Interview Date: 12/13/2010
Run Date: 12/16/2010
Isaiah Mustafa’s name may not immediately ring a bell with you, but his most famous role will certainly bring a smile to your face. He is…the Old Spice Guy. If you’ve seen his commercials, then you can understand why we’d take the opportunity to have a chat with someone who’s brought us so much laughter over the course of 2010. Given the reason for his recent fame, it’s only appropriate that our conversation came about as a result of Mustafa’s latest gig: hosting TBS’s annual “Funniest Commercials of the Year” special, which premieres on Dec. 16. During the interview, we got a bit of back story on how he came to shill Old Spice, but he also spoke on his love of Ellen Degeneres, lessons he’s learned from Mark Harmon, and whether or not he’s up to the challenge of delivering the line “sweet Christmas” properly should he be given the chance to play Luke Cage.
Bullz-Eye: Hey, Isaiah, how’s it going?
Isaiah Mustafa: Great. How are you doing?
BE: Pretty good. So, who would have thought you would have gotten a long term gig out of doing that first commercial, huh?
IM: (Laughs) Who would have thought?
BE: So tell me a little bit about the origins of that commercial. How did you first come on board with Old Spice?
IM: I just went to an audition.
BE: That easy, huh?
IM: It was just a random audition that I went to, hoping to get a job that would make some money.
BE: What did you think when you first read the script?
IM: I was, like, “Wow, that’s a lot to say, a real mouthful for one breath!” But I needed to learn how to say it, so I just started practicing it. I thought, “Well, let me just go ahead and prepare…”
BE: So did you manage to knock it out on the first take, or did it take a couple of tries?
IM: The actual shoot I never flubbed, not one time. But it took several takes because it has to be precise every time. It’s sort of like a mouse trap. Everything has to work in order for it to flow. So it took several takes for everything to kind of…for the technical stuff to kind of fall into place. So it took quite a few…four days, I think. But we got it.
BE: Did it get frustrating when you weren’t the one making the mistakes but there were still errors to be had?
IM: Not at all.
IM: I played football in the past, so you have to understand that everybody is… (Hesitates) Uh, wow, the biggest rock just hit my windshield and didn’t break it.
IM: Yeah, wow! (Laughs) Anyway, so you have to understand that everybody has kind of, like, their role. It’s a long game, so you can’t be yelling at defense if they get beat once or twice. You’ve just got to hope that they pull it together and get their job done. And for the most part everybody did, it worked out.
BE: So what was it like getting the call to host this particular program? Were you excited about the opportunity?
IM: Any time that you can do something that one of your heroes has done in the past is a great thing. I am a huge Kevin Nealon fan. Huge. So the fact that I got to do something that he has done…that’s like me doing “Weekend Update,” do you know what I mean? It’s an honor. So for that reason alone I was excited. And also just because I knew that one of my spots was going to be in there, and I was excited about that, also.
BE: Well, taking your own commercial out of contention, what were some of your own favorite ads that you saw this year?
IM: Aside from my ad, my favorite commercial on the show…let’s see. There’s one where…it’s from the Netherlands, a guy leaves the keys in his car, and the car starts to roll. And he’s trying to get in the car, he’s running after it. He gets on a bike. He manages to get in the car to get the keys and, like, right before it gets to a cliff, he realizes that the steering wheel is locked. So it’s, like, “Well, what was the point in that?” (Laughs) That was kind of cool.
BE: So, obviously, the Old Spice commercial was the commercial that brought you to prominence, but how much commercial work had you done prior to this?
IM: I’ve been acting, as far as getting paid for acting, since 2002. So every year…I think every actor would like to get a couple of commercials to help pay the bills, or get on series or do a couple of TV shows. So I’ve had my fair share of commercials.
BE: What did you think of the “Sesame Street” parody of your Old Spice spot?
IM: Anytime you’re parodied by “Sesame Street,” that means something. That show is iconic. So anytime that show takes what you did and throws it into their mix, it’s amazing. So I would say if “SNL” parodied me also…it’s like that, you know?
BE: I understand that you’re in the new Madea movie.
IM: Yeah. It comes out in April. “Madea’s Big Happy Family”.
BE: How was Tyler Perry to work with?
IM: Oh, it was awesome, it was awesome. He’s a cool guy to work for because he really…you know, the experience that I had was that he really wants to get the best. You know, he’s kind of a…I wouldn’t call him a perfectionist because I wasn’t with him on set everyday, so I couldn’t see what was going on, but as far as the things that I was doing, I know that he really wanted me to really get the experience of doing a movie for the first time as a leading man. So he really helped me kind of put my best foot forward, I should say.
