Armitage basiationes

The title is for lovers of the classics.

This is one section of the recent Daily Mail piece that I am stubbing my metaphorical analytic toe on:

[In response to the problem of being cast in straight roles if he’s not]

[Armitage] believes acting means always putting yourself in the skin of someone else.

‘Attraction is attraction and I know this is asked a lot more of straight actors playing gay characters – what’s it like to kiss a man? The answer is it’s just like kissing a woman,’ he says.

‘It’s the same feeling; a pair of lips. And because you’re kissing a stranger you’re trying to engage with them and create chemistry, but at the same time you’re holding them at a distance.’

He admits that distance isn’t always possible and says he ‘fell in love’ with Charlie platonically, but it was still sexually charged. ‘You can’t always be in charge of your body when someone touches it. You can’t switch it off. I find the mouth the most intimate area of the body – the closeness in the lips I had with Charlie was more revealing than anything else.’


1. I identify as heterosexual, and before menopause I experienced an occasionally troublinglu intense libido, especially during my twenties, although I am not precisely a Kinsey 0, either;

2. I am not and have never been an actor, so I won’t presume to say that how actors think about or describe doing their jobs in general or specific is wrong — this is specifically not a “you’re doing it wrong” post.

3. I obviously have no information on how Richard Armitage the person experiences sex beyond anything he says or is reported to have said;

4. I acknowledge the problematic status of the Daily Mail as the source for textual analysis here.

5. Finally, I am aware that this description of attraction is primarily intended as a justification for hiring non-heterosexual actors to play heterosexual roles.



In favor of what Armitage says here:

a. I have always thought he is a convincing kisser. Not every kiss I have seen him perform turned me on personally, but they were all fit for purpose, even if the question of how to position his nose occasionally popped up, and several of them were deliciously over-engineered. North & South / Margaret Hale is maybe the most widely memorable one, but I was also seriously affected by the one in The Crucible, as well as the first time Guy kisses Marian in Robin Hood. Lots of people who love Vicar of Dibley love that kiss. The list goes on. So if this is how he thinks about it, it obviously works for him.

b. I agree that it isn’t always possible to control one’s physical reactions to certain stimuli. It is not unusual for humans to experience arousal reactions that are involuntary and uncomfortable or unwelcome, and these may be more frequent male physiology. The manifestations of physical arousal are not always equivalent to actual sexual arousal (although I don’t want to equate that with the emotions, either).

c. I also agree that the mouth, along with using it to kiss, is potentially more intimate under certain circumstances than other body parts involved in sexual encounters (so does Psychology Today, interestingly). There’s a urban legend that prostitutes don’t kiss, and although I have no way of knowing if that’s true, I personally was usually less interested in kissing during casual sex than during encounters with romantic partners.

Even so:

I don’t believe that kissing a man is just like kissing a woman.

I’d also be skeptical that Armitage believes it. The sensation of lips touching may be the same, but it’s hard to believe that anything else is. If it were true, then sexual orientation would not be the huge matter it is, or at least not in the same way. In short, it seems to me like the experience of kissing is not limited to “the same feeling; a pair of lips.” The reason people find it intimate is the whole edifice of things that come with kissing — not just the question of (say) odors and flavors, but the emotional and cultural and personal baggage attached to it. And if it were just a physical sensation, it’s hard to see how actors would either need or want intimacy coordinators, a melody he was marching to rather emphatically last week (not that I disagree).

Also, I’d really like to know what it means to say that you were platonically in love with someone, but it was sexually charged.

The best construction I can put on all of this is that he wanted to be honest.

One meaning I could infer here is ‘I acted sex scenes with Charlie and was both emotionally involved and physically aroused, and potentially also sexually aroused but not necessarily by choice’ but is that what he meant? and if so, isn’t that a situation that the intimacy coordinator is supposed to help moderate?

Or maybe he meant, “It’s difficult for me to get that involved in what I experience as the very intimate act of kissing without also displaying the physical manifestations of sexual arousal, but there was still a piece missing”?

All this makes sense to me: at least, for me, strong sexual attraction in the clinch has three elements —

  • an emotional level that I am aware of (not always love, but emotional attraction, we could call it);
  • positive physical sensation / concrete manifestation of physical arousal — in the language of this interview, “what happens when someone touches you”;
  • and a component of something like the potential for arousal going on my brain that is not emotional, but potentially chemical — and I feel like that is the part that relates to orientation or whatever you want to call the label for “the collection of experiences or fantasies that turn you on.”

