Crushes on fictional characters
Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s one just in time for Valentine’s Day. What fictional character have you developed a crush on? I was discussing romantic movies with a friend, and realized that even though I’m a fan of the genre, there are very few characters in them I actually feel are the sort of people I would like in real life. My stab: Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation. —Nate
I sometimes feel like my entire relationship with womankind was defined by my boyhood crush on Dyna Girl, erstwhile sidekick of Electra Woman on the 1976-77 Saturday-morning series The Krofft Supershow. I was 6 years old at the time, and already obsessed with superheroes, but thanks to Judy Strangis’ performance as Dyna Girl, I developed an early attraction to strong women with healthy dollops of girlish exuberance and more than a little va-voom. Costume optional.
I am not, nor have I ever been, a goth. During my teenage years, though, I devoured my fair share of goth and industrial music—and pined over the unattainably gorgeous and otherworldly (read: crazy and makeup-caked) goth girls in my high school. Granted, how would they know I was alive? I had my nose buried in a comic book most of the time. Those worlds collided when, in 1989, one of my favorite comics—Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman—debuted a new character: Death, the sister of the title’s main character, Dream. As their names imply, these members of The Endless and their siblings are the personifications of the forces they’re named for. So yeah, Death is kind of the Grim Reaper. Only in Gaiman’s depiction (rendered by artist Mike Dringenberg), Death appears as, well, a death-rocker. In fact, she looked almost exactly like the goth girls I had crushes on in high school, not that that particular subcultural uniform allows much variation. But where my bat-like, black-clad crushes wouldn’t look twice at me no matter how conspicuously I wore my Joy Division T-shirt through the halls, Gaiman’s Death was paradoxically warm, friendly, and compassionate. So in true geek fashion, my crush transferred over to the far-less-threatening goth girl in the comic books—the one who would at least take your hand and whisper something sweet while she stole your breath away.
I can’t imagine anyone but the ultimate David Lynch fanboy (or David Lynch himself) considering Laura Dern a sex symbol in any conventional sense. Pretty? Sure. Good actor? Frequently. But her plain, girl-next-door looks stray too far afield from any boilerplate of sex appeal to rank her up there with, say, Michelle Williams or Jessica Rabbit. Pre-adolescent childhood crushes don’t know this, however. And for the nearly half a decade between the release of Jurassic Park and my blossoming interest in girls I didn’t watch in movies, Laura Dern’s Dr. Ellie Sattler was it for me. As far back as I can remember, she was the first pop-culture crush I had who wasn’t a comic-book character. Besides having what was pretty much my dream job (paleobotanist, which is this close to a paleontologist), there was something down-to-earth about her. She wasn’t like women in other movies. She was tomboyish and self-reliant, able to outwit cunning velociraptors even with a limp. She was the kind of girl you could hang out with, spending all day rooting around through triceratops poop together. And when you’re 8 and don’t even know what you’re supposed to be doing with girls, that’s pretty all right.
This is kind of a cheat, as it’s nowhere near as personal a pick as Jason or John’s—and I was already spoken for when I started reading Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim novels—but this AVQ&A is as good a place as any to argue in favor of Kim Pine’s status as the series’ most crush-worthy character. Being spoken for partially influences my choice—just as Kim does for Scott, my wife has no qualms about calling me on my bullshit—but she’s also way more grounded and wittier than Ramona Flowers, the romantic interest O’Malley’s protagonist spends six novels (and one Edgar Wright-directed film adaptation) pursuing. (One works in a video store, while the other uses subspace to deliver packages for Amazon, so that’s bound to happen—but I digress.) A lead character falling for his snarky best friend doesn’t make for a great kung-fu/rock ‘n’ roll/romance epic, but if I were Scott Pilgrim, I’d fall for the woman who requires me to only match her witty repartee—not best her seven evil exes.
