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Shell Shocked: On being a celebrity

By Staff | Jun 23, 2011

Have you wondered what it would be like to be a well-known celebrity and be recognized wherever you go?

The vast majority of us have never been put in that position. In fact, I’m barely recognized by the pharmacist at my local CVS store even though I must refill prescriptions about a hundred times a month.

Can you imagine having to wear fake beards and mustaches to avoid being recognized in public – especially if you’re a woman?

The price of fame is being recognized. And some celebrities welcome being recognized wherever they go while others guard their private lives vigorously. Just imagine Angelina Jolie walking alone through the streets of New York. She’d probably be taking her life in her own hands. Are celebrities comfortable with the fact that fame breeds constant recognition?

I asked Zuzza Mateo, the South American model, who made it big in the U.S. in the ingénue role in “Frankenstein Meets the Fokkers.” After years of starring roles in Brazil, Zuzza finally made it big in the 15th sequel to “Meet the Parents,” when she played Ben Stiller’s Brazilian cousin. Her attention-getting scene was when she devoured ten egg creams in a row in a scene meant to convey the nostalgia surrounding old corner candy stores. To the uninitiated, an egg cream is a New York City candy store specialty made with chocolate syrup, milk and seltzer.

Her scene stealing line, “I can get used to these egg creams,” in a rich Brazilian dialect made headlines in all the tabloids. Zuzza can no longer walk down any street in the U.S. without being recognized.

I sat with Zuzza the other day as she visited friends in Sanibel. My goal was to penetrate the cloak of celebrity life and find out if the journey was worth it.

“So tell me, Zuzza. What’s it like to be so well known that you no longer have any privacy,” I asked.

“Oh that’s where you’re so wrong,” Zuzza said in her charming Brazilian accent. “I have privacy wherever I am and wherever I go. I just tune the world out, stop focusing on my surroundings and become fixated on my mantra.”

I said: “How can you do that and not see your adoring fans fawning over you as you enter a restaurant?”

“Because my mantra is ‘egg cream.’ I focus on what got me to where I am today. If it weren’t for egg creams I would still be modeling sandals in Rio.”

“But how can you say that you have privacy when walking down the street? Hundreds of fans surround you and demonstrate their adoration by blocking your passage. Doesn’t it bother you in the least that you just can’t walk down the street with no one paying any attention to you?”

Zuzza smiled.

She said, “If I didn’t want attention I wouldn’t walk down a street of any city anywhere in the U.S. Maybe I wouldn’t be recognized in Sanibel because the people there don’t care about celebrities. I bet I could walk into Timbers, during a busy evening, and no one would pay any attention to me.

“But Fort Myers is an entirely different matter. If I were to walk through Edison Mall, I bet you that I would attract 10,000 people. And I’d love every minute of it.

“So,” I said, “does that mean in order to be a celebrity you have to be somewhat narcissistic? Does that mean you have to love yourself?

Zuzza laughed.

“It’s my 15 minutes of fame. If my next movie bombs, I can assure you that even if people recognized me, they would walk across the street to avoid me.

I eyed this curvaceous Latin American bombshell and thought to myself: No way would anyone avoid her, even if she had never been cast in a top-grossing movie. She was just too stunning to be ignored. Which led to my next question.

“You happen to be a beautiful woman, Zuzza. Do you think that you’d be recognized if you weren’t?

She said, “Thank you for the compliment. But if I weren’t in a top-grossing movie, I wouldn’t be recognized. But the fact that I’m beautiful as well would still cause heads to turn. I thank my lucky stars every day that my agent got the part for me in the Fokker sequel. As a result, I became a celebrity and I love every moment of it. It takes a certain type of person to enjoy the limelight. Greta Garbo was a famous celebrity, but she was never comfortable being recognized. That’s why she could never walk down the street without a thorough disguise.”

I left Zuzza wondering how other celebrities deal with constant recognition – and how it affects their desire to balance their privacy with stardom. And by now you’re getting that Zuzza Mateo is a total fabrication, that I never had this conversation.

But if Zuzza were a real person – and a celebrity – her answers to my imagined questions would be exactly as I’ve said. As for me, I’m still happy that the CVS guy never recognizes me.