The Celebrity Hunters

David Samuels, the author of "Shooting Britney" in the April Atlantic, interviews Brandy and François-Regis Navarre of X17, Hollywood's biggest paparazzi agency, about a selection of recent celebrity photographs taken by X17's photographers on the streets of Los Angeles

Britney Spears—in Beverly Hills at the Beverly Glen Mini-mall

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Brandy Navarre, X17: “Viva Vesgo, the guy in the pink wig, is the Jay Leno of Brazil. He was wildly and crazily chasing Britney Spears around Los Angeles and trying to give her a gift, which is a regular stunt that he does on his show. In this shot she still does not accept the gift, and the gate slams in his face. The picture is interesting because it shows that there are Brazilians who are crazier than our Brazilian paparazzi. Brazilians all have a soft spot for Britney.”

Regis Navarre, X17: “She’s a zombie.”

Brandy: “She is definitely pretty drugged up. Right after she was released from UCLA she literally went off and headed off down Sunset and did her aimless driving around thing. Now she is out and around to the extent that her father allows her to be. She isn’t driving herself. She is always driven by a bodyguard. She’s a bit more focused when she leaves the house. We don’t have that feeling anymore that she’s on the verge of a breakdown because she’s already had a breakdown.”

Lindsay Lohan—at a Starbucks in Beverly Hills

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Brandy: “Lindsay Lohan didn’t do anything this week except dress extremely ugly. I guess that’s the story: Lindsay looks bad now that she is sober and chastened.”

Regis: “I saw the New York Magazine photos that she did where she dressed like Marilyn Monroe. She’s trying to get back into the headlines and she knows unless she does something a little bit bad the press will lose interest in her. She has been copying Marilyn Monroe for a long time. We have seen her dressing like Marilyn, in a Marilyn haircut, sending kisses.

“I thought the quality of the New York Magazine photos was poor, because Lindsay doesn’t have much of a presence. These girls – Britney, Lindsay, and Paris—are not the same anymore. They are hit in the core of their character. Of the three, I think the one with the best chance to rebound and become interesting for the camera again is Britney. She’s down right now, but that’s because she’s on such hard medication. I’ve never seen her drugged as much as now . She reminds me of my grandmother in France who had Alzheimer’s. She can barely walk. She walked straight into a pole the other day."

Tom Cruise and Another Woman—Outside a Studio, 'The Lot,' in Hollywood

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Brandy: “We had a few frames here of Tom Cruise in a semi-intimate-looking moment with a woman who is not his wife. These are old-school paparazzi shots where they didn’t see the photographer and there isn’t a mob of paparazzi around them. We don’t know who the woman is. I don't think she is an executive of a studio. The bushes add to it looking like the scene is meant to be hidden She’s being too physical with him. At the same time, Tom is talking on the phone, so he wasn’t really too focused on her. The first story the viewer gets is that he might be cheating on Katie Holmes, and then people think about it for a second, and think, also, maybe he isn’t gay.”

Regis: “His image now is that he is in a perfect relationship, a fairy tale, so is he flirting? Is his relationship with Katie as perfect as what they try to portray in the press? What is really going on? Right now, we know that they are living inside the Scientology Center. They sleep and eat there, and educate their child there. They have no more house. Which is strange, yes?”

Heidi Klum—Dentist's Office in Beverly Hills

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Brandy: “You definitely want to see the mom being happy with the kids and the kids being happy with the mom. So here we have Heidi Klum, who is married to the singer Seal, with their two kids. The other interesting thing about the picture is that her daughter Leni is so accessorized and cute – and of course the fact that their daughter looks white and their son looks black.

“Race is a huge focus of the comments when we put a shot of Heidi and Seal together. We get a lot of racist comments. It’s kind of ugly to say that, but it’s definitely true. There are also a lot of people who support it – it’s beautiful, this beautiful woman married a black man and had children with him and sending a message to the world that interracial relationships are great.

"It’s interesting to look at Heidi and Seal and their family and Brad and Angelina and their family. With Heidi and Seal it’s very genuine; with Angelina and Brad it seems a bit forced. Why you would go outside your country and adopt kids in questionable circumstances where you might not be aware of how the adoption system works? I guess at its core it's beautiful, but there are plenty of American kids who need homes, too. Of three kids she’s adopted they’ve all been foreign. It seems to me like she is making a “statement” about something, and using these children to do it.”

