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The drama of Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney’s offscreen chemistry

Why everyone suddenly cares about the stars of the yet-to-be-released rom-com Anyone But You.

Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney stand close to each other, laughing, in front of a Sony backdrop.
Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney looking at each other but reportedly not “seeing” each other.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

Since the dawn of moviemaking, extremely attractive people — called actors — have fallen in love with each other on set.

Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, Rachel Weisz and Daniel Craig, and Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem — the list goes on and on. If you want to fall in love with a beautiful actor, apparently, the best course of action is to be a beautiful actor yourself, and appear in a movie with them.

That’s what may have happened to Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney while shooting their new movie Anyone But You. At least, it’s what lots and lots of people seem to hope has happened.

Powell and Sweeney — whom I have affectionately dubbed “Poweeney” — are two blond, extremely aesthetically pleasing actors who, until recently, were orbiting right below household name status. Sweeney is known for HBO’s White Lotus and Euphoria; Powell, for being the third or fourth lead in the mega-hit Top Gun: Maverick. The thing that’s currently making them more famous than any of their previous projects is what appears to be a magnetic, star-crossed attraction between the two, as evidenced in Poweeney’s Instagram posts and photos from the movie set.

The two smile at each other. They laugh together. They’re goofing off and hugging and going to the zoo and feeding giraffes together. They look like they’re living out the rom-com they’re starring in, and nothing they do looks like work. Poweeney made its first live appearance at CinemaCon this week, stirring up more “are they or aren’t they” speculation.

Just like wiith some other storied Hollywood couples, there’s also a catch: Both had significant others before shooting, and Powell is now single.

While there’s a fiery interest in determining whether these two beautiful people are, in fact, together, the attention both are drawing speaks to a bigger story about how fleeting romantic chemistry in Hollywood has become. In an industry full of beautiful people, at the moment like Powell and Sweeney are the only two who genuinely seem to be attracted to one another. And chemistry, as Poweeney and a recent slew of bad rom-coms have shown us, is more much than pairing two extremely good-looking people. We wouldn’t be this interested in Poweeney if their connection didn’t feel so rare.

Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney, sitting in a tree, f-i-l-m-i-n-g

Powell and Sweeney are actors who occupy roughly the same stratosphere of fame and attractiveness. Besides Top Gun: Maverick, Powell starred in the Netflix rom-com Set It Up and Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused-esque Everybody Wants Some. Sweeney was nominated for two supporting actress Emmys in 2022, for playing an extremely beautiful, terrifying teen girl in HBO’s White Lotus and an extremely beautiful, terrified teen girl in HBO’s Euphoria.

In January 2023, Deadline reported that Powell and Sweeney were “two of the most sought-after stars” and that they would be co-starring in director Will Gluck’s R-rated, Sony-backed rom-com Anyone But You. Gluck is known for directing 2010’s Easy A and 2011’s Friends with Benefits. Powell and Sweeney started filming in Australia late February/early March 2023.

That’s when Powell started posting shots of himself and Sweeney on Instagram. The first post appeared on March 3. She’s looking at him like the way tourists look at skyscrapers, face and eyes tilted upward with admiration; he’s grinning, his top row of teeth shining. Powell captioned the photo “Hot Box”:

Powell posted again on March 21, a set of eight pictures from a visit to the Taronga Zoo in Sydney with his sister’s family and Sweeney. In the sixth picture, he and Sweeney are feeding a giraffe. Both have huge grins and encapsulate a vibe that I can only describe as “straight couple’s honeymoon.”

Sweeney has a matching four-photo post from that same day, with an extra giraffe pic.

On April 10, Sweeney posted again — a seven-picture post of what appears to be a sightseeing tour with Powell, actor Darren Barnet, and Australian model Charlee Fraser. Her caption reads, “sometimes things are more fun in the rain :)” and the fun she is referring to does appear to have been rained on. She and Powell appear together in three of the pictures, cheek pressed up against cheek, smiles wide and teeth perfect.

The faces Powell and Sweeney are making in all their photos — and the proximity of said faces — are not giving“coworkers.” As a person of working experience, I have never been that gleeful to see someone from my job, let alone be that gleeful to hang out with a coworker off the clock.

That said, Powell and Sweeney are famous actors, and that’s a very different job than most. Increasingly, thespians have to use their social media to promote their work — not just posts that say “go see my movie” but ones that show a behind-the-scenes look at the projects they’re working on. Hence, their social media posts, extensive hanging out, and girlfriend-boyfriend vibes could be promotion for Anyone But You. After all, both these people have chosen careers in which they’re asked to fake human emotions.

Poweeney debuts at CinemaCon, world melts

This week, people got to see the Poweeney dynamic live at CinemaCon, a convention where movie studios promote their upcoming releases. The convention is pretty routine. Journalists interview stars about the movies they’re in, studios release extended clips or trailers for the people in attendance, and sometimes even full movies are screened (this year, Warner Bros.’ The Flash was shown to attendees). CinemaCon exists to get the hype and anticipation rolling as we head into summer.

Powell and Sweeney’s body language in interviews was one of CinemaCon’s bigger stories.

It’s one thing to witness the Instagram version of these interactions and fill in the blanks of those photos with our own imaginations and fantasies. It’s quite another to watch them play out in real life.

