Before they made it big on television, lots of actors honed their skills, and earned their keep, by appearing in commercials. Adweek asked several TV stars to recall the most memorable ads they ever acted in: the good, the bad and the ones that never made it to air.
Fred Savage, Chevrolet Blazer
Michael Jordan has starred in dozens if not hundreds of commercials over the years, but one of his very first was with a pre-Wonder Years Fred Savage, who was a fourth-grader in 1986 and appeared in local ads in Chicago. "I did a commercial with Michael Jordan at the very beginning—his rookie year—for your local Chicagoland Chevy dealer. This is before he did national spots, and this was a local spot," said Savage. "I just remember how nice he was, and he had to shoot a basketball through the open sunroof of a Blazer, and he never missed. All night long, never missed. For years later, I would see him, I would go to games, he would have me come to the locker room, he was so warm, just a great guy."
Rebecca Romijn, Miller Lite
In her late-'90s supermodel heyday, Rebecca Romijn appeared in a series of spots for Miller Lite. "They hired an ad agency that was out of Minneapolis at the time, and every concept they came up with was so outside the box. I did five or six commercials with them, but one of them, we shot in black and white and I was dressed up as a sexy little French maid on the beach, singing a song about how swimsuit models don't like it when you litter on the beach. I was mopping the beach and dusting the coconuts, and it was so weird and kitschy and fun, and not your typical beer commercial," Romijn said. And no, that wasn't her singing voice. "I begged for them to let me sing the song, but I was lip syncing to somebody else," she said. "It was really fun, though."
Randall Park, K-Y Intense
"I did a lot of commercials; that was how I made a living for a long time," said the Fresh Off the Boat star, who six years ago appeared in a spot for K-Y Jelly's K-Y Intense. "I was sitting in a bed with my wife or girlfriend, it's not really established, and we're bored, and then we decide to use a KY product that stimulates her, then we cut to a geyser shooting, and then it cuts back to us and we're frazzled and clearly just did it."
The ad was a big success, which was a mixed blessing for Park. "It was a funny little spot, but I didn't tell my folks about it, because I didn't want to have to explain things. It was a little embarrassing.They ended up airing that commercial, so many times, for a very long period of time! Which is a great blessing for commercial actors when they renew it, so that was great," said Park, who never was able to talk about the ad with his family. "There was no conversation with my parents, there was just quiet tension. They would mention, 'I saw your commercial …' I would say, 'Okay …' and then I would say nothing else."
Tony Goldwyn, Anheuser-Busch
While the Scandal star has directed several commercials, Tony Goldwyn hasn't acted in one since being cast in an extravagant series of Anheuser-Busch ads three decades ago. "I was hired to play Adolphus Busch, who was the founder of Anheuser-Busch. They were these beautiful, period commercials, in the 1870s or something like that. We shot them in France, because I guess he pioneered pasteurization of beer, and so it was me in France with Louis Pasteur, and we spent a week there. Then we went to Colorado, because he also was the guy who invented refrigerated rail cars, to transport beer, so we were in Colorado on rail cars. We shot this amazing campaign and it was the first time I'd even been paid a significant sum of money as an actor," said Goldwyn. If you don't remember the campaign, you're not alone: "Then, they never aired! They dumped the whole campaign! And they were gorgeous."
Andy Samberg, Honda Civic (Japanese ad)
Before Andy Samberg joined Saturday Night Live in 2005, the Brooklyn Nine-Nine star appeared in a Japanese Honda Civic commercial. "It shot in Tokyo, and the whole thing was five Americans of varying races, dancing in a car to the song, 'Let's Groove Tonight.' It was this weird car that had a seat in the middle of the front seat and every time I hear that song now, I get PTSD. I freak out. I can't handle it," said Samberg.
Carrie Preston, Hasbro
The Good Wife and True Blood actress occasionally acts onscreen with her husband, Lost and Person of Interest's Michael Emerson, and one of their early joint acting jobs was a Hasbro spot shortly before they married in 1998. "I never did a lot of commercials, but I did do one once for Hasbro, and I got to do it with my husband. In the commercial, we were a very conservative couple, and we were all playing a Hasbro board game, like we were the Mafia," said Preston. "They wanted couples in there, so they had us audition together." She and Emerson got the part, but apparently the producers didn't buy them as a couple: "In the commercial, they put us with other people!"
Alfonso Ribeiro, Pepsi
Michael Jackson's infamous 1984 commercial, in which the singer's hair caught fire during filming, overshadowed the second spot that Jackson shot for the soft drink company that year, which featured Alfonso Ribeiro as a Jackson fanatic who moonwalks into his idol, and dances with him. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air actor was 12 at the time, and "absolutely" realized what a huge deal his gig was. "Michael Jackson was the biggest performer in the world. They flew me from New York out to L.A. to shoot it, and it was just like 'Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god! I'm in this commercial and it's fantastic,'" said Ribeiro.
Ribeiro got to keep the jacket he sported in the ad, which was based on Jackson's wardrobe in his "Beat It" music video. "I actually have it in my house in the hallway as you come in. It's in a nice little frame on the wall. One day I'll take it off of there and give it to my son, to see him in it, which will be fun. He's 2, so we've got some time. But I was a small 12-year-old, so he'll probably be wearing it at like 6," said Ribeiro.
Clark Gregg, Excedrin
Thirty-five years ago, as the Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. actor had just moved to New York to pursue acting, someone got him a job as an extra on an Excedrin commercial. "[Actor] Frank Converse was the lead, and he was walking through Grand Central, talking about Excedrin. That's when I figured out how ambitious I was: I found a way to walk up behind him, and then act like I couldn't get past him, and be frustrated, and then go the other way, which tripled my potential screen time, to the point where everyone was like, 'Dude! I just saw you in this Excedrin commercial!'" said Gregg. "It was the first time I was ever on TV."
RuPaul, Jack in the Box
When RuPaul filmed a Jack in the Box ad in 2003, the drag icon recalls that there was no question who the real star on the shoot was. "I had two people who were working on me, keeping my hair and makeup together, but the [sourdough chicken club] had about seven people working on it to make sure it looked gorgeous," said RuPaul. "It was really funny."