I’m not going to tell you his name, but he was sitting right next to us.
I really want to tell you his name because I just think he’s so amazing and I loved being in such close proximity to greatness. But I’m not going to tell you his name because I know he would rather it be that way—rather not have his name in a national magazine, rather not have more attention drawn to him for something other than his work.
But he is a very famous, excessively talented actor. He is also a very private one. No social media. No desire to expand the glow of the limelight beyond his work on the screen.
And there he was, sitting just a few feet away from me and my husband Michael on a recent vacation to Miami, enjoying breakfast with a friend.
It was all I could do to keep myself from approaching him and thanking him for his work. I knew a photo was completely out of the question, and even stolen glances in his direction seemed a violation of his personal space. Instead, I sat and enjoyed catching wisps of his distinctive voice over the clinking of breakfast forks and chattering of fellow vacationers (all of whom were either oblivious or exercising extreme amounts of self-control like me).
The encounter sparked an interesting conversation between Michael and myself as we sat, perhaps a little longer than usual, at the coffee bar that morning. Michael loosely quoted Jerry Seinfeld who said something about fame and how, when a fan comes up to greet you or meet you or thank you, that’s one of the beautiful parts, or at least a required part of the job. Essentially stating it comes with the territory. “But does it?” I challenged the sentiment. Why does the gift of acting come with a requirement to embrace fame?
On a bigger scale, this is a question each of us can ask ourselves about the rules within our own lives. There will be people who will tell you in order to be successful, you have to work all day, everyday. There will be people who will make you believe that because you are a mother, you should enjoy certain tasks or as a father, you are required to do certain tasks. You don’t have to be famous to encounter the “it comes with the territory” conundrum.
The truth is: YOU get to design your life. You get to keep and leave out what feels right for you and what doesn’t. It can be confusing and uncomfortable—because breaking the mold and choosing a path that works for you can appear at first to be wrong or cavalier or irresponsible or rude. But none of that matters. I do not like this actor less, but rather I respect him more because I know how hard it is to simply be yourself.
By the afternoon, Page Six had posted images of the actor at the beach, mentioning the gaggle of onlookers surrounding him. The next morning there was a man with a camera precariously perched in the lobby. I didn’t see the actor again. I wasn’t surprised. He was good at disappearing.
I had seen him do it once before, years ago, shooting a scene in New York City. I remember, once the scene was done and the crew dispersed, watching him say his goodbyes, zip up his coat, and disappear down the subway stairs to catch the 6 train downtown.
Someone is sitting next to greatness right now, I thought. And they probably don’t even know it.
Which was exactly by design.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2021 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
Photo by Viktoriia Hnatiuk/Shutterstock