The trouble with stars

The 'burden' of stardom's causing celebrity angst

ACTORS OFTEN BRING us great joy — even their dysfunctional guild is a source of amusement — so there is little pleasure to be derived from badmouthing them. Besides, eliminate actors and there would be even more reality TV.

Unfortunately, a great many actors achieve tremendous success only to celebrate it by behaving as if they are completely miserable — tormented by a world that for the most part yearns simply to applaud them, sit in their laps and know “who they’re wearing.”

Celebrity angst has been apparent during the TV Critics Assn.’s semiannual tour, where first James Gandolfini (“The Sopranos”) and then Gillian Anderson (“The X-Files”) griped about the long days and nights when tethered to a hit TV show.

For his part, Gandolfini seemed annoyed just having to attend HBO’s portion of the event, while Anderson — featured in the PBS miniseries “Bleak House” — explained her extended absence from TV with, “I know what it feels like to do things that are soul-decaying. … And I choose, albeit frustrating to other people in my life, not to expose myself to too much of that.”

Translation: My agent thinks I’m out of my mind, but I turn down a lot of roles.

Meet any struggling actor, naturally, and the tune changes considerably. Yet the put-upon star is such a familiar story by now that people take it as a given — that actors sweat, struggle and toil to break into the club, then begin grousing about the dues before the first residual check arrives.

Admittedly, none of this is especially new. Carsey-Werner earned a reputation for transforming relatively unknown standup comics — Roseanne, Brett Butler, etc. — into TV monsters. And the “Desperate Housewives” stars quickly went from grateful when the show premiered to reported wrangling over who stood where during photo shoots.

Still, it’s only recently that reporters spend so much time sympathizing with actors’ tales of artistic woe. Blame it on intrusive paparazzi, or Oprah, or the need for access, but the tone when questioning whiny stars tends to fall into the “Poor baby” category, as opposed to “Give me a break.”

This isn’t to say TV execs and agents don’t mutter privately about such matters, but nobody wants to risk the headaches associated with rousing these mercurial commodities to a full boil. So they grin and bear it and hope the meltdown comes on someone else’s watch.

Certain talent’s sour attitude feels particularly irksome when said performers have clearly won the show-business lottery, as Gandolfini has by almost any measure.

Taking nothing away from him, Gandolfini is a gifted character actor who stumbled into the role of several lifetimes. That he is terrific as Tony Soprano should in no way obscure the staggering odds against a balding, paunchy, middle-aged guy landing this kind of meaty, immensely lucrative employment in front of the camera.

Gandolfini acknowledged as much at HBO’s press session, but peppered that with not-so-subtle grousing about the “pluses and minuses” associated with the series — noting how “Sopranos” is “a dark, dark world, and you’re in it a lot,” and the long days in Long Island City when “it’s 2 in the morning and you’re staring at your wall again.”

Anderson was also plucked from obscurity for her surprise hit, affording her the luxury to snub the business that enriched her. (A small disclaimer: I wrote an early “X-Files” companion guide but have had no contact with her since.)

As for shunning Hollywood, she told reporters, “It’s less to do with a ‘fuck you’ to the industry and more to do with just following my path.” Hey, you say “tomato” …

Still, Anderson types arrive in L.A. daily by the busload. Gandolfini types, by contrast, are lucky to get two lines in a sitcom as the wacky landlord.

Against this backdrop, what a pleasure it was at the Golden Globes to hear career-award recipient Anthony Hopkins pay tribute to below-the-line crew such as electricians, construction personnel and sound technicians, “that wonderful bunch of anonymous people who work harder than anyone.”

Although Hopkins didn’t seem to have any agenda, the message to self-pitying stars could be heard loud and clear: If script supervisors, gaffers and a knighted British standard-bearer for the craft can endure the business’ “soul decaying” aspects, I’m guessing other actors can tough it out, too.

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