I Think About This a Lot: This Photo of Kate Beckinsale and Michael Sheen

Kate Beckinsale, Michael Sheen, and their daughter.
Photo: katebeckinsale/Instagram

I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.

For eight years, Kate Beckinsale and Michael Sheen were a fun, yet mostly unremarkable, Hollywood couple in the grand scheme of Hollywood couples. They’ve been apart longer than they were ever together and, unlike most celebrities, the postscript of their relationship has been more entertaining than the sum of their time in the spotlight. Beckinsale and Sheen are both funny on their own — combined, their humor turns into something special. They’re also apparently able to co-parent and maintain a friendship with the vivacity of a newly in love couple.

And good for them. The moments they broadcast are consistently hilarious, sweet, and a little weird. The latter aspect is why I hope they never stop posting these snippets, because if there’s anything I don’t get sick of, it’s when attractive, privileged people show their bizarre sides.

The photo of the pair that I think about the most features Beckinsale, Sheen, and their then-17 year old daughter Lily faithfully re-creating the teenager’s birth photo. In it, Beckinsale reclines casually with a wild-haired, salt and pepper-bearded Michael crouching behind her smiling. Lily’s face emerges from a corner of the frame, eyes closed and peaceful as if she is sleeping. Beckinsale posted both the original 1999 photo and the 2016 version side-by-side on her Instagram account.

This image isn’t constantly on my mind because it’s the only one of its kind. Beckinsale’s Instagram offers various glimpses of their interactions, such as Kate jumping into Michael’s arms with glee when their daughter got into college, or a more recent shot of Michael wearing a bunny onesie to a Christmas celebration, presumably because of a NSFW misunderstanding. But this one most succinctly sums up their delightful relationship and the ease with which they still share a life, as well as their specific brand of humor. To me, they are the pinnacle of enjoyable celebrity couples and they’re not even, technically, a couple.

Separately, each of the adults in the photo look like the platonic ideals of their public image. Beckinsale is glowing, and seemingly aging in reverse, as if we needed proof that she and Paul Rudd text all the time about how Benjamin Button stole their life stories and didn’t send royalties. Sheen is unkempt in an attractive goofball kind of way, like some guy jumping into a group photo at his local pub. Together, they are two parents celebrating their daughter’s birthday in the most embarrassing parent way possible.

This picture often comes to mind whenever I see other celebrities trying to seem as casually fun or spontaneous. If anyone brings up a famous couple they think is incredibly down to earth within my earshot, chances are I will bring up this picture as an example of someone actually pulling it off. Unlike the majority of celebrity social media output this picture also looks sincere. Not only because they truly look like a happy family committing to a ridiculous bit, but because when you put it alongside the other photos Beckinsale posts there’s a clear differentiation. The rest of her Instagram is littered with the content you get from any genetically blessed star. There’s the early January post allegedly about not having taken her Christmas tree down in which she uses a shot from her January Tatler spread where she is confidently modeling an Alexander Vauthier gown. (Casual.) There are the red-carpet shots, gymstagrams, sponsored content, shots of her with other genetically blessed celebrities, pictures of her looking gorgeous just because she can post pictures of her looking gorgeous. All clearly staged and in line with the rest of the celebrity ecosystem.

That level of deliberate selection is par for the course for someone of her stature in the industry — but when you look at her family photos in the midst of such an otherwise curated feed they stand out as lacking strategy or spin, even if years of positive media attention has probably turned even those posts into a part of that larger strategy. Still, I appreciate what the photo says about their relationship. They’ve managed to maintain a healthy friendship in their time apart — and isn’t it nice to imagine that, celebrity or not, you could be just as close with someone you once loved as they’re able to be?

But beyond their closeness or their ability to rise above a split, this photo is lodged in my mind because it captures two beautiful yet eccentric people just goofing off. Even if you’re worth millions, have successful careers, and one of you is sleeping with Pete Davidson, it’s important to keep your priorities straight.

ITATAL: This Photo of Kate Beckinsale and Michael Sheen