You want to be famous, don’t you? I can read it in your eyes, the hunger for attention.
Well, we all want people to adore and admire us, to fuss and fawn over us, to call us good-looking and talented. But if the genie of celluloid granted your wish, would you enjoy the fame? Or would shout “Leave me alone!” and punch the paparazzi?
I have a friend who is famous in Spain: Alejo Sauras. He has been in fourteen movies, ten shorts, six TV series, a guest role in nine other TV series, and five plays. You may not know who he is, but people recognize him wherever he goes in España. He is fairly well-known in Latin America and even Central Europe (where they have started showing his TV series Los Serrano). Even here in San Francisco, fans come up to him on the street. Nevertheless, he told me, “I can walk a little more freely in every country but mine.”
(Alejo kicking back in Dolores Park on Easter Sunday.)
I know from talking to him that being a celebrity is not not all glamour and glitter–sometimes it is a kick in the groin–but would he trade celebrity for an ordinary life? I was working on a post about actors playing themselves, mulling over the benefits and drawbacks of stardom, so I decided to ask him.
I wanted to know first what he thought of his image. “My image? I’m proud of it, actually. Maybe I’m not considered the best actor in Spain–I’m definitely not–but I am considered a good actor.” Good enough, in fact, to win the Spanish Actors Guild award for his role as Jesus Prado in La República. (When he was nominated one of his friends joked, “Well, you have finally screwed enough voters.”)
What feeling does he get from the people on the streets? “Usually what I receive from them is love.” Of course, there have been one or two assholes, “but most of the people who tell me anything are very friendly with me, and they always say something good about me.”
I asked him if being a celebrity had helped him to meet girls. “It could be . . . yes,” he answered with a sly smile. “It’s easier for [movie stars], because our face is known by everyone.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? However, he once told me, in a very candid moment, that the girls, a few years back, were somewhat overwhelming. “Actually,” he confessed, “I am a bit shy.”
Since he is known, he can get a table easily in a restaurant and get the very best seats. Sometimes the restaurants don’t even charge him, and tell him instead, “Call me! Next time, just call me and I will arrange everything.”
So what are some of the disadvantages? One is constant parade of people who stop him on the street and say, “Hey, I know you! Hi! How are you?” Here in California, they ask, “What are you doing in San Francisco?” But they fail to consider what this must be like for Alejo day after day. “People never think that maybe–no probably–they are not the first person I ran into that day, and it is not the first time I received that question or that opinion or even that joke. People love to make jokes.” For example, if he is playing a firefighter, they shout, “Hey, there’s a fire here!” They don’t stop to consider that “they are not the first person to make that exact joke. It’s like a thousand times that they have given me that joke.”
Still, he must be friendly to everyone, no matter what they do or say. The first impression, he says, “is very cheap and very expensive. You can win the people in one minute or lose them without realizing it in one second. You have to be kind to everyone or otherwise you are gonna be an asshole.” People often base their opinion of a star on a chance meeting. When someone says, “I met Linda Ronstadt,” others demand, “What is she really like?” But how can you know from a single encounter?
“I can’t have a bad day,” he complained. “You can have a bad day. You can go to buy milk and the milk seller can have a bad day and say ‘Aargh! Aargh! Aargh! Aargh!’ and you will say, ‘Ah, he’s having a bad day,’ but if you run into me for the first time: ‘Oh this is Alejo. Hey, how are you?’ And I say, ‘Oh, leave me alone, please.’ You will not say he’s having a bad day. You will say, ‘He’s stupid.'”
When you are famous, people judge you. One day, Alejo showed me a tweet on Twitter. Someone had seen him at a Spanish restaurant in San Francisco: “Alejo Sauras qué aire tan melancólic0 escribiendo ayer solo en La Lola!” “What a melancholy air Alejo Sauras had while writing alone at La Lola yesterday.” Turns out Alejo was not writing a heart-broken love letter or anything like that. He was doing homework for his English class. I know, because I am his teacher.
I met Alejo four years ago when he came to my English as a second language school. We became friends after I ran into him at Trannyshack, the revolutionary drag club in San Francisco. He did not recognize me at first, because I had set aside my serious teacher role (a tie and combed hair) and was wearing a tank top with a Mohawk. (I had just brushed my Mohawk over.) You see, I am able to slip outside my public role.
“Tell this guy I was just doing my homework,” Alejo said, handing me his phone. So, I added, “This is Alejo’s teacher and I just want you to know he was being a good student and doing his homework. Prof Ron.”
Being thought melancholic, however, is the least of Alejo’s worries. He has to watch his behavior wherever he goes. Everybody gets drunk sometimes, but if he gets drunk on a Saturday night and plays the fool and somebody takes a picture and it gets into a magazine, then people will assume he is an alcoholic.
So, I asked him, if you found a switch that could turn off fame, would you do it? “For a while? I would do it for sure. From every Friday to every Sunday.” Well, who doesn’t want weekends off?
What if the switch could not be reversed? “If I had to choose one, obviously I would choose to turn it on. It’s the way I am. Maybe it’s not comfortable, but it’s the signal of my success. If that exists, it’s because I’ve done my work. It’s uncomfortable to feel it, but it’s also reminds you that you have done something well.”
If he found a switch to make him internationally famous, would he do it? “Of course! Maybe it will make even more uncomfortable these things I don’t like, but if I said no, I would be lying.”
And what about you, reader? Would you flick the switch to make yourself famous? You would? Well, so would I. So would I.
It reminds me of a line from the movie Fiddler on the Roof. Someone tells Reb Tevye that wealth is a curse. He raises his arms to heaven and says, “May the Lord smite me with it. And may I never recover!”