Protecting Celebs Takes Mind Over Muscle For effective celebrity security, brains are better than brawn. After guards working for Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt scuffled with photographers in India twice in the past week, security experts said thuggish bodyguards who rely on football-player physiques and tough-guy attitudes might cause more problems than they solve.
“The only time physical involvement becomes necessary is when we or the client is in fear for their lives, that’s the only time it’s justified legally and that’s the only time it’s justified professionally.” Mike Zimet, owner of a celebrity security firm in New York, says that in 20 years of work he has “never had to put my hands on anybody.”
“It’s the bouncer approach versus executive protection,” he says. “The bouncer approach is using your body first and your head second. In executive protection, 98 percent is done with your head and your mouth. So much of it is personality. Professionalism and discretion are what it’s all about.”
Also size. But even when bodyguards are beefy, there must be proper training and prudent planning behind them, says Donald Henne, a director with a global risk-consulting firm.
“It does help if you have a good command presence,” he says. “You can sometimes quell problems by just your physical appearance. But it’s not automatic.” That’s why the best professional protectors aren’t just big, they come from military or law-enforcement backgrounds and have security training. They must be even-tempered and level headed. It’s not a business for unpredictable or aggressive personalities. “Those who are gun fanatics or martial-arts fanatics are the individuals I would least want to employ,” says Joe LaSorsa, who runs a security firm in south Florida. “They’re only concerned with the offensive aspect of security work.” Providing celebrity security is a defensive job, he says. Guards must assess potential threats and extract the star from any situation they deem dangerous.
They start by doing their research. They check in with the celebrity’s manager and media team. They check out the location they’re visiting and learn what the star plans to do there. Is it a business trip where promotional photos are a plus, or a family vacation where privacy is key? “You want to know what the problem is before you get there,” Henne says.
Once on site, guards have to keep their senses sharp and stay keenly aware of the star and her surroundings. Experts agree that fighting with fans or photographers is exactly the wrong thing to do. It distracts them from their job and could exacerbate the situation. “Photographers are not there to threaten the person,” Zimet says. “There’s no reason to put a hand on another human being. It’s everything that proper protection goes against.” The main aim is to keep the client safe. Avoiding conflict – and the potential danger, legal liability and bad publicity that comes with it – is “critical,” LaSorsa says. “You remove the person from the problem. You don’t stay with the problem and create a media incident.”