By now, much of the internet has already drooled over the viral clip of the ever-dashing Oscar Isaac and bombshell Jessica Chastain’s very amorous display of friendship while walking the red carpet at the Venice Film Festival last weekend.
The co-stars of the upcoming HBO limited series Scenes from a Marriage put on a show in front of the snapping cameras for the social media ages. Slow-motion video shows Isaac caressing Chastain’s arm, before locking eyes with her and planting a gentle kiss on the inside of it.
The result? Everyone lost their damn minds. Not only were Isaac and Chastain collectively swooned over by fans and the media alike, but it also created a surge of buzz for their new project ahead of its Sunday premiere.
By all accounts, Isaac and Chastain aren’t in love. They are married to other people and are old friends, going back to when they attended Juilliard together. But Isaac and Chastain basked in the attention, with Chastain cheekily tweeting out an image of the Addams Family’s Gomez Addams kissing Morticia Addams' arm in a similar fashion.
Chastain captioned the post with the date of the HBO premiere because their public display of affection wasn’t simply two old friends basking in their success and showing their mutual appreciation for one another—it was more akin to a clever PR stunt designed to promote their project.
For-the-cameras flirtation is nothing new—it’s an age-old Hollywood trick, dating back to when old studio heads for behemoths such as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) and Warner Bros. forced romantic leads to go on sham dates, staging photo ops of the faux lovebirds to drum up good press.
It’s a ploy repeated again and again, and has grown increasingly more frequent because social media allows for these moments to reach a wider audience than print ever could. Plus, this shareable content can resurface months after initial hype around a project dies down, thereby making even more sense to ham it up for the cameras.
“A client who experiences that moment of virality has the ability to capitalize on a huge audience,” Sasha Brookner, founder of Helio PR, which has worked with Bhad Bhabie, Jake Paul, and Katt Williams, tells The Daily Beast. “I’ve seen artist’s social media pages increase by 200,000-plus followers after a moment that goes viral. If a publicist is able to capitalize on that moment using the right tools, insight, and efficacy then you will see tremendous growth for that client in terms of following and an opening of doors to promote new projects.”
“In the short term it definitely makes people curious, they may Google or pick up a tabloid to get more information,” she adds. “If the actors are already liked, then people may tune in to see if they can pick up any on-screen chemistry, but if nothing comes to fruition or it doesn’t blossom it will just fizzle out.”
Jesse Parker Stowell, principal of Parker Phoenix PR, which counts Brooklyn Decker and Andy Roddick as clients, says that while most viral moments are unplanned, smart publicists tend to “follow trends and meticulously time some ‘viral’ news to come out right when the chatter is needed for a new project.”
“Rumors of co-stars dating does increase the buzz about those stars, and when they are in the same film, the film gets more awareness, which can lead to higher ticket sales or viewership,” he explains. “But it’s important to remember that not every rumor is true and not every romance is orchestrated. In celebrity media you’re seeing a moment in time, a nanosecond for the flash of a camera or a 30-second clip of video on a red carpet. How that moment is interpreted is left up to the journalist and ultimately the viewer.”
But actors are performers by trade, digital marketer and content producer Gregory Littley points out. “Any time they walk onto a red carpet, it’s like the stage is set for a viral moment,” he says. “So, it honestly puts that power in the performer’s lap to take advantage of it and make it what they want it to be. They’re on stage, so they’re going to give a little bit of a performance either way.”
It’s not hard to recall some of these PR-orchestrated stunts that are guaranteed to spark a flurry of press, like any time former spouses Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston are in the same room together. When they were expertly snapped briefly saying hello at the SAG Awards in Jan. 2020, it was all anyone could talk about for the rest of the week. Other attempts are a bit more obvious, with Riz Ahmed’s team apparently trying to create a moment for the Oscar nominee in April when he stopped photographers to fix his wife’s hair, despite there not being a strand out of place.
“I think you find the most successful, viral, memorable moments coming from really strong narratives,” Littley says. “So, when you look at Isaac and Jessica, they’re promoting a project that they fully believe in, and it just makes it so easy. They can have fun and they can amplify it in a way because they believe in the narrative, the story, and what they produced. So, they love drumming up as much excitement and notoriety about it as possible.”
Perhaps the best example of this narrative-driven showmance is from Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga during their awards campaign for A Star Is Born. Although they insisted their relationship was strictly platonic and professional, the rumor mill exploded when Lady Gaga split with her fiancé Christian Carino in Feb. 2019—right before the Oscars. It didn’t help that during the ceremony, Lady Gaga and Cooper had a very intimate performance of the film’s hit song “Shallow,” as Cooper’s then-partner Irina Shayk watched from the front row. (The two announced their split four months later.)
In Nov. 2019, Lady Gaga admitted the two had played into this love story for the cameras, telling Oprah Winfrey in Elle, “I mean, we made a love story. As a performer and as an actress, of course we wanted people to believe that we were in love. And we wanted people to feel that love at the Oscars… We wanted it to go right through the lens of that camera and to every television that it was being watched on. And we worked hard on it, we worked for days. We mapped the whole thing out—it was orchestrated as a performance.”
Some stars are more than willing to play the game, as they aren’t just promoting whatever project they are currently tied to, but they also must promote themselves. “I feel like we’re all being punk’d right now by Channing Tatum and Zoe Kravitz,” Littley laughs. “They are so public and the actions that they’re doing in public lend themselves to internet fodder. I mean, Channing was riding a bike with Zoe on his back. These are moments that the internet is just eating up.”
“I feel like they’re in on the joke,” Littley adds. “People are going to speculate about their personal life anyway, so they might as well try to take control of the narrative.”