x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Only failing movie stars grasp their own water

As the most famous celebrity in the United States, President Obama lives in a cocoon - a fact which explains his lacklustre debate performance

Movie stars and aristocrats, goes the saying, are just like you and me. They all put their trousers on one leg at a time.

That may be true - I've never been close enough to either to get a good look - but one thing is certain: if there was a more expensive way to get those trousers on, celebrities and aristocrats would be doing it.

Not long ago, I watched an internationally famous actor record a public service announcement. He walked up to the microphone, adjusted the lectern in front of him and then, without looking behind him, simply extended his right arm outward and slightly back.

His fingers opened, and suddenly a bottle of cold water appeared in his hand. His assistant, in a constant state of anticipation, knew that his boss would reach out for the bottle and had it prepared and handy to slip into his fingers.

The movie star took a long sip, reached back without looking and dropped the bottle without hesitation in the waiting hand of his assistant.

Now that, I thought to myself, is what living in a bubble must be like.

It's easy to forget how all-embracing life in a cocoon is for the lucky few. There's always someone wondering what, exactly, you might need to make yourself happy.

There's always someone thinking about the water you might need to drink, or the shoes you might like to wear - whatever suddenly occurs to you, whether by whim or necessity, is already planned and anticipated.

It happens quickly. I remember not too long ago when my movie star friend was just another aspiring actor in Hollywood - a veteran of unsold television pilots, low-rent movies, and a thousand unsuccessful auditions.

I remember consoling him when he lost a big role to another actor. I counselled him to stick with it, to keep hustling, when he was ready to give it all up and head to law school. But after two good roles in two blockbuster films, the cocoon opened up and swallowed him whole. He now lives in a world of assistants and magically appearing bottles of water.

Last week, when the most famous celebrity in America, President Barack Obama, delivered a lacklustre performance in the first presidential debate of this year's US campaign, the political chat shows and newspaper editorial pages were obsessed with one question: how did this president, so talented at connecting with and communicating to an audience, make such a hash of the event?

To me, the explanations were unconvincing. He's tired, some said. He's preoccupied with events in Libya, said others. Former Vice President Al Gore even suggested - somewhat sheepishly - that perhaps it was Denver's high altitude that knocked the president off his game.

Nonsense. It was the cocoon that did him in.

Four years of cosseted pampering, of unquestioning service and anticipation, and four years of - and this is the crucial part - being surrounded by subservient and compliant employees took their toll.

The Oval Office is the most exclusive VIP section of a nightclub ever created. It's the Oscars and the Golden Globes and a private jet all rolled into one. It doesn't matter where the occupant came from - whether he was a millionaire or a hardscrabble striver - after a couple of years of motorcades and presidential pomp, it's awfully hard to remember you're just a normal guy.

Sure, you put your trousers on one leg at a time, but you only have to ask: the Secret Service will be glad to lift you up and gently slide you into them, both legs at once.

The look on the president's face, when he suddenly realised that for those brief 90 minutes he was going to be treated like a normal citizen, was exactly the look that will be on my movie star friend's face at some point in the future - hey, it happens to all of them - when after a couple of box office failures and the creeping signs of age, he reaches back instinctively for the bottle of water and finds himself grasping at air.

"What happens," I asked my friend as we walked out of the recording studio, "when it all stops, when the cocoon disgorges you back to normal life?"

"What are you talking about?" he said, shooting me an irritated look. "That's never going to happen."

What could I say to that? Presidents have re-elections to win and term limits to face. Movie stars, unfortunately, have no such luck.


Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood

On Twitter: @rbcl