Why do well-known celebrities do commercials?
February 6, 2016 4:02 PM   Subscribe

Why does Samuel L. Jackson do Capitol One commercials? Why did Shatner do Priceline ads? And I just saw Mario Lopez in a toe fungus treatment spot. Do they really need the money? Especially Shatner, who I imagine has tons of residuals from Star Trek. Other specific examples appreciated, the more ridiculous the product and well-known the celebrity the better.
posted by desjardins to Grab Bag (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, money. I read George Clooney pretty much covers his living expenses with his Nespresso ads in Europe. His movie money is just gravy.
posted by LoveHam at 4:08 PM on February 6, 2016 [6 favorites]

I don't know that it's a matter of needing the money so much as wanting it. A lot of people seem to think that once you get a certain amount of money, you stop wanting more; I don't think the actual behavior of rich people bears that out.

The idea that certain roles are beneath you also seems to be a specifically American thing (and has a lot of class issues bound up in it). Michael Caine's comment about Jaws: The Revenge is apropos:
I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific.
posted by asterix at 4:11 PM on February 6, 2016 [37 favorites]

Celebrities earn stupid amounts of money for what might only be a few hours in front of a camera to shoot a commercial, compared to the prep and time it takes to shoot a movie or tv show. Also consider that if it's been a while since you've had a hit, ads are a good way of keeping your profile up and if it's a particularly successful or funny ad, it can actually revive a dead career.
posted by Jubey at 4:11 PM on February 6, 2016 [11 favorites]

The amount of money in relation to the amount of time needed to film a 30-second commercial (or just a voice-over) would definitely make me not very adverse to make it SUNTORY TIME.
posted by kuanes at 4:11 PM on February 6, 2016 [18 favorites]

Also, perceptions of what is proper have changed recently. For many years it was considered ok to do voiceovers here and commercials overseas. But now everything is considered ok. And who WOULDN'T do a half-day's work and get tons of cash? I mean, I assume they only do products that aren't terrible.
posted by clone boulevard at 4:13 PM on February 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you can earn your annual budget spending a few days shilling for a bank, you can take as little or as much other work as you want, whatever kind you want, whenever you want. You'll never have to make a movie you don't adore. You can take six months off and hang out with your family. You can move to London and do a West End play for a season, and stay in a luxury hotel the entire time. You can do charity work and become a goodwill ambassador and have a foundation with your name on it and raise awareness for causes that matter to you because you can afford the time. You can hone your craft and be an artist and take risks and do all that stuff that gets people award nominations and accolades and love. You can afford to be famous for all the cool stuff you do, instead of having to work to remain famous by constantly working, whether or not the roles you get hired for are any good.

There is almost no one who wouldn't find that tempting.
posted by decathecting at 4:16 PM on February 6, 2016 [27 favorites]

There's the "diabe-tus" guy, Wildfire Brimley. Actually, if you watch old-person TV (reruns of Wild West West and Little House on the Prairie and such) you'll see lots of celebrities selling term life insurance and foot creams. Alex Trebek does a bunch of them.
posted by SMPA at 4:18 PM on February 6, 2016

Asterix: I don't think you can assume Caine is representative of UK actordom, there will be plenty of actors thinking stuff is beneath them. Caine also had a class difference from most of the UK actor types.
posted by biffa at 4:19 PM on February 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

It's worth noting that Shatner and Jackson are both doing a very specific oversized character role that's associated with their existing work: those Capital One commercials are practically cross-promotion for every MCU movie and TV show.
posted by SMPA at 4:21 PM on February 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think of Joey from Friends where if he didn't work often enough, he lost his health insurance. I'm not sure how real that is, but that would be a reason enough for me.
posted by jillithd at 4:21 PM on February 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't think you can assume Caine is representative of UK actordom, there will be plenty of actors thinking stuff is beneath them.

Sorry, didn't mean to imply that all British actors feel that way! Just that there's less stigma there than in the US, although now that I think of it the examples I'm coming up with off the top of my head are all older.
posted by asterix at 4:22 PM on February 6, 2016

I think Academy Award-winning Matthew McConaughey's recent Lincoln ads have probably put to bed any stigma there was, here. "That's a big bull." All is now considered fine.
posted by clone boulevard at 4:25 PM on February 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Decathecting has it exactly right - George Clooney straight-up admitted on "Inside The Actors Studio" that he did the Nespresso commercials to pay bills so that he could choose movies on a purely artistic basis, rather than being all "hmmm, I don't really dig this part but I do need to get something socked away to make up for the fact I didn't put anything into the IRA last year" or whatever. Also, sometimes if a celebrity really REALLY wants to be in an indie project that's having budget trouble, if they've got enough of an income stream from something else, then they have the ability to say "you know what, reduce what you had budgeted for my pay by a few grand and lower your budget that way."

