“That’s my least favorite part of acting—celebrity.” —Denzel Washington
I met Ryan Gosling.
Well, that’s not entirely true. The two of us shared a moment.
A few weeks ago, I was kicking back at my favorite Santa Monica coffeehouse. The place has an idyllic patio where locals relax and enjoy the gorgeous Southern California weather.
That day, there were only six customers sitting outside: two couples on either side of the fountain, yours truly, and a young guy who was by himself. He was one table over, and I remember thinking he looked kind of familiar.
What happened next was one of those moments that can never be repeated. A woman stepped out on the patio holding an extra large cup of coffee. She stumbled, and the container flew up in the air, performed a perfect loop de loop, and landed right back in her hand. The woman was stunned. Did that really happen? Then she shrugged and took a seat.
I glanced at the guy next to me just as he looked over at me. We had both witnessed the minor miracle. I made a joke about it, and he laughed. Then he made a joke, and I laughed. Just two regular guys sharing a moment…
Then I realized he was Ryan Gosling.
And then he realized that I realized he was Ryan Gosling.
What happened next was a lesson in fame. The open expression on his face vanished. It was replaced by protective armor, just like the mask Iron Man wears. He looked away, and we never made eye contact again.
The moment was ruined.
Over the years, I’ve watched several clients make the jump from working actor to famous star. None of them was prepared for the change. Like Gosling, they all had to learn new survival skills.
When you become famous, the first thing that goes is your freedom. Brad Pitt cannot play catch in the park with his sons. Carey Mulligan doesn’t hang out at the mall with her friends. They would create mob scenes if they did.
I used to represent an actor who became the breakout star of a new TV show. No one saw this coming. It was a complete surprise.
When he wasn’t working, the two of us would meet for lunch at his favorite sushi bar, a local spot near his apartment.
One day, my client arrived at the restaurant 20 minutes late. He had a gash on his forehead. The poor guy explained the parking lot was full, so he had to park a few blocks away. On the walk back, he attracted some unwanted attention. There was a lot of pushing and shoving as fans demanded his autograph.
I glanced out the window and spotted a small crowd waiting. My client was going to need a ride back to his car. After that, we only met for lunch at industry-approved restaurants with valet parking.
Fame is a bitch. On the plus side, it brings power and financial security. You get to pick and choose your own projects. But on the negative side, a simple walk down the street can become dangerous.
So I guess the million-dollar question every star has to ask is: Would I give it up?
During the height of her fame, Elizabeth Taylor was shooting a movie in Rome. When she wasn’t working, Taylor wanted to explore the city, but she couldn’t leave her hotel room. The building was always surrounded by reporters.
So she decided to break out.
Taylor got up at the crack of dawn, put on a wig, and took the service elevator down to the kitchen door. Free at last, she spent the entire day roaming the streets of Rome just like any other tourist. No one bothered her. No one asked for an autograph. And you know what? She hated it. She never did it again.