How to Be a Celebrity
Do celebrities actually have to touch their children? What are the steps to pulling off a legal paparazzo extermination? Do personal assistants really need a living wage?
I know what you're thinking: Being a celebrity is harder work than you'd imagined. Just ask
I talked to Gornstein by phone last week after speeding through an advance copy of the "Playbook" to get her invaluable take on what makes celebrities -- or as Gornstein terms them, America's royalty -- so different from the rest of us.
Read on to find out why celebrities get an average of $20,000 in free swag a month, why Angelina Jolie plays hard to get, how the stars leak their own private lives to the tabloids and, yes, how to shoot a paparazzo without going to jail. And all the information -- no matter how unbelievable -- is drawn from interviews with experts on celebrity -- like actual Hollywood personal assistants, lawyers, plastic surgeons and agents.
Read on for the entire Q&A...
Liz: Talk a little bit about what inspired the book.
Leslie: I am the question and answer columnist for E! Online. I'm the Answer Bitch. I've been the Answer Bitch since about 2004. The idea behind the Answer Bitch is really simple. People write in and ask me all sorts of questions about Hollywood and how it works.
So they'll say if Tom Cruise gets paid $30 million for a movie, does he get a big check that says three-zero-zero-zero-zero-zero-zero-zero on it and does he get direct deposit and does he have to get the cash out? All that -- they'll ask anything about how celebrities live and how they work. Anything.
So after about four years of doing that and a short stint I did before that at Us Weekly you kind of figure out how celebrities do everything. How many nannies it takes to raise a celebrity child. Everything. So I formed it all into a mock survival guide for A-listers -- all that knowledge that I picked up. Obviously it's really for us, not for them. But it's got how to raise a baby without touching it, how to plan a wedding for fun and profit, how to shoot a paparazzo and not go to jail -- and all of it's culled from real interviews with real people in the celebrity world.
So for example there's the two-page spread on "If I need to shoot a paparazzo" and it's done in mock survival guide style. If I need to shoot a paparazzo right now, how can I do it and not go to jail? I did interviews with celebrity defense attorneys who said that for that to happen the paparazzo would have to be on your property and you'd have to have reasonable fear of danger -- so I did this flow chart: "Is the paparazzo on your property? No. Stop, do not shoot the paparazzo." So it's all sort of done in that handy easy chart graph form.
Liz: Are you at all worried about the paparazzi suing you for inciting violence against them?
Leslie: No. Not really because if they were to be doing the things in the chart I have, they would be armed, they would be threatening somebody, they would be on someone's property and refusing to leave -- so at that point it's not really inciting violence.
They're the violent ones. Stop the violence!
Liz: You live in Los Angeles and get to see celebs in their natural habitat, up close -- what's it like living inside the zoo and how did that inform the book?
Leslie: I sort of have this only half-joking philosophy that we as Americans fought a whole revolution for nothing because these people are royalty all over again. Whatever they want, they will get. And that's not a complaint -- just an observation.
If you go to a restaurant and you have a reservation and Paris Hilton is still eating and she has your table, you don't eat. You wait. If a celebrity is shy and doesn't want to go shopping around other people and you're in a store, they'll kick you out. It doesn't matter whether you're a reporter or not. That's just the way things are. And that's not to say that the peasantry is always getting booted around, but it's always sort of a given that if you're a celebrity in this town you get preferential treatment in all things. Whether you pay for it or not, whether you get anything in exchange or not. So you just have to have a sense of humor about how ridiculous it all is or you'll be angry about it.
Liz: What would you say is the biggest mistake made by novice celebrities?
Leslie: Well, they run a serious risk of actually having to touch their babies if they don't know the magic ratio.
Now the magic ratio is -- and I've talked to Hollywood nannies about this -- if you're a celebrity and have a baby you need three nannies per child. If you have any less, you run the risk of having to touch or directly address your child. So there's a day nanny, a night nanny and a travel or weekend nanny. And if you don't have them, you have to touch the kids.
So a lot of the time you'll see celebrities say they want to raise their child without a nanny and do it all themselves and then you never hear about that again? Don't even try it.
Liz: So do some of these people really have three nannies for one kid?
