Recently, while dining at a restaurant in Toronto, I spotted Sarah Polley sitting at a nearby table with some friends.
She was eating oysters.
This was very exciting for me.
The truth is that I’ve always had a crush on her, and have even, on occasion, found myself Googling “Sarah Polley nude” when Rachelle was preoccupied by one of her Firth-A-Thon movie extravaganzas.
And so, to see her in the flesh, eating oysters, was entirely preoccupying, and as cool and nonchalant as I wanted to be, I simply could not stop myself from staring over at her.
“Stop gawking, you’re making a spectacle of yourself!” my lady hissed.
I have to say, although I kind of expected seeing her in person would be a moment of great radiance and unspoken erotic potential, it wasn’t. The charisma of her celebrity did not burn brightly.
Very small and kind of mousey, she looked like the girl in high school that sat near the back row and ate some weird religious lunch out of a plain box— the type of girl you might have been a little curious about— but not that much— and only in a fleeting, she-happens-to-be-in-my-sight-line kind of way.
At any rate, if on some sort of evaluation of the beauty of all the women in the restaurant, Sarah Polley would likely have fallen in the happy middle ground, somewhere between the slim, fashionista waitresses and the braying cougars spilling drinks at the bar.
It’s not a surprise to discover that the celebrities who are marketed to us so as objects of fantasy are less than we imagined when they step off the silver screen, but still, it felt just a little bit disappointing to see it.
“Hmm, so Sarah Polley is pretty average looking. Damn.”
Throughout her career, which started as a child, she’s remained in Toronto. A talented actress and director, she has an aura of sincerity and cool about her, pursuing causes and projects that interest her creatively rather than those that might the serve star-making machine.
Watching her, in her ordinarily imperfect sweater and surrounded by a bunch of people who looked like normal, long-term friends without any of the flighty pretensions typically associated with the industry, it seemed as if she might have somehow managed to establish a healthy separation from the lunatic tornadoes of celebrity, a separation that’s entirely admirable, and perhaps even heroic.
But still, the eyes of everybody in the restaurant fell upon her. And over dinner, as we whispered our belittling observations to one another, Polley tried to live her life. Surely, as an artist, she is keenly observant of the people around her, and she must have picked up on this vibe. She must always pick up on it, ever aware that somehow she’s not quite as much as people expected her to be.
It’s the sort of thing that could mess with your mind, installing all sorts of insecurities and vulnerabilities that no amount of surgery, dope, sex, praise or money could possibly eliminate.
Presumably though, Sarah Polley is very self-assured in her talent, so she has a chance to stay afloat, unlike say, Jennifer Lopez, who seems to have found her professional comfort zone as a judge on American Idol.
A music producer I know told me about working with her on one of her albums. For some reason, it was being mixed outside of Toronto, and throughout the process she proved tyrannical, aloof and a Prima Bitch. She had absolutely no capacity to sing and treated all of those around her with a haughty and acidic contempt. It was my friend’s opinion that the foreign environment must have heightened her already acute insecurities (he thought there simply no way she could have believed she could sing) and she completely cordoned herself off from reality.
Instead of communicating with the people she was working with in the studio, the men and women just across the partition from her, she chose to relay all communication—via telephone—through her team back in New York. And so, if the producer had direction for her, he had to call her people, who would then call JLO and give her the direction, even though she was only six feet away from the actual producer making the request.
Consider that for a moment.
Consider how brittle, proud and disconnected a person must be from the world to find such a callous way to live. Terrified of being found out for what she was (or wasn’t), Lopez’s only strategy to flee her own mediocrity was grander and grander displays of arrogance and isolation, until eventually she was surrounded by just a few enabling toadies.
But the really creepy thing, I think, is just how easy it is to become an enabling toady. I was at a cottage party in a region where some celebrities keep residences, and Lo and Behold, a celebrity couple showed up. They were probably past their prime, in that People Magazine no longer reliably covered them and they were eager to be on “Dancing With the Stars” in order to show off their Broadway chops in the hopes of landing a regular gig on a production of Chicago or some such, but still, stars!
I was burning with curiosity.
I wanted to talk to them and see what they were like, but although I’m not a shy person, I felt incredibly inhibited. I didn’t want to impose on them and have them to think that their celebrity was the only reason I was speaking to them, and so I stayed away. And it struck me as I watched from afar—the beautiful wife, alone on a log, staring blankly through her distinctive eyes into a bonfire— how lonely celebrity must actually be.
Obviously their lives weren’t diminished because I didn’t speak to them, but almost certainly because all sorts of other people didn’t speak to them for reasons similar to mine. Instead of granting social access, their celebrity actually diminished it, inhibiting a natural and organic interaction with the world around them.
At some point that night the husband, after seeing me standing with some guys who had just smoked a joint, tapped me on the shoulder and asked that I come and get him the next time the guys sparked up. Honestly, I could not have been happier. Suddenly, on this remote island in Northern Ontario, I had happily, very happily, become this Malibu star’s drug-flunky. It was that easy. All he had to do was tap me on the shoulder and I was ready and willing to do whatever it was that he asked. It was reflex, too, I just leapt at the chance to please him, and it’s stunning to consider that each of his days might unfold in that manner, and that mine could, too.
And so to Sarah Polley, whom a friend of mine described as the “Anti-Kate Hudson,” we thank you for being a celebrity who can eat dinner in an ordinary restaurant with friends, and for making all the cool movies you do.