How to Talk to a Celebrity on Vacation

While flying home from Costa Rica in 1992, Michael Brein spotted actor Gerard Depardieu sitting across the aisle. The actor had just finished some filming for the movie “1492: Conquest of Paradise” and was settling in for the trip back to Miami.

Brein, an author and travel psychologist, decided to approach Depardieu “by opening my passport and showing him a couple of unusual stamps I had of animals of Ecuador that I got officials to stamp in my passport upon entering [the] Galapagos. I said, ‘I’ll bet you’ve been to a lot of places but don’t have stamps like these in your passport.’” The actor “looked, laughed and offered me a glass of wine” and introduced Brein to a crewmember on the flight and pointed out others. “I don’t remember much of or what other conversation ensued,” Brein says, “but it was very pleasant and friendly.”

Then there was the time several years ago when travel blogger Beth Blair, then a flight attendant for a major airline, encountered author Tom Clancy, who she says “was a typical polite passenger,” up until the moment one of Blair’s fellow flight attendants approached the author and asked him to review a script he wrote. “I warned him not to do it,” Blair says of her coworker. “Let’s just say the query wasn’t accepted very well.”

While Blair found many of the celebrities she met over the years to be cordial -- especially those not badgered to give notes on unpublished masterpieces -- her overall impression is that the celebs “are not as excited to see you as you are to see them.” Brein has gleaned from his and other travelers’ celebrity encounters that “the best results were when people acted normal and natural but friendly, warm, and inquisitive without being forced or overbearing, and when both parties were in a shared circumstance that enabled relatively unforced dialogue.” Brein admits his opening with Depardieu was unusual, “but it did work as an ice-breaker for me.” If your travels put you in proximity to a celebrity and you’re determined to break the ice, here are some other things to keep in mind.

Tell Carmen Electra she deserves better

During a girlfriend getaway in Vegas, Katie Fish saw model /actress Carmen Electra in a hotel bathroom. “Carmen was crying and saying something about Dennis [Rodman] making her sad.” About an hour later when she and her friend spotted Electra in the casino VIP gaming area watching Rodman “from afar” playing blackjack, Fish says “I approached her and told her, ‘You deserve better and you deserve to be happy when you are in Vegas.’ She thought it was sweet and happily smiled for a photo with both of us and her gal pal. We told her she looked great, chatted with her gal pal about her cowboy hat and we parted ways with smiles.”

Apologize, compliment, fist bump

Having met several celebs while living in Vegas, Scott Hardy came up with a routine for approaching celebrities that he found worked in almost every case. “If you want to meet them, walk calmly up to them, wait for a break in conversation, and introduce yourself. Always apologize for interrupting if they’re with a friend,” he says. After saying sorry, briefly introduce yourself, offer a compliment, and in lieu of a handshake - “shaking hands might be icky for both parties,” Hardy suggests - offer to do a fist bump with the celebrity. Several of these steps came together when Hardy met actor David Spade in Arizona a few weeks ago. Hardy did “a quick ‘I’m sorry for interrupting David, I just wanted to say I’m a big fan and keep doing what you do best. You crack me up.’ [Spade] said ‘Thanks bro! I appreciate it’ [and then we] did a quick fist bump” and parted ways.

Hang back and see if others crash and burn

Fish admits that in an attempt to engage a celebrity she may, as an icebreaker, “use a girlfriend who is dressed fancy or a friend who I know will act like an idiot and I can come in to ‘save’ the situation.” But perhaps a more sensible approach is to watch the celebrity “carefully for a few minutes before approaching them to see how they respond to other fans. They may appear annoyed or hopefully enjoying the attention. Go in for the autograph, photo, or personal chat if you see the opening.”

Blair concurs about hanging back for a few minutes, especially on an airplane when everyone is already slightly uncomfortable about being part of a captive audience. “Passengers need to take a clue and follow the celebrity’s demeanor on whether they’re open to signing autographs or shaking your hand. While working as a flight attendant, Blair met actor Neil Patrick Neil Harris “who was extremely cordial. He handled the attention and whispers well. He was very classy and acknowledged fans with a nod and ‘how are you doing’ but he certainly had his professional hat on.”

Be pretty and witty with Warren Beatty

For a celebrity encounter to go smoothly, you as the non-celebrity “should be young and beautiful,” suggests Diana Mara Henry. “This was my case, when I stepped into an elevator at the Plaza Athénée in Paris and found myself alone with Warren Beatty. As I tried to shore myself up under the shockwave of charisma and sex appeal, I heard him say ‘Your face is familiar.’ I answered, ‘So is yours.’ What do you think happened next? We smiled, the elevator doors opened  -- we had only met on the 3rd floor going down -- et voilà! Our charming encounter was over, but it is still a thrill to revisit it, 40 years later.”

Commiserate about bad service

While at another Vegas hotel Fish encountered “Growing Pains” star Alan Thicke as he was leaving the men’s room. “I simply approached him and told him his TV show was a big part of my childhood. I also told him I noticed he and I had the same VIP waitress who was horrible. He laughed and told me that [was] why he and his manager were leaving.” On the basis of that connection, Fish got the actor to pose for a photo with her, though curiously, Thicke’s manager insisted on appearing in the picture, too.

If things go sour, decide how badly you want to close the deal

Don’t be scared when approaching a celebrity, Hardy says. “The worst thing that can happen if you politely say hello is they tell you to scram,” he says. “That’s happened to me, but only once or twice. For the most part, as long as you’re polite, they’ll spend 30 seconds speaking with you and then you can move on.” But what happens when the signals aren’t immediately clear? Trip Chicks tour guide Ann Lombardi was vacationing in New York in summer 1997 when she spotted tennis great Boris Becker on Park Avenue. “I'd recognize that reddish blond hair and chiseled thighs anywhere,” Lombardi recalls, though she managed to contain her excitement and “take a low-key approach. After clearing my throat, in my best German I said calmly, "It's an honor to meet you in person, Mr. Becker.” She went on to ask for an autograph, declaring herself a longtime fan.

“There was an uneasy pause,” Lombardi says, followed by Becker “grumbling ‘Na und?’ That roughly translates to ‘Yeah, so what?’ Unwavering, I fished around in my purse. Then I handed him a felt-tipped pen and the only piece of paper handy, a crumpled department store receipt. "Vielen Dank, Mr. Becker," I smiled confidently. Without a word, a frowning Boris Becker hastily penned his name, tossed the paper and pen on the sidewalk, and jogged off. I forgave his bad mood. After all, shortly before our chance meeting, Becker had lost to Pete Sampras at Wimbledon.”

One more thing about trying for that photo or autograph: do say something complimentary or quasi-meaningful. “I’ve seen passengers simply approach celebrities with a cocktail napkin or piece of paper and ask for an autograph without any conversation,” Blair says. “It reminds me of adult trick-or-treating.” And please, say several sources, if you are requesting an autograph, have you own pen handy.