomenon. It’s as unique as individuals can be. Even couple chemistry, which I am mainly talking about here, comes in many flavors. I would sort couple chemistry into roughly four different types.


Bantery:  Examples include Jack and Jennifer, and Sami and Lucas when they were at their best. My beloved Chick – Chelsea and Nick – were in this group. These couples tend to be less sexy and more friendly. They are fun to watch when they are arguing and talking over each other like a 30’s romantic comedy. These couples depend on good writing, at least good dialogue writing.

Angsty: These couples are often at their best when they are apart, or working their way back to each other. I would put most of the love stories that are wedded to a redemption story in this group. Kim and Shane are the ultimate angst couple. Steve and Kayla. I would also put Eric and Nicole here, and Chad and Abby. These couples are most dependent on being written well, to keep the angst believable, and not have it slide into meanness or dysfunction.

Romantic:  Or maybe “sweet” is a better word. It’s not an opposites attract situation, both parties are “good” characters. The angst usually comes from external factors, mostly scheming third parties. There is a Prince and Princess Charming aspect to a couple like this. Shawn and Belle, and Carrie and Austin, are examples of this type. These are the couples that are hardest to write for after they are finally together.

Sexy: These couples can work even with fairly poor writing – Sami and EJ being the ultimate example. You could say that this category is for couples who could go into one of the other categories but don’t get good enough writing for it, but I would argue it is more than that. They rank high on the “responsiveness” end of the equation, and generate a raw energy that leaps off the screen, but the “tension” side can sometimes throw them out of whack. These couples are great when they are together, or falling in love, but not as interesting when they are apart. For instance, I would actually put Bo and Hope here. For all that they are the iconic supercouple, I never root for them when they are broken up. I always feel like I hate one or the other. (This was true in the 80’s too, so it’s not just the bad writing of more recent years.) But when they are together, they work so well that I love them again. But, I fully admit this might be just my opinion.


John and Marlena are hard for me to characterize, but I think I would put them in the “romantic” category, because their appeal seems to rest, largely, on John seeing Marlena as his anchor, the only thing he’s sure of when he doesn’t even know his own identity. That’s high fairy-tale type stuff. His memory and identity issues create angst, but it’s not angst that drives them apart. Their big stories, the 90’s stories, seem to rest mostly on external obstacles – crazy obstacles, admittedly! – even, I would argue, their famous affair. But they are definitely more, and bigger, than a couple like Shawn and Belle. Maybe a good way to think of them is as the ultimate example of the romantic type, that the Carrie and Austins on the canvas are aspiring to.

When you get down to it, all the best couples resist categorization. Jack and Jennifer, despite being the ultimate bantery couple, had major angst stemming from Jack’s redemption story. Bo and Hope and Steve and Kayla are great at banter when they get the chance. Just about every couple (but not all) can be sexy. Doug and Julie were angst piled upon angst in the 70’s and early 80’s, but now they are bantery and sweet, and I love them that way.


I do think fans tend to underestimate the “happy couple” problem, how difficult it is to write a story with a happy couple at its center. But, I also think the show has, in recent years, been afraid to let a couple be happy for even five minutes. They underestimate the appeal, and chemistry, of their couple – how fun it can be to watch two actors play off of one another, even when the plot, and the tension, has died down for awhile.


45 thoughts on “Chemistry

  1. I love this topic! Chemistry between actors is such an elusive thing, isn’t it? Sometimes it is carefully planned, and sometimes it’s a surprise. Take Jack and Jennifer. I’m not sure if Days ws really going to go there with JnJ at first, but there was an unmistakable spark. Something about Missy’s character’s sweet innocence brought the romantic (albeit comedic) leading man out in Matt. It was surprising , but they went for it and magic happened. We all know Steve and Kayla were a planned couple. They tested many actresses with Stephen and picked Mary Beth (luckily for us), but it’s still kind of a crapshoot. You never really know. until you are in the middle of the story I think a good casting director is really key in soaps. I think its really a perfect storm of the right actors, good writing and good casting choices. But even with that, there is still something ephemeral that happens between two people who can simply look at each other across a room and give you goosebumps.

    I’m more of the Joey Tribiani school. I think real life couples seldom work in fantasy-land. The tension just doesn’t seem to be there. Also, from a practical standpoint, god forbid they break up and you’ve got a mess on your hands! Doug and Susan are exceptions. I hope they stick around. Julie is one of my favorite characters of all time.

    It’s funny, because I love romance, but my least favorite of your categories is is the “Romantic” couple. Too over the top for me. I might have had a different answer twenty years ago, but now that stuff feels too false and schmaltzy for me. If I have to pick my #1, it would be Angsty of course!

    You are absolutely right about the Happy Couple issue. That’s a soaps biggest problem. How do you show sustained happiness in a relationship without it becoming boring to the audience? Relationships do change over time, and in real life there are always challenges to keeping a spark in any longterm marriage or relationship. I wish they would deal with some real life issues, rather than infidelity or triangles. Maybe that is what they will do with Steve and Kayla this go around. Hope so.

