Celebrity Handling

Kendra asks:

I was wondering if you have any advice on the right way to go about interacting with big name celebrities on set. Some people say to not talk to them and just be there for when you are needed, others say to treat them like a normal person so they feel comfortable around you. I don’t wanna come off bugging them “can I get you anything, would you like a water, can I hold that for you”, but I want them to know I’m there. I don’t know if I should be a fly on the wall like you are with directors, or be friendly when they walk up and at least say hi. Would love to know what you’ve learned from similar experiences.

Have you ever run into someone who knows your name, your personality, past experiences, and on and on, but you somehow can’t remember them at all?

Imagine that happening all day, every day. That’s what it’s like for a celebrity. Everyone knows their name, or at least recognizes them. If they’ve been interviewed on talk shows or on the red carpet, people feel like they know what the celebrity is really like. You can hardly blame the general audience for this, either; those shows are designed to make you identify with the interviewees.

I’d like to tell you to just treat the famous people on your set as regular people. But the truth is, they’re just not. You know things about them that they don’t know about you. But you also have an impression of that is not born of real life experience.

So how should you treat them? Unfortunately, I can’t give you a blanket answer. I wish I could do better than give you a resounding “it depends,” but the fact is, even though they’re not normal people like you or me, they are unique human beings who aren’t exactly like each other, either.

You can treat them like a normal person insofar as you shouldn’t presume to know anything about them. The public face they present to the press and studio audiences is not necessarily the one they will show you.

Conversely, you’re probably surrounded by people who have worked with this celebrity before, or know someone who has. You should definitely ask others if the celebrity has any quirks you should be aware of. Remember, if you find yourself at odds with the talent, you’re the one who’s expendable.

While you can’t believe everything you see on TV,1 I do believe all actors have the reputation they deserve, more or less. You might say, “But TAPA, this isn’t high school. You can’t trust rumors.”

First of all, yes it is. Hollywood is just high school with money. Secondly, actors meet and work with hundreds of people on every single shoot. And remember, everyone is paying attention to them. They can’t hide their real selves from that many people for any length of time.

Yes, an actor might have a bad day here or there; heck, they could even have a bad shoot. But your reputation builds shoot after shoot, year after year. The wisdom of the crowd will eventually settle on the truth.

If you’ve heard Actor A is an asshole from several, independent sources, he probably is. If you’ve heard Actress B is sweet as pie, that’s probably true, too.

“But TAPA! People can change. Maybe this poor, hypothetical celebrity has changed his ways.”

Sure, people can change. It’s pretty well known that Jay Mohr used to be a giant dick, but in recent years has suddenly become the nicest guy in the world. That change of character has been incorporated into his current reputation.

It’s not a perfect system, to be sure, but it’s better than assuming every actor is a rational, intelligent human being.

Bringing it back to Kendra’s original question, once you’ve learned the celebrity’s reputation, act accordingly. Some want to have a distraction-free work environment; hang out nearby, and don’t make a fuss. Others like attention2, and are happy if you gush over what a big fan you are.

The best rule of thumb is, watch what the ADs do. They handle talent all day, and know what they’re doing.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. You should know this; you make TV, after all.
  2. Well, they all want attention, just not necessarily from you.
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One Response

  1. I’ve worked with big names on both sides of the scale.

    One actor didn’t talk to the crew at all and if he did he was rude. He’s was either in his trailer or in front of the camera. The entire crew (ADs & Producers included) left him alone unless they needed him.

    On the other hand, there’s this one actress who is as friendly as friendly can get. If she wasn’t in the works, she was chilling on set. She would have cigarette sessions with the PAs and interns. I learned to carry a lighter and a pack of smokes because of this (I don’t smoke).

    On an extreme example (which I usually wouldn’t recommene), I had a lead actress jump on the radio (with the AD’s permission) and do some PA work. The producers thought it was hilarious when they called for water and the lead actress came running on set with a radio and a water bottle.

    It depends on so many variables (production, talent, ADs, etc). Play it safe until you know the them (the variables).

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