The ins and outs of celebrity hunting

19:57, Jan 17 2013

As you read this, I'll be in Park City, Utah enjoying the first throes of the Sundance Film Festival.

Park City is a ski town of 8000 residents, on which 50,000 or so people descend once a year for 10 days in the name of independent cinema. And yes, some of the people who will be coming are A-list celebrities: Nicole Kidman will be there, as will Naomi Watts, Guy Pearce, Ed Harris, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Scarlett Johansson... and many others.

Now so far in 2013 we've been on kind of a heavy tear on this blog: hangovers, political malpractice, residency and cultural attitudes to work.

But today my goal is more lightweight: the nature and ethics of star spotting.

It's Friday, right? (Well, where you are.)

Now, in the past 10 years, the Wellywood revolution has bought top-shelf celebrity sightings to New Zealand shores and in several years in Wellington I can remember several waves of titters as Orlando Bloom, Jack Black or Adrien Brody each set up shop in town for a few months. So the possibility of a random encounter with someone really famous is not just an American pastime.


But it's still never that surprising in New Zealand to see Jack Black at a concert, when 50 other people have told you about running into him in town first. It's more like the moment when you finally crack a tough "Where's Wally" puzzle, than any genuine thrill. 

I prefer to be standing in a market in New York and to find myself staring absently in the direction of the nice-looking Asian lady in a pea coat stationed a few people ahead of me in line, only to realise that it is Lucy Liu. (True story.) It's a weird jolt.

Celebrity sightings in Park City, from what I'm told, are somewhat akin to fish in a barrel.    

But here's the thing... I'm not good at acting particularly smoothly when I see someone famous.

At the end of 2011 LP and I went to see the National play in Boston with some friends. While we were there I caught sight of Ryan Reynolds, the Green Lantern himself. In no uncertain order, my party informed me, I giggled, pointed, stared, spoke about Ryan Reynolds loudly with him in earshot and then persuaded my buddy Pete to set off with me after him on a search around the venue.

It was uncool. It was, however, a step smoother than when I drunkenly accosted Paul Kelly in a bar in Melbourne and wanted to talk to him about his music, despite not actually knowing any of his songs...

I find it hard to imagine actually approaching a celebrity and striking up a conversation. I was at a music festival in Los Angeles in 2004 and found myself standing behind Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme and the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne (they were each on the bill that weekend). I stood behind them for about 40 minutes wanting to say hello, fantasising about what brilliant conversations we'd have, so overcome with indecision about whether to do it that I couldn't enjoy the concert I was watching. 

Because deep down I imagine celebrities just want to let alone. It can't be fun to have to make small talk with every second person that recognises you. I can't think that I'd have anything new to say that would stand apart from the reams of small talk they've been subjected to in time.

Knowing my previous record of social ineptitude, as Sundance approached I still found myself wondering if I'd run in to anyone awesome... hoping even.   

Even immune to tabloid culture as I think I am, the American commodification of its stars has a powerful tug on the imagination. But celebrity interactions are invariably unsatisfying: powerful movie stars you're used to seeing in gigantic form are reduced to human size and in turn if you meet them you're merely something they're tolerating.

I even found a new thing to stress out about, starting to think that if I ran into someone really big and wanted to get my picture taken with them, but I was on my own, what would I do? Would I call a stranger over? What if they stole my camera?

I expressed this anxiety to LP. "Why would you need to have you're photo taken with them? What are you trying to prove?"

I felt the answer was obvious (to show EVERYONE it happened, of course) but still pointed to how shallow the whole preoccupation was, and is.

Are you any cooler than I am, when you come face to face with the world's chosen one?

Got any good celebrity stories?

I'm in that sort of mood. 

Become a fan of Voyages in America on Facebook: you'll get blog posts to your news feed, some great photography, and some good chatter. You can also follow the conversation on Twitter, or send an email and share your thoughts.