- In this episode of “Good & Bad Acting,” New York City acting coach Marishka S. Phillips deconstructs the hits and misses of 16 movie kisses, discussing where the actors went right and wrong in their performances.
- Phillips reviews kissing scenes in a variety of film genres, ranging from Ashton Sanders and Jharrel Jerome’s tender beach moment in “Moonlight” to Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard”s poorly-timed, unscripted kiss in “”Jurassic World.”
- Describing the acting choices that make or break kissing scenes in romantic films, Phillips highlights the do’s and don’ts of aspects like body language, eye contact, and rhythm.
- She discusses how iconic on-screen pairings — from Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in “Titanic” to Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte in “Carmen Jones” — create passionate chemistry on camera, nailing down five criteria that separate classic kiss scenes from the rest.
- Throughout the video, Phillips points out common acting mistakes that can make a kiss feel stiff or awkward to audiences, while highlighting techniques that great actors use to pull off convincing intimacy on the big screen.
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Following is a transcript of the video.
Noah: It still isn’t over.
Marishka S. Phillips: This is the kiss of a lifetime!
Hi, my name is Marishka S. Phillips, acting coach. I’ve been teaching and coaching for 13 years, and I’m based here in New York, and today we’re going to be reviewing some kissing scenes. My favorite.
The prelude to the kiss, the embrace from behind is a great invitation. Even the tender fingers intertwine. This kiss has all the elements. It was just moment to moment, beat by beat, engaging. They find a connection through the gaze. When she connects with his eyes, there’s the breath. The reach back to give it a fuller connection.
When I said, “Oh, there’s the breath,” in other words, they’re not just diving in. There’s a little bit of space, and you can almost feel the heat between the two.
Then the kiss is soft, a very lyrical kiss. The rhythm just fell into place. It was seamless. You could even feel her surrender into his body. When I say surrender, it’s really when the two kissers become one. You just see their bodies melt into each other. You have her extended neck. It’s just open, inviting, and super-duper vulnerable. You know, you just can’t kiss everybody out there at the tip of a boat. The investment in this relationship for us, we’re just all there with it. You just have a sense that this is great love.
“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” (2007)
Harry: Probably full of Nargles, though.
Cho: What are Nargles?
Harry: I have no idea.
Marishka: Come on, Harry. There’s no life in there. Like, it made my mouth feel strange. There was no surrender. Did you see the space between them? You could walk right through them. Before the kiss, they’re apart, and they stay apart. And they lean into it. It reminded me of that “Lady and the Tramp” kiss. It just looked like they were, like, swapping noodles. No intensity, purpose. The only reason I feel like they kiss is because somebody put a mistletoe above it. ‘Cause if there was no mistletoe, they would be like, “OK, see ya. Have a good day.” They’re young, I get it. But the director, he checked the gate on that.
Ron: That bad at it, are you?
Hermione: I’m sure Harry’s kissing was more than satisfactory!
“Love and Basketball” (2000)
Marishka: This is, like, an iconic Black film, and I’ve actually worked with the director, Gina, and she did a great job directing this piece. You know, that first moment when he says “double or nothing,” you see where this is going. You see the energy shift, you see his eyes soften. Her look is right close behind. The kiss is tender. I felt the relaxation of the lips from Omar.
I don’t know, I wanted more. I think the rhythm of this kiss was just starting when they stopped it and went into the hug. So I was like, aah. [laughs] And I remember rooting for this couple. When you have a buildup like that, and in a current setting, where you can go all in on a kiss, I just wanted more in that moment. The circumstances surrounding the kiss, moving from friendship to intimate relationship, I understand why it wasn’t as deeply passionate as I would have liked it. Still a very iconic film and moment.
Quincy: All’s fair in love and basketball, right?
Marishka: The look before the kiss is super-duper important, because it’s the invitation. I mean, her eyes are saying a lot. Can’t see his.
That’s an interesting prelude. Peel to a kiss. That’s interesting. The hero being upside down, that makes him vulnerable. The damsel is in power; she’s grounded in it. I got a sense of the warmth and their breath intermingling. You felt the heat, the softness of it. This is a good kiss.
“Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961)
I like the longing in her eyes. Her eyes are inviting. His strong, handsome gaze. That, I felt. That mouth was very open. That’s like the Holland Tunnel! [laughs] But they kissed on the side of the face first. What was that about?
