This interview is long—so lemme keep this intro short. A little while back I met a young actor named Tim Hornor. In the course of our Party Small Talk, Tim told me that he’d just filmed a commercial for Budweiser that was going to play during the Super Bowl. I said, “I can’t believe you’re going to be in a Super Bowl commercial! I must interview you for my blog!” He shrugged, and said, “Sure. Okay.” So here is Part One of that interview:
John: I can’t believe you’re going to be a Superbowl commercial!
Tim: Well, we’ll see. Budweiser has apparently filmed about three commercials featuring their Clydesdales, and will choose one or two of them to debut at the Superbowl. I am in one of them.
John: So even though the economy is awful, Budweiser apparently has enough money to film three full commercials, and then just decide which one of them to show during the Superbowl? That’s amazing.
Tim: I suspect that all three will be aired; I would guess that they just won’t all debut during the Superbowl. But, that’s just speculation on my part. Surprisingly, they haven’t asked my opinion about how best to proceed in these difficult economic times. [This note just in from Tim: “I found out today that the commercial I’m in will definitely be airing—if not during the Super Bowl itself, definitely at some point on Sunday.”]
John: Losers. Who knows more about how to survive economic hard times than a professional actor?
Tim: We don’t call them “hard times.” We simply refer to them as “times.”
John: How long have you been out in the world, trying to make it as an actor?
Tim: I quit my last “real” job in 2000, but the next three years were spent in graduate school at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. (Go Huskers.) In my graduate program, they waved any tuition fees and paid us to act and teach in the theatre department, so technically I was making my living, but I wasn’t really “out in the world” until I graduated in 2003. Since then, I have been making my living as an actor and improviser, occasionally making a little extra money teaching and writing.
John: Why did you choose to pursue your acting career in Los Angeles rather than in New York? Is that a choice actors generally have to make, or …?
Tim: I think most actors who are serious about pursuing acting as their sole career have to make the choice between LA and NYC at some point. There are many cities in the country where it is possible to make a living as an actor. I made my living as an actor in Seattle for three years before moving down to LA. I know it’s possible in other cities as well—Chicago, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Houston and Orlando are all places where I know people who are making or have made a living acting. But, it’s very hard. In Seattle, I did plays back-to-back-to-back. Often I would start rehearsing one play before I was finished with the performances of my last one. Theatre is a six day-a-week job, so I’d have four days off a month—and if I was really going to have enough money to survive, I would need to have booked an additional commercial job to shoot on one of those four days. I was constantly trying to line up jobs and really had no financial safety net. An emergency root canal or a major car repair would have ruined me. Health insurance was never an option. It’s a difficult way to make a living.
That all being said, I loved it. Seattle gave me an opportunity to work a lot and really hone my skills. I got to play roles that I never would have played it cities like LA or NYC , where bigger-name actors live. But, there is a lot more work and money in the larger markets and, ultimately, I decided I wanted to see if I could reconcile my love of acting with my desire to live a slightly more stable life—one with savings accounts, trips to the dentist and a car with a stereo and cup holders.
How I ultimately decided to move to LA is a complicated issue with a number of variables, both professional and personal. I have good friends in LA. My family is all on the west coast. I had actor friends that were having success here which encouraged me. I think my personal strengths as an actor give me a higher ceiling in film and television work (LA) than I’d have in theatre (NYC). As a Mariners fan I wasn’t sure I could stomach all the Yankee’s caps. There were a variety of factors that resulted in me feeling that LA was where I was supposed to go. So, I did.
Tim: I didn’t have any jobs lined up—but I did have agents lined up, which is a major advantage over most actors that move here. Most people can take two years or more to find and get set up with their agents. But I had done enough work in Seattle that I was able to line up agents before moving here. So while I didn’t have any work lined up, I was able to start auditioning immediately, and so was able to start getting jobs pretty quickly.
John: Agents? As in plural? I always thought an actor had one agent, not … more than one. But no?
Tim: In LA, at least, agents specialize. A commercial agent gets you auditions for commercials, and a theatrical agent gets you auditions for television and film. So I have one of each.
John: Impressive! How did you get the Super Bowl Budweiser commercial gig? That must be the Holy Grail of commercials.
Tim: An actor only gets paid when they act in something, but the real day-to-day work that an actor does is auditioning. It’s like the main job I have is interviewing for jobs. I’ll usually have three or four auditions a week, predominantly for commercials at this point in my career, though I hope that I begin transitioning towards more television and film auditions. Commercial auditions are all pretty much the same. You read for the part in front of a casting director. If they think you could be right for the part, they call you back for a second audition in front of the commercial’s director, representatives of the advertising agency producing the commercial, and people from the company that the commercial is selling. They all confer about who they want in the commercial and sometimes you are lucky enough to get the job. Sometimes the audition is for a low-paying Internet banner ad, and sometimes it’s for a big-budget national commercial. The process of getting the Budweiser spot was really no different than dozens of lower-profile jobs I’ve booked in the past.
The “Holy Grail” aspect of your question is a little more slippery. There is certainly a status aspect involved with the Super Bowl commercials. As a patriotic American, I do love the Super Bowl, even if the Seahawks might never play in it again. It definitely sounds cool to say you’ve done a SB commercial, and results in hearty claps on the back from those who hear me say it. I like that about it. The Super Bowl commercials are some of the only commercials that don’t get Tivo’d over anymore, so the remotest possibility exists that I could get some exposure that would result in more work. But, since my performance in this particular job consists of being barely noticeable while standing next to an enormous horse, the chances of that happening this time are on par with me getting struck by lightning.
The remaining variable to explore is economic. The reason actors do commercials is because they pay. They are often fun to do, but rarely are they terribly edifying from an artistic standpoint. I have won awards for Shakespearean performances that I have given, but the majority of my rent has been paid by beer and video game commercials. The actor gets paid every time the commercial plays, so really, the “Holy Grail of commercials” is the one that plays all the time for a very long time. So, it’s kind of a crap shoot. Sometimes you see a commercial that debuts at the Super Bowl play often and for a long time. Sometimes Super Bowl commercials play at the Super Bowl, and then never again. There’s just no way to know at this point.
Part 2 of this interview is Christian Actor in Upcoming Super Bowl Commercial Reveals Desire to Play Satan!