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Fangirl Flailing: 8 stories of getting stuck while starstruck

This weekend I saw Baby Driver, a film about the importance of grace in your chosen art form and doing the right thing. So it seems appropriate to tell you about the one conversation I will ever have with Edgar Wright — the director of the film and of my heart since Spaced —during which I veered so abruptly into an avenue of questioning so personal that he had to bow his head and take a minute before answering.

But first, some humbling examples of my lifelong lack of tact whilst interacting with celebrities:

As a young theater intern, I helped escort Richard Schiff, aka Toby from The West Wing, on a TV and radio tour for a month. Although he humanly embodied Oscar the Grouch in his unflagging commitment to grumpiness, I itched to tell him how much I enjoyed his bummer of a one-man Eugene O’Neill show. So, I waited for the opening night party, steeled myself with two drinks, and beseeched him to pose for a picture with my roommate, which he begrudgingly did. But when my incessant stream of tipsy praise failed to evaporate, he stone-cold scowled at me and Irish Goodbyed without a word.

One evening as a moronic college student loopy off all-nighters and vending machine coffee, I slunk in late to a comedy show by @jakeandamir, the funniest writers at College Humor. My friend had been saving me a seat in the front row, and I had the gall to accept it, for which they rightly roasted me. True to form, I was first to arrive at Jake and Amir’s post-show meet-and-greet, empty-handed with questions. So instead of apologizing and asking them to divulge the secret formula to comedy sketch writing, I initiated some banter with them about the quality of the cookies at the college club-sponsored refreshment table. They were very good sports about the whole thing, and took a crumby picture with me anyway.

During my last year at UVA, I spent a whole day staking out the perfect spot to hear my role model Tina Fey speak in a stone amphitheater about her artistic influences. When the time finally came, she referred to Caryl Churchill — an excellent postmodern feminist playwright who was well-known to me and maybe three other people in the audience — as her idol. Rather than shouting a witty theater joke or leveraging the reference into a chance to meet her personally, I made a loud “whooping” sound, to which Tina responded over her microphone, and escaped the amphitheater after the show without meet-and-greets.

After witnessing the most impressive stand-up comedy set of my life, in which @birbigs spun seamless tales of triumph and woe about his harrowing experiences as a hypochondriac, I decided to dig out from my backpack the flu vaccine waiver I had received at the doctor’s office earlier that day. I was sure that asking Mike Birbiglia to autograph it would instantly endear him to me. In fact, he signed and returned the paper expeditiously with as minimal tactile and eye contact as possible.

While living on Capitol Hill, I accidentally stumbled across a National Book Festival booth populated by Margaret E. Atwood, the greatest feminist speculative fiction writer of all time. But instead of joining her book signing line and asking her for the secret to clairvoyance, I just took creeper photos of her from 10 yards away until she suddenly felt sapped of the energy to sign books and left the full line hanging to take a nap.

On assignment to promote a celebrity climate change concert in D.C., I seized several opportunities to watch @duttypaul vape up close while publicly blaming global warming for his asthma (not the vaping). But instead of posing the hard questions, like whether “Temperature” was really inspired by the melting polar ice caps, I just smiled and nodded while Sean Paul described his addictions to the feeling of instant hand sanitizer and the taste of matcha frappuccinos until he got tired of talking and went to vape some more.

Regret spans to inaction as well: After attending an “Evening with Kevin Spacey” fundraiser during which Jeff Goldblum and @KevinSpacey teamed up to riff jazz songs about dinosaurs, I made no attempt to wait by the backstage door to meet the powerhouses behind American Beauty and Jurassic Park, even though I knew the crew and shortcuts of the theater.

So you can say that I’ve squandered a fair share of opportunities to wring wisdom from the most formidably artistic mind-sponges of our time.

Which brings us back to Edgar.

When my friend Brittany Matter and I learned that Edgar Wright would be attending the geek mecca of D.C. known as Awesome Con, we immediately entered the lottery to win tickets to meet him. Both of us interview fascinating people for a living, so one would think we would have had our ten-second question opportunities on lock. All that day, Brittany strategized about what she could ask the genre-bending mastermind writer/director behind Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and other whip-smart original comedies. I, by contrast, did nothing but fangirl flail during the countdown to meet my favorite director of all time.

So, when Brittany got the chance to meet Edgar, she asked him something incredibly thoughtful:

“Could you please explain your process for honing story pitches to T.V. studios?”

To which Edgar frowned and replied with sincere regret in his perfect British accent:

“I’m sorry, I don’t know how to answer that. I don’t really pitch.”

Disaster was imminent! Seeing that any inquiry of artistic gravity could fail, and pining to give Edgar a win, I shifted my panicked brain into gear and lobbed a query that I hoped no one had ever asked him before:

“Here’s an easier question: WHAT is your favorite CHEESE?!”

And it worked. Edgar’s face cracked into a smile, and as he bent his head to chuckle softly, his dark locks fell across his face, giving him a moment of privacy. He looked up, brushing his hair away, and pondered carefully before answering in a matter-of-fact tone:

“Red Leicester.”

Now, those who know me well can testify to my ravenous obsession with the full fromage menagerie. I thought myself a cheese connoisseur of sorts. But I had never before in my life heard of this cheese! He cheese-stumped me! So I asked him to repeat.

“RED. LESS-TIR!” he fairly shouted.

Clueless, I gave him the “okay” symbol, squeaked “Good choice!” in a mousy voice, and skittered away with his autograph to Google the cheese.

My friend Janetta, who has lived in England and knows all facts of import, informed me that “Red Leicester is a solid, dependable sort of cheese” similar to Cheddar and that she “can appreciate that choice instead of a flashier Brie or Gouda.”

So, for the first time in my fangirl life, a connection with a celebrity yielded a revelation of value! I finally learned something profound and integral to my artist hero’s identity, passions, and character, without making them want to flee the premises. My wish was granted.

Here are three additional characterization nuggets about Edgar Wright that Brittany and I gobbled up during his Q&A with Felicia Day at the private preview of his new movie:

During the filming of Baby Driver, Edgar often strapped himself to the hood of the stunt car to direct over a megaphone, because the radios kept cutting out on the Atlanta freeway. Per Jamie Foxx, whenever the car tossed Edgar airborne in his harness while yelling the word “Intense!” to encourage Ansel Elgort’s “Clockwork Orange Face,” Edgar took on the semblance of “sunburnt, floppy muppet.”

Edgar never set out to link the Cornetto Trilogy to each other, but after the ice cream company had sent a gargantuan order of free Cornettos to the opening night party of Shaun of the Dead for casually including their product in one shot, he decided to sneak references into Hot Fuzz and The World’s End as well, in hopes of stockpiling more free ice cream. As Edgar put it, “This tells you a lot about my ambitions as an artist.”

While he often sports a sapphire blazer during public appearances, Edgar draws inspiration from the fashions of Harrison Ford in George Lucas’ Star Wars movies. As told by Edgar, “That man can really rock a space blouse.”

Looking back on all of my brushes with celebrities, I regret none of bungles or the flailing. Because even though I didn’t convince anyone to mentor me, I like to believe that I brought a diversion, or perhaps even an anecdote, into these artists’ lives. Stories mean the world to me, so if I can bring a smile to someone else’s story, then I spent my time here wisely. And, if one day I too create something that brings people joy, I promise to disclose my favorite cheese to every single one of my fans.

This post was edited my hyper-cool friends Brittany Matter and Janetta McKenzie!