Celebrity posse has become passe
Jessica Simpson, once known for trailing family, friends and hairdressers along the red carpet, now demurely stands alone by her down-to-earth boyfriend, singer-songwriter John Mayer. Brad Pitt, who can’t leave the house with Angelina Jolie without a phalanx of security, cruises alone through Los Angeles on his motorcycle. Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis hailed a London cab with their young daughter, Lily-Rose, sans assistant, sans nanny. Jennifer Aniston often vacations with just her hairdresser. Even the ubiquitous Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton usually club-hop in pairs, without bodyguards.
The massive celebrity entourage, an enduring symbol of Hollywood excess, is becoming passe. The culture has grown so steeped in celebrity that flaunting it is overkill.
That’s not to say Hollywood has been swept by an epidemic of austerity. Celebrities will always require a team of professionals to keep their privileged lives humming along. There’s Oprah Winfrey’s bra handler. Metallica had its life coach. Mary-Kate Olsen had a meal-minder. Russell Crowe once traveled with two personal chefs -- one for himself and one for his toddler. Many others -- Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, Sting and wife Trudie Styler, Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony, David Beckham and Posh Spice -- routinely test the bounds of excess.
But a shift in perception seems to be taking place. Big entourages are now widely seen as the sign of a neophyte, a has-been or a wannabe. “American Idol” reject Sanjaya Malakar, for instance, prompted eye rolls from gossip bloggers when he showed up at Paramount Pictures recently with an entourage of stylists and agents in tow. When Britney Spears arrives at a club with half a dozen “friends,” she warrants more pity than envy. The new code dictates that bona fide success doesn’t demand a traveling chorus.
“There are two types of celebrities,” said Harvey Levin, managing editor of the celebrity watching Internet site TMZ.com. “There are the Posh Spice types that want everybody around them to think it must be the president. Then there are the Tom Hanks types who just would like to blend, and they don’t make a fuss. The smart celebrities are the ones who realize that a true sign of stardom is somebody who doesn’t have to act like a star.”
Much of this shift, naturally, has to do with image. At home, a celebrity might have a butler, a yoga instructor and a round-the-clock macrobiotic chef. But publicly they want to be seen as low-maintenance. Authenticity (even if it’s feigned) is a sure-fire way to stand apart from the decadence that’s so gleefully chronicled by celebrity magazines, tabloids and gossip blogs.
For some stars, grocery shopping with the kids or strolling through the park without staff creates a rare sense of normality. For others, it can mean an important paparazzo shot that burnishes their persona as a good father, a happy couple or a sober, law-abiding citizen.
“You have certain celebrities who are in the au naturel mode,” said Bonnie Fuller, executive vice president and chief editorial director of American Media, which publishes the National Enquirer and Star. “It’s like their badge of honor not to have an entourage. Like Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck, and Jodie Foster and Julia Roberts -- they seem to revel in being able to walk the streets without being bothered. You see them out with their babies, kids, husbands, living their lives.”
OK magazine senior reporter Courtney Hazlett termed it the “Angelina effect.” Jolie has so shifted the public’s expectations of celebrities that extravagance that was once expected and accepted is now seen as unseemly. The public largely forgives Jolie her multiple nannies and a formidable swarm of bodyguards as a balance against her role as a U.N. goodwill ambassador.
“When you read the things she’s done and then you see another celebrity who’s got three friends holding all her shopping bags, it looks bad,” Hazlett said.
For stars like Jolie, traveling en masse is more necessity than vanity. Even veteran paparazzo Frank Griffin concedes that. He says that when there are 50 photographers assigned to your life, as is the case with Jolie and Pitt, how else would a celebrity manage if not for a team of bodyguards and nannies? And maybe even a “stick car” or two trailing their caravan to fend off aggressive paparazzi?
Of course, there are hazards that come with big entourages -- the more possibilities for dirty laundry to be leaked for a price. “People have been so burned by their entourages that you don’t know who’s selling you out,” said a publicist from an L.A. boutique agency that handles celebrity events. “Before blogs, before people could have immediate access, I would say it was a little more safe to travel with an entourage.”
Aside from image, though, entourages are expensive, particularly when a movie studio is footing the bill. Generally, the on-set entourage -- a nomadic bunch of professionals not to be confused with the club-hopping hangers-on who surround a star in daily life -- is the most costly of all. But as movie profit margins shrink, only the top-tier box office stars are indulged. And some of those A-listers are also sharing in movie profits, so they’re less apt to bloat the budget with extravagant “asks” -- such as flying friends and stylists and yoga instructors to press junkets or premieres.
All this means that the B- and C-listers are forced to scale back as well.
“You’re not hearing from middle-level celebrities with outrageous requests as much as you used to,” said one studio executive. “The middle used to ask you for crazy and with an entitled attitude about it -- a private plane, flying a stylist, a makeup person, an assistant to New York to do ‘Letterman’ or a press junket. It’s just harder to win at the box office, and it feels like talent and those representing them understand that.”
So although Matthew McConaughey still got his hair colorist, makeup artist, personal assistant, trainer and personal chef on the set of 2005’s “Sahara” -- an entourage that cost more than $500,000 for 90 days -- costar Rainn Wilson got none of those perks and earned just $45,000 for 10 weeks’ work.
“A lot of people who were in the entourages sometimes have bigger demands than the celebrity,” said MAC cosmetics makeup artist Gregory R. Arlt, whose clients include Pamela Anderson and Fran Drescher. “For instance, my rate has come into question when we have to pay for the hairstylist who wants to bring their assistant on the plane.”
One recent turning point, said Hazlett, was Morgan Creek Productions Chief Executive James G. Robinson’s fiery letter last summer to Lohan, blasting her for acting like “a spoiled child” on his company’s production, “Georgia Rule.”
When Lohan went to rehab a few months later, she got even more flack from celebrity media for bringing along a manicurist, a massage therapist and a hairdresser.
“I felt like it sent a message to a lot of A-listers and to people hovering in the middle,” said Hazlett, “that this gig is up.”