Jennifer Aniston again.
It may seem hard to believe that people who always appear to be confident are as doubt-filled as the rest of us. Here is Jennifer Aniston responding with surprising candor to a question asked at a film festival in Italy. She was asked by a young girl if she ever woke up in the morning not knowing who she was. You’d think at this stage in her career, her life, such feelings would be far behind her. But not only are they not, but the very question caused the normally guarded Aniston to tear up.
“We’re all human beings at the end of the day, whether we’re a waitress or a baker or a student or whatever we are; at the end of the day, you kind of hit walls and think, I kind of can’t go any farther. Or this is too much. My heart can’t take it or the pain is too great, or am I good enough?”
She says “there are not enough fingers and toes” in the entire room for her to count how many times that has happened to her.
This in a nutshell is what Entertaining Welsey Shaw is about. Everyone thinks they “know” celebrities because they see them in wildly fantastic situations, being treated like royalty, being touted as living lives no one lives.
Of course there’s money and privilege, but one can have that and still be unhappy. But that aside, it’s clear these things don’t make insecurity disappear. Or unhappiness. Welsey tells Daniel near the end of the novel that she spends most of her nights “in here” (her apartment) alone, with the TV for company. Even if your TV is bigger and your apartment nicer, it can be a lonely life. But no one understands. Which only makes it lonelier. So you’re isolated by the very nature of your loneliness, despite the fact that it’s the same feeling anybody else has. Nah, couldn’t be the same.
Which makes it more astonishing that this girl’s simple question made Jennifer shed tears, and blot her eyes with a tissue. I’m trying to remember the last time I’ve seen a celebrity so unguarded in public and failing. And it happened with a celebrity who’s famous for her detached demeanor, her control, her desire to project herself with every hair in place.
“Am I good enough?” It was impressive that she admitted—to the world: to casting agents and fellow actors and the likes of TMZ—that she’s not secure.
Kylie Jenner has a confession: “People think that since we have a reality TV show and I show so much of my life that they know who I am. But on Snapchat I show people what I think they want to see.”
Okay I’m actually writing about a Jenner/Kardashian. Time to start looking for that Fourth Horseman.
But seriously, I thought what she had to say in the recent issue of Allure magazine (my bible, in case you’re wondering) was very relevant to all celebrities, not just those we’re sick of.
Jenner says—surprise, surprise—most of her glamorous life is made up, and that the image she puts forth on all the social media sites is “a projected image. A brand.”
She explains why: “I usually don’t show my true personality to the world, because when you open yourself up so much, there’s more room for people to say things about you.”
Welsey Shaw could relate. The notoriously reclusive star of my novel avoids letting people into her life because for the famous, privacy is the one thing they cannot buy, and at the same time the most valuable commodity.
Some celebs build up a phony social media presence, like the Jenners and Kardashians. Some avoid it all together, like Claire Danes and Jennifer Lawrence. “We work so hard to maintain some sort of life and privacy, why would we intentionally put ourselves out there?” says another Jennifer—Aniston this time.
Back to Kylie.”I can’t remember what it’s like not to be famous. So I’m able to appreciate what true happiness is all about,” she insists. That quote could have come from Welsey Shaw. In another interview, from February, she says she’d like to move out of the spotlight, as Jessica Alba, Gwyneth Paltrow and so many others have. “I want to be a businesswoman,” she says in another recent interview, “and be behind the scenes. Kylie Jenner needs to retire.”
“People think that because we have a reality TV show that they know everything, but it’s like, I’m not filming right now. That’s maybe 5 percent out of my day.”
This last quote made me think of two movies, one recent and well-known, the other older and obscure. The well-known one is The Truman Show, which had the character Truman Burbank living in a round-the-clock reality show that he thought was his real life. The movie came out just before the deluge of TV shows depicting unscripted people began to appear, and remains astonishingly prescient.
The other, older movie is called Real Life, and it was made by Albert Brooks in 1979. Like most of Brooks’ work, it has slid into obscurity, which is too bad, because it’s brilliant.
The movie is about a TV filmmaker who wants to film a Phoenix family in their everyday life. But he soon discovers that this is pretty dull, so he starts tampering with reality. This raised a question back in 1979 that people in more modern times seem to have forgotten or not realized: how do you portray your intimate “reality,” whatever that is, with a camera operator inches from your nose? The mere presence of a film crew alters how you act, what you do, whether you realize it or not. And there’s no doubt reality shows are heavily tampered with—ever notice how every episode of Masterchef or Undercover Boss follows pretty much the same structure? Brooks knew back in the 1970s that when a camera intrudes, “reality” goes out the window, and we start posing, no matter how much we might think we’re being “natural.”