    Some of the very best chemistry on Days in the past has been the realistic friend and family relationships that they have portrayed. I see them getting pack to that, and it makes me feel very hopeful. Soaps are, after all, like an acting troupe, the “stars” and stories wax and wane, and you need those friend and family ties to keep everyone involved.

    I’ve been going back and watching some stuff that I never saw. One surprise for me was how much I loved the Victor and Maggie romance (if someone knows a good playlist, let me know, the stuff on youtube is very spotty). There is an example of chemistry I never saw coming, and I fell in love with a senior citizen love story! Shows you that romantic chemistry between actors has no age!

    • Angsty is my #1 too, if that’s not obvious, and Romantic my last place too. I recognize the chemistry between John and Marlena, but they do zip for me. And Shelle/Carrie and Austin? Nope.

      I keep thinking about Jack and Jennifer, because when I hear criticisms of Brady and Theresa – that he’s so much older he comes off as her dad or uncle, he’s so much bigger and taller that he looks intimidating – I always think the same things SHOULD apply to Jack and Jennifer too. But they don’t! That’s the magic of chemistry.

      It is an elusive thing, and frankly I don’t trust the show to make those judgments without us! 🙂 I think writing is the overlooked half of chemistry, so I’m still trying to keep an open mind about Thrady, and Shelle/Phelle coming back. And I’m curious about how they are going to write Chad/Abby too. I’ve noticed that they’ve pulled them away from each other a bit since the new writing started. Throughout August Chad and Abby were running into each other having angsty conversations nearly every day. They spent a lot more time together than Abby and Ben. I loved each scene, but it was starting to feel a little bit too much, so I’m glad they pulled back a bit. I like the idea of the next little arc having more to do with her faith in him rather than their love for each other. That’s bread and butter angsty couple stuff.

      Good point about soap casts being an acting troupe, and the family and friend interaction is what hooks us for the long haul. I am hoping we get a lot more of that going forward as well.

      I didn’t see Victor and Maggie getting together, but you’re not going to pull me away from wanting him with Caroline! #teamCaroVic all the way! 🙂

      • I loved your tweet about a Maggie/Caroline catfight! Hee. THAT would be one catfight I’d tune in for. I actually love what they are doing with Maggie/Victor/Caroline right now. They are setting Caroline/Victor up against Maggie a bit, don’t you think? I love that they are actually writing for these seniors! I was way too young to appreciate her when she was a front burner character, but Suzanne Rogers just really impresses me as an actress (she was so wonderfully real in her grief for Mickey). She’s so heartfelt in all her scenes. Loved the little scenes with her and Theresa.

        And the senior ladies on Days are so stylish and lovely! Not matronly at all. I love that! And I do love Caroline too. I was laughing at her trying to remember the code for her cell phone. My mother did that for the first month she had her phone, and she’s younger than Caroline!

        I’m still #teamMagic :). My new favorite new couple just might be Steve and Victor though! A bromance for them would delight me!

      • I did see most of Victor and Maggie getting together, and I admit that it was pretty good, actually. Still, even if looking at Maggie didn’t make my skin crawl now (due to her Dan cheerleading ways, which is maybe not fair of me), I think I’d still prefer Victor/Caroline. I’m not entirely sure why—maybe the history, maybe because Caroline seems a better match for Victor age-wise. I think I also harbor resentment toward Maggie for taking the matriarch role that I always thought should be Julie’s (I do think SR is a fine actress, but I have always found Julie far more interesting than Maggie).

      • They did seem to elevate Maggie at the expense of Julie, and I think Doug and Julie are such a natural patriarch/matriarch. I’m glad we look to be seeing them in that role.

        I have to admit that Maggie and Victor have pretty much the ultimate couple name: Magic. I almost want to ship them just based on that!

  2. I LOVED Philip and Belle because of MM & JKJ’s chemistry! But I didn’t invest in them as a couple because you knew TPTB were just stringing everyone along. You knew Belle and Shawn were endgame. I think the show was too in love with the idea of Bope and Jarlena’s children ending up together to write for chemistry. There’s a great General Hospital story where the EP Gloria Monty hired Tony Geary (Luke) for a 13 week villain arch, but noticed the chemistry between Geary’s Luke and Genie Francis’ Laura, and she decided to pair them. You can discuss the problems of Luke and Laura for days, but they are the biggest super coupe in soaps. And it wouldn’t have happened if the writers stuck to the script.

    I also think Philip had great chemistry with Chloe. I would categorize them as romantic in high school and sexy in their later years. There’s a scene in late 2007 of Chloe throwing Philip on the Titan desk, I just ADORE. In my mind, Philip and Chloe live happily in Chicago (and Parker remains Philip’s son). Shhh. Don’t tell me he’s spent all these years pinning for Belle.

    • Chloe is a character I would like to see back. She’d be another woman in the 30’s/40’s age range, which they sorely need, and has chemistry with everyone they have paired her with, imo — even Daniel and Lucas, who don’t spark easily with people. (Not that I want her with them.)

