The Trouble with Meeting Kate Winslet
Kate Winslet is a great actress. In fact, one could reasonably argue that, while there are other great actresses, none is greater than Kate. She was the youngest woman to be twice nominated for an Oscar, youngest actor male or female to be nominated for an Oscar four times, [and as of 2007 has been nominated for an Oscar 5 times after acting in only 19 movies, JEC, 2007]. She has performed an astounding range of roles. You may have only seen her in the more mainstream movies, such as “Titanic” and “Sense and Sensibility”, but she was equally convincing as an asylum laundry girl who becomes entwined with the Marquis de Sade in “Quills” and a young woman being forcibly deprogrammed of her influence by a cult in “Holy Smoke”. And she is also gorgeous. I confess: I have a crush.
Why do we have this fascination with movie stars? What’s the big deal about actors, anyway? Why are we not giddy with excitement about excellent lawyers or, goddamnit, excellent scientists? What about all the successful businessmen? We may envy their wealth and admire their success, but we don’t love them the way we love actors. People magazine and its ilk thrive because we want to feel that we know performers personally. Judging from articles in such publications, we also apparently get some kind of schadenfreude when the rich and famous get taken down a notch as if that somehow validates our lower social status. But primarily we want to know actors. Why?
It goes way beyond the fantasy life that we perceive they lead: the red carpets, the fancy cars, the mansion with the pool, the glamour and money and everything that goes with it. There are many more very wealthy non-actors than there are wealthy actors, and we don’t really give a shit about them unless something bad or salacious happens to them. And it goes way beyond looks. There are many more beautiful and handsome non-actors than there are beautiful and handsome actors. Some of them are models and are rich and famous, and we like to look at them. But unless they get fat or have drug problems, that’s pretty much where the interest ends. Actors have a special appeal because we feel friendly with them. We feel like we know them. We share good times and bad times with them as they go through the adventures of their characters’ lives right there in our living room or the neighborhood movie theater screen. On a regular basis they make us feel.
Kate Winslet has made me laugh and made me cry. She has made me feel frightened, happy, relieved, anxious, nervous, sad, excited, protective, and romantic. That’s pretty strong stuff. Those are the kind of emotions that are usually connected with people I actually know. And most of those emotions, especially the really good, deep, limbic-brain ones, are reserved for those I love. Actors come into our homes on our ever-expanding screens or fill our senses in a surround-sound stadium-seating theater and reach straight into our brains where our inner selves lie hiding from the scary outside world, pretending that everything is okay. They reach in there and with some nimble fingerwork they let the childish genie out of the bottle and make us weep for someone who never existed. They make us fall in love, secretly, privately, and never to be admitted, with someone who is entirely defined by a couple of hours of celluloid. To be fair, actors have a tremendous amount of help pulling off this remarkable feat, starting with the writers who create the characters, words, and scenes, and the directors who facilitate the actors’ and writers’ expression. But we do not see them. We see Kate Winslet.
I have to admit that the person who has made me cry the most at a movie, almost to the point of extreme public embarrassment, was not Kate Winslet but Anthony Hopkins. I mean no disrespect to Mr. Hopkins, but Kate is more my type. Which brings me to the trouble with meeting Kate Winslet.
Through a lucky accident of birth I have a brother who was recently able to introduce me to Kate Winslet. With weeks of advance warning of this possible encounter, I started scripting the scene. What should I say? What would her response be to whatever I said? And then what would I say back? I immediately decided on something that was both true and flattering and a little unusual. When she walked into the room where I sat unobtrusively waiting for the chance to meet her, my heart pounded like that of a twelve-year old nerd about to ask the most popular girl to the school dance. The part of my brain that got a Ph.D. in astrophysics reacted to this physiological crisis with a mental, “What the f*&%?” but this was ignored because my brain was thoroughly under the control of the genie whose bottle was unlocked by the magnetic presence of Ms. Winslet. The genie responded to Dr. Mental by sucking the serotonin from my brain. Deprived of this neurotransmitter, neurons misfired badly: I flubbed my line, made an awkward recovery, froze afterwards mumbling some inanity, and it was over before I knew it, leaving me in a low-serotonin state of mental anguish, barely able to remember any details of what had just transpired, but obsessing about it nonetheless and yearning for another chance. In this impaired state the part of my brain that still functioned was convinced that only further contact with Kate Winslet would alleviate my confused suffering.
