Opinion » Pique'n Yer Interest

OMG: The dos and don'ts of celebrity sightings



One of my best friends works at a rock 'n' roll hair salon (earning its title for both clients and ambience) in Lower Manhattan on Sullivan Street.

That block became one of my favourite places in the city, not just because it's lined with quintessentially New York buildings — zigzagging fire escapes and ornate brick façades — or all the memories I made loitering there, but also because of its unlikely neighbourhood vibe.

The bar owner next door offers post-work drinks while getting a trim. The cooks at the vegan restaurant on the other side know my friend's lunch order by heart. The girls at the salon even recognize and know by name a particularly cute metal boy who often walks past their window.

But Sullivan Street has the endorsement of people far more interesting and powerful than me. It has won the adoration of a range of celebrities who, for some reason, (the really expensive, fancy juice shop, we suspect) stroll down this strip almost daily.

My friend — who, side note, lived in Whistler for about three years and worked at the golf course where her nickname was Giggles. If that sounds familiar, hit me up because any friend of the infamous Giggles is a friend of mine — would send me texts about the A-list stars she'd spot, sometimes with a brief description of what they were wearing, who they were with or what they were doing. (Details are fuzzy, but, if I recall, there was Daniel Day Lewis strolling next to his skateboarding son, Lindsay Lohan sucking on cigarettes, Patti Smith being awesome, in general, to name just a few.) It continues to this day.

"Omg, as I was reading your text Jake Gyllenhaal walked by and he looked goooood," she wrote when I told her about this column.

I'm not sure why, but this always made me jealous. I had a few celebrity sightings of my own, but they didn't really seem legitimate. I saw the cast of 30 Rock, for example, shooting outside of Rockefeller Center while I was touring visitors around one day. But my only true spotting in almost two years happened while I was walking the Highline in Chelsea with my parents, who were visiting during American Thanksgiving weekend. I locked eyes with a man in a trucker hat and plaid shirt, clutching a little blonde girl's hand. I tried to place him, not as a celebrity, but as someone I knew from somewhere. It didn't hit me until he passed: it was Ethan Hawke.

"Really?" my mom said after. "Should we go ask for an autograph or picture?"

I was a little horrified at the thought because nothing is less cool in New York than approaching a celebrity as an enthusiastic fan. Still, the sighting was exciting, in the way that spotting a rare animal on safari is. You might be able to see them in a very particular and controlled setting (film premiere or zoo... respectively) but it's so strangely thrilling to observe them in their natural habitat.

Sea to Sky residents are familiar with this, in smaller doses. Twilight's Rob Pattison, for example, reportedly loves Squamish because no one bothers him there. But major celebrity sightings are about to spike as the Whistler Film Festival begins this week. Organizers have announced that Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame, Rashida Jones from a slew of smart TV sitcoms and movies, and Julia Stiles, whom we all fell in love with in 10 Things I Hate About You, will all be in attendance.

Earlier this week I asked Shauna Hardy Mishaw, executive director and founder of the Whistler Film Festival Society, what it meant to the festival to have big-name stars like Radcliffe attend. "Well, what do you think?" she said with a little laugh. "It's very exciting that he's coming to Whistler to talk about the next stage of his career. That's what I think is exciting; that he's doing that from Whistler. That is very important."

Important, she meant, from an industry perspective, but you can bet the panel will be packed with enamoured teens tweeting enough pictures to break the Internet.

We fawn over celebrities for different reasons. Sure those excited teens might love Radcliffe because he's grown up to be quite a babe and he's super-duper famous, but, ostensibly, they also truly love his acting in the Harry Potter franchise.

Similarly, I broke my rule and approached Craig Finn, singer of a band I love called The Hold Steady, last summer at Calgary's wonderful Sled Island festival to tell him that I adore his music and ask him if I could take a photo. (Facebook profile pic, obviously.) I wasn't embarrassed, partly because it was past midnight and I was full of liquid courage, but mainly because I know all the words to most of his mournful rock anthems. I am a serious fan.

And that's the difference between approaching a celebrity you recognize on Sullivan Street simply for an awesome Instagram pic and stopping someone whose work you truly admire: authenticity. I have no firsthand experience, but I suspect those exotic creatures can tell the difference.

Still, for the sake of our reputation as a celebrity retreat, where the stars can relax without being pestered, perhaps we shouldn't thrust pen and paper in front of our famous visitors this week. Instead, take a cue from Giggles and secretly text your friends.