I've had "chemistry tests" with a nice handful of leading men in Hollywood. Not to lump them all together, but they have mostly been dicks. Unfortunately, it's a good chemistry test that generally leads to fame and fortune (if you don't create your own work).
Let me break down the scenario for you: Chemistry tests happen after (pat on the back) actors do well after initial auditions, and have made it through the callback with the director and creators. Then you're trapped in a room with 18 pairs of eyes waiting to critique the connection between you and the leading man. Chemistry is that intangible thing that exists when you lock eyes with your next fuck buddy or future mate or here, your colleague. Maybe it's pheromones, maybe it's a twinkle in the eye—whatever chemistry is, it exists beyond us.
Long ago, Hollywood found a way to monetize and abuse this perfectly natural and unquantifiable thing. (See: every movie involving any sort of love interest, requited or otherwise.) Still, without giving the system too much credit, it does make sense. When two people are on screen and they have no chemistry, it's like paying $15 to watch a bad Tinder meet-up for 90 minutes. When the chemistry is good, they are Brangelina and everyone leaves the film eager to adopt a small army for a family.
The process of attaining the aforementioned ideal is far more difficult, however. And the experience of testing is not a whole lot of fun for the female actor. I can't speak for the male actors experience, but I'll go out on a limb here and say: it's probably less traumatic an experience for men because of, well, a patriarchal society that forces women to adhere to male forms of beauty and to never intimidate a man in a power position, etc. You get it. You've read a history book/been on the internet.
I'm assuming it's a mostly pleasant experience for the dudes on the opposite side of the frame though. They get to see women walk in, usually wearing something revealing, and they are in the power position. It's a fantasy suite for anyone who is wildly insecure and overly confident (read: all people in this industry). My experience has been generally quite bleak. Here are a few encounters I've had.
Tall, famous Canadian comic actor
Hey, he's Canadian, I'm Canadian, I'm thinking chemistry is for sure in our future even though they had me waiting for over two hours and I'm feeling dizzy from lack of sugar. I walk in, he is more spray-tanned orange than a Miami tangerine and taller than I ever imagined. I'm dumbfounded. The entire room of six or seven white males ignore me for the first five minutes while they continue to discuss what color their various Teslas are. (Not a joke.) I'm too hungry (for food and a job) to play nice at this point so I get my phone out and start checking it. It was part of the action for the upcoming scene, if they ever shut up about their Teslas, so I could have argued it was for my character. But truthfully, it was a dick move in response to their small dick moves. They commented about my phone play and I respond that I have nothing to say about cars. Tension is tangible at this point. The actor then decides not to read with me. So the gay casting director and I have a chemistry read. We were incredible. We should be dating. I leave and get myself a burger. It was fine.
Indie comedian turned rom-com star with an annoying voice that he somehow makes adorable
I recently did a chemistry with this comedy bad boy. Went in thinking "I would 100 percent sit on this man's face, we will for sure have chemistry." Walked out thinking FUCK that GUY.
The chemistry read went like this: I walk in, dude says he isn't shaking hands today because he's sick. I make a bad joke about sickness, the room falls quiet. Moving on to the audition. In comedy, we like to improvise and, based on the fact that I improvised in my three previous auditions for this role, I wasn't going to tinker with something that had already worked. Except, right off the top of my improvisation, the guy says "Hurry up!" He literally told me to "hurry up" with my comedy gold. I checked out after that, hating him, because that is an improv and life NO NO, even if you are sick. Who knows if that was him improvising with me, but since it was a phone scene and I hadn't yet answered the "phone," I was given the impression that he just wanted to get it over with. It wasn't that long ago that he was just another no name actor trying to sell a TV show. I expect more from comedians because they are supposed to get it. I should mention casting did call my agent to apologize on behalf of the actor, which felt good. Like, casting is worried about my feelings? This feels powerful. "My feelings are valid!" I guess in a small way, it's a win. Look, we actors have to take what we can get.
Former teen crush
This guy is an upstanding man and he deserves applause for treating me like a human not just a body. Thank you! OK, so this CT was not a terrible experience. For me at least. He's a gentleman and before we begin the read, he says "Hi, I'm _____, and I'm going to kiss you in this scene." To which my reaction, for WHO KNOWS WHAT REASON is to make fake gagging motions. (I was nervous and had no idea how to act like a person.) As if the idea of kissing him makes me ill! Au contraire! Weird, bad jokes are my sweet spot. Guy, blessed be he, joked to the producers that the idea of kissing him makes me sick. He made the room comfortable with my discomfort. I tried to backtrack … long story short: The guy is a great kisser and I didn't get that part. He's exceptional.
Guy who used to be one of the biggest stars on the planet
What is it like to do a chemistry test with "Famous TV Character?" Honestly? A dream. Especially when he tells you at the read that "you obviously already have the part." So, here I am, wearing a dress that shows too much leg and too much boob and even though it feels like I'm selling my soul to the devil by wearing it, it feels worth it because I'm going to be employed. (Also to note: he too is very orange. Am I supposed to be getting more spray tans? is all I can think while writing this by the way.) While I was waiting to audition, Famous TV Character came and sat beside me and made some jokes about his chakras and meditation (a practice we both do) and I knew the man wanted to fuck me. So I'm thinking, Oh, I'm absolutely getting this part/this is mine to lose/this is my moment. Not so much. The network didn't care for our chemistry and chose some other leggy blonde instead of me. Famous TV Character started following me on Twitter and direct messaged me that he didn't get what he wanted but as a consolation asked to take me on a date. I was in a relationship and had to pass. And as I found out later, he too was in a serious relationship at the time. That's Hollywood.
The final act
Hollywood is like a bad boyfriend. You either have too much chemistry and the system wants to fight it, or you have no chemistry and you're a garbage person making bad jokes.
I'm desperately looking forward to the day where I can audition young, leggy men while discussing my expensive, luxury hybrid to a bunch of other powerful women.
The future is female. God bless America.