Also: celebrities may make money from movies, but they also have living expenses just like the rest of us - they have mortgages and taxes and groceries and gas bills and doctor bills and car repairs and all that shit. It's not like Bill Shatner cashes all his residual checks from STAR TREK reruns and dumps all the money in a huge room and pretends he's Scrooge McDuck or anything.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:44 PM on February 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

There is also this issue: the richer you are, the more it costs to be rich. You have multiple home with multiple property taxes; upkeep on all of those; a lot of people who depend on you for their livings; cars and often planes; often very high alimony and a lot of child support; and a lot of celebrities have charitable foundations.

I'm not saying people with enormous net worth can't make ends meet or anything, but looking at that kind of vast monthly outcome probably encourages you to, you know, take the odd TV commercial.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:54 PM on February 6, 2016 [8 favorites]

I think of Joey from Friends where if he didn't work often enough, he lost his health insurance.

That's definitely a real thing for actors. They need some minimum of income from acting to qualify for the SAG health insurance. Wil Wheaton has talked about it on his blog.
posted by COD at 5:11 PM on February 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

nthing previous: the standard A-list actor's calculation has long been "what slightly shitty high-budget, high-payoff film should I take in order to make room for the low-budget, high-concept film with the director I like, or two months doing Ibsen at the Donmar Warehouse?" Ewan McGregor can do a lot of indie work thanks to the Star Wars prequels. Commercials are less of a time-sink than a shitty high-budget film, and even in the era of YouTube it's possible to do that kind of work somewhat under the radar.

(Nicole Kidman now works with the bloody compare-the-meerkats in the UK.)
posted by holgate at 5:33 PM on February 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

In addition to everything mentioned upstream, doing movies requires hard commitments of large blocks of time of large numbers of people, not just for filming, but possible reshoots, recording dialog replacement, and/or promotion around release time. It's also kind of exhausting and even big-name actors have trouble scheduling more than a couple movies a year. Ads, on the other hand, are very flexible, can be done in a day (Heck, a dozen of them can be done in a day!) and usually have flexible scheduling.

Often actors will do the ads for overseas products so it doesn't impact their domestic image, most popularly Japan. (For example Tommy Lee Jones has been doing commercials for Japanese coffee for ten years. For countless others, search YouTube for "japanese commercial" plus any of the following actors: Harrison Ford, Brad Pitt, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Cameron Diaz, Charlize Theron, Sean Connery, Bruce Willis, John Travolta, Kiefer Sutherland.) They can often film these commercials while already in the country while doing promotion for a film.
posted by Ookseer at 5:45 PM on February 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

Back in the 90s we judged people for "selling out" (vs staying authentic/independent) but in the age of the internet people want & need exposure, especially musicians who can get a lot of traction out of a catchy song on a commercial.

imo it started when Madonna shilled for The Gap and did this commercial with missy Elliott in 2003. I distinctly remember saying to myself that the line had been crossed and celebs will start doing commercials now.

But I also think back in the day celebs did commercials since being an actor / musician wasn't as revered as it is now - you were and entertainer and thus owned by the public to some degree. You weren't upper crust. The idea of artistic integrity (authenticity) was a new (and relatively short lived apparently) phenomenon, beginning with punk in the 70s I think.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:35 PM on February 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Some have also been involved in financial difficulties and need to recoup losses. Others have expensive hobbies. Nicholas Cage had tax issues, Shatner raises horses, Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick were a victim of Bernie Madoff, etc. I don't think Cage or Bacon were really heavily involved in ads before these events. I recall Shatner joking on the 70's/80's celebrity game show Match Game (yes I am old) that he did it to pay for his horses and divorces.
posted by beaning at 6:53 PM on February 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

You also might be surprised at how little actors make from residuals, especially older actors on shows from the '50-'70 or '80s. For example, your Shatner example: I doubt he ever made that much money from Star Trek reruns, because residuals just weren't as much of a thing back then, and while he was paid well for Star Trek, something like $15,000 per episode, that's a far cry from the hundreds of thousands a lead actor in a drama would make nowadays.
posted by Automocar at 7:33 PM on February 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

Ads are steady work for bigger celebs, since it usually involves a contract. Even a really popular A-lister can only do so many movies in a year, so their income from salary, at least, is irregular and unpredictable.

