There is a lot of conversation in the Toy Story 4 marketing about how Tom Hanks and Tim Allen are friends. Which, if they are, that’s a thing, I guess. I’d like to hope that Tom Hanks can make friends who never snitched to escape prison time, but cool, cool. Tom Hanks seems like a pretty chill guy who’s nice to everyone. And there are some people who take that as friendship, possibly because not a whole lot of people are nice to them. But there are also a lot of people who just assume that, because their characters are friends, they are themselves friends in real life. We’ve been doing that to celebrities for decades at least.
Famously, for example, the movie magazines tended to imply that people acting in romances together were themselves romantically entangled, unless there was some reason not to. However, people didn’t really need them to. It didn’t matter who William Powell was actually involved with; audiences assumed that he and Myrna Loy had to be an item because they had such great chemistry together. Which they did, goodness knows, but acting is a thing, you know? They were never an item, but they’d go on publicity tours where they’d automatically be assumed to be sharing a room. In the ’30s and ’40s, so I guess people thought they were married, even.
I think it’s in part that we as a species have never fully grappled with the difference between fantasy and reality. My friends joke with me about how my young self feared Adventures Thru Inner Space because I was not entirely sure of the reality of shrinking—which is, honestly, an oversimplification of my childhood thought process—but the difference between fantasy and reality is a very human concept that takes time to develop. My five-year-old son, Simon, is constantly asking if things are fiction or nonfiction, because it’s important for him to figure that out, and he’s not fully there yet.
We know that the people in movies are actors, that they’re playing parts. But we still don’t entirely get that on a deep level, and we think there’s something real to it. It’s an odd conflict. I think the idea that on-screen friends are real-life friends and that on-screen romantic pairs are in love in real life probably stems from our cognitive dissonance there. We want to connect what we see with what is real, and even though we know that Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey weren’t really in love, finding out they didn’t really get along at all is jarring.
I mean, it doesn’t help that we know enough stories of actual romances on sets, or lifelong friendships that started when celebrities worked together. It does happen. But it doesn’t always happen, and people seem to expect that it will. I’ve had to be polite to coworkers I couldn’t stand, and I didn’t even have to do a publicity tour that made working with the person seem to be something other people should watch. How much harder would it be to be convincing if the eyes of millions were on you?