Regis: “Germany has a cover a week on Heidi Klum and Seal. Heidi Klum married a black man and had children with him, and they seem happy together. The nation is still in shock. I like her for that.”

Janet Jackson—Katsuya Restaurant, Hollywood

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Brandy: “People love to talk about Janet Jackson’s body. Her yo-yoing weight. Her ever expanding and contracting body parts. She always loses weight before she does publicity for one of her albums. She can get a tiny waist going. But she’s got other body parts that don’t shrink down and cannot be reined in. Some of the best-selling magazine covers are about weight issues. How did someone lose weight. Is Jennifer Love Hewitt in her bikini in Hawaii overweight?”

Regis: “There is a lot of respect for Janet Jackson. It’s true that she loses weight and gains weight very fast, but more the interest comes from the fact that she comes from this famous musical family, and she turned out to be very talented, and not so crazy like her brother.”

Sheryl Crow—Shopping on Robertson Blvd, Beverly Hills

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Brandy: “The whole relationship thing wasn’t working for Sheryl Crow, so she went out and got a kid on her own. And now she’s trying to peddle this line about how she wasn’t really dumped by Lance Armstrong, and Jennifer Aniston wasn’t really dumped by Brad Pitt, even through we know that’s not true. This picture gives you the adoption story, the single mom story, the 'I used to be rock and roll and now I’m a mom pushing a baby carriage around the streets of LA' story. She did adopt an American-born baby.”

Regis: “She is a typical person who came to Hollywood later in her life. She struggled for a long time before she got here. People respect her for her talent. The natural Sheryl Crow is not very groomed. She is not a 19-year-old actress with perfect features and good skin.”

Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes—Cut Restaurant in Beverly Hills

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Brandy: “We didn’t get any of the good angles of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes this night. They were just having dinner at the same restaurant they always go. There are two or three restaurants they like. The main interest of this picture is that there are ongoing rumors that she is pregnant, and here she is wearing a high-waisted dress, which goes with being pregnant. But the way I saw these photos played was 'here’s proof that she’s not pregnant.'”

Regis: “You care more about Katie than Tom, you want to see her clothes, there’s a guy in the background, the framing is terrible, it doesn’t look nice. You could only sell something this bad if it were an exclusive and there was a huge story breaking about Tom and Katie for which someone needed the most recent shot of the two of them together.”

Brooke Shields and Adrien Grenier—Orso restaurant, Beverly Hills

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Brandy: “The story here is that the pap you see in front of her and to her right is the actor Adrien Grenier from Entourage – who our photographers didn’t realize was the focus of the story. Adrien Grenier is doing a documentary about the paparazzi, and we have a clip where our photographers are giving him tips.”

Regis: “Brooke did not know who he was.”

Brandy: “She assumed all the attention here was 100% for her. She’s got her new show, which I guess is going OK. But that’s not why the picture sold. She’d probably sell better if she was with her kids.”

Britney Spears—in a Medical Building Parking Garage on her way to a Beverly Hills Doctor's Office

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Brandy: "This is one of those shots where you just put it on the blog and let the commenters take care of it. Britney is going to a doctor’s office in a medical building in Beverly Hills. With all these rumors that she might be pregnant. She was with her father. She has a small camera in her hand. People have crazy ideas about why – like she wanted to take a picture of the sonogram. You can see that she is literally busting out of her shirt, which might be a sign she is pregnant. You can see her double chins.

"We are pretty sure she’s not pregnant. We think it’s a psychological visit. She is being pumped full of drugs and that can affect her weight. I’m sure Regis kept at least 50 of these shots. You can easily keep 50 shots because she is always doing something in frame. Right now the fans are really divided about her father stepping in and taking control."

Regis: “It’s not the dream of the paparazzi to father a child with a star. I think on the contrary, that most paparazzi are shy guys and don't have self-confidence. Adnan Ghalib came by accident to the business. He met a girl in the post-office three years ago and did what he did with Britney. He flirted with her, and met the dad of the girl, and became friends with the dad, and helped him to fix the house. And the dad considered him as his son. And it happened that guy was part of the paparazzi. He told Adnan, ‘I see you, you are struggling, why don't you get a camera, and I will introduce you to some of my friends at the Fame agency.’ And the first one he was covering was Britney Spears. And he started to go after Britney right away. Trying to talk to her and so on and so on.