      Philip and Chloe were really hot, though I’m partial to him with Stephanie. 🙂 I’d love to see them try Brady and Chloe again, with Eric Martsolf’s Brady.

      I thought the show was lurching away from Shelle – FINALLY – when Martha and JKJ sparked like they did. But then there was a HW change – to Higley – and she wrote Shawn and Belle out after a quick reunion. Shelle were not a couple that could take the weight of being separated for five years or whatever it was, with the show constantly teasing us about them. I know Kirsten Storms and Jason Cook had chemistry, but two recasts and nine years later, it was ridiculous of the show to keep focusing on Shelle. And yeah, it will bother me if they write Philip as having pined for Belle all this time. I hope they have better sense now.

      • I don’t know if I can get behind Philip and Stephanie after he totally dogged her for lame Melanie, who always seemed more like a little sister with him than a love interest.

  3. One thing that has been irritating about soaps in the past is that writers/shows become invested in a romantic couple, and ignore what is clear to the audience…dude, they have no chemistry. Just because something SHOULD work, doesn’t mean is DOES. Luke and Laura are a great example of an EP who really got what the audience got – chemistry! No one would have thought Tony Geary would become a leading man, let alone the sex symbol he was in the late 70’s/early 80’s, but Gloria Monty clearly got it. She recognized that sometimes chemistry is unexplainable – you either got it or you don’t. When you do, you’ve got to capitalize on it. Remember, she broke up one supercouple (Laura and Scotty) with a huge fanbase, and created the biggest one to date in Luke and Laura.

    One thing that is getting me excited for the new writers is that they seem to be “resetting” even the established rooting couples (like Chabby and Ericole). I think this bodes well for us. Clearly there is chemistry with these couples, but things seemed to be sort of stalled when I first tuned back in. I think they are wise to be taking a few steps back right now. I think they are going to be sort of rewriting them falling in love all over again. Taking us back to the beginning (much like with Steve and Kayla) and showing us how THEY would have done it. I hope to god they can write romance! Everyone on set seems super excited and happy, raving all over the place, so I hope it’s really true. Just with their 50th anniversary trailer, I can see that they do GET IT. What we want to see. I’m sure they are setting up some new romances as well, but by re-establishing the rooting couples that are currently on-screen, they (hopefully) are allowing those of us who have just tuned back in to see them all fall in love again. I think that’s smart.

    • I am hopeful too. It’s early days yet, but their stuff for J&M and S&K has shown they are capable of writing a multilayered emotional scene. With Chabby, I think they’ve got hold of the right end of the stick in pulling back just a bit and making it more about her faith in him for a little while.

      I love the thought that they are resetting Ericole, and Thrady, and the steps they’ve taken in regards to Theresa and Nicole are certainly encouraging. For Ericole, if they use the reset to address some of problems of the past year, especially Eric’s hatefulness and inability to forgive, I’ll love them forever. We just have to wait and see. At the moment I’m still waiting to be reassured that they are the couple they plan to write for. 🙂

  4. You know it is funny that you mention Abe and Lexie because I agree that they never had much chemistry. I used to chalk it up to the fact that there were something like 5 different Lexie’s while Abe was trying to build a relationship with her. When I was catching up on the 2006 stuff I actually thought Abe had more chemistry with Celeste than he ever had with Lexie and I almost wished they had let those two explore a bit of romance while Andre had Lexie trapped in that tunnel.

    You nailed it with your 4 types of chemistry and I think ultimately a couple needs to have more than 1 type or chemistry to make it work for the long haul on a soap. The 1980’s version of Steve and Kayla were perfect. They had the banter, the angst, the sweet and the sexy. The perfect soap couple. Obviously Stephen and Mary Beth have great chemistry together but even with that, if the writing isn’t there it can come off a bit flat. If I watch them as Stefan and Katherine on GH or even in 2006 when they first came back to Days they had chemistry and the angst and sexy parts were there but without the banter and the sweet part of the connection both fell a bit flat. Now if I had never seen Steve and Kayla in the 80s to compare then I might not feel so strongly that something was missing but I did and I do.

    In a way Steve and Kayla’s 15-16 year absence when we thought Steve was was dead was a bit of a blessing. I look at Bo and Hope and John and Marlena and I just think they have been put through the ringer so many times over the years that it leads to a lot of what they do feeling stale…like we have already seen them go through this before.

    I am not a Jarlena fan mainly because I am not a John fan. I was a Roman and Marlena fan…they were the reason I started watching the show in the first place. I would probably be all for it if Drake were still Roman and not John but the characters of Roman and John are both kinda ruined for me to the point where I am just totally bored by them both.

    I have said it before but I am a Bo fan and Hope fan so I guess that makes me a Bope fan but my real super couple is… LOL

    • I was so disappointed in Stefan and Katherine on GH. I had high hopes. But you are absolutely right, the characters didn’t mesh well. I really liked Stephen as Stefan, but I didn’t like Katherine very much, or at least not with the Stefan character.

