Just about any actor who’s achieved any level of fame will eventually find themselves locking lips with another actor who, in real life, has nothing to do with them romantically. Naturally, those of us watching in our living rooms or from the theater seats sometimes wonder whether or not there are ever any consequences for those kisses once the cameras turn off. For example, wouldn’t the actors’ partners get jealous? Sure, you figure the significant other of a leading man or woman has to know that seeing their main squeeze kissing other people in TV shows and movies is part of the package, but how often is that really going to make it easier to watch?
The truth is that sometimes those fictional romances really do cause problems for the talent involved, and some of that trouble is more expected than others. Some famous TV kisses have stirred controversy, exposing the actors to harassment and sometimes even making them fear for their safety. For the sake of snogging a co-star, some actors have found their career opportunities drying up or their marriages threatened. And sometimes, they just found kissing another actor annoying. To learn some more specifics, keep reading for examples of onscreen kisses that got actors in trouble in real life.
(Warning — there are some spoilers below.)
A same-sex kiss on Deep Space Nine sparked controversy
In 1995, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine aired what proved to be not only one of the most controversial episodes of the series but of the entire franchise. Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell) takes center stage in season 4’s "Rejoined," where she’s reunited with Lenara Kahn (Susanna Thompson). Dax and Kahn are "joined Trill," who share their existence with slug-like symbionts that carry their memories and experiences from host to host over the course of centuries. With their respective previous hosts, Dax and Kahn were once married, but it’s forbidden for joined Trill to become involved with romantic partners from previous lifetimes. So, ironically, when Dax and Kahn finally share a kiss, the consequences they face have nothing to do with the fact that they’re both women.
But that wasn’t the case in the real world. Farrell and the makers of DS9 faced a lot of backlash for the kiss. In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, producer Ronald D. Moore said one of their southern affiliates took DS9 off the air and another producer, Steve Oster, said he received plenty of calls complaining about the episode, including a father who claimed the show was "ruining" his children "by making them watch two women kiss like that."
In the 2018 documentary What We Left Behind, Farrell seems more than content with her part in the episode, saying, "Still to this day, people come up to me and say, ‘Thank you.’"
On the set of Woo, a kiss almost got Tommy Davidson in a fight
In his 2020 memoir, Living in Color: What’s Funny About Me (via People), actor Tommy Davidson claims kissing Jada Pinkett Smith while filming the 1999 romantic comedy Woo almost got him into a fistfight with her husband, Will Smith.
According to Davidson’s memoir, neither he nor his co-star were happy with how the film ended. So Davidson said he pitched the idea that actually wound up being the film’s finale, with him and Jada Pinkett Smith dancing in the middle of a city street. But while Davidson and Smith had agreed on the new ending, Davidson added something without letting Jada know first. When they filmed the scene, Davidson kissed her without warning.
Davidson says as soon as the scene was done filming, an enraged Will Smith followed him into his trailer. Smith reportedly tore into Davidson verbally to the point where he thought things might get violent. "There was a moment there when we might have come to blows," Davidson explained. "My reactive fight-or-flight instinct was triggered, and I could have exploded."
Thankfully for everyone involved, the actress stepped in and calmed things down between her husband and her co-star. Davidson says that — in spite of almost learning what the alien from Independence Day felt like when Will Smith "welcomed" him to Earth — he and Smith remain good friends to this day.
Billy Bob Thornton’s love scenes with Halle Berry contributed to his divorce
Billy Bob Thornton and Aneglina Jolie met in 1999 on the set of the dramedy Pushing Tin. In spite of a 20-year age difference, Thornton and Jolie married in 2000. However, their marriage ended with divorce in 2003, and according to Thornton, the main reason they ultimately didn’t work as a couple was their different lifestyles.
"Hers is a global lifestyle, and mine is an agoraphobic lifestyle," Thornton said in 2018. "So, that’s really — that’s the only reason we’re probably not still together." But five years earlier, Thornton said one of the more memorable stresses on his marriage to Jolie was his explicit sex scene with Halle Berry in the 2001 romantic drama Monster’s Ball.
Speaking to The Sun (via Yahoo! News), Thornton explained how filming Monster’s Ball made things tough. "I go away and do a film like Monster’s Ball with a very explicit sex scene with Halle Berry," Thornton recalled. "She is one of the most beautiful women in the world, and I am talking on the phone to my wife, and she says, ‘What have you been doing today?’" Thornton went on to illustrate how this was a unique challenge for a marriage. "Other people’s situations are hard, with areas of doubt. But if you are a thousand miles from home on a film set simulating sex with a beautiful woman, it’s even tougher."
