What is on-screen chemistry? Check out this week's Ask the Critic question, then post your own

By Owen Gleiberman
Updated July 06, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

What is on-screen chemistry?

We recognize ”chemistry” between actors when we see it. But what actually is it? — Mike

If it were as easy as two pretty people showing up on set, getting along just swell, and enjoying a mutual attraction, then a lot more romantic movies would have a lot more chemistry than they do. The fact that many actors who have sparked each other didn’t actually get along (famously, Richard Gere and Debra Winger in An Officer and a Gentleman) indicates that mere camaraderie may have little to do with it. And the fact that major Hollywood icons who were gay in private life have joined in vibrant onscreen hetero pairings suggests that literal attraction isn’t necessarily the key. If you look at chemically dynamic twosomes (Hepburn and Tracy, Bogart and Bacall, Powell and Loy, Streisand and Redford), I’d say that what drives most of them is an honest affection coupled with — the magic ingredient — a competitive edge, a theatrical drive to one-up each other that translates on camera as spicy, teasing attraction.

(Got a question for Owen or Lisa? Post it here.)