BEVERLY HILLS, California (NYTimes) - The movie star had a pimple.
It was on the flange of a nostril on the right side of his face. Most every ordinary person has, of course, awakened at some time to an angry and embarrassing eruption. But the movie star was no ordinary person. It was the third week of February. The Oscars were just days away. The actor was to present a big award.
Easy enough for civilians to conceal or suffer, a pimple takes on major proportions when it happens to someone whose image will be scrutinised by 32.9 million viewers under the pitiless gaze of high-definition television.
Thus, the actor found himself one winter afternoon on a padded baby-blue exam table in the sunny offices of a dermatologist, a syringe filled with lidocaine and cortisone directed toward his nose.
The person wielding the syringe, Dr Peter Kopelson, 54, is a rumpled bear with pierced ears and whiskered jeans who, although he would not make the claim himself, belongs to a small group of medical professionals responsible for keeping the most recognisable faces on the planet looking always young, or at least, "well rested", and also pimple free.
In the entertainment industry - now, as always - who one knows is of substantially greater relevance than what, a truth extending to the agent who selects your scripts and the trainer who tones your thighs and the dentist who bleaches your teeth.
"There is a real mafia" of caretakers charged with the maintenance of boldfaced deities, said John Goldwyn, a film and television producer whose industry lineage qualifies him for that rarefied elite known here as Hollywood royalty.
If at the pinnacle of this aristocracy are people named Huston, Barrymore or Goldwyn, at a minor step down stands a person like Kopelson, who was raised in Beverly Hills and on the sets of the 29 movies produced by his father, Arnold Kopelson, and his mother, Anne. Between them, the two have made films that have garnered 17 Oscar nominations (and a win, in 1987, with Oliver Stone's Platoon).
Even now, at 82, Arnold Kopelson has enough industry heft to command a view table at the Tower Bar - that is, provided Jennifer Aniston doesn't get there first.
"My father still refuses to understand why she gets a better table than he does," Peter Kopelson said.
On a cold, drizzly evening, Dimitri Dimitrov, the beloved maître d'hôtel at the Tower Bar, greeted Peter Kopelson in so fawning and grateful a way that, as producer Brian Grazer once noted, it is impossible to thank him last.
Shown to an alcove table, the physician had a ringside seat on a room full of well-toned faces - some identifiable to anyone, some recognisable mostly to show business cognoscenti, a certain number familiar to Peter Kopelson at an intimate and even microscopic level.
There was a former cinematic superhero whose recent career comeback owes much to his miraculous state of preservation. There was a bulldog Hollywood divorce lawyer with runway-model looks. There was a studio head and a B-list actress and an Academy Award-winning director and a rubber-faced comedian who specialises in angst.
What unified these people, beyond their obvious business connections, is how fresh they all appeared, how unlined and dewy, as if each had just awakened from a restorative nap.
"I can't ethically tell you who I treat," Kopelson said as he surveyed the room.
Yet his client list is sufficiently stellar that some here refer to him as the next big celebrity dermatologist, the likely successor to the late Dr Arnold Klein, a publicity-loving physician best known for having treated Michael Jackson, or Dr Fredric Brandt, the Manhattan dermatologist to whom Kopelson often lent his Beverly Hills office whenever Madonna summoned Brandt to town.
"The world is always - always - looking for a star dermatologist," said Joan Kron, a journalist and filmmaker who spent decades chronicling the worlds of surgical and dermatologic cosmetic medicine for magazines like New York and Allure. "There's always this tremendous desire to find the best, though, basically, it's hard to know who the best is."
Until his death in 2015, many in the entertainment industry viewed Brandt as that person. A quirky cosmetic dermatologist whose self-administered experiments with rejuvenating substances led to the creation of a buffoonish character on a Netflix show (and, it was suggested, his eventual suicide), Brandt's not-so-secret client list included some of the most famous faces in the world.
"Fred had this tremendous, loyal following and he served them very well," Kron said. "Part of it was service - flying to London for Madonna every time she needed an injection. That was nice."
In data compiled by the American Academy of Dermatology, its 11,000 practicing members reported spending no more than 8 percent of their office time on cosmetic procedures, a figure that skews differently in a town like Los Angeles, where, as Sandra Ballentine, the beauty editor-at-large for W magazine, said, "All the smart people have a regular regimen of à la carte treatments where, instead of going invasive with plastic surgery, they do a little something here, a little something there, every month."