Harold and Maude’s May-December romance was more like January-December … of next year
Decades after its 1971 release, the dark comedy Harold and Maude is considered a classic. But the film wasn’t so well-regarded when it hit theaters, and it helped steer the career trajectory of its male lead to unwanted destinations.
Harold and Maude is about a death-obsessed man in his early 20s who drives a hearse, stages bizarre fake suicides for fun, and regularly attends the funerals of people he’s never met. It’s at one of these funerals that Harold (Bud Cort) meets the elderly Maude (Ruth Gordon), who likewise goes to funeral services as a hobby. The two become lovers — a notion that didn’t sit well with audiences. Charles Mulvehill, one of the film’s producers, told Peter Biskind (via The Guardian) that no one wanted to see these characters kiss or do anything else. "You couldn’t drag people in. The idea of a 20-year-old boy with an 80-year-old woman just made people want to vomit."
Cort said kissing Ruth Gordon on the screen was both "a blessing and a curse." Professionally speaking, he was typecast right away and only offered "weirdo" roles, and he turned them all down, including passing on the role of Billy Bibbit — ultimately played by Brad Dourif — in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. On the other hand, Cort expressed pride in helping bring Harold and Maude to life. He told The Guardian he made lasting friendships on the set of the film, including with Gordon.
Alyson Hannigan found Jason Segel’s kisses a little smoky
In How I Met Your Mother, Jason Segel got in trouble for kissing co-star Alyson Hannigan — who played his wife, Lily, in the popular sitcom — for two reasons. First, because kissing him bothered Hannigan, and second, because it put him in debt to her.
Segel was a smoker when How I Met Your Mother began production, and Hannigan isn’t a fan of kissing smokers. "I cannot stand cigarette smoke," Hannigan told Digital Spy in 2008. She said kissing Segel was "like kissing an ashtray." She clarified that Segel did his best to minimize the taste by using "gum and mints," but that it just didn’t help.
Hannigan explained that Segel tried to use her distaste of smoking as motivation to quit. "When we started the pilot [for How I Met Your Mother], he was like, ‘Get me to stop smoking, I’ll be your best friend.’ So we did this bet where he would owe me $10 every time he had a cigarette. After the first day, he owed me $200." Hannigan recalls that Segel succeeded in giving up cigarettes for "about a year," but that "he got stressed out, and he started smoking again."
Thankfully, it doesn’t seem like the butts stopped the pair from remaining friends. When they appeared together on the The Talk during the lead up to the How I Met Your Mother finale, Hannigan openly wept at the idea of not working with Segel anymore.
On Star Trek, a kiss made history
William Shatner doesn’t enjoy the best reputation in terms of how he treats his costars, but there’s at least one scene in Star Trek: The Original Series that Shatner, Nichelle Nichols, and anyone else involved should be proud of, no matter what former colleagues say of them.
In the 1968 Star Trek episode "Plato’s Stepchildren" — airing only a year after the U.S. Supreme Court deemed interracial marriage legal — Shatner and Nichols treated audiences to the first kiss between black and white actors on scripted TV. In the scene, Shatner’s Captain Kirk and Nichols’ Lt. Uhura are forced to kiss each other by a group of aliens who style themselves after the ancient Greeks.
In her 1994 memoir, Beyond Uhura, Nichols wrote that NBC wasn’t happy when they learned of the kissing scene, and a deal was struck between the network and Star Trek‘s producers that two scenes would be filmed — one in which Kirk and Uhura kiss and one in which they didn’t. Not wanting the kiss-less scene to air, Shatner and Nichols purposely bungled them so they wouldn’t be usable.
While NBC was worried the episode wouldn’t play well in the South, Nichols, Shatner and the rest of the cast and crew were disappointed by a very different locale’s reaction. "Plato’s Stepchildren" joined a list of four Star Trek: The Original Series episodes the BBC refused to air until 1994. The British broadcaster’s official reason for banning the episode, however, was the sadism displayed by the episode’s villains rather than the interracial kiss.
