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From Commercial To Stardom

The classic Hollywood icon Lauren Bacall once remarked that “stardom isn’t a profession but an accident”. Certainly this is true of many in the public realm – their notoriety was obtained by a combination of luck and grind; an ethereal combination of position and circumstance. Yet although path to fame has always been murky, the gilded side effect of fortune and seemingly impossible to formulate – there are certain paths that have proven to be ideal conduits to achieving it. 

In film acting, the paths are convergent and divergent in equal measure; from leveraging shock and personal scandal straight through to slowly working one’s way up the acting food chain. Even though some may eschew the later in favour of (the potentially quicker) former, many household names have built their reputations off of hard work and determination rising from the ‘bottom’ and climbing to the highest strata. 

For those that chose the grind, commercials have always been a great (paid) middle ground to launch themselves into the public sphere. Gaining a reputable credit and regular screen time are paramount to building one’s curriculum in the industry so it is no wonder that many of today’s biggest names cut their teeth selling everything from burgers to haemorrhoid cream. DDW takes a deeper look at the 5 of the biggest and most surprising actors that got their stripes with television commercials:

Brad Pitt 

Pitt famously built his fanbase through commercial work, winning hearts and minds in America and across the world with his timeless good looks, charm and smile. He started with a Pringles crisp commercial (1989) and then much lauded Levi’s and Rolex gigs. Five years later he hit the big time with Interview with the Vampire which he quickly followed with the iconic Legends of the Fall, Fight Club and a seemingly endless sting of hits.  


Courteney Cox

Monica from Friends was not always the world’s favourite “it” girl. Before her big break on the show she was a model with Ford Model Agency and a frequent feature of commercial work. She starred in Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” music video and in this 1985 Tampax commerical . Of course since then Cox has become a regular feature in TV and film and is a much sought after actor. 


Ben Affleck

Believe it or not, double Oscar-winning Ben Affleck’s career took off with a quintessentially 80’s Burger King  commercial (complete with carphone) in 1989. Prior to that, he had filmed a children’s TV show in Mexico and been a part of a few theatre productions. Years later that very same cheesy burger hawker would become Batman, who would have thought?


Keanu Reeves

Long before the John Wick and the Matrix Keanu was a prolific stage and commercial actor. However the one TV spot that got him national recognition (and a whopping £90) was his animated portrayal of a breakfast lover for the 1986 Corn Flakes commercial filmed at Toronto University’s grand hall. He was described as a “fidgety goofy teenager” by the director – a trademark he has still harnesses to this day. 


Leonardo DiCaprio

Leo is unequivocally Hollwood royalty, from Basketball Diaries to Romeo and Juliet  to The Revenant and Wolf of Wall Street few actors can claim to have the immense amount of range and skill that he has delivered throughout decades of timeless work. Nevertheless, even ‘golden Leo’ got his start on the small screen with this Bubble Yum bubble gum  1989 commercial in which he stars alongside Omar Gooding (Cuba Gooding’s brother) and a later string of local fashion and accessories commercials in the early 90s. 


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