Leslie:: Yeah. Soap opera actors have two. That's an average. But yes, three nannies is considered -- now of course there's the principle of economy, so if you have more than one kid it doesn't grow exponentially from there. It's not like you have three kids and nine nannies, but yes according to interviews -- all the facts in the book are real. Everything is researched from real stuff. So you may see something that is told in a cute way -- because I can't help it -- but it is all real. I'm a reporter. Sure there are a lot of jokes, but it's all based on real world stuff.
Liz: What was the most-surprising fact you unearthed while researching the book?
Leslie: They pay for their own cars. The reason why that is surprising to me is because they pay for so little else. They pay for their own houses, too. Everything else you see upon their person they most likely didn't pay for and if they paid for it they chose to pay for it. Everything from head to toe when you see a celebrity -- it doesn't matter if they're working or walking the dog (which they don't usually do themselves either) -- all that stuff is free.
An average A-list celebrity gets an average of twenty grand of free stuff a month. Just unsolicited boxes of stuff showing up on the set or at their house. Clothes, jewelry, make-up, shoes, personal care products, baby products, home products, underwear, Spanx, socks, sneakers -- everything that you can think of. Even cable TV show stars.
Liz: And this is all in the hopes that celebs will be spotted wearing a certain brand and thereby provide free marketing for that brand, right? So they can say "Gwyneth Paltrow is wearing our..."
Leslie: Correct. And I found out that most of the time they pay cash for their vehicles and don't negotiate. Sometimes they do if it is an extremely high end vehicle from a company like Dancy-Power Automotive in New York. They supply a lot of cars for people in hip-hop and also actors, movies. I interviewed Dancy for the book -- really nice guy.
For example, I heard that Dustin Hoffman needed a new car so he called up this Audi dealership. His assistant called asked the price and they cut a check and picked up the car. Boom. Done. That was it.
Liz: What about this new-ish phenomenon of people like Lindsay Lohan and Rosie O'Donnell bypassing the publicists and publishing to the Web? Lilo has been posting almost daily updates to her MySpace page.
Leslie: It's probably an issue of control. I think in the past publicists have been necessary because they [the celebs] had no direct outlet. Plus, they were all sort of semi-scared into believing that they media will crucify you if they don't go through a publicist who beats them [the media] senseless before working with you.
Publicists aren't about talking to the media. They are about NOT talking to the media. Publicists are about not returning media phone calls and about suppression and control of facts. They're not really about getting a celebrity's message out. Their job is to make sure you don't write stuff, using any threat necessary. But I think people like Lindsay and Rosie strike me as the kind of celebrity who doesn't want to be told what to do. I also think there isn't a lot at stake for those two.
Liz: But if a celeb has pretensions of being an A-lister, does this help or hurt their image or their mystique?
Leslie: Well, I wouldn't advise it. The whole mystique of being a celebrity is being untouchable. Take Angelina Jolie -- she seems like someone who just does that rare interview or that rare photograph. But really -- if you read the recent New York Times article -- she's one of the most masterful media manipulators in the world. So it's that lack of accessibility that A-listers feel is one of their aces in the whole.
But you have to remember something -- Lindsay and Rosie aren't A-listers and I think they know it. They both know they don't have a lot to lose by putting things out on the Internet. I think if Lindsay Lohan were Reese Witherspoon she would shut up because she's got a lot more at stake. She's got millions more in paychecks at stake and she would be much more quiet. But Lindsay is not now in very high demand and doesn't have a mystique to lose. So why not just get out there on the Internet? If she were Halle Berry or a serious A-lister she'd have such an empire at stake I guarantee she'd shut right up.
Liz: New celebrities are minted every second. Do you see a learning curve with these people -- where they become more savvy and a model "A-List Playbook" student?
Leslie: Absolutely. I wouldn't be surprised if within a year we saw Robert Pattinson becoming much more guarded and even bitter. He just says anything now. He's adorable. He'll go on red carpets and say anything and he's just so charming and his hair just does whatever it wants and it's his little dancing partner and it stands up and stands down. Either he or someone else talked about not showering and all this. But within a year all that exposure is going to start to really wear him down and I think you're going to see him pull back a little bit and trying to look more iconic and that's what this whole book is about.
Liz: Speaking of iconic, who do you see as THE model celebrity -- someone doing everything right and getting straight A's on the report card.
