An actor and her stunt double falling in love while working on a movie in Fiji sounds like the premise of an escapist romantic comedy more than real life, but it is, in fact, Kiersey Clemons and Ebony De La Haye’s true origin story.
The two met in 2017 on the set of “Sweetheart,” a survivalist thriller in which Clemons — whose breakout turn as a teen lesbian in 2015’s “Dope” led to roles in “Hearts Beat Loud,” “Scoob!,” “Antebellum” and more — plays a lone survivor fending off a mysterious monster on a deserted island. As her stunt double, De La Haye had to perform some particularly tricky underwater stunts that make Clemons shudder to think of to this day. (“That sounds so scary; thank you for doing that for me, babe.”) By the end of the shoot, they were inseparable — but Clemons had to go back home to L.A., while De La Haye, an Australian living in Singapore, finished the U.S. visa process.
Three years later, Clemons and De La Haye answer Variety’s Zoom call in mid-May from their pool in the Valley, where they moved right before California enacted its COVID-19 stay at home order. It’s a perfect backdrop, though accidental. “We were just at the pool and were like, ‘Oh s–t, we have an interview!’” laughs Clemons as De La Haye, clutching a can in a koozie, paddles herself closer to the camera and waves. Used to grueling work schedules, they’re now filling their quarantine days with workouts and takeout, long drives and longer TV marathons. (Twisty dramas like “Westworld” for Clemons; mindless HGTV shows for De La Haye; the U.K.’s “Love Island” for both.)
Variety caught up with the couple to talk about quarantine, compromises, whether or not they care about astrology (the Sagittarius does; the Gemini doesn’t), and why people still care so much about “boring f–kin’ lesbians.”
What was it like when you first met, on the set of “Sweetheart?”
De La Haye: The movie shot in Fiji … we were there for eight weeks or something, did some water training and stuff before [the shoot]. It was just so beautiful, and such a ridiculous setting. It’s kind of corny that a relationship came out of it.
How long did it take you to figure out that there was something there?
Clemons: I think we really bonded from the beginning as friends. She was just the most relatable person to me in terms of interests and obviously being queer.
De La Haye: I won by default.
Clemons: And then I was also like, “Oh, you have a nice face.”
De La Haye: It took a while, though … but we’d already vibed, and there’s always that weird queer thing of, “Does this girl want to be my best friend, or…?” If you misread that, it’s embarrassing. But it became obvious towards the end.
So how do you transition out of sharing an experience like that, in Fiji, to being like, “now we’re dating”?
Clemons: It required a lot of vulnerability, but I think it worked in our favor. People always have flings on film sets — consensual ones, let’s be clear — but if you hit it off with someone in the beginning, especially in a place like Fiji, where you don’t live, you could very well be like, “Okay, that was fun. I’m gonna go back to my normal life now.” But because it was the end of filming, it was, “wait, don’t go!”
So for a while, we were doing long distance and going back from Singapore to America. She had started her visa process already, so it was just kind of by fate that the timing worked out.
De La Haye: Starting a relationship long distance is very trying. I think you have to find that person extremely interesting and intriguing to even bother with what it entails to make a year of that worth it. I mean, if I didn’t get a visa, I don’t know. That would have made it more difficult. Luckily, all that worked out.
How long did you do long distance?
Clemons: A year. And then at the end of it, it was, “Okay, you’re coming here and now we’re gonna just move in together,” which is the gayest thing I’ve ever heard. And we’re both pretty rational people, so we were like, “This is crazy — but we gotta just try.”
I do know a lot of people who have done long distance because I’m an actor, and that happens a lot. We’re all traveling all over the place, literally and mentally! [To De La Haye] And you have friends all over the world who do that, too, because they’re doing stunts and live shows. So we had a lot of people to refer to, as well.
De La Haye: The fact that we started that way is helpful, because it’s something that we’ve done and achieved, and it’s very likely to happen again. If one of was to get a job that takes us in another direction, it wouldn’t seem like the end of the world if someone had to leave for six months.
Though now you’re in the same place for, who knows how long.