      I’m wishy washy about the second Days run. There were parts I really enjoyed, but I hated that Steve didn’t remember Kayla at all (and I won’t even go into his relationship with Billie). Most of what I enjoyed happened after they were reunited. I’m glad we got them back, but this third run already feels more real to me. Perhaps because this time it’s Steve who must try to reconnect with Kayla, or maybe just because the writing feels more fresh? I totally agree we are lucky that they haven’t been run through the mill though. One of the other things that works against natural chemistry is all the machinations that soap writers employ to create drama and obstacles for a happy couple. If you’ve been on the show consistently for a long time, it starts to get kind of ridiculous. If you’ve been remarried five times, even the best chemistry between actors gets a little strained.

      Love that photo of Steve and Bo. And wearing suits!

      • The Stefan and Katherine scenes tend to work well for me in isolation, like if I’m just catching a clip, but they don’t mesh into a grand bigger story. (I always thought her character got thrown under the bus at that point.) They were probably the “romantic” type, above.

        There’s a lot that I enjoyed about the S&K second run, although maybe in more of an abstract way (chatting about it online and picking it apart), compared to just enjoying watching every episode. I’m so thrilled that there’s no amnesia this time. Steve and Kayla were always about connection with each other in spite of obstacles, and big feelings, and for them to spend so much time trying to feel anything made no sense for them. I don’t wish it away, though, because it helped set up what is happening now. Now, they don’t even have to directly reference the past history for it to be present in the scenes. You can see that connection even though they’re apart, and it really helps build a foundation for whatever obstacles must be coming.

      • It felt like a waste of time to me, during the second run, to spend so much time on the Steve/Kayla/Bille triangle thing, with Steve not remembering Kayla, or feeling much of anything for her. I didn’t think they needed to insert Billie into it at all. They should have focused on Steve having feelings for Kayla, but not truly remembering her. He’s falling for this “new” person, while she remembers everything and struggles with letting go of that. They could have had them fall in love all over again, which would have been more fun for the audience, I think, and taken advantage of their…chemistry :).

        And on GH – never felt they gave the character of Katherine a chance to succeed very well. I think they didn’t see instant success and bailed on the pairing. Stephen and Mary Beth may have found their footing after a while, but I don’t think GH was heavily invested in MBE – I think they wanted Stefan more as an obstacle to Luke and Laura.

      • Yeah, Stefan and Katherine was like watching two different versions of GH collide. MBE had actually been on the show for years before they were paired, and SN just some months. She was part of the older-school feel of the show, and he represented the gothic, dark direction they would be moving in. She did get somewhat thrown under the bus.

      • I was looking for a clip from GH when Luke and Katherine were at a pub and Stefan sees them. I’m not sure if it’s this but this is a great one. He is practically seething when he sees her with Luke. The Cassadines were great back then.. Alexis and Nicholas living at the mansion.

  5. This is a terrific analysis. I think you’re spot-on that what we see as ‘chemistry’ is really a combination of factors. What’s always interesting to study is when one soap tries to repair actors who played a successful couple on another show. It so rarely works. SN and MBE felt very weird on GH to me (though I saw them there before I saw them on Days!). SN’s character there was pretty dynamic, but MBE’s was a drip, and the writing wasn’t particularly clear on what their specific dynamic as a couple was. So a lot of it does have to do with the characters and not JUST the actors, IMO.

    • I agree that it’s the characters, not just the actors, that determine whether they have chemistry. Besides SN and MBE on GH – which I never saw so I can’t comment – the Kayla/”Nick” (Steve without his memory) dynamic is another good example. I think the idea, in theory, was to take them back to the beginning, but Nick was not early Steve – he wasn’t a fleshed out character at all. And I do think the chemistry suffered.

      • I think MBE and SN had plenty of chemistry on GH, especially in the beginning of that story. I remember how different it was from Steve and Kayla though – darker and more sensual. I don’t think that the chemistry went away as much as the story just utterly failed. It does show that even chemistry can’t completely overcome bad story.

        I also agree about “Nick” and Kayla in the early part of the last run. There were moments of connection, but the writing really forced that connection away since Nick wasn’t supposed to feel anything for Kayla. I used to say that I would watch SN and MBE read the phonebook and there is still some truth to that. But the last run definitely proved that even the best couples still need good writing to make it all work.

  6. Excellent post as usual. I agree with both factors but I do think that each factor can be more important depending on the couple. That is for some couples it’s more about writing and others it’s more about the actors. To me Bo and Hope are more about the writing. When the writing is good for them, they are enjoyable. When it’s not – like you – I tend to hate one or the other of them. Yet for SN and MBE (and I admit I’m totally biased) I see chemistry and connection even when the writing is doing them no favors. I think Chad and Abby are highly dependent on the writing. I mean, both actors are doing a great job with it and in creating that chemistry with those longing looks, but I didn’t feel any connection between them until the writing went that direction. On the other hand, Ari and Greg have had that great connection even when the writing has been horrible. Those two couples are similar, angsty, couples, but just very different kinds of actors.