Ewan McGregor’s marriage became a victim of Fargo
In season 3 of the crime anthology series Fargo, Ewan McGregor pulls double duty as twin brothers Emmit and Ray Stussy. Emmit is a successful businessman, and Ray is a down-on-his-luck parole officer. The conflict between the brothers gets heated after Ray falls for one of his parolees — Nikki, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead — and she convinces Ray that his brother owes him more than he’s given. At first, you might get the impression Nikki is using Ray for her own benefit, but it soon becomes clear her feelings for him are genuine.
It apparently wasn’t too difficult for Winstead to act like she loved Ray Stussy because it wouldn’t be too long before McGregor and Winstead would become a couple, in spite of both being married when they met on the set. While we don’t know exactly when their relationship started, it seems clear smooching and working together on Fargo had something to do with it. In May 2017, a month after Fargo‘s season 3 finale, Winstead announced her break-up with husband Riley Stearns. After McGregor and Winstead were spotted kissing in public, People claimed that an unnamed source said the pair had been involved since the same month Winstead left her husband.
Early in 2018, McGregor filed for divorce from Eve Mavrakis, who he’d been married to for 22 years. Sadly, it appears kissing someone onscreen can help to end a marriage.
With Discovery, Star Trek kept stirring controversy
In November 2017, Star Trek: Discovery featured the first kiss between two men in the franchise. In "Into the Forest I Go," Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) nearly dies when he performs 133 consecutive jumps with Discovery‘s spore drive in order to give the crew the edge they need over the Klingon’s Sarcophagus ship. After the battle is won, Stamets agrees to one more jump to a Federation starbase. On his way to make the jump, he finds his husband, Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz), and gives him a loving kiss before assuring him that after he’s done, they’ll be taking a long vacation.
Cruz and Rapp predictably faced a backlash from unhappy fans. In an eloquent and cutting Facebook post, Cruz let those fans know he wasn’t going to be made to feel guilty for a kiss. "I’m not here for your comfort," Cruz wrote. "That’s not why we are here. We’re here to grow. Star Trek is and has always been here to challenge you to look outside of yourself and to see other people and other experiences in yourself."
Oddly, it was the lack of kissing that sank The Tourist
In at least one case, it wasn’t so much that an onscreen kiss that got an actor in trouble as much as it was his avoiding a kiss that helped to tank a movie.
In spite of superstars Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie in the lead roles for the 2010 romantic thriller The Tourist, critics panned the flick, as evidenced by its abysmal Rotten Tomatoes score of 20%. One of the more recurring criticisms leveled against the film is the lack of chemistry between its romantic leads, including kissing scenes that failed to excite anyone. A story that leaked about a month before The Tourist‘s release may provide a hint as to what went wrong.
In November 2010, the Daily Mail reported that audiences would be cheated out of a steamy shower scene between Depp and Jolie. According to their source, when Depp’s longtime girlfriend, Vanessa Paradis, learned of the sequence, she reportedly begged Depp to pull out of the film. Depp refused to quit the movie, but he gave Paradis the concession that he would demand the shower scene be scrapped.
It’s only speculation, but considering what Depp was willing to do to placate Paradis’ jealousy, it doesn’t feel like a stretch to wonder whether or not this impacted his performance in The Tourist beyond cutting the shower scene. Perhaps it stopped any real sparks from developing between him and his costar.
A Stranger Things kissed provoked anger
Sadie Sink entered the cast of Stranger Things in the show’s second season as Max, eventually becoming part of the team of young heroes investigating all the crazy stuff going on in Hawkins, Indiana. While Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) holds a torch for Max for most of the season, it’s Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) who shares a first kiss with her in that season’s finale. On the face of it, there didn’t appear to be anything particularly controversial about the kiss, but that changed once enough fans caught an episode of the aftershow series, Beyond Stranger Things.
There, Sink revealed her kiss with Lucas wasn’t originally in the script, and she didn’t know about it until the day the scene was filmed. Ross Duffer, one of Stranger Things‘ showrunners, apparently jokingly told Sink that it was her fault the kiss was added. Duffer had previously kidded with Sink about having her kiss Lucas, and according to Sink, Duffer said the fact that she was "so freaked out" by the idea is what inspired him to add the scene.
A lot of fans expressed rage over the story due in no small part to it coming to light around the same time as the #MeToo movement drew out a disturbingly long list of entertainment professionals accused of sexual misconduct. In the wake of the controversy, Sink backtracked a bit, telling TheWrap, "I mean, of course I was nervous. … But I never objected to [it] or felt pushed into anything."