With the style of kissing in this film, I think it goes back to studio stuff. It’s an older piece. During this time, they were aware of boundaries more, like if the leading man was married or the leading woman was married and in love with someone else, I think they honored those relationships more back in the day.
But lose the cat! The cat is causing her to overextend her neck. That poor cat. That cat is probably asking itself, “Why am I in this scene?”
Kevin: Yeah, you trying to get smart with me, huh?
Marishka: I like the hesitation. It swells the longing. It lets you know that it’s new and probably prohibited. That pause, that, “I don’t know if I should be doing this.” I felt the breath between the kiss. I felt the breath going back and forth, and then when they finally have that enmeshing moment, the rhythm is on point. In fact, I believe the sound of the waves influenced their rhythm. I think they did a really great job. I think they really pulled off the circumstances surrounding this kiss as well, ’cause it was all encompassing of the scene, the setting, and the water.
Kevin: I’ll see you around.
“The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” (2010)
Marishka: I don’t know. This kiss, I felt like they had to do it. They had to kiss. It feels painful. I think they’re cold. There was no heat, surrender. In terms of their look, dead stare, and there was no lead-up to it. She might as well had asked, “Can you push me off this cliff, please?” There was nothing there for him to grasp onto, and it looked like that when he approached her. Bella: I’m asking you to kiss me.
Marishka: It looked like he was gonna punch her in the eye as opposed to kiss her. The actors are responsible for bringing chemistry to the set. Even if it’s not with each other, per se, there’s this tool called personalization. You have to really engage your imagination as to whom you’d want to be kissing. You have to find that person’s face, and then you can fully engage.
Jacob: I gotta go.
“Carmen Jones” (1954)
Carmen: Don’t you trust yourself?
Marishka: There’s a great moment of breath and heat after she says, “Don’t you trust yourself?” You could feel the intermingling of breath right there. Now, this kiss was done in 1954. Back then, there were production codes that you cannot show, you know, a passionate kiss but for so long, so they always had to find a creative way to denote sex. This orange smashed up against the board there. It’s hilarious. These two actors are able to establish enough chemistry in these few moments of this kiss. I definitely feel the rhythm there. “Carmen Jones” is a musical, and because they’re both musically inclined, they are able to sink into each other’s rhythm, like, in a moment. It’s a nice, smooth, lyrical rhythm that they create in just a short amount of time. When you bring in violins, it definitely gives you that soft, warm feeling of the string instruments.
“Jurassic World” (2015)
The kids are like, “What the…?” OK, I’m running for my life. Why would I stop and kiss someone? This kiss comes out of nowhere. There’s no prelude. There was no breathing. I didn’t see a surrender. The look looks like, “What the hell are we doing this for?” It all leads back to that. Why? And then, did she hiccup? [hiccups] Like that? I think she hiccuped! Maybe she knew that it was just a bad, wrong time. There’s just so much wrong with it. Yeah, it’s not cool, man. It’s just not cool.
Claire: We work together.
Ilsa: I want you to know that I…. Kiss me. Kiss me as if it were the last time.
Marishka: That kiss still stands. Their eye contact is everything. They’re staring straight into each other’s eyes, and so the energy is swelling from there. And the close talking, you could definitely feel the breath between the two of them. Her neckline is exposed. Another strong, long neckline. I like the hand grab. And then she slams her fist down. It’s explosive. The spilling liquid is very suggestive.
They didn’t really get a chance to get into a rhythm. The Dorothy Dandridge kiss, I think it just kind of came with the genre. They already had a rhythm. They’ve been dancing, they’ve been singing, and it’s just an extension of that. This one, there’s no establishment of a rhythm. It’s just, boom, in and out. I just think it’s a get-it-done moment with those older films. There has to be a kiss. Let’s just get it done, pan off, and make it believable.
Rick: Here’s looking at you, kid.
“Bend It Like Beckham” (2002)
Joe: We might still have something. Don’t you think?
Marishka: Nice vulnerability from both of them. You see the breath in between. The nose canoodling, not bad. You know, why not? I would have to say this kiss is not perfectly in rhythm. You think of the circumstances surrounding the kiss. It’s a goodbye, but it’s new, and I think the newness of that is where they are. They’re not used to each other. She pulls away at the end.
Jess: I’m back at Christmas. I better go.