    I remember that Stephen once said that what we called chemistry, he called a lot of collaboration and hard work. I think that’s true, but I also think that – at least in SN and MBE’s case – it’s also a lot of trust. MBE has said that when she’s struggling with a scene and it’s tape time, sometimes she’ll just look in Stephen’s eyes and trust that he’ll get her where she needs to go (or vice versa). That may not be true of everybody, but I think it’s a key for them.

    I also think the importance of cast chemistry is overlooked sometimes. The way characters interact as friends and family is what makes a soap town feel real in some way. You believe that two people could be best friends, even if they haven’t talked in 16 years. Or a true family connection even if the actors never really interacted that much before. When those relationships don’t feel real, then the whole show suffers.

    • That’s a great point about how important it is for the cast to feel like a family, and longtime friends. I love Bo and Steve’s friendship, it just feels so real. I am loving the Bicentennial planning meetings, I loved Steve and Victor this week and all she history there. Brady and Eric are such great brothers. So they’ve got good things to build on.

      Back in 2007-8 they had Chelsea, Stephanie, and Abby as girlfriends who spent a lot of time together – I hope we can get some friendships like that going among the younger cast.

      I love Stephen’s quote, and he’s right, that responsiveness we see is something they work on. They think about the scene and what is going on with the characters and add those layers and overtones. I think they will have so much more to work with this time around – plus they have the events of the last run. I’m very optimistic.

      I agree too that Ari and Greg have done great work with sometimes less than stellar material. Can’t wait to see what they do with better stuff!

  7. I’m glad you mentioned hard work! Obviously chemistry and writing are key, but we can’t gloss over the hard work it takes. It’s clear in MBE and SN’s performances that they are super prepared. How many photos have they both posted of them studying scripts, running lines, etc. It’s like any other job, I guess. If you want to be really good, you have to work at it. I love how seriously they take what they do, and the pride they take in it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen either of them lose focus, or look to a teleprompter!

  8. Great post! To me, in the general sense, chemistry has a lot to do with story. A lot. An average pair of actors with weak material is just not going to work out. But then there are some pairings that go beyond “the norm” of chemistry and have it whether it’s there on the page or not.

    -One key is how hard they work at it/what they put in. Running lines, talking about where the characters are coming from, keeping in mind that the lines connect to a bigger story. Two actors who just show up and say the lines aren’t going to have the connection of two actors who have worked hard ahead of time.

    But I also think the reason chemistry is hard to define is because there is an element of “mystery” to it.

    -It’s like when you’re in the room with strangers, and you instinctively know, once you’ve interacted a little while with them, who you are in “sync” with. And it’s not because you know anything about them or their lives, it is just a “feeling” you get. This doesn’t always happen of course. It’s not a regular sort of thing.

    -And then there’s the case of just working with someone on a team…Sports, work, school, or a charity group etc. Maybe you have little in common outside of that activity. But for whatever reason, you work well with each other, you’re on the same page, you balance each other…you “work” better together than others seem to.

    What is that about?

    I think it’s a combination: the values you share (hard work, discipline, similar goals, similar background, enjoying a challenge, commitment to doing your best) and/or even just a basic trust in the other person.

    Speaking of trust: I agree so much about responsiveness being a key element in chemistry: You can throw your best work at a person but if they don’t deliver something back, it’s like you’re hitting a brick wall. Nothing is going to come from it.

    But what if two people equally *try* to give something back to the other and there is still no chemistry? Responsiveness only works if both people are also listening to each other…listening to what’s happening with the emotions in the scene & being spontaneous enough to respond in the moment. Sometimes the most unexpected things come out spontaneously in a scene (that you didn’t rehearse or plan) and if you can’t be present in the moment, then you are basically that brick wall lol. I think skill set can be an issue at times too (some actors are just better than others, lets face it LOL).

    And yet…even if you put two of the best actors together, you can still not predict/force chemistry. I think that has to do with acting style: You talked about one being a quieter/responsive actor, while the other was a “force of nature” of sorts. I agree with you a lot there. Responsiveness comes from feeling like you’re being listened to. If you feel like your partner is responding/listening to what you are doing and open to your work (instead of competing for focus/attention), it’s probably easier to focus on making emotional connections in the scenes.

    Oh my gosh I just went on forever. LOL. Anyway if that made any sense at all, let me know LOL

    Great blog post !!!

      • Liz, I fixed it for you. 🙂

        I think what you said made sense, and you make some great points. I like what you say about there being an element of mystery to it. How you can put two good actors who are doing their best, trying to play off of one another, and it still doesn’t work. It’s so interesting. You also have actors who are pretty average at acting, don’t have much of a range, but easily generate chemistry with people. I think Ali Sweeney and Nadia Bjorlin (Chloe) are both example of this.