It’s certainly possible to engage in sexual activity with some or none of those things present. Moreover, I’m sure that the context of also having to do all this in front of the camera, so thinking about how you appear while you experience some or all of the elements of this experience, complicates it exponentially.

I get that if you’re trying to make a strong argument for gay actors playing straight romantic leads, it makes sense to try to simplify your answer as much as possible. On the other hand, there’s a big risk of making yourself look immature, which is what I thought when I read it the first time.

~ by Servetus on April 10, 2023.

12 Responses to “Armitage basiationes”

  1. The sexual persuasion of any actor should not dictate his or her ability to act. Because, well, they’re acting.


    • Maybe. Given all the debates about the portrayal of transpeople, I’m not sure that I would make any kind of blanket prescription in this regard. I get why transpeople are angry that cishet actors are playing those roles.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It is a fascinating subject, isn’t it? To a certain extent, if you’re a good actor, you can be good at acting those scenes too, potentially. Richard Madden in Bodyguard was amazingly convincing in the relevant scenes. Maybe Richard Armitage really can just focus on the lips and get into the mindset of finding that tantalizing. Once you get the rest of the body close though, it may depend on where you are on the scale. Unless it’s all just acting. Most actors I’ve heard talk about it say that they actually feel no arousal, given the circumstances of being on set with a ton of people. So that piece was surprising. His onscreen kisses are generally wonderful. I remember, though, watching the sex scenes in Spooks and thinking that they did not seem very authentic. But he maybe gained confidence in that over the years, as his wall moves are pretty convincing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • La question qui me taraude tourne autour de l’investissement dans ce rôle. Les séances de maquillage et la préparation psychologique étaient t’elles comparables à celles de Thorin, Proctor ou Dolarhyde?

      Liked by 1 person

    • I guess, in general sex on screen has not convinced me on the level of its authenticity. Screen sex is inherently performative (which makes any kind of BDSM seem doubly inauthentic to me; although arguably you could say its mannered qualities make it more appropriate for screen sex than just like, getting into bed with a comfortable lover). I’d also have guessed that in terms of the meaningful parts of arousal, there wouldn’t be much of it on a film set. I mean, if it’s cold, one’s nipples could erect, or if they are touched — but does that equal arousal? (to me this seems to be akin to what Armitage is saying here, and that’s why I thought it was an immature thing to say, i.e., sex is a matter of rubbing things together).


  3. I read Richard’s Daily Telegraph article on the use of an intimacy co-ordinator. I was surprised by his apparent frankness (given his history of evasiveness), and his admission of physical arousal. Not sure what Charlie Murphy’s husband may think reading that nor indeed, Richard’s partner!😮


  4. I must say I don’t get really the point in “fell in love platonically but it was still sexually charged”, how ambiguous or “alambiqué”; though I’ve always found the most powerfull and romantic love stories were those starting as friendship, evolving into deeply respectful platonic ones to preserve this precious friendship, to…no more platonic ones lol (certainly the main reason why I believed in RA and A. Capper’s love story so faithfully back in the time). I get it’s not the case here of course but I’m still not sure exactly what RA means here. Nevertheless, the main point, I agree with you Servetus, is certainly to assert that gay actors can play straight characters without much effort eventually, their employability. Well; really, I think RA di not need to go to that extent to proove it : his all career is a proof of it isn’t it ? he has always been a very credible and masculine straight lover. So why saying that ? a “pair of lips” is unlike him I find, it’s a bit “reducteur” isn’t it. I suppose maybe the DM article does not transcript exactly what he said or maybe he was a bit irritated that this king of question is most often asked to heterosexual actors as if gay ones had no issues in the matter too ? or irritated because of the question in itself “stop casting directors choosing him” because his talent and “bankability” as an actor is not based only on his physical bearing. I don’t know the reason, only RA does, yet I ended reading this article more troubled than when I started it ;).
    Have a nice day, take care


    • It’s really hard to put any kind of positive construction on what’s reported that he said — he sounds careerist no matter how you slice it.


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