Leslie:: I don't know how many nannies she's had, but definitely Angelina Jolie. I think probably the sort of A and B list people are really working it. I'd say some of the women from "Desperate Housewives" are working it really well in terms of knowing how to plan their weddings and manipulate their images. I would say Madonna has always been a master at it.
Liz: Well she's got Liz Rosenberg, though.
Leslie: She's got Liz Rosenberg, but she also is by nature a master at it. Liz is a very small part of it. She knows how to put out a nice lie, but it isn't Liz that had her butt in front of the camera doing "Truth or Dare" or the Blonde Ambition tour or the "Sex" book or the Scottish castle wedding or all this other stuff that kept us reading. Plus, she just really knows the whole deal.
Liz: Would you say there's an art to manipulating or communicating with the big celebrity magazines?
Leslie: There's glossies and tabloids and two different ways to manipulate them. Let's go with the glossies first.
The way you deal with the glossies is you come across as someone who for a long time hasn't given an interview or somebody who has gone through something and hasn't yet spoken about it. Then you pull yourself back and make yourself really unavailable, except on glamorous red carpets where you stand there and look amazing and vulnerable and untouchable all at the same time -- an icon in your own time, Marie Antoinette would have wept, but you don't say anything. Then, when the glossy comes at you do an interview and surprise the reporter by how accessible and funny and down to earth you are. And the one way you do that -- it's good to have one gross silly trick in your back pocket. Like Cameron Diaz can burp on demand. A glossy writer loves that stuff where there's one thing. Like, "Oh my god she loves fried chicken!" or "It's taco night at Kate Hudson's house!" Or, what was it in the Vogue interview -- "Ryder wanted steak and fries so mommy's coming home to put fries in the oven." And the reporters are just caught off guard and you win.
Leslie: Now a tabloid is another thing altogether and Paris Hilton has the tabloid manipulation thing down. You never speak to them on the record ever. And I have a how-to in my book on this. This is how it's done: You find a reporter that's sympathetic, perhaps a little dazzled. You get their cell phone number. Whenever you want to leak something to the reporter -- and I've been there when this happens -- you don't quote me (the celebrity) as me. You quote me as "the anonymous best friend" of the celebrity.
So I am Paris Hilton and want to leak something about my new boyfriend. I text a reporter and I say "She's so in love, but be sure to quote me as a friend of Paris." Because then when I do go on record it's a big event because I never do interviews.
Celebrities do that all the time. And if they don't do it, their publicists do it. Where the publicists say, "Don't quote me. It wasn't me but they're very happy and it's all a big rumor." Because even the publicists want to come across as unattainable and high up on Olympus.
So that's the trick with tabloids.
Liz: So we talked a little earlier about the "How to Shoot a Paparazzo and Not Go to Jail" section of your book. Do you also include advice to celebrities as to how to not end up the victim of less than flattering pictures by the paparazzi?
Leslie: I do have a section on recruiting members of the native population in the event of paparazzo attack. So, in other words, you're surfing on the beach like Matthew McConaughey and the paparazzi are attacking you with their deadly flashbulbs (Surfers Shred Paps Over McConaughey, TMZ.com, June 22, 2008). There is a way to recruit instant security goons out of the native population, beat the crap out of the paparazzo and send them screaming. And I do have a trick on how to do that.
Liz: Now would this work equally well for recruiting a group of Girl Scouts as it does for recruiting a gang of surfers?
Leslie: You can turn anyone into your willing minion with the help of my book.
Liz: So your book comes out on Oscar Day.
Leslie: It will be in some of the congratulatory Oscar gift bags, too. Not the official one, but some others.
Liz: If there's one star you wish would get this book, who would that be?
Leslie:: I'd like to see -- from a purely predatory point of view -- I'd love to get it into Drew Barrymore's hands. But Stephen Colbert, too. I would die so he could live. My publishing house is small and I only got one advance copy of my book. And I signed it and sent it to Colbert so I don't even have it anymore. I wrote, "If I were on your show I would not look directly at you because it would be like looking at the blindingly bright face of the sun."
| January 23, 2009; 11:31 AM ET
Categories: Catching Up With..., Celebrities, Celebritology 101
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