The response to this one is easy: Kaylee Frye from Firefly. You can have Inara. Just fine by me. Zoe? Go for it. Both are strong, smart women and certainly worthy of crushdom. But Jewel Staite’s performance renders Kaylee earthy yet innocent, leaving the ship’s mechanic in a place where I could plausibly trick oneself into believing I’d have a shot with her, should all the stars in the ’verse align correctly. She’s someone you could bring home to your parents, and they would have no idea about the things she enjoyed doing in the engine room. Approachable, sensual, and with a heart as open as the galaxy itself, Kaylee stands as the acme of my character crushes.
A friend and I have discussed how Friday Night Lights/American Horror Story matriarch Connie Britton is so attractive that it’s actually distracting when she’s onscreen. There’s only one other person I’ve felt that way about, and that lady looks like a dude. In fact, it’s White Collar’s sharply dressed, carefully coiffed, know-it-all FBI criminal consultant, Neal Caffrey (played by Matthew Bomer). He’s actually so good-looking, it’s ridiculous. I unabashedly modeled my wedding suit after Caffrey’s look, and get all a-flutter with considerable envy and admiration when he steps out to catch bad guys with brain over brawn, his fedora permanently tilted downward at 45 degrees. Neal always outsmarts his adversaries and colleagues. He’s a hopelessly insecure romantic who only sort-of always gets the girl, and he’s been around the world more times than Jules Verne. Call it a man-crush if you like. I just call it star appeal.
If Kenny can confess to his man-crush, surely I can fess up to one of my lady-crushes. I had a real thing for Salma Hayek as Carolina in Desperado. Sure, she’s drop-dead gorgeous and can snag a wandering Antonio Banderas with a sidewise glance of an eye, but on top of that, she can stitch an open wound without flinching, hold off an entire town of tough-as-nails horndogs with the heat of her withering contempt, and run a gorgeously appointed bookstore in a place where people barely seem capable of counting to 10, let alone reading. She’s well-educated, self-possessed, and just as capable as the hero of contemptuously walking away from an explosion in slow-motion without even looking back at it. It was very strange meeting Hayek for an interview with another publication and learning that she’s a tiny little delicate bird of a woman: In my mind’s eye, Carolina is about 20 feet tall.
For a long time there in the mid-’00s, when people would ask who my biggest celebrity crush was, the answer was inevitable: Kristen Bell. She was my age, she was spunky and blonde, and she was good with a quip. But my wife pointed something out to me that was a bit unsettling: I didn’t actually like Kristen Bell so much as I liked the character she played at the time, the eponymous protagonist of Veronica Mars. This was unsettling primarily because I was, at the time, a man in his early-to-mid-20s, and Veronica Mars was a teenage girl. But she was so smart and full of great comebacks and fun to watch! And the world just didn’t understand her the way I did! Now, I could excuse this by saying “The actress who played her seemed to share some of those qualities,” or saying “She was the girl I would have loved to have dated when I was in high school,” but it was an ultimate relief when she graduated from high school and went off to college, because I no longer had to confess that my fictional soulmate was a teenager. I feel so gross now.
I know it’s cliché to go for the bad boy with a heart of gold, but dammit if I can’t resist Tim Riggins’ soulful hazel eyes and easy-back-porch-livin’ attitude on Friday Night Lights. While my mom probably wouldn’t approve of a (spoiler alert!) ex-con good ol’ boy with a pretty apparent drinking problem—actually, she would, she loves Riggins, too—I, like all the other women who have loved Riggins, know that I could be the one to ease his pain. And, unlike Lyla Garrity, I’ve already gone to college and seen the world outside Dillon, Texas, so there’s nothing stopping me and Tim from living happily ever after with Skeeter on that land he bought back in season four. Also, he is hot.