And eventually it must get wearying. I really, truly believe Kylie Jenner when she says she’s sick of this facade, and wants to chuck it. But so many are drawn to it because it empowers while not really requiring any particular talents. It’s the classic Faustian bargain—give me your soul and I’ll give you whatever “riches” you want. But after a while, many decide they want to take those souls back. After all, there’s always a fresh supply.
She has a reputation.
Just like Welsey Shaw.
She doesn’t think she deserves it.
Just like Welsey Shaw.
Kristen Stewart, who used to be, if not America’s sweetheart (she’s too dark and moody for that), at least America’s favorite vampire, has somewhat fallen out of favor, even as she’s worked hard to distance herself from her Bella character and take on new and different roles. But somewhere along the way, she’s gotten a rep for being unapproachable. Disdainful of her fans. A bit of a brat.
Just like Welsey Shaw.
This pisses her off.
Just like…Okay, I’ll stop.
This isn’t to say, by the way, that K-Stew is the basis for the character of Welsey. Welsey is an amalgamation of lots of famous people, plus a good deal I just made up. Or, in many cases, think I made up, only to discover some celebrity has in fact uttered that statement, been in that experience, thought that thought.
But in an interview a while ago, the 26-year-old actress got downright annoyed that people think she’s “unapproachable.”
“When I hear that people are intimidated or they think I’m, like, reposed or like, unapproachable or something that actually—I hate it. I’m always like ‘Dude, come up say anything to me. I would love to engage with you.”
If you watch the clip carefully, you’ll see she’s about to say it “pisses her off” when she quickly changes to “I hate it.” That in itself really makes her endearing to me.
But it’s true, and it’s an enigma: fans want to talk to their favorite celebrity, but as Daniel Ferreira finds out, it’s tough finding something to say when you get the chance.
I have a list of creative people whom I’d like to ask something regarding some aspect of their work. At the same time, if I ever found myself sitting on an airplane next to Meryl Streep or Wallace Shawn or David O. Russell, I’d probably hesitate to talk shop—because I figure it’s the last thing they’d want on their day off. They might even get justifiably angry at me and tell me off in no uncertain terms, and I’d go away upset that my hero turned out to be a jerk.
Another thing that struck me about the Kristen Stewart interview. She seems a genuinely reluctant celebrity. Like you-know-who. It seems an odd turn of affairs—you really have to throw yourself into the limelight to get discovered usually—but it actually is a lot more common than you’d think. Susan Sarandon went to a casting call with her then-husband Chris, who couldn’t drive at the time, and although he didn’t get cast, she did. Kristen Stewart grew up with parents in the business, but behind the camera, which is always where she thought she would end up. She says she didn’t want celebrity, and still finds it difficult. Which brings us to the question of whether or not they “owe” their fans anything beyond the work they do and put on the screen. Does spending eight bucks on a ticket entitle you to get to see them on their own time? There’s no easy answer.
But Stewart, among others (Mila Kunis is another) seems to love unscripted encounters with people—provided they’re respectful and considerate. Following another event that happened just last week, the shooting death of a reality TV singer for reasons still unknown, it’s important to remember that stars have good reason to fear the very people who pay their salaries. Kristen Stewart knows that too. Just like Welsey Shaw.
Food, glorious food!
There’s a lot of eating in Entertaining Welsey Shaw. The last third of the novel is an orgy of meals—long, expensive meals. And there are quite a few before then, too.
Fancy meals. Meals in expensive New York City restaurants. One in Welsey’s private penthouse on Park Avenue. And several pot lucks in small-town Callicoon.
Perhaps not a novel to read if you’re on a diet.
EWS is about conversation and social interaction. And in our culture, and most others, conversation and social interaction center around eating and drinking. Especially eating.
Eating says a lot about who we are. It’s one of the best ways a writer can define character, geography and social status.
I thought of this the other day after coming across a discussion of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary in the context of its many feasts. Food plays a major role in that novel, and not just as background. Flaubert’s characters are frequently eating, and the way they eat reveals their characters. Charles’s bad table manners demonstrate his lowly class, something that repulses Emma. But Emma herself sucks her fingers and licks the bottom of a glass, betraying her pretensions of sophistication and her more base side. And when Emma goes to the ball, the table manners of the nobles and the expensive foods in the scene signify their sophistication.
But aside from social refinement, food manifests class. The types of food, of course, signify this, but the fact that, say, Rouault sends Charles a turkey every year defines his character. For the lower class, food is a form of love, as it could be argued, it is in Entertaining Welsey Shaw for Anne, who is constantly worried about how and what Joseph eats. She is constantly meddling in his nutrition, reading the labels on the frozen packages in his refrigerator. Joseph begins sneaking junk food the way a smoker sneaks cigs, tossing the wrappers in a neighbor’s can. With Welsey, he has fun eating. Although Welsey is an actress and has to worry about her weight and her appearance, she seems to be one of these women who truly can eat anything (or at least many things) and not worry too much about how it sticks to her. I hate these types—don’t you?