BE: I know you’ve done a lot of other appearances on various TV series. Do you have a favorite or one that was particularly memorable of your one-off roles?
IM: I have this show that’s coming out called “Love Bites.” I’m very curious to see what the finished product was, because it was a lot of fun to make, a lot of fun to film. I think it’s funny, so I hope that everyone else does too. But it was a lot of fun, it was so much fun.
BE: What was it like working on like “NCIS” and “Chuck” and stuff like that?
IM: You know, on “NCIS,” I was there for a week and I learned a lot from Mark Harmon. He is just such a professional and such a good guy. I mean, I was just a co-star of the show, and he took the time to have lunch with me, to sit down and talk to me. Like, he asked me “What are you up to? What are your goals?” He was just a really genuine, nice guy. And, I mean, he did not have to do that. That was something that was very classy of him to do. And then when the lunch was over, he took my tray and bussed it! I was, like, “Are you kidding me?” He was the nicest guy. I’ve never experienced that before, and I remember thinking to myself, “If anything ever happens to where I become a big movie star or TV star, that’s how I want to be. I want to be exactly like that.”
BE: I know you’ve done several appearances on various talk shows, too. Do you have a favorite of that group?
IM: Yeah, I love Ellen DeGeneres. I do. I say that with all sincerity. She is absolutely amazing. She has been nothing but nice. I mean, I can’t even explain it to you because it really…there’s a bit of emotion that comes up with it, because she’s such a sweet person, and you can see how genuine she is when you look into her eyes. You know that she means what she is saying. So, like, I would do anything for her show. Like, her show is the only show that I’m willing to do just about anything for.
BE: I know you played Luke Cage for a thing on Marvel.com. Would you want to be under consideration if they finally make the long discussed Luke Cage movie?
IM: Yeah. Of course. Hell, yeah, as a matter of fact. (Laughs)
BE: So you were already a Power Man fan, then, eh?
IM: You have no idea. You really don’t. I am an extreme Luke Cage fan. I liked Luke Cage when he was Power Man, but I also like Luke Cage when he’s just Luke Cage. He’s very close to the Old Spice character. He’s very tongue in cheek with a lot of what he’s saying, you know? Like, he gets away with a lot because he’s Luke Cage, but he also has these problems, these issues that are just every day issues that the Old Spice guy never has because…well, he’s ultimately the perfect man, so nothing happens. (Laughs) But Luke Cage, he’s a perfect guy, but he’s got these every day issues. Like, he’s got to buy diapers for his newborn baby. Stuff like that. That’s what makes it so much more interesting. So I would love to play that.
BE: You just have to make sure that you’ve got your delivery of the phrase “sweet Christmas down” just right.
IM: (Laughs) You know, that’s a very tricky phrase to throw out, and it has to be said with all sincerity. And it has to be said in a way that is not campy and that people understand what you mean. Like, it’s one of those things that has to have several meanings at once and no meaning at all.
BE: Lastly, how completely surreal is it to find yourself a sex symbol?
IM: Well, that’s a great question…and it’s pretty surreal. It’s one of those things where I wake up every morning and I really just go, “Thank you.” Because, you know, all my life I’ve wanted to be a sex symbol. (Laughs)
BE: It worked out nicely, then.
IM: I’m not going to lie to you, though. Seriously, ever since I saw Mark Harmon on the cover of “People” as the sexiest man alive…I didn’t know what it meant back then in, like, ’85 or whenever it was, I had no idea, I just knew that he was on TV show. He was a doctor on a TV show and I was, like, “I don’t get it, what’s the deal?” And I remember my mom telling me, she’s, like, “Oh, that just means that he has sex appeal.” And I go, “But what is that?” But she couldn’t really explain it, you know what I mean? So she explained it as, “Everybody thinks that he’s a man’s man, he’s the man that everybody wants to be. “So once I heard that, I was, like, “Wow, that’s what I want to do!”
BE: Did you happen to mention that to him when you worked with him?
IM: No, but I would mention it to him now! (Laughs) When I worked with him, I just told him what a big fan I was and I knew he played football and everything. We just talked sports a lot.
BE: Alright, man, it’s been good talking to you. I appreciate it, and I’m looking forward to watching the show.IM: Thank you very much, man!