In my career, I have been fortunate enough to kiss two of the most beautiful women in Hollywood–three if you count Troy Beyer. I kissed Halle Berry in the film Strictly Business and of course, while on the Cosby Show, I got to kiss Lisa Bonet…once. Lisa and I pecked several times, but we only had one real kiss and that not until my second season. Had it not been for a clumsy aggressiveness on my part, we may have never kissed.
I may have been projecting my fantasies onto the characters, but I always imagined that Denise and Martin were very passionate and very active lovers. The writers put Denise and Martin in an impossible, implausible, and imbecilic living situation-–living in Denise’s parents home and sleeping in her childhood room. It was crazy. Men, close your eyes. Imagine being a sailor and going off to sea for three months and then coming home to Lisa Bonet. “Naw, Cockroach. That wasn’t an earthquake, Martin has shore leave.” How in the world would one navigate that bit of exercise upstairs in your in-laws’ home, in your wife’s childhood bedroom, in her twin princess bed? Ridiculous.
At any rate, this level of passion was on my mind during an early episode, when Denise forgets to reserve base housing. After learning that they have no place to live, Martin and Denise return home from Long Island tired and frustrated. The writers and director just had us enter the house and begin to walk upstairs when we are met by Cliff and Claire. Dull. I made the choice to pick Lisa up in my arms and head upstairs. I thought it was a very masculine choice. I also thought it extremely romantic. Think of the ending of an Officer and a Gentleman (Taylor Hackford, 1982). The handsome naval officer sweeps his woman off her feet and walks off into the sunset. It just doesn’t get more romantic than that. When I picked Lisa up, everyone in the audience knew what was going to happen next. And yet, with all of the supposed romance between our characters, we didn’t kiss until my second season.
The episode with that particular distinction has Martin and Denise once again struggling for a bit of privacy. Martin has leave and comes home. He and Denise hurry up to their room and begin to kiss when Rudy bursts in, pretending to be the shark from the film Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975). During rehearsal, Lisa and I continued to peck each other, like we’d just seen each other five minutes ago, like two Rhode Island Reds. “This is crazy!” I thought,“They are hungry for each other. In this moment, they are getting ready to burn this town house down!”
I tried to get Lisa to heat it up a bit, but she seemed comfortable with the peck. I made up my mind that on the next run through, I would force the issue. We began the rehearsal. Lisa and I ran into the room, embraced and then, rather than peck her, I pulled her tightly into my body and kissed her with an open mouth. Rudy came in the room, interrupted us, Denise ordered Rudy out of the room, aaaand “Cut!” We were out of the scene.
Lisa was shocked. She immediately turned and grabbed Malcolm. “Guess what he just did?”
“Lisa,” I explained. “I don’t want to peck. Martin and Denise wouldn’t just peck here. They would kiss passionately.”
“Well, you can’t just plow in,” Lisa protested. “You’ve got to lead up to it.”
She then turned and continued to tell everyone within earshot that I had opened my mouth during our kiss. It was clear, however, that her objection was not to my choice, but to my clumsiness.
Later in the day, prior to our first taping, I was sitting back stage waiting for our scene. Lisa approached me and said, “We should practice this kiss.” Lisa then walked into the backstage changing room, which was a closet made of three flats with a curtain across the front. I looked at her as she invited me to join her, and in that second my mind shifted into stupid drive. Lisa Bonet was inviting me into a closet to kiss. What’s that you say? For those in the back row, allow me to repeat that: Fine Ass Lisa Bonet was inviting me into a closet to MAKE OUT! I responded, “That’s okay. I think we’ll be alright.” Sigh…Am I the lamest man in America? Yes! Yes, I am, because as stupid as that was, it was not the last time my brain would shift into stupid.
A few months later, during the filming of Strictly Business (Kevin Hooks, 1991), Halle Berry, Tommy Davidson and I were shooting a scene near the end of the film when my character (Waymon) gives Halle’s character (Natalie) a night club to run. Natalie and Waymon kiss. All through my acting training, I was taught to act the kiss. In other words, keep my tongue to myself. As an actor, one can make a kiss look passionate and real, without actually “swapping spit” as the kids used to say. I mean, we are supposed to be actors. As we ran through the scene for the camera, I was acting the kiss. After a couple takes, Halle turns to me and says, “Joseph, I want to kiss for real.”
“I was always taught to fake the kiss.”
“No,” Halle said, “I can always tell when a couple on screen isn’t really kissing. I want to really kiss.”
As the director and crew worked on correcting a lighting issue, I ran over to Tommy in a panic.
“Tommy. Tommy,” I said. “Halle wants to kiss for real! What should I do?”
Tommy didn’t say anything. He just stood there looking at me as if I had lost my ever-loving mind.
After a moment I said, rather shyly, “Yep. You’re right. I’m an idiot!” So if you really love that kiss at the end of Strictly Business, you have Halle to thank.
But back to Lisa Bonet. After blowing an opportunity that I (seriously) used to dream about, Lisa and I moved to our places on the set. The stage manager began the count-down. On cue, Lisa and I rushed into the room. I took Lisa in my arms, she wrapped her arms around me, and we began to kiss, gently at first and then as the kiss grew in passion, we opened our mouths. Rudy, burst through the door and we broke our embrace. Denise, ordered Rudy out of the room, we turned back to each other, embraced aaanndd “Cut!” We were out of the scene.
As perfect as the scene went, I would have liked another take. Damn! I should have practiced.
Next week…My crush