Thursday, April 12, 2012

How to meet all the celebrities

It can be strange growing up near Los Angeles. Even 30 miles south in suburban Orange County, you can't help but feel the omnipresence of film and television, all a stone's throw from where you live. Being the product of two media-obsessed parents, I grew up with an early fascination with movies, television, music and theater. So you'd think living near the glitz and glam of Hollywood would give me a front row seat to all the amazing things that happen in Tinsel Town.

But I've become increasingly aware of the fact that throughout my 19 years of knowing southern California, I've never really been one to spot celebrities everywhere I go. And the idea that there's some omnipresent industry of celebrity in the state I come from is, for the most part, blown out of proportion.

So many people I know who have visited LA on a vacation or stayed there for an extended period of time have stories upon stories to tell me about their sightings and brushes with celebrities. And though I have my own, (which I will share a bit of with you in an effort to teach you the real way to see some awesome famous people) it amazes me that after almost two decades living near the city, I still can't compete with some people I know who've only been there once or twice, or for a few months.

Before I begin with my how-to, it's important to reiterate that Orange County isn't Los Angeles. It's not part of LA County - obviously since it's called "Orange County" - and it's actually not very close in distance to Los Angeles either. When you are from the OC like I am and you want to go into the city to "hob knob" with the stars (if you plan on doing this, I suggest you rethink it now because you will be disappointed), you have to spend at least 45 minutes on a freeway. So bear that in mind if you're planning to go out to Thousand Oaks or Universal City or wherever it is all the random celebrities live (Doesn't Shia LaBeouf live in Echo Park or something? Or he grew up there? Ee-gads).

Anyway, if you're hoping to find your favorite stars floating around in Hollywood like they do in TV shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm (which I've been admittedly watching too much of as of late), I will not tell you how to do that. But I will tell you how I have seen and met some people from the movies and the music industry and the television and the theater. Get ready to be privy to all of my knowledge and expertise (side note: I really have none, but that shouldn't stop you from reading on).

Attend events and events and more events

I've frequented Los Angeles a bit more than my typical Orange County counterpart. This is true because most suburbanites tend to stay within a 15 mile radius of their home, only venturing out as far as the beach or a fancier mall if they're feeling really adventurous. And, also unlike most of my Orange County friends, acquaintances and strangers, I take advantage of the fact that I live only an hour or so outside of the City of Angels by going to a lot of random events.

When I was eight I went to my first concert in Los Angeles. Eight is certainly too young to start going to concerts, but I have no complaints since early exposure to the experience of a live show taught me a lot about why live entertainment is so great.

Over the next 11 years, I've been to other concerts as well as TV tapings, theater shows, speaking events, signings, award shows, movie premieres and the like where I've not only viewed the activity of Hollywood, but become a part of it. In 2002 I went to The Lizzie McGuire Movie premiere where I met my "crush of a lifetime" Aaron Carter and my "role model" Hilary Duff. I've also seen tapings of late night and primetime TV, been a seat filler at the Teen Choice Awards, attended events with speakers from Gore Vidal to Julie Andrews, etc. etc., I won't bore you with specifics.

These kinds of experiences are truly invaluable if you care at all about the media industry. Some might think being a fan at these events is vapid and silly, but the excitement of attending events and seeing people you admire in person is something incomparable. Even snobs who don't believe celebrity should exist can admit that if they hold someone in esteem they'd be pleased to meet them. So if you're in LA and interested in finding someone, find out where they'll be and go there (but not in a stalkery kind of way, poor Alec Baldwin).

Don't go looking

This sounds counterintuitive, especially when I just gave you the whole rundown of planning to go to events to see and meet people. But in reality, I've seen more famous people - most of whom I couldn't care less about - when I've been doing casual things. And this isn't limited to the area in and around Los Angeles County.

