In honor of the Oscars ceremony coming up this Sunday evening, I want to share with you a television commercial for the 2007 Oscars telecast in which I appeared.
How did I come to appear in a TV commercial for the Oscars? It’s an interesting story.
"Excuse me, Sir, would you be interested in . . .?"
"No. Whatever it is, I'm not interested."
Having grown up in and around New York City, I was suspicious when I was approached by a stranger with a clipboard in Grand Central Terminal. I thought it was either a request for a donation to a spurious charity or an attempt to sell me something I didn't need and didn't want. But when the man approached me a second time, saying "I'm not selling anything" and showing me a photo ID issued by Grand Central, I was at least willing to listen to what he had to say.
I'm glad I did, because it led to an interesting experience, a stint as a very minor celebrity and a serendipitous payment of about $3500.
Two weeks before Rosh Hashanah 2006, while we were living in Norwich CT, Keleigh and I took the Shoreline East commuter train from Old Saybrook CT into the city to visit the Metropolitan Museum and have lunch and dinner in kosher restaurants. With the holidays coming up, I knew that it would be late October before we might have another chance. But when I was asked if I would be willing to audition for a commercial directed by Spike Lee, Keleigh and I decided to give up an hour or so of our museum visit, if both of us could audition. So we filled out some information sheets and release forms, had digital and Polaroid pictures taken, and were ushered into a large but unused waiting area where there were cameras and lights set up.
A couple of hundred feet away from where we were told to stand, a middle-aged Black man was sitting on a crate and saying lines to a young boy, who repeated them. My wife asked me why he looked familiar, and I looked closely and said "because that's Spike Lee." After two or three other would-be actors auditioned, Keleigh went up and gave her lines. It had been explained to us that the commercial would be for the Oscars telecast, and the idea was ordinary people saying famous lines from classic films.
I thought that Keleigh's audition was very good, and when she finished and it was my turn, Spike Lee told me that he thought so as well. He gave me some lines to say -- some of them were familiar, some not, and I didn't remember everything that I said, though I do remember saying "ET phone home" and "Luke, I am your father."
A month later we got a phone call from Chiat-Day, the Los Angeles advertising agency producing the commercial. They told me that they wanted to use some of my footage -- unfortunately only mine, not Keleigh's -- if I was still willing to allow them to do so. If so, they would Fed-Ex a release and a contract which was to be signed and returned immediately.
I didn't know what they would use until the morning the Oscar nominations were announced, at which time the commercial began running on abc.com, oscars.com and on television. I watched myself shout "Frodo", and I must have seen that moment a hundred times since. To be honest, I didn't even know who or what "Frodo" was until I "Googled" the word after seeing the commercial for the first time -- it's a line from "Lord of the Rings." All in all, it was an interesting experience, and it paid for a significant part of a trip Keleigh and I took to Israel that summer, but I'm not planning on giving up the rabbinate to go into acting full time.
As a reminder, I am having drop-in hours on Thursday afternoon from 2 to 4 at the shul. You do not need to make an appointment -- that would negate the whole point of drop-in hours -- but I’d urge you to check and make sure I am there regardless as sometimes there are unavoidable pastoral or other emergencies which might take me away from the building.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at email@example.com or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment. I have been spending more time in the synagogue recently but if you want to speak with me it’s best to make an appointment rather than assuming I will be there when you stop by.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian