Thursday, July 9, 2009
Everyone has to get their start somewhere. Once upon a time, our current celebrities were children and teenagers still yearning to prove their worth to the entertainment industry. Lucky for them, appearing in television commercial spots is a great way to get noticed and jump-start a burgeoning career. Lucky for us, many of these clips are now available online for our perusing and light mocking pleasure.
Seeing footage of celebrities before they hit their fame stride is a sort of unnerving phenomenon. On one hand, it gives you a bit of that well-once-upon-a-time-they-were-just-normal-kids kind of feeling. On the other, you realize that they've always been attractive and special and brimming with a level of star quality you couldn't even imagine possessing.
You want to believe they're just ordinary people, but even in their youth they were spectacular. While the rest of us were getting fitted for thick-framed glasses and sleeping in orthodontic headgear, these happy-go-lucky future celebrities were carefreely frolicking on our TV sets, hawking desirable products.
Without further speculation on how little the rest of us had accomplished by the time these pretty young things already had a hefty work portfolio in hand, I present a handpicked compilation of delightful before-they-were-incredibly-huge-stars-beyond-the-reaches-of-our-wildest-fantasies. Enjoy!
Paul Rudd for SuperNintendo
Okay, okay, so Rudd definitely isn't a kid in this one, but it was certainly before the hit his career prime. A young lad in his early 20s, Rudd's cheesy overly impressed expressions are truly priceless. When you compare this zealous enthusiasm with his contemporary deadpan humor, there is quite a divide. I love that frightened, sort of paranoid look on his face. It's like he's thinking, "Ohmygod this video game is so so so fun...but wait! What is that booming voice? That ominous wind? That increasingly dark commercial set?" He just looks like he can't believe he's getting away with playing video games while wearing a blazer. Well played, Paul Rudd. Literally.
Leonardo DiCaprio for Bubble Yum
This really is a quintessentially 90s commercial. That dialogue? That flannel shirt? That boombox? Oh, that boombox. Our boy Leo is up there giving it his all, illustrating the superior unpoppability of Bubble Yum in comparison to industrial-grade sound speakers. Pure 90s brilliance.
Sarah Michelle Gellar for Burger King
Don't be fooled by SMG's adorably innocuous appearance; this commercial was perceived as highly controversial for its time. Sure, compared to today's vicious attack ads this seems pretty tame, but back in the day this was considered a pretty heavy slam. In this 1981 ad spot, Burger King (via miniature spokesperson Sarah Michelle Gellar) contended that McDonald's burgers contained 20% less meat. I know, it's awful. I'm still getting over it.
Unlike today's openly aggressive ads, retro commercials featured the niceties of passive aggressive anonymity in their bashing of rival companies. This ad may seem pretty benign by today's standards, but it was indeed among the first commercials to bash a competitor by name. That's right: they named names. Burger King would have made out awesome during the Red Scare. Gellar herself even appeared in court to bear 4 year-old witness, if that makes any sense. I smell a publicity stunt. And a delicious, delicious, 20% meatier burger.
Brad Pitt for Levis
That swoonworthy floppy 90s hair really drove the girls wild. In the ad, Pitt plays a prisoner being released back into the wild, upon which he is immediately met by a super-attractive brunette in a skintight dress and convertible. The girl throws him his Levis and the warden looks on creepily as puts them on and publicly displays affection for this mystery woman. I really love their impromptu photo shoot, too. You sort of have to wonder what he was in for that he seems so carefree and unaffected by his stay in prison. My vote is for driving while intoxicatingly attractive.
This was not the only commercial in Pitt's youth; he'd also done a TV spot a few years earlier for Pringles potato chips. The quality is sort of pixelated, but perhaps its just to cover the obscene amazingness of Brad's shirtless physique. The height of his hair in this ad nearly rivals its Burn Before Reading proportions.
Brad Pitt for Pringles
Jessica Biel for Pringles
Brad Pitt wasn't the only future star who, once popped, could not find it within himself to stop. Jessica Biel also showed up in a Pringles ad a view years later. The clip above is a fairly recent one with Biel on the Letterman show, but be patient. I swear they show the commercial eventually and even handily smack a red arrow on the screen to identify Biel. She also describes the audition process, which seems to err slightly on the side of bizarre. They wanted to make sure she could adequately move a Pringle from one side of her mouth to another. I'm sure Biel gets that sort of thing all the time.
Lindsay Lohan for Jello
Ah, remember the days when Lindsay Lohan was but an adorable auburn-headed sprite? Say what you will about the oft-misguided starlet now, but back in the day she could certainly hold her own bopping around next to Mr. Cosby himself. Our freckly little pal was just bursting with enthusiasm, sporting a near-maniacal smile. I suppose I'd be pretty excited to if Mr. Huxtable let me hang out and chat gelatin snacks with him, too.
Steve Carell for Brown's Chicken
This 1989 ad reflects all that is good about Steve Carell--his open charm, his easygoing manner, his love for chicken. The whole thing comes off as very Michael Scott to me, though perhaps I tend to blur the line between Carell and his character during my many idling hours of Office DVD-watching.
This ad, shot low-budgetly on location at a local Chicago Brown's Chicken, is certainly evident of humble beginnings. At the time, Carell was a part of the acclaimed Second City comedy troupe. Unluckily for him, this role didn't quite let him show off his comedy chops. It did, however, enlighten us about the cholesterol-free goodness of cottonseed oil. Mmmm, cottonseed oil.
Kirstin Dunst for Baby Dolly Surprise
Just look at little Kirsten in her polygamist cult-grade floppy lace-collared dress. She's one hair pouf away from being a mini-Chloe Sevigny on Big Love. I do love her little blonde 'fro, though. Whatever happened to curly Kirsten? You sort of have to wonder if she had some perm-crazy stage parents. Luckily, the phase seemed to have passed by the time she was interviewed by a vampire. A very, very good-looking vampire.
It just goes to show that stars really aren't just like us, no matter what counter-evidence US Weekly tries to peddle. For most, it was a quick hop, skip, and a jump from adorable child to devastatingly good-looking adult. Until those long lost awkward phase bar-mitzvah photos show up, we'll just have to settle for admiring them from afar.