Cosmopolitan - May 2001

A girl's best friend - James is a real diamond

"Why I love having women as friends"

Actor James Callis, 30, plays Tom, the perfect best friend to Bridget Jones (Renée Zellweger) in the new hit film. But can men and women ever be just good friends in real life? He confides in Harriet Scott.

"In my first week at university I met a really beautiful, funny, sweet girl.  She had a boyfriend, but who doesn't at the start of a new university term?  I pursued her for weeks before we finally ended up back in her room.  At first we were all over each other but half way through taking off our clothes, something in me stopped.  It just didn't feel right - we were great friends and she was attractive but not in the same way that a lover should be.  The funny thing was, when I gently explained how I felt, she had felt it too. "You know what, James, you're right" she said.  Of course I felt a momentary pang of regret in my groin as I watched her put her clothes back on, but we did the right thing.  She turned out to be a wonderful, long-lasting friend and a short-lived sexual relationship could easily have spoiled that.  So to me, heterosexual men and women can definitely just be friends - you see it happening all the time. During the filming of BJD for example, I got on very well with Renée Zellweger and there was always a lot of laughter on set.  I believe it's always possible to draw the line between sexual intimacy and an intimate friendship.  The truth is, most men know deep down, from the very first meeting, if a platonic relationship is as far as they want it to go.

Unfortunately it's not always easy to accept and acknowledge those feelings. Although I do think we know in our heart of hearts whether a relationship is based on friendship or romantic love, if your best friend happens to be a woman you find attractive, it's incredibly confusing.  That's what Billy Crystal's character talks about in When Harry Met Sally - that men and women can never be friends because physical attraction will always get in the way.  But personally, I don't think that confusion doesn't have to mean that a genuine trusting friendship can never exist between a man and woman.   Attraction works on many levels and, although I do believe a man has to find a woman appealing to some degree in order to be friends with her, that kind of visual appreciation is very different from the way we feel when we fall in real "knock you off your feet" love.

That's how it was when I met my wife Neha.  She was beautiful, easy to talk to and even easier to laugh with - it had all the makings of a good friendship.  But I had an overwhelming feeling that if I didn't ask her out immediately I would regret it for the rest of my life.  I didn't want to become "friends" and risk losing the chance of romance between us - I wanted her to know how I felt straightaway - luckily, she felt the same way.

For me it's worth working through the complications and confusing feelings in order to have friends of the opposite sex.  And it's certainly well worth the effort.  A man who has a female friend has a very valuable ally - someone who will listen when he's in turmoil, who will explain the inner workings of the female psyche to reveal everything from what kind of underwear to buy to possible reasons why his girlfriend hasn't spoken to him for two days.  Equally male friends can give a woman the kind of insight a woman simply can't - what's going through a man's head when he doesn't call, what's the best time to get him into bed, and what's the best thing to say when you get there.

And while female friends groan at the very mention of DIY, a man will get incredibly excited if you ask him for help with your new power drill.  Furthermore, we'll gladly risk eating your home cooked lasagne in the hope of having something more nutritious than a late night kebab.

The simple way to mark the difference between friendship and lust is to know your own agenda and , above all, to know yourself.  It makes me laugh when people say they can't act, because in so many male/female relationships people act all the time; they show false feelings and pretend they're not attracted when to the trained eye, it's perfectly obvious that they are.

If you're both honest with yourselves about your true feelings - right from that very first gut instinct - then you have much to gain. Friendship is so wonderful - why rule out half of the population?"

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