While Kopelson may not be a "big self-promoter", as Ballentine added: "He is one of those Hollywood doctors that people say, 'Oh, you need to see him if you're having work done. He's the one.'" For Kevin Connolly, an actor and director best known for his role in the HBO series Entourage, visits to Kopelson are as much part of a regimen "as going to the dentist", self-maintenance being part of an actor's job description and aging the enemy of all in a youth-obsessed field. "You kind of have to try to get out in front of it," Connolly said in a phone interview.
Still, his visits to Kopelson are not, he said, for the purpose of being injected with, say, US$800 vials of Botox or to have a US$475 Genesis laser treatment for pore tightening, or a US$1,200 session with a Titan laser to keep his jawline firm. Like every Hollywood person interviewed for this article, Connolly claimed to see a dermatologist only to keep an eye on suspicious moles.
"When you look at people in Hollywood now, it's like you're looking at an athlete at the peak of performance," said Linda Wells, the chief creative officer at Revlon and former editor-in-chief of Allure. In the entertainment industry, she added: "The bar is set so high now that their skin has to be perfection. Their toes have to be perfect. They are perfect on the bottoms of their feet." In the age of Instagram, when every famous face is potentially subject to an iPhone ambush, extreme vanity is more necessity than sin. "Suddenly you find your image is up on someone else's feed," Wells said. "And you can't take it down."
"Yes, people are much more conscious of every aspect of their appearance," Kopelson said one sunny morning at the medical suite he shares with Dr Sheri Feldman, a former professional partner of Klein. "Take hair removal. Suddenly straight men are really into getting hair removed from around their genitals. I, personally, don't really get it, but I think they're being pushed by their wives."
Located a block west of Rodeo Drive, Kopelson's office is paparazzi-proof, connected by an elevator bank to an underground garage. Decorated with the sprightly sterility of a Swiss clinic as imagined by Stanley Kubrick, the suite is filled with art pieces from the physician's collection by Ross Bleckner, Jean Cocteau, Catherine Opie and David Shrigley.
"I'm not sure I'd want to be a celebrity physician," said the celebrity physician, an assertion made somewhat more credible in light of the fact that, unlike his competition, he employs no publicist, has a negligible social media presence and has yet to make breakfast appearances at a department store.
Burly, bearded, with multiple earrings and an experimental buzz cut, Kopelson shares a resemblance to Brandt in at least one way: He tests many of the fillers he employs on himself. Unlike Brandt, though, whose face was as smooth and unmarked as a baby's behind, Kopelson is a human colouring book.
"The tattoos are all about members of my family," Kopelson said, pulling off a snug T-shirt, the better to display the large ivory pagoda inked down the length of his spine.
The pagoda is a souvenir in flesh of an antique willed to him by his maternal grandfather, a onetime pushcart vendor on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Concealed in its latticework are the names of that grandfather, Jack, and his wife, Belle. On Kopelson's bicep is a rendering of a pendant he wears, which contains the stone from his mother's engagement ring.
Scaling his chest is a tiger with its claws sunk into his neck. Opposite it is an image of a crystal deer figurine with a broken antler, a remembrance of a similar one given to him as a child. The Polynesian-style decorative sleeve covering one forearm has no sentimental significance.
"What about the piano?" Kopelson asked and then dropped his pants. There, along his right thigh, was a multicolour drawing of a keyboard held in the grip of a stylised dragon, its yellow tongue disappearing into the physician's shorts: "I played as a child."
Single and gay, Kopelson lives in the flats of West Hollywood, California, in a Spanish-style house from the 1920s that he shares with a rescue mutt and three West Highland terriers. The drug abuse issues that briefly threatened to derail his professional career are 15 years into the past, he said, and these days he is part of an extended recovery network that probably includes a few of the celebrities he sees professionally.
In a clubby town, intersections like that are all but inevitable. As Goldwyn noted, it is common Hollywood practice to pass along the names of your best people, from your manager at Creative Artists Agency to the doctor who can treat your zit. "It's like sharing military secrets with your allies," he said.