Last week, a documentary directed and presented by Tom Felton (our beloved Draco Malfoy) aired on BBC Three: Tom Felton Meets the Superfans.
As an actor who is relatively used to get a lot of attention from fans, he decided to try get into the mind of the “superfans”: those who wait hours on end for an autograph or a picture, or the cos-players who put a lot of effort into dressing up as their favourite characters.
I thought the documentary was very interesting, in the sense that we don’t usually have the perspective of the celebrities. Sure, we know that paparazzi annoy the hell out of them, but what of the fans? Are they annoyed by the attention? Do they revel in it? And what do the fans try to get out of it? Why do they go to such lengths to approach a celebrity?
The celebrity angle
Now this is new. From celebrities, we often hear “I have the best fans in the world” or “Nothing could be possible without my fans”, etc. But it is always said in a context that does not feel very genuine, like a promo tour or something. And what are they going to say anyway? “Ugh, if only I could shake those little shits, my life would be so much easier”? I don’t think so.
The way I understand it, the idea of this documentary came to Felton when Tina, a fan that has been following him and showing up at every event he attends, waited 4 hours in the cold just to give him a card to say that she was sorry for the passing of his dog (if you follow Tom Felton on Instagram, you know that he loved his dog Timber and that her death affected him a lot). This led him to think “Why does she do that? What does she want from me?”. And then ensued the documentary.
In the film, Felton reaches out to his friends and former co-stars Rupert Grint and Daniel Radcliffe, who had a very similar experience, getting fans from a very young age. All three of them agreed on the fact that if they meet a fan, they have a very hard time saying no to a picture or an autograph, they are aware of the impact that they may have had because of the Harry Potter films, and they feel a responsibility to be there for the audience of those movies. They also make a very clear distinction between the fans of the movies, and people who are obsessed with a single individual —which instantly becomes not okay when it resembles stalking.
While these guys says that they have a hard time turning down people who want a picture or an autograph, not all celebrities are like that, and I witnessed it first hand. I went to see a play in London once in which Patrick Stewart played an old Shakespeare. At the end of the representation a couple of people waited for him to get his autograph. There were barely 10 of us, but he kept his head down and never stopped walking while signing autographs. When a man tried to take his picture, he stopped and very seriously told him “Do not ever do that again! Do not take my picture!”. It was very weird, we were still in the theatre. I absolutely understand people not wanting to be stalked in the street, and I honestly don’t know if would ever dare to come up to a celebrity on the street asking for a picture, but when you do a play, or attend a movie premiere or something, I feel like it is still part of your job, and the fans are a part of the job to some extent. In the same vein, I went to see Zach Braff’s play in London as well, and after the representation, he came out to greet the fans that stayed to meet him and he signed autographs and took pictures with everyone who waited for him, saying thank you for coming to see the play and waiting for him even though it was freezing.
The fan angle
Now this also made me rethink what kind of a fan I am. Because yes, I am fan, of films, actors, tv shows, etc. But if I often joke that I am a “groupie”, I don’t think that is the proper term to describe me, and I don’t know that I am a “superfan” as Tom Felton intends either.
In the documentary, when Tom goes and meets the “superfans”, he tries to understand what motivates them. Often, they are people uncomfortable in their own skins, who have been bullied or suffered mental disorders, etc. And then I tried to put this into perspective with my own experiences.
The very thing I remember being a fan of is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. My room was covered in posters. I guess at the time I was around 10-13. And why did I connect with this? Me, a little girl who was afraid of everything, but yet had no problem watching vampires and demons on tv. Now that I think about it, I think it was because Buffy, in spite of being the slayer, was just a regular girl that you could meet on the street, but she was strong, she stood up for herself, she had friends, she went through difficult times and managed to get back up on her feet. She was everything I aspired to be but was too afraid to even try. Junior high was a really tough times for me, and unconsciously (at the time) identifying myself with Buffy every Saturday night was my relief. I imagined myself being bad-ass, able to kick anyone’s butt, the vampires were the bullies of my school and the demons the teachers who terrified me.
Today, I am much older, but I still find relief in being a fan, whether it be a film, a tv show, an actor or singer…
Lately, I’ve had a thing for Emma Stone. Once I sent by best friend a picture of Emma Stone, saying “I want to be her”, and she took it very first-degree, answering “But why? Why be her? Don’t you want to maybe just be friends with her or something?”. I sensed that my wording of “I want to be her” troubled her. In the same way that we say we are “obsessed” with something or someone, we often forget the actual meaning of the word, and don’t realise that we use words that are too strong compared to what we actually mean, and the people who are in the “fangirl/boy” realm don’t always understand. I like Emma Stone because I admire her. She is only a year older than I am, but she is successful, recognised for her work, respected, she is confident and comfortable in her own skin, and she has a very friendly personality, she knows what she wants and was not afraid of taking chances to follow her dreams. Everything I am not but would love to be. So I guess that is why I like her (plus she’s a very talented actress and I like seeing her in movies).
I guess as a fan, when you wait for a celebrity to have your picture taken with them or have their autograph, in a way you want that celebrity to acknowledge the fact that you are a fan of theirs, that you support their work, and that in some way or another, they mean something to you.
Let’s also not forget that nowadays we live in a “selfie” society, where everything we do has to be documented for the world to see. I am guilty of that, I just showed you the few pictures I managed to grab with some actors, and I didn’t have to, but I’m proud of those pictures (even though I don’t look my best on them).
To me, being a fan of a book/movie/tv show/universe is taking comfort in a fantasy over which you have no control. You do not pull the strings of it, and the stress of a situation or a decision is removed; while making your own choices in life can often be scary and overwhelming. It also allows you to identify with characters that have abilities and characteristics that you wish you had for yourself.
Being a fan of a person (actor, singer, director, etc.) is different. Being a visual person, I have a certain sensibility for actors or directors because I can see their art in a concrete way. I am a fan of Tom Hanks because seeing him in a movie is always an incredible experience, performances like Philadelphia or Forrest Gump move me and make me believe in those characters. Back in the day, I was amazed at what Heath Ledger did in The Dark Knight; more recently, I was blown away by Miles Teller in Whiplash or Emma Stone in Birdman. I become a fan of the actor/the performer before everything else. I try to watch more of their work to see what they can do. And then, like in the case of Emma Stone, I see interviews, appearances in talk shows, etc. and I realise that this person is really cool. I do read the “trivia” page on IMDb, but I don’t do extensive research to know the name of their dog, their favourite restaurant, or where they live, etc.
Would I wait to get a picture or an autograph? Sure! I’ve done it when I had the opportunity. Would I like to meet some of the people I admire? Of course! I’d love to talk movies with them.
What are your thoughts on this matter? Do you have any? What kind of fan do you consider yourself to be? Tell me everything; I want to know.