Celebrity Sightings

Last Updated: December 9, 2011By

I saw Roman Polanski at an aiport once.

A couple years ago, I was sitting at the airport in Nice, France, the day after attending the Cannes Festival’s closing and noticed air being displaced. The diminutive French-Polish filmmaker settled on the bench next to me and started reading the newspaper, giving off a kind of reticent charm. The people to my right elbowed each other and said, sotto-voce, ‘look, Mathias, look, it’s that guy, whats-his-name-again, I swear, it’s him’ and looked at me, then him and discreetly started snapping photos. And then, just like that Polanski was gone.

In New York’s Greenwich Village (well, OK, it’s actually Chelsea), where I live, we have our share of celebrities. The corner Starbucks is some kind of a celeb-magnet. Matthew Broderick was spotted walking briskly near there one winter morning. He wore brand-new Timberlands boots and was in a rush. What struck me was how brand-new his entire outfit was (picture a construction worker going down to City Hall to get married).

I’ve seen Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins on my street, too, but separately and in different seasons (just to make sure there’s no confusion that they’ve separated). Robbins is extremely tall–and I don’t mean tall in that god-he’s-much-taller-in-real-life way–I’m talking NBA league tallness. He parked his SUV in front of Celebrity HQ Starbucks and walked in, smiling.

Last Summer Paul Giamatti was witnessed walking northbound on Seventh Avenue just before six o’clock one evening, moving slowly, ever so slowly. In fact, he looked downtrodden. Or maybe he always looks that way in real life, I don’t know. There was that world-weariness about him that typifies all New Yorkers–or maybe he was affected by something else (personally, if I go home and my Oral B Toothbrush battery has died, I get upset–I’m just saying). One passerby turned around after seeing him, flashing a smile of victory (as in, ‘I recognized you’), and called out to Giamatti.

Some years ago a little further down from fourteenth street Dapper Don John Waters was seen crossing the avenue. Elegant and meticulous, the king of suburban exploitation did look like a mildly-worn dandy who wears his quip on his sleeve in real life, too.

I could not mention personal celebrity sightings without including Philip Seymour Hoffman. It was a bright morning and the pavement glistened with sunshine. Hoffman was walking, in fact, speed-walking down the avenue.

Seeing Hoffman gave me a jolt. I had just come back from a jog and was perspiring. A woosh of air hugged me, followed by a blur of beige and blond. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, about 5″9′ and dressed in unremarkable clothing (imagine Richard Foreman starting his own Dickie’s line of clothing–that’s what Hoffman’s attire looked like) wore a baseball cap screwed tightly on his head as he rushed past me. His whole body was turned inwardly–he looked like a blond-haired armadillo racing down the street–and he was talking on his cell phone. The body language seemed to say, kindly stay out of my way or I will stab you in the forehead and then spit in your mouth. I stood on that sunbathed pavement for a while, staring at the wide avenue, smiling. For a few fleeting instants, I had shared personal space with one of the best actors of his generation.