The two revealed that Sweeney calls Powell “Top Gun,” a nickname referring to Powell’s big movie. “I love when she calls me that,” he told the audience at CinemaCon. (Powell’s name in the movie is not Top Gun.)

Powell also joked that Sweeney thought he was Miles Teller, his co-star in that movie. To which Sweeney replied, “I actually thought you were Tom Cruise, though.” (Powell does not look like Tom Cruise.)

Sydney Sweeney looks up at Glen Powell seen in profile, smiling, as someone holds a microphone to him.
Find you someone who looks at you the way Sydney Sweeney looks at Glen Powell.
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for CinemaCon

On the red carpet, numerous photos were taken in which the two seemed to enjoy one another’s presence. Sweeney, in many of the photographs, looked at Powell the way some people look at sunsets — like if they blink, they’ll miss it sink under the horizon. As they walked the carpet, Powell leaned in extremely close, extremely often, like a person who has never had to worry about the way his breath smells. They even appeared in an Instagram Reel in which Powell dipped Sweeney over his lap.

Again, their chemistry could easily be explained away as brilliant marketing. But even if that were the case, there were some real-life repercussions that followed.

While the events of CinemaCon played out, Powell’s girlfriend, model and actress Jehane-Marie “Gigi” Paris, unfollowed Sweeney. Then, on Wednesday, she unfollowed Powell and posted a cryptic message on Instagram seemingly confirming her and Powell’s breakup. “Know your worth and onto the next,” Paris wrote in the caption, alongside a video of her looking extremely beautiful while walking away from the camera.

According to People, an unnamed source close to Powell and Paris said that the couple had broken up weeks prior. “Gigi only unfollowed Sydney on social media because Sydney never followed her back. This had nothing to do with Glen and Sydney. Gigi is aware that Glen and Sydney never hooked up,” People’s source said.

Sweeney’s fiancé, vape design businessman Jonathan Davino, was spotted walking Sweeney’s dog on Wednesday, a sign that tabloids interpreted to mean the two are still engaged. Had he walked a different dog or had someone else walked Sweeney’s dog, it would presumably indicate that they had broken up.

Why are we so enthralled by Poweeney?

The vested interest that so many have in Poweeney is a combination of many factors: general nosiness, the unquenchable human thirst for chaos and drama, the excitement that goes all the way back to junior high when you found out two of your classmates liked each other. But one thing has been made extremely clear as this has all unfolded: The titillation that Poweeney provides is largely due to the lack of romantic chemistry in Hollywood today.

For decades now, studios haven’t really been invested in theatrical release rom-coms. Sure, we’ve seen releases like Ticket to Paradise and The Lost City, but compared to action movies and superhero sequels, romantic comedies don’t tend to be sure financial bets. And when they do make money, like 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians, the news story becomes how a movie defied studio logic and expectations.

Chemistry is how you sell a romantic comedy. It’s crucial to the genre. But recently, in the rare rom-coms we do see, it seems like chemistry isn’t even considered. It makes for some horrible movies.

Ghosted, recently released on Apple TV+, starred Ana de Armas and Chris Evans — two objectively sexy humans. The problem was that it seemed like the two never actually filmed together for more than 10 minutes.

Ashton Kutcher and America’s sweetheart Reese Witherspoon teamed up for Your Place or Mine, a rom-com on Netflix released in February. For whatever reason, the entire movie is about how one lives in Los Angeles and the other lives in New York City. Witherspoon and Kutcher barely shared any scenes. And maybe that’s for the best considering the promotional tour conjured up the same absence of attraction as between 50 Shades stars Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan. Here’s a photo for proof:

Ashton Kutcher and Reese Witherspoon stand next to each other, looking uncomfortable.
Ashton Kutcher and Reese Witherspoon selling you a movie where they’re supposed to be in love.
Rodin Eckenroth/FilmMagic

If there’s one exception from recent memory, it was Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain during their promotional tour for the 2021 miniseries Scenes from a Marriage — decidedly not a comedy. But the pair were convincing enough to fool me into consuming one dreary episode, eagerly waiting for them to turn on their sexy charm. I was baited and switched, but that’s a testament to how good chemistry done by fantastic actors can drag projects over a finish line.

Maybe even more relevant — despite not involving actors at all — was the reaction to an affair between Good Morning America hosts Amy Robach and T.J. Holmes. Viewers who were familiar with their early morning banter were shockingly delighted by the illicit news. The thirst for watching hot people have sparks had leaked out into morning TV.

For actors, there’s a fine balance to strike.

Since the Poweeney scandal erupted, there’s been a growing backlash from people who are turned off by the rumored cheating. It signals that some audiences don’t want romantic leads to cross a line, especially when significant others are caught in the crossfire. Clearing both their names could possibly explain why the “source” close to Paris and Powell was very explicit in telling People that there was no cheating when pressed about the breakup.

Whether it’s inescapable, magnetic romance or extremely savvy marketing, Powell and Sweeney’s connection is going to change the way we watch Anyone But You. Sleuths will scour the movie to find the moments the two fell in love or, conversely, the moments in which Powell and Sweeney were merely two actors completely committing to the bit. Still, if the Powell-Sweeney connection is really nothing more than two people doing their job, their fellow actors could stand to take some notes.

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