Winona Ryder once commented on how she disliked the way people were always touching her because she’s an actor. She said people seemed to think actors are “public property.” I can certainly understand her issues. But having worked with and met my share of actors and musicians and whatnot, can I just point out they often think it’s okay to touch people at random, and that we’re not only supposed to like it but be grateful for it?
This has happened to me many times, and I find it just as presumptuous on the actors’ parts as Ryder finds it to be in what she must think of as “common” people. Maybe most people would love being petted by someone famous, but I’m as likely to take a limb as smile at you, so fair warning there, friends.
To be fair, I’ve met and worked with almost as many actors and musicians who have been very respectful and treated me well, so I don’t like to assume it’s a wide-spread epidemic. One British rocker I met when I was 17 treated me like a daughter, which is to say he made sure I didn’t touch the beer and stuck to soda. We talked history and literature, and it was a lovely evening, without a single mention of Lolita. So there’s evidence it can be done.
But for every one of those I’ve met, there are probably two that felt the need to slip an arm around me or—and I’m thinking of one particular actor, very charming but also very pleased with himself—touch my hair. People I don’t even know well, often have only just met, and I find that very odd and off-putting.
Look, when I meet actors or musicians on set or for an interview, I shake their hands and greet them. When I meet actors or musicians at a function or restaurant, I shake their hands and greet them. When I’m introduced to or meet random people on the street, I shake their hands and greet them. Do you see?
My mother always wonders why I don’t take pictures of myself with all these people, but I feel like that’s weird too. When you’re on set, everyone is busy, no one is stopping to snap photos. Maybe at the wrap party or something, but otherwise, no. And you don’t want to be that person, the one who doesn’t know any better and wants to take pictures and grin like an idiot every time someone famous is around. And no one wants to have to worry all the time that someone might be taking a picture, either.
And then, when I’m just hanging out with someone, again, it feels weird to stop and demand a photo. I think the generation or two younger than me does this a lot more, maybe because they came up with cameras on their phones; even back when I was an undergrad, taking a picture usually meant running to get an actual camera. It was something that took time, and everyone always thinking, How long is this going to take? and, How long to we have to stand here?
I was once a guest at a sci-fi convention, there as a writer, and I was really surprised when people wanted pictures with me. But I think that was because I write, and I work in such isolated circumstances that I’m startled whenever I realize the outside world exists and may even notice me. Actors probably aren’t surprised at all when people want pictures, but they might be annoyed by or just tired of it. Which is another reason I tend not to ask. I do try to be sympathetic. And so I don’t immediately go in for a hug or a kiss, either, unless it’s someone I already know. There’s sometimes a phony aspect to a lot of the industry—a “we’re all friends here” game of pretend—but we’re not, and I don’t pretend. I like to get to know a person before I put my hands on them, and let them do the same to me. So, Winona: if we ever meet, don’t touch me. At least not before we’ve had coffee, gone shopping, and taken at least one photo together.