Adrian Grenier turns heads.
The tousel-haired actor with cool blue bedroom eyes regularly glowers out of sexiest men spreads in magazines, has a hit television show and has proven his directing chops behind the camera. Playing an A-List actor in Entourage, Grenier's character Vinnie lives the luxurious life of excess of a Hollywood star. He and his mates can arrive at any exclusive nightspots and swoop past the velvet rope ahead of queues on the street. And there is no doubt Grenier has the same power in his real life in Los Angeles.
Yet, earlier this year when the actor/director was a guest of the International Film Festival, that star power failed to pull him a table at popular Auckland eatery Coco's Cantina on Karangahape Rd. He had to sit at the bar and wait half an hour - just like any other punter.
Ant Timpson of the International Film Festival was with Grenier that night. He loves that the star received no special treatment at Coco's and says the New Zealand public generally have an "aloof coolness" with visiting celebrities.
"People will go out of their way to pretend that they don't notice them," says Timpson. Often it will be obvious people want to approach the star but they will keep a distance, either out of politeness or a sense of not wanting to stoop to a level of adoration that puts them beneath the celebrity.
Historian Jock Phillips, general editor of Te Ara, New Zealand's online encyclopedia, says New Zealanders' fascination with visiting celebrities stretches back more than a century. Author Mark Twain visited in 1895, ballerina Anna Pavlova danced here in 1926 and playwright George Bernard Shaw came in 1934. Each visit was met with rapturous attention from the public and the media. When famous people arrived they would come by ship for lengthy tours of the country. Every detail of the visit would be recorded in the press, including answers to that all important question, "What do you think of New Zealand?"
"We had this long sense of being isolated and just about tipping off the edge of the globe. When we were noticed by big names it gave us reassurance we did exist," says Phillips.
Air travel and television have decreased that sense of isolation, which Phillips believes is having an impact on our response to visiting celebrities.
"To some extent we are actually becoming more mature about these things and the cult of the overseas celebrity and the overseas expert isn't quite as strong as it used to be," says Phillips.
There is a wonky balance between admiration for celebrities and a reluctance to hero worship. When hideaway bar Motel opened in Wellington during the filming of Lord of the Rings it became famous for being the bar that turned away Liv Tyler. The small bar, tucked away down an alleyway, was full when the actress arrived and the bouncer, who reportedly did not recognise her, would not allow her entry.
The move caused no harm to the bar's reputation. Word spread and Motel became the place to be seen - including, ultimately, for Tyler on return visits.
The staff at Soul in the Viaduct found themselves in a similar situation last Friday when megastar couple Beyonce and Jay-Z turned up for lunch. Staff hastily repositioned diners to give the celebrities a prime table on the top deck.
Award-winning winemaker Kim Crawford and his mates were asked to shift tables to make room for them.
Crawford later walked out the front of the restaurant to have a smoke. As he pulled the cigarettes from his pocket one of the couple's bodyguards yelled, "no photos". "F*** off, mate, this is New Zealand. It's just cigarettes," Crawford retorted.
Herald on Sunday restaurant reviewer Peter Calder says he was "gobsmacked and appalled" at Soul's treatment of Crawford.
"Is Joe Blow's money not as good as Beyonce's? "That comment that Crawford made is what I would have said to Soul's owner, Judith Tabron, if she had tried to move me and what I think any New Zealanders should say if they get moved for a celebrity," he adds.
"This is New Zealand. This is not New York or Los Angeles where establishments cringe and tug their forelocks to make life easy for celebrities."
Calder says if he had been asked to move he would have left the restaurant without paying his bill and never returned.
There should be no hierarchy among patrons, in Calder's view. If a celebrity turns up at a busy restaurant Calder says they should get the best table that is available. "If that happens to be next to the kitchen door, then tough."
But, if you pay a premium for special treatment, then it's hard to argue against it. Beyonce and Jay-Z booked out Mollies, a boutique 13-room hotel in Auckland's Herne Bay, for their visit - but they paid for it (albeit at reported recession-prices - times are tough in the hospitality trade).
The steel gates, usually open to all, were closed for the duration of their visit - except when they were driven out in black 4WD Audis, 100 metres down the road to the playing field of Ponsonby School where their helicopter was waiting. Again, they made a donation to the school for the exclusive use of the field.
With cellphone cameras, school staff and pupils discreetly snapped the superstars from a distance.
On the big old cameras of yesteryear, photographer Bruce Jarvis documented visits from the biggest musicians of the 1970s and 1980s including Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Bob Marley, David Bowie and Johnny Cash. He says the stars were greeted with a much more feverish reception than they are nowadays.
"It was a lot bigger deal because we had limited access to the world," says Jarvis. "With Twitter and Facebook, you can sit in your lounge and feel part of America."
When teen pop sensation Justin Bieber visited earlier this year, his arrival at Auckland Airport was likened to a visit from The Beatles in the 1960s. About 500 fans, mostly teenage girls, swarmed the singer, screaming and clawing, even stealing his cap.