"Adnan has a big ego and big self-confidence. But the dream of the paparazzi is to hit the jackpot with one great shot and that’s it."

Barbara Streisand—Working With Her Gardeners at Her Malibu Home, Point Dume

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Brandy: "It's too bad we didn't have a little bit more in this shot of Barbara Streaisand making a weird face. One of the first principles of a good paparazzi shot is that you don't want to raise a question you don't answer. We don't know why she is making a face. If there was a huge box of pizza in the shot that would be funny. Or if she was chewing gum, or something.

"This picture is half of a story, which is enough for the internet. It still leaves you wondering. But the magazines do like to publish pictures of her, even if they are almost always unflattering. She gives you lots of opportunities. And she doesn't like the paparazzi. At her wedding she hired some big speakers on a trailer to blare heavy metal music in the direction of the paparazzi and the entertainment reporters in front of her house to screw up their stand-ups and their shots. This was while her wedding was going on in the backyard."

Regis: "She is gardening at the edge of the property. She doesn't care at all what she looks like when she goes out. She goes out on rainy days. She wears sweatpants. Her hair is a mess. People like to see these shots because she is so rich. People expect her to still be a diva like she is on stage. All that power, all that money, and she still doesn't have a nice body and a nice look. It goes against our expectations. She goes on long hikes around her property in bad weather. She really enjoys a kind of Malibu country life."

Pierce Brosnan on His Honeymoon

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Brandy: “The interest here is the size of Pierce Brosnan’s gut. But this picture is also interesting because it was sent to us by an amateur photographer who happened to see Pierce Brosnan on the beach while he was on his honeymoon. The thought that popped into his mind was, 'I can make money if I call X17.' It’s in the front of people’s minds when they see celebrities that they can make a profit. It’s not, ‘Oh, can you put your arm around my wife, or sign an autograph for me?’ The only people asking for autographs are the people out here who sell them for money.”

Paris Hilton—Shopping for Sunglasses in West Hollywood

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Brandy: "On this particular day Paris Hilton reverted back to her old Hollywood starlet look with a halter dress. It’s a shot that combines nostalgia for the old Paris with nostalgia for the old Hollywood. This is how Paris is supposed to look. She has coordinated her sunglasses with her bag and her dress and I am sure that she is wearing turquoise heels."

Nicole Ritchie and Joel Madden—At the Pediatrician's Office in Beverly Hills

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Brandy: “Nicole and Joel Madden sold first rights for photos to People magazine it was said to be $1 million. This is the first paparazzi photograph of them with the baby, but you can’t see the baby. Maybe in their agreement they have to protect the face of the baby for two weeks. That wouldn’t be unusual.

“Nicole strikes me as someone who will be ready to show off the baby and be a cool hip mom, take him to a café, and pose for the paparazzi. But I could be wrong. Nicole and Joel have already been out partying at night, which means that they have the nanny thing down. She’ll maintain her friendships and rack up some nanny hours.”

Regis: “They made a lot of money with the sale to People magazine. Nicole wasn’t expecting that much money at all. They thought they would get around $250,000. Right now, we are in a time where the baby price is inflated. Christina Aguilera got a lot of money for her baby pictures. Nicole seems a little bit depressed when we get her, so we’ll see what’s going on with that.”

Paris Hilton and Benji Madden—Linkin Park Concert at Staples Center, Downtown L.A.

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Brandy: “Paris is with Benji Madden of the band Good Charlotte, who is Joel Madden’s twin brother. Joel Madden is the father of Nicole Ritchie’s baby, and Nicole was Paris’s friend and television co-star who became her rival and enemy. I find the Paris Hilton and Benji Madden relationship strange. Is Paris jealous of Nicole and trying to keep her from grabbing the spotlight? She is the queen of media manipulation, and she created this whole thing for a purpose. It does make you wonder if it's revenge on both their parts.

"Of course part of why people look at these pictures is that Benji Madden is not the traditional idea of the handsome boyfriend. He’s not what we would consider to be her type. Me being an out-of-touch 34 year old, I hate Good Charlotte. It’s pop-punk, which says it all. I was never into the whole punk thing, but you can’t betray punk. How gross.