I searched the web extensively, planning elaborate meals, usually off the actual menus at the real restaurants, both named and unnamed in the novel, that the characters visit. Of course, I don’t know if these items were on the menus back in 2008. When I couldn’t completely visualize I went to online videos to contemplate appetizers such as Caviar and Crème Fraiche Buckwheat Cornets. Then I decided not to use them. I planned and replanned meals because, like Flaubert, I wanted to tell a story partly through food. (For reasons that probably only make sense to me, and even then only on alternate Tuesdays, I substituted savory cheese truffles with chives, pecans and goat cheese instead.)
Drinking, of course, goes with food, but there’s very little alcohol in Entertaining Welsey Shaw. There is, however, coffee, which is probably the most romantic non-alcoholic drink there is. True it’s prosaic coffee, consumed in a Starbucks, the most common place for coffee on earth, but that’s why I wanted most of the story to take place in a Starbucks: it’s the most ordinary place on earth, and here Joseph, our protagonist, encounters the world’s most elusive celebrity. There’s something extraordinary—and this is the idea that fascinated me from the first day and made me want to start writing this thing—about the idea of being able to talk to this incredibly famous person separated only by a very small round table. Two extremely different worlds that nearly, nearly touch.
But it’s as close as they’re likely to. The Internet is filled with pictures of celebrities going to Starbucks for their caffeine fix. Standing in line in one of their New York or LA stores may be the most likely way you’ll ever encounter a celebrity, though buried in their hoodies, wearing sunglasses or without their stage makeup, as with Welsey Shaw, you likely won’t recognize them. It’s amazing to me the hold Starbucks seems to have on the famous set, although perhaps we just get more photos of them coming out of that particularl coffee shop because it’s the most well-known and ubiquitous. Perhaps Robin Wright loves some small beanery in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood and Jonah Hill swears allegiance to an out-of-the-way spot in SoHo, but what we see in the media is countless celebs getting succor from the mermaid. Which is why I never considered setting Entertaining Welsey Shaw anywhere else.
One final aspect about all the eating in the novel. One of my favorite character-defining moments comes near the end: Joseph has actually gotten to see Welsey’s highly-private Manhattan penthouse apartment on Park Avenue. Towards evening she decides to order dinner from a fancy Italian restaurant. He, thinking he should, orders something elaborate; she gets the spaghetti and meatballs. As he sits cutting his veal and mushrooms, she slurps her pasta and gets tomato sauce all over her face. At that point he gets it: Welsey, robbed of her childhood, is having it now. That’s the key to understanding her. (They’ve also just spent the afternoon sitting on the floor playing the game of Life, with its little plastic cars and stick figure-people.) That’s one of my favorite moments in the whole novel, and food, glorious food plays a major role in defining it.
The world’s most famous vampire has this to say about Hollywood:
“It’s like the most gnarly popularity contest in the world…You take high school and make it like in the real world…Hollywood is boring, nasty and dog-eat-dog.”
Pretty frank talk from someone who’s only recently made her reputation, and whose career is still pretty fresh. Usually, this kind of jaded talk comes from vets, retired megastars with nothing to lose.
In part she’s talking this way because she’s coming out in a Woody Allen film that is about this very reptilian aspect of Hollywood. Still, the star of the Twilight franchise pulled no punches.
“There’s definitely an undeniably-opportunistic, hungry, insane fervour that occurs,” says Stewart. “I think human beings are always clawing at each other to get on top. I think that’s true in most industries but Hollywood can have a surface nature that makes it more obvious.”
Perhaps it’s ironic that she’s talking about how rough-and-tumble her business is when she’s promoting an Allen film. Though considered a director who’s easy to work with, Woody has come under fire for some inappropriate behavior off the set that also arguably informs the subject matter of some of his films (Manhattan, most notably.)
Kristen isn’t alone is saying Hollywood is a vast spiritual wasteland. Chloë Sevigny is also talking about her bad experiences—this time of the sexual kind. Sevigny has recently recounted several directors who used auditions to hit on her, try to get her to go out “clothes shopping” with them, and engage in other extra-curricular activities.
Possibly the best line she heard from a director: “You should show your body off more. You shouldn’t wait until you’re as old as this certain actress who had just been naked in a film, you should be naked on screen now.” Whoever he was, subtlety wasn’t his forte.
In all cases, she says, she didn’t get cast, but it shows you what many young women have to go through to end up with their name in lights. It also may explain why many mediocre actresses seem to get more than their deserving share of screen time, while others who are excellent fade away quickly.
As Welsey Shaw knows, it’s a rough world out there, where looks and sexuality determine, often more than talent, who gets cast and who gets passed.
Doesn’t stop a long line of movie star-wannabes from flocking to Hollywood every year, however. The allure of fame is strong.