A few years ago, my sister attended the opening of the Metropolitan Ballet here in New York. She was on her way into Lincoln Center, when she passed the requisite red carpet and spotted Sarah Jessica Parker posing for a sea of flashbulbs. Normally—although we both like SJP well enough—this wouldn’t be something she rushed to recount to me, except my sister noticed that slipped in with the normal paparazzi commands (“Over here! Sarah! Sarah!”), a particularly loud photographer started bellowing “Dip, Sarah! Dip! Let’s see a dip!”
From there, my sister watched Sarah Jessica Parker dramatically bend backwards as if she was being dipped by Fred Astaire. On a red carpet. Alone. With hundreds of people watching.
It’s become a running joke between she and I, something we find incredibly hilarious, slightly mortifying, and achingly insider. “Imagine being famous and having to do that in public?!” we ask each other, both quickly claiming we’d never succumb. “No effing way. I’d just say nope, sorry,” we’d say.
Turns out, if we were women worth taking pictures of in public and declined requests like these, we’d be pretty unpopular among the core people responsible for getting us press—the celebrity photographers. Awkward, unnatural, silly poses would be a very important part of our job.
We know this because I reached out to a top entertainment photographer—who asked to speak off the record—and he revealed that public peacocking is a big part of being famous, and it’s not nearly enough to just stand there and smile.
“We’re always yelling at [celebrities] to do things—fashion shots, over the shoulder, —usually more for the women than men,” said our source. “Some people are known for poses, so we’ll ask for that. Like Betsey Johnson to do a split.” He also admits that he’ll ask certain couples to kiss, although some—the ones who are super media trained, presumably—will willingly do it their own.
Okay, so it makes sense that most famous people would adhere to the demands of screaming photographers—isn’t that the definition of “living the dream,” at least to a celebrity?—but not every star is as game as SJP or Betsey to really ham it up.
While some stars listen to what the paparazzi ask for, some just don’t. In fact, it’s pretty common for entertainment photographers to be told in advance not to yell at a specific celebrity (“Amy Adams,” our source quipped) or they’ll walk off a carpet, even if they’re just being asked to smile.
“It’s funny to me, that something so simple as looking at each photographer one at a time becomes such a chore, that we need to yell for eye contact,” he said.
The business of walking a red carpet is more than just self-promotion, however. Most times, celebrities are there to promote a specific event, which in turn gets press when stars are photographed at said event. To us, it seems glamorous, but some famous people it can be a chore.
Rooney Mara famously told Vogue in 2013 that the red carpet is a “nightmare,” and that fake-smiling “feels disingenuous to me. I want to smile when something happy happens, so if I do smile, you know it’s real.”
Complaining about that stuff is a tricky beast—on the one hand, you’re a famous movie star, so it’s hard to bitch about getting dressed up and having people fight for your attention. On the other hand, it’s easy to forget that these are real people, many of which are in it for their craft, not the phony photo ops.
“Speaking from a photographer perspective, I can see how doing interviews can be annoying,” our source said. “But complaining about taking a few minutes to pose for photos to promote the event you’re attending or [the] designer you’re wearing is childish. Suck it up and do your job.”
Even if doing the whole red carpet song-and-dance is a pain, outright refusing to mug can lessen a star’s value—both to studios and the throngs of photographers whose job it is to capture stars on film.
“Showing up to an event and refusing to walk is terrible,” said our source. “There are times we’ve waited hours for someone only to find out they’re not going to walk. And it’s usually the one person we came to photograph. If they’re invited to an event the least they could do is walk. They’re there to help promote it.”
A smart celebrity knows this. After all, having the world’s most eager photographers lose interest you might not seem like a big deal, but if your photo isn’t out there, you start to lose traction with the public—not a great thing for movie studios investing millions in you.
Like any job, there are certain tasks—in a photographer’s case, capturing people–that are easier than others. We convinced our guy to give us a little dirt on who’s fun to shoot on red carpets, and who are nightmares.
“Models are always the best—Alessandra [Ambrosio], Miranda [Kerr]. They know what to do and are great about making sure everyone gets eye contact. Tom Cruise is also one of the best,” said our source.
As for some of the worst? Martha Stewart, Chris Rock, Sam Rockwell, and Ben Stiller. “Never ask Ben to do ‘Blue Steel,'” our guy said. Noted.