When I first started watching Friday Night Lights, my affinity for preppie women with whom I’d have little chance or anything in common (no, it makes no sense) had me looking in Lyla Garrity’s direction, but I soon saw the light: It’s all about Tyra Collette (played by Adrianne Palicki). I love a smartass, and Tyra is exactly the kind of sarcastic, no-bullshit woman that does it for me. On the show, she fits into the “tough yet vulnerable” archetype, her abrasiveness masking a sensitive soul. She’s been hurt, and she just needs someone to believe in her! That person is me! (And Mrs. Coach, on whom I have a huge crush as well.) Oh, and Tyra’s also incredibly gorgeous, so that helps.
There’s a good chance that this list is going to have a few characters created by Joss Whedon on it, and that’s no surprise; one of Whedon’s greatest gifts as a writer is creating likeable, loveable heroes, which always makes it especially painful when he puts them through hell. In a way, Fred from Angel is almost too predictable of a choice; she’s geeky, hyper, super-smart, more than a little weird, and (because she’s played by Amy Acker) absolutely gorgeous. From a distance, I can see how all this adds up to the perfect nerd-bait—what lonely, socially maladjusted loser (i.e., me in high-school, college, and, um, let’s move on) wouldn’t fall for a girl who appreciates brains, is probably smarter than you, and is pretty without ever seeming to realize it? But my first time through Angel, I fell hard, manipulation or no. Acker’s performance had a sweetness and depth that might not have initially existed in the writing, and there was a vulnerability to the character that made me want to buy her textbooks and take her to physics lectures. I liked Fred enough that (spoiler alert!) Angel for me basically ended with the fifth-season episode “Smile Time.” (Okay, the finale was great.) Watching the show now, the infatuation has mostly worn off, which I appreciate, but it’s fun to realize how much that character represented and solidified my type: genius, sweet, and really cute in glasses.
Until I started seeing the woman who is now my wife, I had a particularly bad tendency to fall for women who were either already spoken for or had decided they were saving themselves for a particular guy and would not be swayed from that path, no matter who else offered them affection. Throw in a further predisposition for redheads, and you can certainly understand why it was so rough to watch Willow Rosenberg spend all of the first season and part of the second season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer swooning over Xander Harris, who only had eyes for her best friend, Buffy, with whom he never stood a chance. Worse, Xander and I shared the last name, so it was a little too easy to think, “You picked the wrong Harris, baby.” Except, of course, I, uh, never actually thought that, because that would just be ridiculous. I admit, though, that I was actually kind of happy when Willow and Oz hooked up—they were just so darned cute together!—but then that all went to hell when Veruca popped into the picture. At that point, my feelings for Willow probably would’ve kicked in again, but then Tara entered the picture and… Well, what can I say? Sometimes you just have to know when to let a crush go.
I’m in danger of becoming the guy who answers Grosse Pointe Blank to every AVQ&A, but seriously, beat Minnie Driver’s Debbie Newberry for sheer swooning crushability. She talks with the acid wit of a screwball-comedy heroine—when John Cusack’s Martin Blank hands his erstwhile high-school flame a bouquet of flowers, she quips, “I’ll go put these in some rubbing alcohol”—but she holds down a modern day job as a DJ for an impossibly cool radio station. Imagine Carole Lombard back-announcing Clash records and doling out Will Oldham tickets, and you’re well on your way. Plus she looks like Minnie Driver, which doesn’t hurt.
Even though Christian Slater does his best, bad impression of Jack Nicholson as J.D. in Heathers, even though he aspires to be a mass murderer by blowing up his high school—an idea that seemed unfathomable in the ’80s, but tragically became reality later—and even though I can’t stand Slater now, as a young teen, I loved him. Perhaps it was because I went to a rural high school in Ohio, just as J.D. did. Or because I was picked on for being a black-attired freak, which I actually enjoyed. Not that I wanted any of my fellow students to die, but to have had a boyfriend like J.D. to scare a few of them, then whisk me away on his black motorcycle into his dad’s basement while quoting from Moby Dick and sucking on cherry Slurpies, well, that certainly would have made my life more darkly entertaining.
