Meeting celebrities is weird, right? Imagine how it must be for them.
We feel as if we know them, of course. The characters on “Neighbors” seem like our neighbors. We consider the cast of “Friends” our friends. Yet they don’t know us from Adam.
With festival season hitting this month, Austin streets, restaurants and clubs will overflow with celebrities here to celebrate their crafts and promote their films, bands and books.
What’s the proper way to approach them — whether for a photo, an autograph or just to let them know that you appreciate their work? After all, you don’t want to bother them.
Austinites aren’t necessarily jaded, but we are pretty used to having celebrities around (which might be one reason they spend so much time here). Many “Friday Night Lights” cast members lived and played here during that drama’s run; some still do. Feature films shoot here on a regular basis. And production for NBC’s “Revolution” recently moved here from North Carolina.
Basically, it’s no big deal to spot Nicolas Cage dining at Justine’s or Elijah Wood shopping on SoCo.
“Most Austinites have a naturally ingrained sense of cool about these things,” says Lietza Brass, executive director of programming for the Paramount and Stateside Theatres and director of the annual Moontower Comedy Festival. “Most downtown folks don’t get overly flustered when they see their favorite celeb eating migas on the East Side.”
Brandy Fons of Fons PR agrees. Her firm handles celebrities for lots of Austin events.
“Most people are really respectful of their time,” she says. “They aren’t coming up to them with, like, 10 DVDs to sign.”
That’s not always the case. Rob Thomas, the Austinite who created “Veronica Mars,” regularly appears at the Austin Film Festival. He enjoys the panels and meeting fans of his work.
“Most of the interactions are great. There are people you chat with and they’re eager and excited, and you enjoy these two-, three-minute exchanges with people,” he says. “And then, almost every session you do, there’s someone who lingers, then waits, then tries to give you everything they’ve written or done and wants your help to get their thing produced. That’s always a little tricky.”
Sometimes even stars get starstruck. That happened to Thomas while directing James Franco in a cameo role for the upcoming “Veronica Mars” movie. “He’s a big movie star and he’s doing us such a huge favor,” Thomas says. “For me to ask him, ‘Can you do this slightly differently?’ I have to admit that I have to think twice about that.”
Brass offers this advice for a hypothetical encounter with, say, Brad Pitt, hypothetically dining at Chez Zee:
“Do not interrupt his meal. Do not interrupt his conversation. Do not attempt to make eye contact in a super-creepy way! It’s going to be difficult, but you have to wait for a semi-natural moment during his transition from table to door. Then approach politely and briefly.”
Tongue-tied? It’s been Fons’ experience that when celebrities come to Austin, they’re interested in Austin — where they should eat or who has the best tacos. For example, when Fons spoke to Keanu Reeves by phone just before his visit for last week’s Fantastic Fest, he mentioned that he really hoped he had time to get some barbecue (he did — pork ribs at Iron Works).
“Maybe talking to them about what you love about Austin would be something that they’d be really into hearing,” she suggests.
When approaching celebrities he meets in the newsroom or when forecasting from local sporting events, “I’m always extremely courteous,” says Scott Fisher, the Fox 7 meteorologist who has no shortage of his own fans. “I always use a Mr. or a Miss, Mrs. or ma’am. I always say, ‘I don’t mean to bother you; I appreciate all that you do. Would you have about 10 seconds to snap a photo with me?’
“I’ve been turned down. But if they have the same 10 seconds to give me that I routinely give somebody else just to take a picture, that’s thrilling to me,” he says.
It’s important to know which celebrity you’re approaching. A Facebook friend told me that she and her husband once found themselves alone in a Four Seasons elevator with a movie star.
“I asked him, ‘Is there a special film event downtown?’ He nicely answered, ‘No, just here for a visit,’” she recalls. “I dumbly replied, ‘But you live here. Aren’t you Matthew McConaughey?’ He laughed and shook his head.”
That’s when her husband pointed out that she was talking to Woody Harrelson. “I wanted to take a picture but chose not to further embarrass myself,” she says.
One final tip: Don’t mimic the approach of one fan, who recognized Fisher in a restaurant bathroom.
“He said, ‘Hey, you’re Scott Fisher! You’re on Fox 7 — I always wanted to meet you!’ and he stuck his hand out and he wanted to shake hands right there,” Fisher recalls. “I told him, ‘Hey, let’s soap up first, then we’ll shoot the breeze.’”
CELEB SIGHTING 101
Offer suggestions for things to do in Austin
Know who you’re approaching
Limit the number of photos or autographs you request
Approach in an appropriate setting
Keep it short
Try to pitch your own work
Interrupt a meal, conversation or private moment
Tell them who they are
Interrupt other fans