        And it’s true, like you say, that in real life you have people you click with and people you don’t, and that’s kind of a mystery too. And actors are people too, of course. But what I think is fascinating is that you can click with someone in real life, enough to date them like Ari/Shawn and Casey/True, and that doesn’t mean you “click” onscreen. And if you listen to Joey Tribianni, it means you don’t click onscreen, LOL.

  9. this is going to get me in trouble but I didn’t see/feel real chemistry between AS and any of her pairings…but I might be biased because I dislike Sami. I thought it was story driven chemistry with most of the people she shared screen time with. (I guess I feel the same about NB but I’ve seen a lot less of her than I did of AS). But a lot of people disagree with me on that. I will say this: AS has that screen presence/charisma/it factor and she works hard. She doesn’t phone it in. So perhaps the successful pairings have something to do with that…

    I agree it is so fascinating that real life couples “click” but then don’t work well onscreen. IMO sometimes it comes down to level of talent…I think AZ can act circles around SC…I mean they aren’t even in the same ball park. I think Casey is a far better actor than True as well…Maybe that’s it? It’s hard to say. It’s a mystery 😛

    • This might be surprising from me, since I really liked Sami, but I agree with you about AS. I think she had a dynamic, sweet personality of her own, and this translated well on screen, but she didn’t necessarily have “chemistry” with all her leading men. And MAN did she have many LOL.

      The only person I really felt it with was EJ. I think he pulled something extra out of her performances. The writing for them certainly wasn’t always stellar, but I think of all her pairings she had the most natural “chemistry” with him. Of course, the show blew it with him a bit (or a lot), but her performances with him felt less “acty,” for me at least.

      I think that folks that can make the performances more natural, like SN and MBE and PR and KA, even when the situation is ridiculous or over-the-top, are the most focused, the hardest workers probably, and the ones that have the most trust in each other as performers – maybe that IS chemistry :). One of my problems with John and Marlena is that I feel like they’re ACTING with a capital A.

      • Oh! And I can’t forget Billy Flynn, who seems to have chemistry with everyone on the show, male or female! There is just something about him. I always feel like his performances are real, no matter who he is working with.

      • Since we are talking about Sami and Allison Sweeney I will put in my two cents. This may be hard to explain. I get what MP is saying about AS having chemistry with everyone. I think AS works well with others. In my opinion she does a good job of carrying people in scenes with her. (But the problem is that she carries them like a wave in the ocean and can throw them around a bit.) I have said it before but for me a little Sami goes a long way and I resent the way she took over the show but that’s not on her, that is on the writers. Other actors and characters became her supporting cast.

        This is how I think about it…I look at Sami and she is no longer a character but a caricature with so many aspects of the character becoming exaggerated and aspects of the performance become over the top. (Luke Spencer also comes to mind as a character who became a caricature too.)

        When Denise says she feels like John and Marlena are ACTING with a capital A, I get it. I think of it as a relationship that has been put through the ringer so much that they are exaggerating aspects and it makes it seem like the relationship itself has become the caricature. They are really going over the top with the romance and it’s just cheesy and I don’t feel a real sense of connection between the characters. That’s how I think about it anyway.

      • They are always obviously acting. That’s probably why I can’t really get into them, aside from the Roman/John problem. I don’t feel like they’re Acting with other characters though. I loved John when he was Roman playing opposite his siblings. I enjoyed Marlena talking to Chad recently.

    • Matter of opinion. To me Sami/AS was maybe not Meryl Streep (but on these soaps nobody is..except a certain Julianne Moore who started on a soap..) but she had/has a real ‘it’ factor/charisma and was really able to create chemistry with her costars, being romantic chemistry, adversal chemistry, family chemistry or even friendly chemistry (although this show never really gave friends to her Sami character,except at the beginning with Jamie and sometimes in some interactions with Lucas). Something very few of her other costars managed to do in such a complete way. No wonder all her pairings romantic and even non-romantic (Sami/Kate, Sami/Carrie, Sami/Marlena ect..) became so popular. I totally understand how she ended up with so many successful pairings when i saw the chemistry she could create with her acting partners.

    • I understand the Lumis, with all that history, but I thought AS really had a lot of chemistry with James Scott. I didn’t feel it with her other pairings. I also don’t think AS is a very good actress. I don’t think Nadia Bjorlin is either, but I do think they both have a certain charisma.

  10. How do you define the undefinable? Somewhere out there, a PhD student in psychology is probably working on his or her dissertation on this very subject.

    This post made me reflect on my favorite couple, Jack and Jennifer. For most of their first run, I loved them. However, almost immediately after they got married, the story shifted, the characterization changed, and I was done with the show for the next decade (even before MA was fired.) I watched some of their second run, which I mostly didn’t enjoy, and all of the third, which was just OK. The magic was gone. So, like Liz says above, I think that story is key. Certainly, your observation that for the “bantery” couple, great dialogue is necessary.

