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Brushes With Fame

Meeting celebrities is an awkward business.

The above conclusion is one I've reached over years of going to the Roger Ebert Film Festival, and having visited Hollywood, California back in the 1990s. Perhaps it's just me, but there really doesn't seem to be any real connection that we, the public, have with those who produce and star in some of our most beloved pop culture touchstones.

Take, for example, Ebertfest of 2002. One of my favorite movies from that year's festival was Kwik Stop, starring and directed by Michael Gilio, who was in attendance. The film moved me and, after Gilio's Q&A on-stage, I decided to approach him and say what a marvelous movie it was that he'd made. Of course, once I was in his presence, it was more like gibberish that came out of my mouth, followed by a perfunctory request for an autograph, which he provided.

Then there were several years where actor Scott Wilson attended the festival. Known then for his role in the 1967 classic In Cold Blood, though now better known for his role of Hershel in The Walking Dead, his talent was not lost on me, and during the after-parties toward the end of the festival, where he would be sitting with his wife, Heavenly, chatting-away with guests, I would often want to say hello. Of course, I did not.

Kris Kristofferson was but a few feet from me one year, a guest for the festival's screening of his film A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries. I just gawped at him. Director Spike Lee was in attendance last year. I was sitting outside when he arrived at the Virginia Theatre, casually strolling-up and letting his picture be taken with members of the local Lincoln's Challenge Academy. Again, I just stared in awe. The same goes for John Malkovich, who mostly stood by himself while at the opening gala.

Of course, I've managed a few minor successes when it comes to brushes with fame. Ignatiy Vishnevestky (former co-host of Ebert Presents At the Movies) was approachable one night outside the theater while a film I didn't much care for was screening. He did most of the talking, but it was casual, laid back. Actor Robert Forster (whom I jokingly refer to as "my friend Bob") was great to talk with. I love his acting style (which comes across as very natural), and we stood talking for a good ten minutes in the lobby of the Virginia Theatre. He's a very down-to-earth guy.

As for Hollywood in the 1990s.... that was when, on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, I saw Suzanne Pleshette and James Caan (separately) as they went about their shopping. Suzanne donned some dark sunglasses, cocked her head back, and strode past in true diva fashion. Mr. Caan was chatting with some (presumably) friends. To be honest, I was more excited when, later on during the same trip, we drove by Fred MacMurray's house in Brentwood.

Celebrity is a strange thing. We see the same people on television and on the silver screen, over and over throughout the course of years -- decades, even. I think that we're wired in such a way that encountering someone so many times (even if it's not in-person) breeds a certain false familiarity. When we see them in the flesh, it's tempting to say hello. For the most part, I've found it best to let the familiarity remain at a distance.

* The 17th Annual Roger Ebert Film Festival will take place in Champaign, IL from April 15 - 19, 2015. *


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