Marishka: I believe that is due to where they are and who’s there. There’s an airport, there are parents, there’s Beckham. It doesn’t fully allow you to surrender. He’s doing some really, really great acting because he’s creating a private moment in an airport. His look, right there. He’s really locked in. That, again. He’s giving her all kinds of intimacy, and I would say fulfilling a need in her and reassuring her. That’s a great actor technique, to say, “It’s just you and me in this world right now.” So that’s what makes a good scene as well, that kind of intimacy, no matter where you are.
Jess: I better go.
“Call Me by Your Name” (2017)
Marishka: He’s like a little guppy, isn’t he? The hunger is definitely there. The prelude was there. Him accepting the finger into his mouth, very erotic, the slow head turn, the heaving of the chest. You know that there’s heat rising. The kissing rhythm in this scene, it is mismatched. I think it’s appropriately mismatched because of the age difference. This scene is interesting because the older gentleman starts it and the older gentleman is pulling away. He’s not fully committing to the moment. The younger man, he pounces, and he’s going for it. He’s going, he’s all in. So that leaves the question of, is this right or is this wrong? Definitely hinting at a power imbalance here. I think it was well directed, and perhaps it was meant to make us uncomfortable. But at the end of the day, you get that there’s a wanting, there’s a yearning, there’s a needing there. So you just go, “OK, I’ll go along for the ride.”
Talking about a smothering kiss, like, how did Cher breathe through that?
Loretta: Wait a minute, wait a minute!
Marishka: The first part, it was brutal. The look gets lost in all of the other chaos. I’m aware of when an actor rushes a beat. He rushed that beat. But I guess since this is comedic, he can get away with it. The rhythm in the first half is very rough. Maybe she gave him a signal, like maybe pinched him so that he could pull apart, so he could just, like, stop covering both air gates. And then they went in and it was a more passionate kiss. The rhythm came through. This was young Nicolas Cage acting. It was raw. You could tell that he was more posturing for the camera.[table crashes]
That kills me. Go, ahead, Nicolas. Go ahead.
Loretta: What are you doing?
Ronny: Son of a b—-.
Loretta: Where are you taking me?
Ronny: To the bed.
Loretta: Oh, God.
“Elena Undone” (2010)
Marishka: I call this kiss poetry in motion. I know that it is the longest kiss on record to date in any film. It broke a record from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Notorious.” This kiss has everything to me. It has the hunger, the prelude. That right there, you see how the tension had built up and there’s a pause of them wanting each other. You see the softness and the lack of tension around the lips. That’s very inviting. It has the heat exchange of the breaths intermingling. They keep checking in, like, with the eye contact, the caressing of the face and the neck, the rhythm of it. They are responding to each other moment by moment. When you think there’ll be a bump, because she’s going, you know, laying her down horizontally, it’s still seamless. It’s like, shh. You really stay connected with them.
“Some Like It Hot” (1959)
Sugar: Don’t fight it. Relax.
Marishka: So, yeah, that’s Marilyn Monroe. She did her thing. The sex symbol back in the day. I love the softness. I love the, “relax.” What’s interesting about this is that she was the driver here. She’s the sex goddess showing him how to kiss. Tony Curtis, he’s surrendering to that moment.
Joe: I got a funny sensation in my toes. Like someone was barbecuing them over a slow flame.
Sugar: Let’s throw another log on the fire.
Marishka: I think the director was fulfilling every man’s fantasy. This was their moment to feel connected to her in some way. Great kissing, great breath.
Sugar: Your glasses are beginning to steam up.
Marishka: Her body language, she was, like, writhing the whole time, like, riding a wave, in black and white, too, so that was quite daring. I love that they allowed this to happen.
“The Notebook” (2004)
Noah: It wasn’t over. It still isn’t over.
Marishka: I love this kissing scene because they’re both so open and vulnerable and hurting, and the heartbreak is palpable, and that makes you root for them. There’s not much lead-in to the kiss. He, like, straight jumps in her mouth, and it’s appropriate. Because think of the history and how long it’s been that they’ve loved each other. And so the passion between them is just, like, explosive. You cannot wait one more second. So in this scene, it’s not so much about the rhythm, it’s about the hunger, the longing, and it’s a “finally” kind of kiss. They do not want to break this kiss. They do not want to come up for air. This is the kiss of a lifetime!
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