Mustering the confidence to meet a celebrity
Sage advice for anyone who feels unworthy of meeting their heroes.
What should you do when you get a chance to meet your heroes? I take my advice from an Australian theater director…
The year was 2004. I was living in London, studying Shakespeare for the summer at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. I was one of 20 students from all over the world. We studied vocal technique and dance and improv and breathing and iambic pentameter and movement and motivation and, well, you get the picture. It was a lot! But it was a special experience to be able to treat acting as a legitimate profession, worthy of hard work and intensity.
One day in class, we heard the murmurs reverberating through the hallways. A celebrity was in the building. A few of us ducked out to see who it was.
We turned the corner into the lobby of the main theater, and there, sitting on a stool, reading a book and sipping a coffee, was Alan Rickman.
We were floored. We didn’t know he was an alumnus of RADA. We only knew that this man, sitting right in front of our eyes, was one of the most famous actors in the world. This was Professor Severus Snape, in the flesh, at the height of Harry Potter’s movie popularity (The Prisoner of Azkaban had just premiered). One of the most notable alumni of the notable school I was attending… a world-famous Brit right here in the heart of London, sipping a coffee. What????
We debated going over to talk to him. We couldn’t interrupt him. We were nobodies! Lowly students, SUMMER-only students at that! Not even full students! We couldn’t! We won’t!
Our director-in-residence that summer was Peter Oyston, a short Australian man with squinty, intense eyes, an innate kindness, and endless theatricality. He once faked fainting and falling out of his chair in the middle of a lesson, just to get our attention and teach us about surprising an audience.
Peter walked up behind us, all cowered in a corner, gawking toward the lobby.
When we explained to him why we weren’t going to go talk to Snape, I mean Rickman, he quipped back in his half-sneering Australian droll,
“Oh, just go talk to him. No one shits jam!”
The most Australian phrase I’d ever heard. No one is worthy of that kind of preciousness. We’re all human beings, struggling to connect and work and achieve and grow. This was a man, just like I am one, both of us worthy of earnest connection.
Peter was right. We went right up to Alan Rickman, surprised him even, and turns out, he wasn’t like Snape or even Hans Gruber. He was kind and inviting and excited to hear a morsel of our stories and how we found the training at the school where he prepared for a life in the arts.
He did not, it seems, shit jam. He was normal like us. Talented, yes. Intensely focused, sure. But no more special. And not above our offer of earnest connection.
I think of this when I have a chance to meet someone who inspires me. In the years since, I have been lucky enough to meet the likes of Justin Timberlake and Kobe Bryant, just to name-drop a few…
But I also keep this in mind when I present or share my life’s accomplishments. I’m not that special, yet I do have something to share. I don’t (last I checked) shit jam.
Let’s not forget that sometimes we’re the fan and sometimes we’re the celebrity.
Now, almost twenty years later, Peter has passed on and so has Alan Rickman, but this moment lives on for me, forever.
Thanks for reading.