But i definitely agree that many jobs are like Michael Caine's vacation home: a spending goal that couldn't quite be afforded otherwise. Caine is also known for taking jobs that're filmed in sunny locations. If the ads definitely have to be filmed on the beach in Hawaii, that can be an attractive offer. Sure, celebs can afford vacations, but why not get paid to be there instead?
posted by Sunburnt at 7:35 PM on February 6, 2016

One more reason for the increasing presence of movie actors on TV is these days cable TV dramas are far superior to mainstream movies, and far more accessible than independent movies. Both movie actors and the TV audience know that.
posted by Homer42 at 8:20 PM on February 6, 2016

Are you kidding? William Shatner made well over 10 million bucks from Priceline alone. (not 600 million as spuriously reported). That is a non-trivial sum for a very small amount of work. Just guessing, but I would not be surprised if that was more than Shatner made in all the rest of his acting career combined.

Situation is much more extreme when it comes to athletes of course. For instance, Tiger made over 50 million in 2015 without winning a major!
posted by jcworth at 9:08 PM on February 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I saw Ellen DeGeneres do a Cover Girl commercial and was bummed out. But then I saw a clip of a show in which she was giving away a bunch of money by paying some woman's doctor bills or something. So my hypothesis is that some of these people do it to fund their philanthropy habit. George Clooney, for example, is a pretty big philanthropist.
posted by Beti at 9:58 PM on February 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Arnie Schwarzenegger does some crap ads on Australian TV. Surely he doesn't need a dime?
posted by wilful at 1:24 AM on February 7, 2016

You mention television residuals. That's a big fallacy.

First of all, any Star Trek residuals would be in 1967 dollars, and residuals end. In the sixties, it was after six airings. So no, there aren't any Star Trek residuals.

There might be a slight bump when the show moves to different media (VHS to DVD to Blu-Ray) but even THAT was hard won.

You know how all the airwave broadcast channels now have those non-HD channels showing re-runs from Emergency and Perry Mason? That's because they are nearly free No residuals to pay.

Also, as Tim Kazurinski once to observed to Bobcat Goldthwait about making those gawdawful Police Academy movies, "Money is like socks and underwear, you can never have too much."
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:56 AM on February 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

American stars have been doing commercials overseas for decades. Japan has been an especially lucrative market for them. It's a relatively recent development that current American stars do ads for the US.

There's also a ton of work/money doing voice work. If you listen closely to ads that have only a voiceover, you'll often hear a recognizable star's voice.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:18 PM on February 7, 2016

in addition to all that's been said - being a big movie star requires staff. A manager, an agent, a publicist, etc., etc. All those people need to be paid. All those people are making money as the industry that it is to be Samuel L Jackson. That's not just one actor choosing to do a commercial - that's a small company finding ways to keep bringing in money.
posted by miles1972 at 2:55 PM on February 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I recently worked on an ad shoot for a very boring, well known client. The ad involved a certain sports talent who is currently the best in the world, maybe history, at the sports thing he does. While I had nothing to do with securing the sports talent or anything related to that side of the production, word on set was he was making $10 million. This was for 5 hours on set for two days. He spent most of it in his trailer when he wasn't actively in a shot. So roughly a half million dollars an hour to mostly just hang around a set.

I know his contract, for the sport he actually plays, is about half that. For a year of doing the thing he is actually talented at.

I mean, I'd do it. It's a business.
posted by bradbane at 3:30 PM on February 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Asterix: I don't think you can assume Caine is representative of UK actordom, there will be plenty of actors thinking stuff is beneath them.

Alec Guinness didn't think much of Star Wars. Olivier was in zillions of things, not, I'm sure, all good. A gig's a gig.
posted by kenko at 9:09 PM on February 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Guinness on Star Wars: " ... new rubbish dialogue reaches me every other day on wadges of pink paper – and none of it makes my character clear or even bearable. I just think, thankfully, of the lovely bread, which will help me keep going until next April ... I must off to studio and work with a dwarf (very sweet – and he has to wash in a bidet) and your fellow countrymen Mark Hamill and Tennyson (that can't be right) Ford. Ellison (? – No!) – well, a rangy, languid young man who is probably intelligent and amusing. But Oh, God, God, they make me feel ninety – and treat me as if I was 106. – Oh, Harrison Ford – ever heard of him?"

I guess he did need the money? Surprising.
posted by kenko at 9:10 PM on February 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

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