A friend of mine was telling someone about my adventures in interviewing, saying I interview “famous people.” I had to object a little, pointing out that I interview TV writers, and are they really famous if no one recognizes them?
A couple of seasons ago, Barry Manilow was on American Idol and was shocked when the makeup person thought he was the black guy at the piano. Julia Roberts has mentioned her own Notting Hill moment, when someone didn’t recognize her. There’s no doubt Julia Roberts and Barry Manilow are famous, but fame loses its meaning when confronted by someone who doesn’t know you.
A few years ago, when my mom was visiting, we ran into William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman at a store in Chinatown, and I pointed them out to her in hushed tones. She isn’t much of a pop culture fan, and didn’t recognize any of their credits I could spout, though she recognized I was obviously a fan.
Later, she kept trying to tell people about her celebrity encounter, and she had to keep asking me who exactly we’d seen. So I told her if she really wanted to tell people about the encounter and couldn’t remember the names, she could tell them she’d seen the guy from Fargo and his actress wife (which made me feel disloyal, but this was pre-Desperate Housewives, and I had even less faith that my mom’s friends would have heard of Sports Night than Fargo). But mostly I said that if you don’t know who they are, and your friends don’t know who they are, then it’s not so much a brush with fame, is it?
But one of my favourite stories from Mexico is exactly that kind of brush with the unknown famous. A friend of mine was a director who worked for a PBS-like station. He invited me to the birthday party of a friend of his, who had recently directed a kids feature film, a kind of Bad News Bears of soccer. I knew most of the other guests were involved in the industry, but didn’t think anything of it.
The guests included a family of three, a good-looking couple and their adorable toddler son. The guy – let’s call him, oh, Plutarco – was an actor who had worked with my friend, but they seemed more like rivals than friends themselves. Plutarco spent the evening talking to us, telling me embarrassing stories about Alfredo, arguing with him in what seemed like a pissing contest, and I would have sworn he was trying to flirt with me if it weren’t for the fact that his wife was sitting impassively across the room, and that while Alfredo and I were never a couple, Plutarco didn’t know that.
I didn’t really understand the dynamics. If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, sometimes I thought Latin men were from Pluto. Especially this Plutarco guy.
A couple of weeks later, I was walking down the street with my roommates when I saw a billboard for Quien, a People-like magazine. It had a picture of the current issue, which had a teaser in the corner of the cover for a story on Mexico’s 10 Sexiest Couples … accompanied by a picture of Plutarco and his wife.
When we got home, I called Alfredo, who laughed and told me they’re both popular soap actors. He asked if I hadn’t noticed that Plutarco was frustrated when I hadn’t fawned over him, the way most women do.
“I thought he was just trying to annoy you,” I said. “That too,” Alfredo answered.
So that was my big Mexican celebrity story: I was sort of, possibly, flirted with by a telenovela star I’d never heard of before or since. Who was, apparently, frustrated that fame doesn’t translate. He probably wouldn’t have been comforted by the fact that it wasn’t just a language or culture issue – I wouldn’t have been impressed anyway. Fame doesn’t make someone less of a schmuck.