Movie News & Reviews

Rich Copley: A kiss-of-death utterance for celebrities: 'Do you know who I am?'

After their April 19 arrests in Atlanta, her for disorderly  conduct and him for driving under the influence, actress Reese  Witherspoon and husband James Toth posed for mug shots.
After their April 19 arrests in Atlanta, her for disorderly conduct and him for driving under the influence, actress Reese Witherspoon and husband James Toth posed for mug shots. AP

My job often involves getting celebrities to talk to me, not to tell them what they shouldn't say. But were I ever in the position to tell a celebrity how to conduct himself or herself in public, I know there is one six-word phrase I would tell them to never, ever, ever, ever say.

In fact, I would advise him or her to train to have an involuntary gag reflex if the words were about to be uttered, so as not to be relegated permanently to a subset of Hollywood infamy.

Because our beloved commonwealth will be crawling with celebs this week for the Kentucky Derby, I will dispense this piece of advice:

Never let these words, or any variation of them, slip from your lips: "Do you know who I am?"

It will never turn out well.

Even if you are Rihanna, who was about to be kicked out of a London club last summer until she invoked the phrase and ended up getting to stay and enjoy free drinks the rest of the evening. The initial positive outcome will still sour in this TMZ world, where every slip of the tongue goes viral. It is difficult, if not impossible, to utter that self-aggrandizing phrase without coming across as a conceited twit.

The latest celebrity to learn this lesson is America's sweetheart, Oscar-winning actress Reese Witherspoon, who reportedly asked a police officer, "Do you know my name?" — a variation of "Do you know who I am?" — while being arrested in Atlanta, where she is filming a movie.

Witherspoon and her husband, agent Jim Toth, were pulled over April 19 on suspicion of drunken driving. Toth was at the wheel, but Witherspoon reportedly became increasingly agitated as Toth was put through a sobriety test and arrested.

According to the arrest report, Witherspoon told the officer, "You're about to find out who I am" and, "You are going to be on national news," as she was being arrested for disorderly conduct.

To Witherspoon's credit, she has apologized and said she clearly was in the wrong; she has a agreed to a pretrial program to keep the arrest off her official record.

The thing is, her admittedly drunken behavior is now permanently on the public, if not official, record. She will have some work to do to convince fans that the real Reese is not the one who tried to invoke her privileged status when things got tense.

Celebrities at all levels make millions of dollars and achieve lauded status because people pay to see and hear their work.

But fans never want to know that you believe the hype, that you think you are as great as they say you are. It really irritates people when you cop that attitude on police officers, who make a lot less money than movie stars doing a job for which they sometimes get shot. In most cases, those saying, "Do you know who I am?" are talking to someone whose life is less lucrative and more difficult than theirs.

And really, we're much more charmed when you presume we don't know who you are. Case in point: At the first Barnstable-Brown Derby Eve Gala I covered, a gentleman came up to me, extended his hand and said, "Robert Duvall," as if I didn't recognize the esteemed, Oscar-winning actor.

In an Internet age where most viral video is humiliating, we were charmed last summer with a clip of a young musician on the subway talking to an older woman who clearly didn't know he was megamogul Jay-Z, and he didn't presume she did. The equity in the situation was obvious when it was revealed the woman, artist Ellen Grossman, is famous in her own right.

So yes, while Kentucky doesn't rub right up next to New York or L.A., we do know who most stars worth knowing are. But if you are here, don't presume that we do, particularly if you're being arrested.

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