The economy must have hit Hollywood very hard. How else can we explain the increase of big name actors in TV commercials?
That I was not in total shock when I saw Al Pacino peddling Vittoria’s Coffee in a recently released TV ad, is a sad indictment for the times which we live in.
There used to be a time when sports stars, musicians, and struggling actors were the main choice for advertisers. Michael Jordan gulped down Gatorade and wore Nike shoes. Michael Jackson drank Pepsi. A young, pre-Hollywood Naomi Watts turned down a date with Tom Cruise for a roast beef dinner.
A-list actors, on the other hand, had a credibility to uphold. There craft was an art, a passion, and no amount of money could sway them to the dark side of commercial advertising.
Refuge, however, would be found in Japan, the land of the rising sun, which saw a rise in celebrity endorsements for its local products. There was Harrison Ford selling Kirin Beer. Ditto Brad Pitt with Edwin Jeans.
Big money was being made for actors who already made upwards of $15 million a picture. Selling out slowly became a thing of substance, and it didn’t take long for those one time actors of anti-establishment, those artists amongst the movie stars, to join in on the act.
And how heartbreaking it was to see Robert De Niro, the Taxi Driver himself, peddle American Express.
“The talent is in the choices”, De Niro once declared. Does that mean he has become a hack? Didn’t commercials used to be the place where upcoming, struggling actors found work? Or gigs that established actors on the outs fell back on when work dried up?
Commercials don’t only belong to living legends. Mainstream actors like Benicio Del Toro are also in on the advertising game.
In Del Toro’s case, it’s playing ice cream man for Magnum. The tragedy of his decision is that Del Toro was an actor scene in a credible light for his choice of roles, one of which was playing Che Guevara in Steven Soderbergh’s biopic, Che.
You can imagine the irony in watching the world’s most famed Marxist selling ice cream in not 1, but 2 commercials!
George Clooney is cashing in as well, using his playboy persona to hustle Nespresso. Not long ago he was defending his role as an endorsee to none other than Russell Crowe, who firmly gave his peers a good lashing.
“I don't do ads for suits in Spain like George Clooney or cigarettes in Japan like Harrison Ford”, said Crowe. “And on one level, people go, 'Well, more fault to you, mate, because there's free money to be handed out.' But to me it's kind of sacrilegious - it's a complete contradiction of the fucking social contract you have with your audience.”
As I watch Pacino ramble about coffee, Crowe’s words stick in my mind.
“Most Pacino scripts have coffee stains on them”, so says the iconic thespian. Such a shame that his career has a different stain now.