“You look so familiar” : what it’s like to get recognized

I recently got an email asking me about the “recognizing thing.”

I get this question a lot, so I thought I would answer it here. People want to know if it still happens (yes, but not as much as it used to) and if I hate it (hate is a terribly strong word. I hate bigotry and raisins. I don’t hate getting recognized).

But most people say something like “I don’t get it – is it invasive if someone just comes up to say hello?”

The answer is no, it doesn’t make me angry or upset or annoyed – it’s nothing that simple or dramatic.

It makes me kind of embarrassed. It makes me shy. It makes me awkward. (Okay, more awkward.)

It’s never something I got accustomed to, so every time someone approaches me, I’m surprised. I worry that:

  • I’m going to say something stupid to you
  • you are going to see the pimple on my nose
  • I’ll try to be funny and I’ll just be odd
  • I’ll make a goofy face in the selfie we just took and that you’ll have that forever
  • the friend that I am with – who is a nice, normal non-Hollywood mother of two – feels weird about me getting recognized and is now laughing uncomfortably and looking for an escape route

I never feel like I should be…human. People tend to call me by my character name and I feel the pressure to live up to whatever they thought Lydia/Alicia/Sandra/whoever should be. And should I be who they were at age fourteen? Or am I supposed be a projection of who those fictional characters would be in her mid-thirties? See? It’s complicated.

And then I get the people who think we went to high school together. They are absolutely convinced and won’t let it go. And then I never know what to do, because I can’t say, “maybe you know me from movies” –  without looking like a self-obsessed-Troy-McClure-jerk.

So, no, I don’t find it invasive when someone just comes up to say hi. I find it flustering, just in the same way that I get flustered when someone at Whole Foods asks if I need help finding anything – I’m just not skilled at talking to strangers. (See: introvert.)

To be honest, what happens most often is something much more tricky to manage. It’s staring. It’s whispering. It’s pointing. It’s attempted incognito photo-taking. And I’ve never known what to do about that, so I just try to sit there and not feel too much like a zoo animal.

“Hey…you look like that girl…”

And then there is the really icky stuff – the stuff that started when I was a teenager and made me feel non-human to begin with. There is the feeling of being treated like a commodity and not a real person, like when someone yells “Hey, Doubtfire Girl!” across a room at me.

There is the lack of boundaries and demands of things I’m not willing to do, like the man who approached me at a hotel pool when I was sixteen and wanted me to take a photo with him in my bathing suit. When I asked him to please wait until I could put some clothes on, he said I needed to do it now because, “You’re an actor. You owe it to me.”

I could tell you lots of stories like that – several more appear in my book. I wouldn’t say it’s common, but it happens, and it hurts.  So, now I have the moment of feeling on guard, wondering if it’s going to happen again.

When someone says they just don’t understand how getting recognized could be anything other than fun – I get that. When it happens in movies it looks fun. I am grateful that people want to express their appreciation for something that I have done. That’s lovely. But the attention and the feeling of being not-quite-human was never something that I was comfortable with. It was one of the many reasons for my retirement.

So, if you see me somewhere, you are absolutely welcome to come say hello. And if you want to help make me feel more human and comfortable about the whole thing – just ask about my dog or tell me about yours.

As long as you understand that I will totally make you look at photos of Grace on my phone.


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50 Replies to ““You look so familiar” : what it’s like to get recognized”

  1. Great explanation of why so many “famous” people can be perceived as being rude when approached in public. I’ve always been bothered by the worship our society has for actors and singers and athletes and question whether those who go into those roles really do have to give up their privacy because they have. Your post explains that what the public perceives as rudeness might just be wariness and caution instead. Thanks for sharing this.

      1. This sentence explains my life everyday.
        It’s always good to know I’m not the only introvert, because many are this who make you feel as though you are “wrong” to be who you are.

  2. Great piece. Great photo too … I put in a 22 hr day yesterday and suddenly going for one of those beers sounds like a great plan. 🙂 I’ve never been ‘famous’ but have at times been recognizable. It is that thing that you catch out of the corner of your eye, people pointing, whispering from a booth or table across the room and you know it is going on but you have to keep talking to your friend like it isn’t. As you mention, the person coming up ‘knowing you’ and you taking 30 secs to search your memory to see if you actually have met and should know them before treating them like a total stranger. I can’t wait to read your book! I hope you keep up the blog posts while promoting it. I seriously love this blog. Have a great week!

