It's the guy in the Old Spice commercial: Isaiah Mustafa
"I just tried to create this lovable, oblivious [buffoon], who's a little bit smug," he said. (OK, Isaiah didn't really say "buffoon." Nobody says "buffoon" except maybe for the guy on the horse. You get the idea, though. In a lovable way, of course.)
"But he really just wants to help."
Mustafa talked to the Ministry from the set of the ABC series "Castle," where his FBI agent character was soon to be put to work "sweeping the building." It was a job he booked right before the ad hit -- though since then, he says, he's been getting a lot more opportunities for work.
The Old Spice body wash audition was like any other except ...
... the night before, he called a college buddy, quarterback Jake Plummer, most recently of the NFL's Denver Broncos, to shoot the breeze. Jake wasn't home, but Jake's answering machine was -- so Isaiah, schooled in improvisation, did an over-the-top mini performance of the script he had in hand.
It was over the top in a way that wound up striking the fancy of the public, as it caught the wave of uber ad-awareness that follows Super Bowl Sunday. Playing in theaters while couples hit "Valentine's Day" and "Avatar" last weekend hasn't hurt either.
"I just did it for him, and I did it extra big, and then when I hung up, I thought, 'Maybe I should try it that way and see if they like it.' "
They did. (They aren't alone.) It then took three days of shooting, many dozens of takes and an astonishingly tiny amount of digital special effects to capture a spot that takes Mustafa from a shower to a boat to a horse on the beach in one flowing shot. Yes, the horse is real.
If you're interested in such things, a "making of" video interview by tech guru Leo LaPorte with creative guys Craig Allen and Eric Kallman is embedded below. It's long, but don't be afraid -- the man on the horse wouldn't be afraid. Nor would the man on the horse backward. Along with the secrets of the shoot, it includes plenty of praise for Mustafa's powers of concentration and sense of humor, and, surprise, we learn the spot was aimed at women as well as men.
The commercial went up on YouTube on Feb. 4, and before Super Bowl Sunday, the official clip had about 30,000 views, Mustafa said. But the Monday after Super Bowl XLIV -- Feb. 8 was actually the first day the spot was broadcast -- the views climbed to about 250,000.
"Then it got crazy," he says, "and it was like 100,000 more every couple of hours. My daily thing was to go look in the morning and go, 'Whoa! No way!' " (At last check, this "manmercial" was pushing toward 2 milllion views, not counting about that number of views on unofficial versions as well; Mustafa can also be seen as the smoking-jacket-clad host of Old Spice's website.)
What more should you know about Isaiah Mustafa? Studied history at Arizona State. Played four years in the NFL as a wide receiver. In his mid-20s, he opened a barbecue place that taught him that even though his mom enjoyed running a restaurant, he absolutely did not.
What else? Oh, yes!
Ladies (and a select few of you gents): Isaiah does indeed have a girlfriend. She's a dancer -- "professional, not pole," he is quick to note -- whom he says is fantastic and funny.
And if that "he's taken" thing isn't made very clear? "She will kill me, she will be after me, high heels in hand," he says in mock terror, adding a good-natured chuckle. "Let that be known, I have a girlfriend!"
(Oddly, as he says this, his manliness quotient increases. Hmm.)
Thanks in part to her, Mustafa experienced what he says has been his only in-real-life fan recognition so far. Running at the last minute the day before Valentine's Day, he said, he hit up Burke Williams to snag her a gift certificate for a spa package.
"There was a couple standing behind me, and as I'm leaving, the guy stops me," Mustafa said. Are you that guy in the commercial? Getting a "yep, that's me" in reply, "He said, 'Dude, that's some funny stuff, keep it coming!' "
So what's most likely to keep it coming from the Man Who Smells Like the Man Your Man Could Smell Like? Mustafa pointed it out to the folks who follow him on Twitter.
Hint: It would fit easily on the shelf in your medicine cabinet.
-- Christie D'Zurilla
P.S. Don't miss the video below -- it's awesome. Almost as awesome as the commercial. The video, however, is not on a horse.
Photo credits: David Noles, top left; Procter & Gamble, lower right and left.