As the new political thriller, The Coup, is being filmed in and around Chiang Mai, just like a slurry of other films over the past few years (don’t forget American Gangster and of course everybody’s favourite, Lost in Thailand), celebrity spotting has become both an art form, a hobby, and point of excitement for many in Chiang Mai whether tourist or resident.
My future as a paparazzi is not quite as bright as that sign behind Owen’s head.
Not too long ago, fame vultures were at an all-time high alert, comparable only to that of a mother lioness. Having discreetly made fun of such buzz over the situation, I was not a part of this group – for whatever reason, the idea of another human being I have never met simply being in the same city as me did not leave me spellbound. Where and what was the grand allure in stalking down a total stranger, and for what reason? What could one possibly gain from whatever awkward interaction they would so rudely grasp at by interrupting a total stranger’s day? I’m picturing the glow in a fan’s eye being met with maybe an awkward “what’s your name” or a “thank you” to some odd comment. What are you going to compliment him on anyways? His life? Okay, you do that. I’ll just observe.
And observe I did; at every bar, eatery or gathering in the old city, I heard their plays. Hawk-eyed and darting from point of last celeb spotting to next, adrenaline levels rose and pupils dilated at the mere mention of a famous name potentially being in town. And as it seems to me, repetitively hearing a name of fame results in either a reaction of exponential growth or exponential decay. I realised I must be on the decay side.
Reports of Owen Wilson “spottings” in particularly numbered multiple times a day over the last few weeks from just within those I spoke to on a daily basis. And yet, that made those who hadn’t yet seen him consider it almost like missing a top Chiang Mai tourist attraction — just another point of interest to check off on their To Do List:
· Visit Doi Suthep
· Ride an Elephant
· Shop the Night Bazaar
· Celeb-spot Owen Wilson
While Owen Wilson visited the Elephant Nature Park prior to his November 19th birthday, participated in the Loy Krathong and Yi Peng festivities and has generally been seen actively enjoying his time here, sightings of him have been dwindling recently. But listen, after what I saw, I sure can’t blame him for it. In fact, what I saw is probably the reason he’s begun to be a bit more discreet.
As I stood around Zoe’s that Friday night, I allowed myself to be swept up in the excitement of my celeb-loving peers. It was light, an icebreaker, so why not? High-toned falsities were breaking through my teeth like waves and whipping off my tongue to conceal my skepticism. But it was all around me; like predator and prey, farang in particular were on the lookout for the elusive, rare and endangered species of Pierce Brosnan, a special “never before seen” treat.
Two Sex on the Beaches later, a cute outfit automatically elevating my mood, and some good friends by my side, it was panning out to be a good night. Now maybe it was the alcohol or just my twisted sense of sarcastic humour, but in the heat of debating “why the hell do people go looking for strangers just because they’re on TV?” we decided to do just that. No sense of who was there or even the fact that someone could be, but with knowledge of these recent celeb sightings as inspiration, something spurred a certain level of giddiness. The chase was on.
Walking away from the Hollywood bar, we set out and immersed ourselves in the heart of the complex and stood, searching. It was like one of those games, “Which one does not belong?” As their heads swiveled like owls in every direction, I glanced right and there he was: Owen Wilson, maybe less than a metre away from me. No more than a single minute after we decided to “celeb spot” we had miraculously accomplished our mission. A surge of excitement pulsed through me at being the first to realise this, and so quickly too! I made a “psssst” sound through my teeth and nodded in the direction of him. He was now maybe three or four metres away. My friends squealed. For a second we silently understood the excitement. We paused. Standing with a similarly built friend and wearing a shielding baseball cap, he was still easily distinguishable. Good try, Owen. But, we stayed rooted to the ground, none of us really too keen on doing anything more. Then and there we made a group decision not to disturb him, though of course still quietly and discreetly enjoy his company from afar. And now that this unexpected opportunity had presented itself, none of us had really thought of what we would do if we saw him. What was our end game here? Best-case scenario we strike up an easy conversation with him, something to tell our friends back home that he’s a cool guy and maybe take a snapshot. And that’s when it happened…
Just as we were turning back to each other mumbling and whispering “that was so fast” and “how cool” to each another in our now back-to-normal and (I’d like to think) tactful manner, there came a whizzing blur, stage left. Shrieking: “THAT’S OWEN WILSON!” It was the cry of the sorority girl type on holiday. Turning, I saw a blonde inebriated mop of hair running as though on fire in his direction. I saw it as if in slow motion. Oh no she didn’t! Oh yes, she did. She jumped on him…from behind.
I imagine in her warped and elevated reality, it must’ve been a gazelle-type run, the cold beer stained concrete of the Zoe complex transformed into white sand, her too-short-to-cover-anything dress now an evening gown, while her drunken bird-like screeching a portrait of elegance. Instead of a sloppy, can’t-run-straight hurdle onto the poor man’s back, as if mounting a horse, it must’ve felt to her like a casual weightless leap and slide into his arms. Needless to say, I was aghast.
Owen handled the situation coolly. A shudder and soft vocal tones too muddled to hear were all that followed from him and within a minute he had disappeared. Cover: blown. She was still screeching. But the whole thing led me to wonder: for a celebrity, is that the end of your night? Two minutes in one place, get spotted, regroup, and repeat? How used to that had he gotten? Does anyone really get used to that? What if you don’t have the same six-foot something all-man figure (okay, that I noticed) as he does? Would you be knocked down on the ground for simply being a celebrity? Do we need to re-examine how we treat these people? Sexualising, criticising, and now, attacking? Does being halfway around the world from where we’re from make us forget all our manners? Is that it? It surely wouldn’t be the first time.
Ultimately, I forgive the girl for her overt display of affection for a movie star. We all have regrettable moments when under the influence. And for her, like I painted for you, it’s probably going to be a great memory. Sure, I myself would’ve liked to actually meet Owen Wilson, but at what price?