    1. Thank you so much! I love how people with different backgrounds can relate – I’ve heard teachers often say this is a problem for them, too. It’s always good to know we are not alone! (Hope you got that beer….)

  3. I’ve worked with many people in the public eye (actors, athletes, politicians, musicians and authors). I provided either security for an event (playing the bad guy role) or just provide a barrier from obsessed fans. I’ve noticed the more human you treat them, the more welcoming they are. My advice to people when you see someone famous is to not act crazy asking for autographs or selfies, just say hi and give them a sense of normalcy 😃
    Hope I make sense and didn’t ramble

  4. Hi Lisa,
    As much as I love Mrs. Doubtfire & Independence Day I’m so glad that you became a writer. I discovered your blog last year & have so enjoyed each post because, as an introvert with social anxiety issues, I can really relate to each one. You have a wonderful ability to connect with your readers. I could actually FEEL your discomfort with what inevitably transpires AFTER you’ve been recognized as I read your piece. For those of us who also deal with social awkwardness it is very comforting to know we aren’t alone. I feel validated & inspired when I read your columns & can’t wait to get your book. Cause if that beautiful, talented actress girl can feel that way then it must be ok for plain, old me. If your book tour brings you to the Dallas or Oklahoma City areas, maybe we can get that goofy selfie together! Blessings to you.

  5. This is an honest take on being recognized! Humble and modest, it speaks volumes about the kind of person you are! I can see that you are destined for great things in life with the kind of attitude you bear towards success in life! I would like to wish you the best in your endeavours in life.

  6. Lisa, your blog is a bright spot every time you post! You have become such an accomplished author who expresses what you think with grace and finesse. I also have an adult daughter who you remind me very much of with respect to your ability to write, your sense of self, and your apprehensions about many things in life as they relate to “putting yourself out there!” Also, she is a dog-lover extraordinaire, very shy, and blessed with a loving husband and a family and small group of carefully chosen friends who “get her.” Though she is not an actress, you have both traveled a similar path of learning about yourselves – and it is ongoing (as most of our paths are in one way or another). I just love reading your words and they fill me with understanding, hope, humor, and peace. Thank you! Cheryl (daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, friend, volunteer)

  7. I once had a mild panic attack at a David Sederis book signing, after he asked me what I did that day. I remember heaving and starting to cry. So awful. He gave me that “dear god why do I have to sign books and deal with idiots like her” look. This only sort of relates to your post, but thought you might enjoy it none the less. Hope all is well, Lisa!

    1. I would TOTALLY have a panic attack in front of David Serdaris. (Sorry that it happened, but it makes for a great story….)

  8. This is why I am a fan of yours. You seem eminently approachable and down to earth. I won’t speak on behalf of anyone other than myself, but to me, that’s a big deal. I have met my share of celebrities, be they actors or athletes, and it is always a pleasant surprise to me when they act like they are actually happy to interact with their fans.

    1. Lisa, I promise if I ever see you in person (and I would be very honored to), I will make you feel comfortable by asking about your dog. And I would love if you showed me pictures of him on your phone. I can also show you pics of my little doggie on my phone

      1. My pleasure, and if our paths ever do cross, we can swap stories about your hometown (I’ve been there many, many times), about dogs (I’m a proud rescue owner), and animal welfare (I’m on the executive board of a local animal shelter)! 🙂

  9. I’d love to run into you someday and talk about dogs. That’s pretty much what I talk about most days anyway 🙂

  10. …and what, pray tell, has spawned your hatred of raisins? They’re both tasty and non-threatening. Does your hatred extend to other dried fruit? We need to get into this! 😉

  11. That dude who demanded you to take a pic in your bathing suit with him sounds like a douche & a massive creeper. It made me smile when I read “I’m just not skilled at talking to strangers” *high five*

  12. I am a person living with a genetic physical difference and so I can relate when you talked about the whispering, pointing and incognito photo-taking. People think they’re being so surreptitious but I don’t think they realise how obvious they ARE! I’ve often wondered if this is what it kind of feels like to be a celebrity or star, so when I see someone notable in the street – say, an actor or celebrity – I just smile if we catch each others eye and keep moving on. I kind of think they’d like their privacy – just as I do!