    I worry about the show taping six months in advance when it comes to chemistry. Can we trust the producers and the writers to see whether a couple is clicking or not? It seems like they saw the spark with Chad and Abby (and the lack of spark with JJ and Paige) and are moving forward accordingly. I’ll be curious to see how it plays out when the new teen scene is introduced and whether the show full-on commits to any couples among that bunch without getting a sense of audience reaction.

    • That’s the problem. We have to trust that the writers will see what WE see. The audience, at the end of the day, are the ones that count. No matter how great a plot or story is, or how great the actors are, if it’s not compelling to US, it’s a fail. So far, so good with the new writers. They have demonstrated that they get in the most basic way what the audience wants from a soap. We want romance, we want family connections, we want friendships, we want them to respect the history and integrity of the characters. We’ll take crazy stories and outlandish situations, but we need those basics to suspend our disbelief. Many soaps go very wrong when they play around with history (GH for example was notorious for this). Soap fans watch for years and generations, and we have very long memories :).

      I agree with you about JnJ. I’d say it even started to change after the COD, with the Alamania and Jennifer rape storyline. Soap writers have a hard time sometimes just letting a couple “rest” within happiness for even a brief period of time. With a couple like JnJ who were so fun (even within the angst), it was like they forgot who they were as characters and people, or they so fell in love with the comedic aspects of the relationship, that they wrote well ONLY for that portion and left the romance to wither. They sucked all the fun and joy out of them. JnJ especially needed great writing, and the writers let the characters and the audience down I thought.

      How about the chemistry between the writers and actors/characters. Are there certain writers that write for only certain couples (I don’t know)?

      • Yes! Love this point about writers and characters/actors. In my dream world, for the 50th anniversary, former writers would talk about which storylines did and didn’t work, along with how they made some of their decisions regarding couples.

      • I’ve always heard that every writer ends up writing for every character, because writers work on episodes, not storylines. At the head writer level you might get some specialization when there’s more than one HW, but all the breakdown writers and scriptwriters write for everyone.

        I so agree that I don’t trust TPTB to make these decisions without us. 🙂 I also think actors don’t really know who they have chemistry with, because it’s not always who they like to work with. They need us!

    • I often think the banter type couple would be the easiest to write for post marriage. I think JnJ is Days’ ultimate banter couple, though they did angst really well too. And yet I agree, Andrea, to an extent, that things went downhill quickly after their wedding in a lot of ways. A) A together couple is always tough for soap opera, as angst and the getting together is really the bread and butter of soap. B) I think we got writers who just didn’t get JnJ. Wasn’t JER writing around then? I don’t think he could write well for JnJ—he was more shock and awe than characterization. I think a big part of the problem was that the show started to write Jack all wrong. I mean the whole Baby Howie nonsense—ever making Jack the fool. That was just off. Jack can be silly. Jack can pretend to be the fool, but he is not a fool. Jack is quick and clever, and it should never be easy to pull one over on him. Also, Jack stopped being enough of a jerk. He’s kind of a jerk, and I like him that way. I won’t say the magic was gone though. I was usually seething with how a writer who got them could be capitalizing so much more, but there were some great times post wedding. I think Jack’s fears about becoming a father were a good source of conflict, I did like One Stormy Night, and during Abby’s birth, the chemistry is pretty strong. Second run had similar issues with bad writing for the characters (Jack being too clownish, Jennifer being kind of awful). Last run, I almost never felt the magic because Jennifer was pretty much just despicable, and the show almost never used the banter (except the first day a bit when Jack said, “There are bears out there”). So the net ideas I come away with here: the chemistry will still shine through sometimes, even with poor writing, but poor writing hurts it. A lot.

      I think a mental illness story could be good with a pair that is already together. I suspect Jennifer might get a mental illness story (just guessing based on Higley’s comment about Jennifer dealing with demons). Will I be ticked when Jack isn’t there for it? Yes.

      • I fixed. 🙂

        I agree that bantery couples should be easier to write for than some of the other types. But J&J were such a unique mix of fun, smarts, and angst, and I could see how that could be difficult to maintain.

      • I think a banter couple needs REALLY good writing and smart dialogue, which JnJ had in spades during the first run, but not so much during the second, and definitely not during the third. Alot of the fun of Jack and Jennifer was their sparring. I think Jo the first put it best “you two arguing over something no one else in the world would understand.” JnJ were much like a 1930’s/40’s screwball comedy couple (see HIs Girl Friday or The Philadelphia Story :)), and the writing was so important for them.

        I really want Jack to come back, but I want them to wait until they have a great story, and a really good dialogue writer! I still think a return ala S&K’s second run would be best. Have Jack come back missing his memory, be totally different, and have little spurts of the old crazy fun smart Jack come out little by little. Jack and Jennifer fans really deserve it. I think they have really had the most disservice done to them in the past (I include myself in that group). I still don’t understand why they insisted on turning Jack into kind of a bumbling idiot. He was never an idiot, and when he was bumbling I always felt it was more of a put on or a mask.

