I have been very fortunate in my fan life. This is largely due to the fact that I am a tried-and-true sci-fi fan and sci-fi fans get pretty much unparallelled access to our faves through the majesty of sci-fi conventions. Over the years I have attended numerous conventions, both large and small, and gotten to meet so many of the actors who portray my favorite characters.
Still working on meeting Amanda Tapping (if she could just stop cancelling con appearances), but let’s not dwell. Overwhelmingly, these experiences have been positive.
Edward James Olmos is literally the nicest guy. Teryl Rothery told me that she loved my shoes and admired them repeatedly. Kandyse McClure spent five minutes complimenting my hair. John Billingsley walked up to me at a con and said “I know you,” after I’d hung out with him in the hotel lobby at a previous con. I have met Mary McDonnell four times, each time being better than the last. And the stories go on and on.
I don’t say all of this to brag. I say this to preface what I am about to talk about. It is always encouraging when you meet someone who is as genuine in person as you’d hoped that they would be.
However, there is a darker side to fandom and celebrity-meeting that a lot of people don’t want to talk about. What happens when you meet your favorite celebrity, and discover that they are not at all who you thought they were?
I’m not talking about someone having an off day. That happens to all of us. I’m also not talking about celebrities being less than accommodating to fans invading their personal lives/spaces. Their desire to be left alone during their down time is absolutely justified. I’m talking about those encounters at public functions that make you question why you ever invested any energy into this person. I’m talking about ‘mean’ celebrities.
Several years ago (well, I guess almost a decade now), I went to a small convention to meet an actress I will not name. I’d followed her career for many years and was ecstatic at the opportunity to see her at a con. Unfortunately, The Actress didn’t want to be at the convention – and she wasted no opportunity to make it known. She was standoffish, and at times down right rude to attendees who had traveled to see her. During a Q & A session, she grew visibly annoyed with a fan asking a question about an episode that The Actress could not recall. Her autograph session was rushed and she kept her head down, acknowledging only a handful of the people who spoke to her. Her photo session involved her offering a half-hearted smile and nothing more. Apparently eye contact or any other form of acknowledgment was too much for her that day.
While I was upset, I rationalized that perhaps she was just having an off-day and I tried to remind myself that at least my friends and I had gotten to opportunity to meet her. Even though I’ve worked in the hospitality field for over a decade, and I can show up day after day and behave politely and professionally, I excused her behavior. I wasn’t ready to admit the truth yet.
Several months later, at another convention by the same company, The Actress’s behavior became the topic of discussion again. We had befriended the organizers of the convention and they filled us in on her nothing-short-of-diva behavior and how ugly and condescending she had been to the staff. This apparently wasn’t her first time doing this either. When I got home, I began re-reading articles, interviews, any and everything that I could get my hands on, hoping to confirm that the convention staff was simply over-exaggerating and she was still the positive role model that I had believed she was.
I found the exact opposite. Interviews were full of self-appreciation, over-inflated ego, and nastiness toward female co-stars that I had previously overlooked. When she made a passive-aggressive statement about one of my other favorites, I threw my hands in the air and walked away. The rose-tinted glasses fell off and I saw The Actress as she really was, not through a lens of appreciation. The Actress I had spent so long admiring was a person undeserving of such time and energy.
It was heartbreaking, but I learned some very important lessons from the experience:
In fandom, it can be very difficult to make the finite line where the character ends and the actor begins. We spend so much time enjoying and admiring characters, and then their actor is just walking around with the character’s face on. It’s very easy to project feelings from a character onto an actor. While the actress may be the living physical form of the character, it’s important to remember that so many other people play a part in forming the character: script writers, directors, editors, and on and on and on. It taught me to be more discerning in where I choose to focus my fangirl energies – to stop ignoring problematic things.
You absolutely can dislike an actor and still adore a character. Let me say that again. You absolutely can dislike an actor and still adore a character. Do not ever let anyone tell you that your dislike of the actress means you dislike the character. That’s a load of bs. It took me time after my disappointing realization to accept this, partly because I bought into that lie that other fans were telling me. I had to stop watching the show all together for a bit. I stopped talking to other fans about my negative experience. After some time passed, I realized that The Actress’s character will forever be one of my favorites. Nothing will change that. In fact, when I stopped misplacing my affection for the character onto the actress who portrayed her, I appreciated the character even more.
It will suck. Finding out that someone you admired is not a very nice person is disappointing. It hurts. A lot. The longer that you’ve admired them, the more intense the disappointment will be. But as with any other disappointment in life, it will get better. Once you stop spending all of that energy on the wrong person, you can find the right fictional lady (because let’s be real – fictional ladies are the most worthy of appreciation) to flail over.
There are so many genuinely kind people out there. I’ve read many stories of people having bad experiences with one celebrity and it turning them off of the entire experience. That is a perfect means of coping with the disappointment. It also showcases exactly just how much the whole thing can suck (See above point). However, I want to remind you that there are so many genuine actors out there who are kind, generous, humble and worthy of being appreciated – like Mary McDonnell, who builds other women up instead of tearing them down, delights in her fans, remembers them, and donates profits from every convention appearance to charity.
You didn’t really think I’d forget to mention Mary McDonnell here did you?
Celebrities are just like everyone else. There are nice ones. There are ugly ones. Navigating the waters can be daunting. But it can also provide you with legendary stories. If I’d let one bad experience (and one mean celebrity) turn me off to the entire concept of conventions, I would have missed out on walking up to Mary McDonnell’s C2E2 booth this year with my dear friend Suz and hearing Mary say ‘Ladies, it’s been a year! How are you?’ I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything in the world.