It was frenzied, but "Bieber fever" was barely comparable to the 3000 fans who showed up at the airport for the Beatles and crowds of thousands that mobbed Queen St and Lambton Quay during the Fab Four's stay. Jarvis says that while the public used to get excited that any well-known figure had taken the long trip to New Zealand, today the visitors' appeal is limited to their fans.
And, as The Beatles sang, "money can't buy you love".
It may buy you a 13-room hotel with fawning staff at your beck and call. It may buy you a helicopter and a school playing field on which to land it. It will certainly buy you the best table on the balcony of a Viaduct restaurant.
But it won't buy the love, affection and loyalty of New Zealand fans. Kiwis are very good at cutting down any celebs who are perceived as getting too big for their boots, and it is a foolish star who thinks he or she is above the law when he visits New Zealand.
Public health officials investigated venues where Russell Crowe played with his band 30 Odd Foot of Grunts during his 2006 tour after he flouted anti-smoking legislation and puffed away on stage.
Double-Oscar-winning actress Hilary Swank was busted by biosecurity officials for not declaring an apple in her handbag when she flew into Auckland International Airport in 2005. She was fined $200, after her pleas for leniency were rejected by Manukau District Court.
And, this week, AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd was convicted and fined $250 after he was busted with cannabis on his yacht at Tauranga Bridge Marina.
Rudd is worth millions of dollars and turned up to court in a $470,000 Bentley Continental - but his pleas fell on the unsympathetic ears of community magistrate Robyn Paterson. Rudd's lawyer argued that his client should be discharged as a conviction might jeopardise his ability to tour overseas but Paterson ruled the rockstar had played "Russian roulette" and would have to pay the consequences.
AC/DC IS just one of the many big international acts that concert promoter Ian Magan has brought to New Zealand over the 36 years he has been working in show business. Others included Michael Jackson, Elton John, AC/DC and Dire Straits.
While stars are in town, Magan's business takes on hosting duties and will arrange any activities they want to do. For Luciano Pavarotti that meant buying horses, watching equestrian events and drinking wine. Alice Cooper prefers to spend his time on golf courses and Simon Le Bon, a keen sailor, always wants to get out on a yacht.
This country is a favourite stop for comedian Billy Connolly, whom Magan has known for 28 years. "New Zealand is the country the most in the world that he feels he can walk around on the streets and feel secure and amongst friends," he says.
Promoter Brett Eccles, whose outfit brought the U2 and Jay-Z concert to town, says international artists are usually very comfortable getting about in New Zealand. They are not pursued by the aggressive packs of paparazzi seeking the million dollar shot in the same way that they are in the States or the UK.
Rather than being hunted by money-hungry paparazzi, visiting stars are more likely to be tracked by fans keen to gather another scalp for their blog. The only photo of Beyonce arriving at Auckland airport was snapped by Samantha Bellingham, a 19-year-old journalism student, who contributes to the blog kiwipaparazzi.com. When she turned up at the airport early last Friday morning there were only 10 fans and one news photographer waiting to greet the star.
Beyonce and Jay-Z did attract huge media interest later in their visit and a picture of them lunching at Soul made the front page of the Weekend Herald - but only because other broadcasters and journalists dining there tipped off their colleagues.
Yet, once star mania has diminished, there are examples of celebrities going about life in a very normal way. Kylie Minogue was happy to hang out in the bar of SkyCity Grand Hotel where she was staying; Eric Clapton visited an Auckland laundromat to do his own washing; when Scarlett Johansson and Josh Hartnett lived in a Freeman's Bay apartment while Hartnett was shooting the film 30 Days of Night they could be spotted doing their grocery shopping at the local New World.
The huge amount of information available on the internet makes us feel we know celebrities without rushing along to every public appearance. Fans can keep up to date with their favourite famous person's movements from their lounge chairs but the internet can also give rise to deception.
When Beyonce was in town, fashion designer Marc Moore of Stolen Girlfriends Club started a rumour by posting on Facebook that she was dining at Dizengoff. Within minutes fans were turning up at the Ponsonby cafe - usually more famous for its mushrooms on toast - and staff were fielding calls from radio stations.
Dizengoff's owner, Troy Mentor, says the rumour was great for business. Customers turned up for a couple of days hoping for a glimpse of the singer. But Beyonce was never actually there.
The rumour was made more believable, perhaps, because Tyra Banks had frequented the same cafe when she was here a year ago filming America's Next Top Model. Mentor says a minder rang to arrange a private space in a room upstairs. "It was quite a thrill," he says.
Banks returned the next day, opting to sit down in the main cafe with the public, causing a ripple of excitement among her fellow customers. "A lot of people were trying to keep it together but there were a few who couldn't help themselves and went up to ask for an autograph," Mentor says.
When celebs such as Banks, Scarlett Johannson and expat Auckland actor Martin Henderson visit the cafe, Mentor says his Kiwi customers try ever so hard to control their excitement. "On the inside they're probably over the top with excitement," he says, "but on the outside they're trying to keep it cool."
Adrian Grenier turns heads.