"The way they are dressed is not L.A. style. It’s the style of the people who listen to Good Charlotte. What Paris is wearing here are the things that she wears at home when she's lying around on the couch. She would never wear them out until now. But she has no choice, because nothing else in her wardrobe fits in with Benji’s style. Here you have Paris Hilton, the old Hollywood pinup fantasy girl, wearing this style that girls wear because they don’t have good bodies and they’re trying to cover it up."

Regis: “Paris sees that Nicole is doing well, and that she has just sold the exclusive picture of her new baby to People magazine for $1.5 million. Paris doesn’t fit very well with Benji Madden, but she is going to try it for a little while. The Madden twins are really nice guys. They are really sweet. But of course the whole arrangement is simply calculated to catch the interest of the paparazzi.”

Victoria Beckham—Park in Beverly Hills

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Brandy: “I like this set of Victoria Beckham and her son. It was exclusive, and all the shots are really nice. She’s standing on her yellow toothpick legs, she’s so skinny. They’re a great-looking family. The way they are together really didn’t look forced to me. It looks like the kids are really used to hanging out with their mom, even if she is wearing huge platform heels. You know, Dad is off in Asia playing whatever sport it is that he plays, and she’s out being a Mom. She’s out pretty often with her kids for a celebrity parent.”

Regis: “These shots are for the British market. The U.S. still doesn’t know who she is. A lot of British people have a hard time being famous in America, but that’s part of why she's happy here. She loves it for her kids, she loves the shopping, she loves the lifestyle, and she loves that people leave her alone. We have hidden cameras, so we know that she is a real mother who takes care of her kids, and that she behaves exactly the same way inside her house! You see real mothers, and you see the ones who just fake it for the camera. Anna Nicole Smith, I photographed her a couple of times with that poor kid. That was a little bit sad. Demi Moore was quite a good mother at one time in her life, until that got a bit boring for her."

Nicole Kidman—Clothing Store in Brentwood

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Brandy: “This is what Nicole Kidman looks like without someone at her house doing hair and make-up for an hour. This is the unglamorous Nicole. Her hair looks really, really gray. Her eyebrows are too dark. She really does have a unpleasant, grandmother-ish look. The conservative sweater. She seems like an ice queen.

“I think it’s strange that she is about to enter into a marriage with someone who is in the throes of a significant addiction for which he has to go to rehab. When she was announcing the end of her marriage to Tom Cruise, I felt sympathetic to her. Her husband was weird, he was heavy into Scientology, he was probably ending his marriage because he was secretly gay. Now I’m almost on Tom’s side. The guy’s got some weird quirks, but he seems happy. He is with his kids all the time, and he seems affectionate. I wonder now what it was like for him being married to her. I think this picture supports my revised theory.”

Regis: “Nicole Kidman comes from a very conservative family. She had a period from 18 to 23 where she rebelled, and then she started to become even more strict and conservative than her parents. That’s why people dislike her. She seems very stiff and conventional. Maybe she is bitter because of what happened with Tom. The fact that they were together for so long and she couldn’t have kids. One of the earliest movies she did was about a woman who couldn’t have kids. It is very touching to see that movie now. It’s her life.”

Courtney Love—Doctor's Office in Beverly Hills

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Brandy: “She doesn’t look like Courtney Love anymore. In this shot, she is coming out of a medical building. She had a cigarette the moment she walked out the door. The photographers said that she looked wasted, but maybe she had some nitrous at the doctor’s office. She was with a friend, and it looked like they never went to sleep and showed up at the doctor wearing the same clothes from the night before”

Regis: “Courtney looks like this because she stopped drinking and took a lot of diet pills. The better she gets inside, the worse she looks outside. Now her daughter Francis Bean is being photographed at the shows and premieres. She always looks uncomfortable. She will lose some baby weight a little bit later exactly like Demi Moore’s daughter, Rumer Willis.”

Vanessa Hudgins Gets Flowers From the Paps

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Regis: "We like Vanessa Hudgins. She is kind of witty, she is smart. What was striking with Britney and Lindsay was how much energy they had when they were young. How fast and quick they were. Now we like Vanessa Hudgins, Miley Cyrus, and Ashley Tisdale. You can see the energy that they have and how badly they want to be big stars. They have the will and the confidence to do it. They are the ones that we are waiting for."