  11. Long time reader, first time poster here! Hallo everyone! 🙂

    First off, am I the only one that thinks AS is just not a very good actress? I’m sorry — I don’t want to offend anyone — but I just never have been impressed with her. I did like EJ, but I actually found his chemistry with Abby to be more compelling than with Sami. But then, Sami’s had so many pairings with others (i.e. everyone lol), maybe that’s why. She changed partners so quickly, I never really got invested. And actually, they’re heading down that same road with Abby. Gosh! I’m finding it very hard to believe that she was raised by squeaky clean, last-of-the-virgins Jennifer Horton. I do also like her chemistry with Chad, but I hope they rein it in with her a bit from here on out, because it’s getting harder to root for her when she acts so irresponsibly all the time. At some point, the “good” character should learn from her mistakes and stop repeating them (especially with brothers. YIKES!)

    Coming from a fiction writer, witty dialogue is a MAJOR challenge, but even more difficult if you have to maintain it over such a long period of time. Everything I’ve written has had an ending, but on a soap, it just goes on indefinitely. And with long-time viewers like us who recall every little thing, we’re going to remember, “Oh Kayla said that same thing last summer,” etc. So, no repeating, thankyouverymuch! 😉 By the same token, a talented writer can do it, but I don’t know how many of those get, or are even seeking, jobs in daytime given that there aren’t many soaps left, unfortunately. And, as someone else mentioned, if you have writers switching up and writing every character, it’s going to come off uneven at best, off-character at worst (which we definitely have seen with both Jack and Jen).

    I’ve lamented so many times over what they did to my fave couple, Jack and Jen, and thought, “Oh man if I only had a crack at it! They would be bang on again!” But then, if I also had to write for Bope or Jarlena, those fans would be sorely disappointed because I would just find them dull to write. So, I do see the struggle, but I can also tell when writers are phoning it in and not even doing the necessary research (is there any excuse for not knowing any character’s backstory these days with all the clips on YouTube?), which is what I’ve felt since Jack’s return a few years back and through the recent writing change. I do think things are looking up based on recent eps, so we’ll see!

    I also think a married couple can still have angst if they have lives outside the couple, like careers (hello? lol) and interactions with family and friends. The angst doesn’t always have to come from within the couple, for crying out loud!

    And I agree with Denise that they never have written Jack’s dark, manipulative side effectively since that first run. They just reduced him to the comic relief, which sucks, because he was so much more complicated than that. Realistically, that would always be a struggle for him. He would always make mistakes and slip up, which gives any writer worth her salt a field day for various machinations and devious plots that would royally piss sainted Jennifer off forever. Endless Angst — there ya go! 🙂 JnJ are also not shown in the Great Love video that Shea posted above, though, and this makes me sad. *sniffles*

    • Hi Starry eyes, thanks for commenting. 🙂

      I always think it’s amazing that so many different dialogue writers had to write for Jack back in 1990, with his rapid patter and literary allusions and puns and sarcasm and what have you. But they did. So that’s always been a mental asterisk for me with the whole #BringBackJack campaign – bring him back, but bring back that Jack, the real Jack.

      Nice to hear a fiction writer’s perspective. I do think soaps have to be some of the hardest writing there is — at least harder than its reputation — because of the rapid pace, the multiple characters with long, complicated histories, and the stories that never end. We got a new scriptwriter and she is YA author who has also written for soaps, and she talked in an interview about how challenging soap writing was.

      I’ve been glad to see some great history references the last few weeks. I love it when they take the time to do that.

      • Yes, I’m loving the return of the history, too! IMO, that’s a big part of what’s been missing for quite some time. I just loved the recent Victor/Caroline stuff. Like you, I’m also so happy to see Steve back and for poor Kayla to finally have an actual story line of her own again, rather than just propping up someone else’s. Something else I noticed through the previous less-than-stellar writing stretch was that Victor had some of the best snarky lines on the show. And thank goodness! Laughing out loud at his wisecracks at the expense of other characters was probably the only enjoyment I’ve gotten out of the show over the last year or so. I was glad to see in his recent scenes with Steve he’s still tossing them out. 🙂

    • Great post Starry Eyes. Nice to hear from a writer’s perspective. I often wondered who wrote Jack’s great dialogue from the first run, and why can’t we get that person back! I wonder if soap writers just burn out faster because of the reasons you stated above. It’s HARD to do a sustained story that goes on an on with no end in sight! Jack was such a complicated character. A mix of humor, self-loathing, intelligence and snark – you would think he would be a writer’s dream character, but coming up with great stuff day after day, year after year has got to be tough. It’s almost like they made him too smart and funny and couldn’t sustain it. I think bringing him back, without a great story and a great dialogue writer would be a mistake, and another let down. I’m hoping they are saving him for next year, after the 50th hoopla, when they are going to need another boost. It would give them plenty of time to plan out something great. God knows Jennifer really needs him right now! I wouldn’t mind if they wrote him a little bit darker (not evil, but more conflicted and unsure of his place). It would also be wonderful to have the real Steve and Jack together again. I believe Jack and Jennifer left last time before Steve got his memory back (?).

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