Had I said the right thing? Why didn’t I say something else? I could have said something fascinating, and then who knows what might have happened? Here are samples of the 2417 different ways I’ve imagined the conversation since I met her three days ago:
Me: You know, I have a Ph.D. in astrophysics, but I’ve never felt so intimidated meeting someone.
KW: Intimidated by me! Don’t be silly.
Me: You’re such a wonderful actress. I think one of the reasons people are fascinated by actors is that they move us emotionally, and you have a special talent.
KW: That is one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me. I have to get back on set now, but would you like to have dinner with me? I’m fascinated by astronomy.
Me: I was so nervous about meeting you that I prepared two opening lines, but now I feel silly saying either one.
KW: Would you like to have dinner with me?
Me: I can’t tell you how great I think you are in just a few minutes, and you probably don’t care about hearing it from a complete stranger anyway. But I’m charming, funny, and smart and I have a hunch we’d get along great. What do you say we get together sometime? Who knows, maybe you’ve just met your next great friend.
KW: (thoughtful pause). That is almost crazy, but I’m going to take you up on that. You don’t know what you’ve gotten yourself into (laughs). It’s so hard to make friends in this business because we’re always moving from one job to another, and people are always trying to grab onto celebrity. But I can tell you are a genuine person. (grabs my hand, and a pen magically materializes in hers). Here’s my cell phone. (writes number on palm of my hand) Call me. We can have dinner sometime.
Me: You have to believe me when I tell you that I’m actually much more interesting than this while at the same time just a regular guy who’s fun to hang out with. I just have to get over the nervous excitement of meeting you.
KW: I’m sure. Well it was nice to meet you. Good-bye (over the shoulder while hurrying away).
Me: Your presence is causing my higher functions to shut down due to a lack of serotonin in my cerebral cortex. This would certainly pass if I had more time to spend in your general vicinity. Since I don’t, this is a big moment for me, but it will be followed by days of anguished self-analysis and the composition of a rather sappy essay on the experience which part of me will inevitably fantasize about you actually reading and thinking, “Josh Colwell is an interesting person, and I’d like to get to know him better.”
KW: You know, I know exactly what you mean! I’ve felt that way about meeting certain people that I admired before too. You said it just perfectly. I do want to get to know you better. Would you like to have dinner with me?
The trouble with meeting Kate Winslet is that it’s impossible to say the right thing, and it’s impossible to stop thinking about what was the right thing to say.
Kate, I’ll just say this: Thank you for being so kind when we met. I’ll never forget it. Please don’t be alarmed by this essay. It just means you’re doing something right.
 Not that I’m exactly an excellent scientist, but if scientists got the same fan attention that actors do, I’d at least have some fan mail, maybe a handful of groupies, and the occasional request for an autograph. Okay, I did get asked to give my autograph a few times: because I had a bit part in a movie. And, yes, I did get asked to give an autograph as a scientist once, but that was from another scientist at the American Geophysical Union meeting for a picture I made of Saturn’s rings, so I’m not going to count that. That’s just geeky. Scientists don’t have fans. Actors do.
 I don’t want to talk about it.
 If you’re expecting to learn what I said, it’s between me and Kate. I don’t flatter and tell.
 We can pretend, since we’ll probably never know, that I am motivated solely by the skill of the actor and not also the beauty, and would therefore have had the same reaction to Anthony Hopkins.
 Low levels of serotonin are associated with the early stages of romantic relationships and with obsessive compulsive disorder. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac® inhibit the “reuptake” of serotonin leading to higher, more normal, levels of serotonin in the bloodstream and consequently a sunnier disposition and drastically diminished libido. Having orgasms, babies, and a shared life together, on the other hand, produces a different mental chemical brew with the ingredient of oxytocin.
 For “confused suffering” read “crush”.
 That’s right, I ended a sentence with not one but two prepositions. Is that something you’ve got a problem with? Well, then, bring it on!
Yes, some of
the imagined conversations were actually much worse than the actual one.