I’ve got to go with A.J. from Empire Records. While realistically, my 30-year-old self would probably have more in common with Lucas, the rebel bad boy with a heart of gold, sensitive artist A.J. just always seemed like such a solid, good dude. Sure, he had a stupid, unwarranted crush on Liv Tyler’s drugged-out Corey, but I could make him change his mind with my deep appreciation for super-glued quarters and mid-record store dance-offs. Corey is just worried about her family, but A.J., like me, cares for his fellow employees, like Debra with her shaved head and Joe with the financial problems. Plus, if the whole artist thing didn’t work out (and why wouldn’t it, with my undying support?), I get the feeling that A.J. could be perfectly happy doing any other respectable gig, from counseling troubled youths to being an electrician specializing in giant, old signs.
I’m probably only echoing the sentiment of all male (and some female) Doctor Who fans when I say that my latest fictional character crush is Amy Pond. Sure, it helps she’s played by Karen Gillan, who is easy on the eyes. But she’s also a complex character, going several dimensions beyond the typical female heroine role. Her sass and to-a-fault boldness not only make for a great, whip-smart rapport with Matt Smith’s Doctor (with a helping hand from the series’ fantastic writers), but it also makes for an emotionally complex character. Throughout Amy’s tenure as the Doctor’s companion, we’ve seen her act stubborn, vulnerable, happy, and angry, but she’s always stayed centered to a true self, never wandering too far astray emotionally thus creating one of the most fully-drawn characters on television. A sterling sense-of-humor is also a big plus when weighed down by that mopey, sadsack husband Rory.
I’m going to go back in time for mine and name my earliest fictional-character crushes, brought to you by girlhood sleepovers:
- Kenickie from Grease (I liked him because Rizzo liked him, and as a young girl, John Travolta’s dimpled chin was too much for me.)
- The Disney cartoon-fox version of Robin Hood (He was dashing, handsome, and had a British accent.)
- Goblin King Jareth from Labryinth (Um, hello? What pubescent girl wouldn’t fall for a guy with hair and makeup like that, not to mention that his character’s raison d’être was stealing girls’ innocence?)
All these pop-culture nerds in one place, and it’s taken this long to bring up Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in an iron bikini from Return Of The Jedi? Surely I’m not the only one among us who felt his first pangs of romantic yearning while staring at Jabba The Hutt’s fetching, reluctant eye-candy. This era of Leia has become a pop-culture touchstone—most memorably in that Friends episode from a million years ago—and while I’ve had other fictional crushes both understandable (Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday) and inexplicable (I’ve always had a thing for Janice from The Sopranos), I’ll never forget my first. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to find my Jedi DVD.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a thing for small-town hippie chicks with thick, unruly manes, esoteric interests, and melodramatic backstories, and by now, I’m no longer sure whether this particular quirk preceded my fascination with the Abby Arcane of the Alan Moore era of Swamp Thing, or if it’s all been a direct outgrowth of that. (If I stretch my imagination way back, I can dimly recall that my thing for Abby was powerful enough to explode a childhood-long preference for brunettes that probably had a lot to do with Agent 99 on Get Smart and Judy Graubart on The Electric Company.) All I know is that, as a country fool who grew up yearning for the pleasures of the city, part of me wanted nothing more than to meet someone like that and retreat to a wooden shack on the bayou, where she could raise herbs for our supper while I patrolled the swamps, poaching gators. And while everyone else would wonder what a woman like that was doing with a guy so far out of her league, I’d be secure in the knowledge that the sensitivity and open-mindedness that made it possible for her to see past Swamp Thing’s muck-encrusted algae skin would do the same trick for my torn T-shirts and ill-conceived haircuts.
I never thought a lot about Sarah Chalke when she was playing “second Becky” on Roseanne, and pretty much anything she’s been in that isn’t Scrubs has left me cold. Which means I’ve now come to the realization that my crush on Chalke is completely based on her work as Dr. Elliot Reid. Why was Elliot so easy to love? Well, it’s because she’s a doctor who had to be tough to make her way in the male-dominated hospital environment, but she was so messed-up that she couldn’t say the word “vagina.” (She called it a “bajingo.”) She’s a slammin’ hottie and on some level knows it, but she’s also awkward and talks really fast, and can be completely hapless at times. Maybe because she was written as a human being, with a few exaggerated-for-laughs faults built in, I rooted for her for nine seasons, especially when Dr. Cox would yell at her and call her “Barbie.”