    Love your blog by the way! 🙂

    1. Thank you so much! You’re right, I don’t think people know how obvious they are. When I went to college – one of the first people who befriended me was a girl who used a wheelchair. She said “Hey, people stare at you, too.” When we hung out together – people didn’t know who to look at more!

  13. Great piece, Lisa! Eugh, that guy at the pool sounds horrible!! Can’t believe the cheek of some people! If ever I encounter awkward silences during conversations with friends, strangers and family, I always reach for my trusty phone and proudly flick through photos of Jasmine our cat whether they like it or not…My favourite is her in a cardigan that we put on her (which she loved!), always a good ice breaker and talking point. Everybody needs a cat in a cardigan! 🙂

  14. I always thought people had a lot of nerve. Not just with celebrities and actors, but with people in general. A few years ago, I sang a solo with my local choir, and afterwards, this man came up to me, complimented me, and I thought that was that, but he wouldn’t let it go. I tried to leave, but he kept following me, and it was weird and a little threatening. Luckily, my dad was in choir with me, and we left shortly after, but still. People are WEIRD.
    If I did see you out in a restaurant or something, I’d love to look at your dog. And I would totally show you pics of my cat.
    Side note: I just watched Beautician and the Beast the other day, and while critics think it might not be the best of movies, it’s one of those that makes me laugh. 🙂

    1. You are absolutely right – people can be very strange. And I’m so glad you enjoyed Beautician! It is a silly little movie, but it’s the reason that I met my husband, so I’ll always have a soft spot for that one.

  15. even though the chances are slim to none. I would love to meet you. I’ve been following you here for a while and occasionally write a comment here or FB. I think you are a very sweet and kind person and I’d love to meet you. If you ever decide to come to Nashville, Tn. please let me know. I’d love to be your guide.
    Take care

  16. If I ever do see you anywhere, I will most definitely come up and say hello, and it’s almost a positive that I will briefly mention “Mrs. Doubtfire” because it is and always will be one of my favorite films. But you’re so much more than that, you’re a fantastic writer and that’s what I’ll mention (as long as I am not taking up any of your time). I enjoy reading your writing, even if it does sometimes get lost in my backed up inbox. You’re a fantastic writer and so much more than “that woman who used to be an actress” to me.

  17. I admire loads of actors/singers and have fortunately met many of them. I always try to be as polite as posible and not make them uncomfortable. I don’t feel they owe nothing to me other than their craft. Them being polite is expected, but nothing else. Some people think that because they watch the movies that actor made or listen to their music they HAVE to spend time talking to you, take a zillion pictures or give them something back. I don’t like that our culture is that way.
    You explained really well what it feels like from the other side.
    I’m an actress as well, but haven’t done any jobs that would get me recognized hahaha yet at least.
    It was lovely to read you!

  18. Dear Lisa,

    I might have been one of this semi-pushy types that would ask for an autograph if I ever met you out in the world. And having found your blog, and LOVING it, I now know you are an introvert. So I would not bum rush you at all now! I am a closet ham, so I will admit I would fanboy a bit about your previous career. That would take about 20 seconds. I would than fanboy over this blog. I really enjoy it. A lot!

    So, I would take a more gentle approach if we ever met. It would be just a simple, Hello Ms Jakub, sorry to bother you, I love your blog, once I get done all the reading for my job, i plan to buy your book. Might I bother you for a quick autograph? I don’t want to intrude on your day too much. And have you ever seen a cat turn into a question mark?

    And we would go from there. My goal would be to pay you compliments, get an autograph that I could frame and hang on my wall. And then let you go on with your day.

    Thank you for sharing the slices of your life and thoughts with us here, your fans.

    Say hi to Grace from a dog loving cat guy 🙂

  19. I have never heard of you before.
    I saw Mrs, Doubtfire, but I did not like it much, neither did I care for his other movies.
    It’s interesting that Google had your page as #1 result for “Wish you the best in your endeavours in life.”

  20. It happens to other people too. One time I was in a grocery store and thought I knew a girl I went to school with. I went up to her and gushed about how long it had been since we’d seen each other and tried some small talk to get her involved. She was nice and smiled with a confused look on her face and tried hard to remember me but you could see that it just wasn’t coming. As I walked away, i realized that she wasn’t the person I had known; she only resembled her and I just cringed inside. I felt really stupid and wondered if she was still racking her brain trying to figure out who I was!

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