Clemons: It’s funny, because we’re both very independent people. We really do like the feeling of going to work, not talking all day, and then coming back and being like, “Okay, tell me about your day, how are you?” You have that moment to catch up. Being in isolation with a partner is just more constant observation. Like, “Wow, how did I not realize you did that before?!”
I’ll give you a light one: I love to drink cans of sparkling water, but halfway through drinking it’ll sometimes get warm and I don’t want to finish it. So by the end of the day I have seven half-drunk cans of La Croix everywhere. Three weeks into quarantine, Ebony was like, “I can’t stand it, why aren’t you finishing them?!” Little stuff like that.
Ebony, you usually have a super physical job. How has it been to not be doing it?
De La Haye: Well, I definitely had higher expectations for myself. [To Clemons] You’ve been working out most days, and I’ve really fallen off.
Clemons: It started out with her training me, and then somehow I got the inspiration, and she just…
De La Haye: I think for a lot of people it’s like, whatever you do a lot of usually is what you take a break from, in a sense…so I’ve been super lazy. It’s been super fun.
Clemons: I’ve started to create little goals for myself. We’re working on handstands.
De La Haye: You’re doing great.
Clemons: Thanks, babe.
You’re balancing each other out! Is that the usually the case even outside of quarantine?
De La Haye: 100 percent.
Clemons: Oh yeah, we’re literally complete opposites. Yin and yang. Usually you’re going hard in the paint working out and I’m like, “you’re triggering me, go away.” So this definitely creates a new relationship dynamic. But yeah, normally we’re always on different pages, except for what matters.
I feel like that’s what works. Like, you can be as opposite as you want, but if you have the same values, that’s it.
Clemons: We agree on food, politics and who’s funny. Those are our core values.
What are you doing for food while in quarantine? Did you go out to eat a lot before?
Clemons: We love to go out for dinner. When we travel, it’s literally just, “what’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner?”
De La Haye: We’re always finding tiny, non-events to find an excuse to have a date night at a new restaurant.
Clemons: “We made a new playlist, let’s celebrate!”
De La Haye: “We thought about moving!”
Clemons: “I started my period!”
Okay, feel free to not answer this if it’s too personal, but what are your astrological signs? And do you care about them?
Clemons: I’m gonna answer this, because I’m gonna show off: I’m a Sagittarius and she’s a Gemini, so you know what that means. We are a perfect compatible match, apparently, but also, s–t gets crazy around here. We love a debate, we love a passionate conversation. We’re both really spontaneous and love to go out dancing and travel. We balance each other out really well.
De La Haye: I don’t really know much about it.
Clemons: It’s a classic Sag, Gem situation. I bet other Sag, Gem couples would say that.
De La Haye: Are Sagittariuses more likely to be into astrology?
Clemons: Probably? Because Geminis are a little bit skeptical and judgmental.
De La Haye: [nodding] Ah! There you go. I knew you’d prove yourself right.
Clemons: Because that’s what a Sagittarius does: I’m always right, and you always want to debunk what I’m saying — but I’m always right.
So what made you want to do this feature in the first place, since talking about your relationship is pretty intimate?
Clemons: Sometimes I forget the importance of putting our relationship and our lives on display. [To De La Haye] You’re good at reminding me of that. Because sometimes people who follow me will DM Ebony … and say, “you existing as an individual, your relationship with Kiersey, the way you present yourself and your identity has inspired me to be more comfortable in myself.”
We did not have that inspiration when we were young. I knew my mom had queer friends, but I didn’t see a lot of them in their relationships or if they lived together, you know? And they weren’t married, obviously. So I think it’s important to show people that you as a queer person are also deserving of a healthy, steady relationship the same way that hetero people have every single day.
De La Haye: That’s the thing that I definitely wasn’t aware of until I was an adult in this sort of relationship, with someone that I wanted to be with. Even though the representation is there, generally the relatability still isn’t enough. People are very interested in, you know, boring f–kin’ lesbians. People don’t always see that in their lives … It’s so funny to reflect and know that we’re those people now, that people can look at us and say, “I want to have a relationship like that one day.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.