I’ve always had a thing for Drew Barrymore, but my crush reached a fever pitch while watching The Wedding Singer. (You thought I was going to say Fever Pitch, didn’t you?) It definitely had a lot to do with the time and place, which was around my birthday in 1998 and in Cleveland, a chapter in my life filled with lots of sadness, angst, and loneliness. My mom had flown out to celebrate my birthday, which had been celebrated the previous few years with girlfriends, and I fantasized over the next few months that Barrymore’s sweet, innocent, staggeringly cute Julia Sullivan character might actually be the person celebrating with me the following year. I always felt a little embarrassed that I’d twisted reality around in my head just enough that I thought I had a chance to date a fictional character played by a famous person I’d never met, but I felt a whole lot better a few years later, when my best friend was convinced that Katie Holmes was one chance encounter away from becoming his girlfriend. Here’s The Wedding Singer’s finale:
I’m a little surprised no one has brought up the stable of eminently crush-worthy, swooningly enigmatic stable of dreamboats David Lynch and Mark Frost created for Twin Peaks, a television breakthrough that had a profound impact on my development as a hormone-crazed adolescent. You couldn’t really go wrong with any of Lynch’s vixens, but none could compare to Sherilyn Fenn’s Audrey Horne. As the show’s preeminent femme fatale, Fenn radiated sex from every pore. Whether it was the tight sweaters or the famous tongue-gymnastics she performed on a fortunate cherry (seldom have so many been so ferociously jealous of an inanimate object), I was completely besotted. She was mysterious, she was dangerous, she was everything a boy on the cusp of manhood could possibly ever desire. When Fenn appeared in Playboy in fulfillment of all my wildest dreams, I coerced my father into buying me a copy. I’m not proud of that fact, but oh was it ever worth it at the time.
Well, Nathan, funny you should mention it. I have had a crush on Agent Dale Cooper for oh, say, a dozen years now. As what might charitably be called a “late bloomer,” I spent most of my high-school years—and a good number of my college ones, too—in imaginary relationships with fictional characters. I was a sophomore in college when I first watched Twin Peaks, recommended by my cool friend Jenny, and I, like millions of others, fell hard for the pure-of-heart Agent Cooper. He was everything a slightly dweeby 19-year-old girl could ever want: handsome and chivalrous, but also endearingly bashful. With his rigidly coiffed hair and perfectly crisp shirts, Cooper made me wonder what lurked beneath the square exterior. Best of all, the man really appreciated a good dessert. Sigh!
There’s really only one definitive answer for me on this one: Ione Skye as Diane Court in Say Anything. I went through a period when I watched Cameron Crowe’s directorial debut with obsessive frequency, and in high school, I identified with John Cusack’s Lloyd Dobler more than any other fictional character I ran across. Diane is the perfect mix of fiercely intellectual and extremely giving, and she’s oblivious to her own beauty. She attracts many suitors—Lloyd’s perfect first phone conversation with Diane shows just how many guys try to ask her out—but Lloyd makes her laugh, a quality I relied on all too often. I don’t watch Say Anything as often as I used to, although I’ll probably watch it around Valentine’s Day as per an old tradition, and now I see the film as a father-daughter story instead of Lloyd’s youthfully devoted romantic tale. But I’ll always remember how enamored I was with Ione Skye, at her most captivating on the night after graduation in a stunning white dress as Lloyd indirectly woos her, and still effortlessly endearing at her most unglamorous in the depths of her despair over her father’s crimes. Diane Court is just the kind of complicated, challenging young woman I’ve been trying to find my entire life, and I have no problem admitting that.