When I was seven I saw Lily Tomlin at the airport on my way to Paris. I had no idea who she was, but I was introduced to her by my mother as "the lady who does the voice of Miss Frizzle on The Magic School Bus." I got her autograph in my Pokemon chapter book and went on my merry way not really caring about who I just met. Regardless of what little I felt about meeting an awesome actress like Lily Tomlin, I can't express how great airports are for seeing people you both want to see and definitely don't want to see.

I've been on airplanes with Perez Hilton (gasp, I thought he would definitely have his own plane), Mickey Rooney and (drumroll, please) Ann Coulter. I've also seen The Rock at the airport. Other than Mickey Rooney (who to this day I've only seen in The Phantom of the Megaplex because I'm such a good movie buff), none of these sightings excited me - except maybe in a feeling-of-disgust kind of way. Ann Coulter wore a fur coat and a cloth mask over her mouth and nose on the plane. Have I painted a thorough picture?

Yet still, if you have some random desire to see people who don't matter - I mean celebrities - in person, take a look around you at the airport. Perez and The Rock were at O'Hare in Chicago, Ann Coulter was in Miami and Mickey Rooney was at Heathrow in London. So there's really no telling where you'll encounter someone.

Be normal, please

After interning at a pre-teen pop culture magazine and at one time being a teeny bopper myself, I've seen all the terrible things that happen when people encounter celebrities.

I've had friends who get so nervous that they don't even say "Hi" when they meet someone they admire. I've seen people scream or giggle - this particularly happens with musicians - making themselves seem psychologically unstable. I've watched people faint from the tension of meeting someone. These things don't need to happen. Instead, people should either embrace the opportunity to meet someone, or on occasion just not do it at all.

When I was in London last summer, I was walking around a street festival with my dad in the late morning when I saw a face I recognized. I turned to my father, eyes wide and asked him "Was that James McAvoy?" I love James McAvoy. For a brief time I was obsessed with him and his movies - I own DVD copies of Becoming Jane, Penelope, Starter for 10, Bright Young Things and Atonement. I used to pause Becoming Jane on the scene when he asked Jane (Anne Hathaway) to run away with him. His eyes were so blue, I needed a few seconds to process it. Or I was just a creep.

But when I saw James in London, he was with his wife and newborn son. I stood with my dad near where they had stopped to have a bite to eat and consulted with him about whether or not I should approach them - if only to be friendly and say I appreciated their work (his wife was in Nowhere Boy as John Lennon's mother - see it if you haven't). We reasoned it would be a better idea to let them have a quiet weekend morning to themselves. Since no one else was going near them neither should I.

So I took a few creeper pictures (I'm a journalist so I reserve the right to play paparazzi every now and again) and walked away feeling glad that I hadn't ruined one of my favorite actor's days by drawing attention to the fact that he was out and about in a public place.

The golden rule applies to everyone, even famous people. No one deserves to have their space violated, even if they put themselves in the public spotlight. Sometimes, even in a public setting, it can be nice to see someone from afar. You come away with a good anecdote, and you don't have to tell your friends that they refused to take a picture with you (Anthony Rapp from Rent, you're not that famous) when you waited for half an hour at the stage door of the venue.

All in all, the thing to take away from this is that we put just a bit too much value on celebrity and meeting celebrities. Though I've given you some tips on how to go about meeting people you admire, I end my statement with a strong plea to anyone who reads my advice that doing this stuff should never become a big deal.

I have seen people go from casually attending events and seeing their favorite actors or singers or whatever to actively stalking them at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf down the road. This is not an approach worth taking for obvious reasons.

The fun of being in Los Angeles is not that you get to be around celebrities all the time, it's that once in a while you can make an effort to be where you know someone you want to meet will be. It's how my dad met Eric Idle, it's how I've seen the Jonas Brothers a billion times (please don't make fun of me). And maybe along the way you'll figure out that the surprise of seeing someone is actually better than when you plan to do so - e.g. when Kristin Chenoweth was inexplicably hanging out by the Pantages Theatre before the ticket raffle for Wicked.

You shouldn't want to learn "how to meet all the celebrities." But seeing one every once in a while isn't a sin either.

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