This year alone, Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams settled down in Brooklyn, a neighborhood away from where Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly started their brood in a brownstone of their own. Scarlett Johansson just found a place downtown. Hilary Swank is everywhere; Matt Damon just got hitched at City Hall. Movie premieres are nightly events; film production is booming; Martha and Harvey are back; the Clintons are settled; every talk show in the country is angling for a New York backdrop; the music scene continues to thrive—and the only convincing reason so many celebrities are moving here and working here—despite the bad weather, tough commutes, and tiny apartments—seems to be, well, us.
Middle Americans plotz every time they spot John Stamos, and Los Angelenos are so star-crazy that they’ll run student-driver starlets off the road just to get a grainy paparazzi snapshot. Here, maybe some deli owner asks for an autographed head shot to hang by the pastrami. But New Yorkers, who can barely drive, certainly don’t do vehicular paparazzi attacks; we don’t gawk at stars like rubes; we don’t interrupt their dinner just to say we loved them in that movie. We don’t do these things because we’re so cool.
It’s undeniable. In California, Schwarzenegger, Scientologists, and Jessica Simpson can be taken seriously, but here, honestly, if you’re not Bill or Hillary or Jay-Z, we’re not going to bother with you. If Jake Gyllenhaal walks in the room, we barely turn our heads. We bump into Natalie Portman at Barneys New York and think, Nice shoes. Moby at the Knitting Factory? Ugly sweater. One Baldwin brother walks into a bar? Whatever. Two? Redundant. Three? A setup for a bad joke.
Celebrities love New York because we don’t ask for an autograph in the bathroom of Nobu. But it’s more than being able to pee in peace: It’s the comforting sense they get when they recognize something of themselves in our cool disdain.
Celebrities think we understand them. And we do. Whether they succeed or embarrassingly fail, we nod sympathetically, because deep down in our urban arrogance, we basically see celebrities as overexposed versions of ourselves. Sometimes they don’t even measure up. There’s that inevitable day when you bump into some B-list cutie at your your neighborhood bar and you finally realize, Hey! I was here first. That’s when you realize that Us Weekly has it wrong. It’s not just that “celebrities are just like us!” In New York, celebrities want to be just like us. And, really, who can blame them?