A Director's Take: 10 Years With Dos Equis' Most Interesting Man
It's a melancholy moment in beer history advertising as Dos Equis recently said farewell to its famed spokesman, the Most Interesting Man in the World, who recently took a one-way trip to the moon. Played by actor Jonathan Goldsmith, the iconic character has had one trusty collaborator by his side for the entire run, director Steve Miller of Radical Media, who was there to shoot the first ad, the last one and scores of others in between.
As part of our look back on the campaign, Ad Age checked in with Mr. Miller about his favorite moments from the set, developing the character over an entire decade and his thoughts on what the Most Interesting Man might be doing right now.
Ad Age: So you're one of the only people who has remained with the campaign since day one.
Steve Miller: I've really been there for every minute for 10 years. There were three individuals who have been in every part of the process: Jonathan Goldsmith, myself and an extra named Todd, who became like a good luck charm and was in some iteration of a scene every year for 10 years. He's always played a little something somewhere and, visible or not, he was there for us.
Ad Age: What was your first memory of the campaign?
Mr. Miller: I remember getting the scripts from [Creatives] Brandon [Henderson] and Karl [Lieberman] and I remember I had just been sitting in a yard somewhere. I just knew that done right, what they had given me was something pretty special. To their credit, it was all there in terms of the tone and where they were going with the beautiful sarcasm. All they really sent me was a description of who he might be, and then just a little breakdown -- we might see him releasing a bear from a bear trap, maybe he's bench-pressing some nurses, etc. I knew then it was going to be something to make special.
Ad Age: Were you single bid for this? Do you remember your treatment?
Mr. Miller: They were talking to three other guys -- and I don't know, there was something about it I just connected with so maybe that won them over. I don't really remember, but I think [my treatment] was about who this guy might be, and how to establish the right kind of tone ... the whole thing had to almost unfold like an inside joke to the audience. That was key. The other key was to make sure we were creating something that could feel like we were forming an amazing individual that was built around this absolutely true but made-up mythology. I think that's where that implausible/impossible thing that somebody brought up was -- we really did develop rules to the approach of how we made the character, what we could do in terms of pushing the edge of what was realistic and what wasn't. But for me it was all about this idea of creating this chest of found footage, like a living diary. That's the way we started and the way it went for 10 years.
Ad Age: Some already shared their memories about the casting. How do you remember it?
Mr. Miller: I remember as soon as we saw Jonathan, we looked around the room and we just said, "That's him." We were like, Yeah, this is the guy," because he started telling stories adopting the character in that first-person format.
Ad Age: How many spots did you shoot?
Mr. Miller: I haven't counted. It's a decade's worth, which is nuts. We approached each shoot in a manner that we were just trying to collect as much footage of him doing incredible things.
Ad Age: Do you have a favorite spot from the campaign?
Mr. Miller: The very first year is my personal favorite. It really hit that tonality of presenting the idea of a spokesperson in that kind of satirical way. It established the campaign, people were amazed the first time they heard those words, "I don't always drink beer." That felt like a ballsy thing to say, but it was also inclusive. It included the audience to say, "Listen, we know there are more important things in life, but in terms of beer, this is a pretty good product," and to finish that up with "Stay thirsty, my friends." They were just great words.
Ad Age: Do you have a favorite moment from the set?
Mr. Miller: I have two. One was a "most intense moment," and that was when that bear did escape. What you can't see in that little cilp is that there was a moment when the bear came back out of the brush, and headed in our direction. At that moment, I really thought, "OK, this could be it." And then I just remember thinking, "Just look at your feet, don't look him in the eye," and all of a sudden he was back where he was supposed to be. That was the very first scene we shot from the campaign. So imagine that, the very first scene we were shooting, we almost lose a man.
My favorite moment might have been, when were circling Jonathan, [who was] surrounded by beauty pageant contestants, sitting in a little military inflatable boat at the Hansen Dam in L.A. at about 4 o'clock in the morning. There was this crazy thrill of being in the water in the middle of the night. It was the closest thing to raw filmmaking.
Ad Age: What was Jonathan like on set? Did he evolve over the years?
Mr. Miller: I think he did. Sometimes it was hard for him because he was creating this character without dialogue, and I was always pulling him back. I was always trying to keep him in this place of doing less, and I think he always wanted to do more. He stopped doing that after a while -- he'd always look at me and we'd have this little laugh: "I know, I know, stop acting." But the more he was in character within the context of the campaign, the more he was able to become the character, and he wasn't overworking anything, and it created this comfort level where he was able to just be in these moments.
Ad Age: What's the story behind that big laugh that the Most Interesting Man delivers in a lot of the spots?
Mr. Miller: That was one of the biggest things, where I did try to push him over the top, with this big gesture, this boisterous laugh. There was something about that that felt right in so many of the moments because a lot of them wouldn't really provide that. I remember one, in particular, where I had him running with a fox away from a fox hunt. We shot it lots of different ways, with intensity, with concern -- but then to have him running and laughing, having this boisterous laugh as he was running away from the mounted hunters, it made that whole scene work. So then, whenever we were shooting something, when I felt like the last thing you'd expect to come from this moment would be an unbridled laugh, we would have to capture that [laugh]. A lot of times I would just end a scene with that. I always loved to do that because it also alluded to a scene that we weren't privy to.
Ad Age: As a director, what did you learn from being on this campaign? It's such a rare opportunity to be on something for so long.
Mr. Miller: I learned a lot of trusting -- that within every storyline we would find the really funny bit, just knowing that the character was strong enough to carry that weight of any storytelling issue you'd normally have to develop. With this character, I could always trust that no matter what it was -- whether he was absconding with beauty pageant contestants, or sewing his own wounds from a shark fight or hoisting a marlon -- that we would find the moment that would be funny. It allowed me as a director to relax about everything.
Ad Age: Can you talk about that final ad? Was it difficult bringing together all those characters from the Most Interesting Man's past?
Mr. Miller: I made a wish list of favorite characters that I thought would give a quick impression, bring back the memories of whatever adventure they were associated with. Basically, we had to get as many of those as we could. For me, one of the most important were the diminutive dudes that he hands off his seven iron to -- from when he was golfing on the African plain. It was really important we had to start out with a marching band, and he had to hand off his seven iron to his golfing buddy from the Serengeti. We created a new duchess because we couldn't find the original one, then there was the dignitary in a fez from an unknown nation, the monks, the beauty pageant contestant, and of course, the bear.
Ad Age: Any mishaps on set?
Mr. Miller: We had 60-mile-an-hour winds. The wind was not our friend on that particular morning, but it did add something to the spot. It's very funny to get a military marching band walking in formation with tubas with 60-mile-an-hour winds. It set the tone.
Ad Age: And what about the bear?
Mr. Miller: He was perfectly behaved -- maybe because he wasn't a real bear.
Ad Age: Were there any tears shed?
Mr. Miller: It was weirdly emotional, I have to be honest. We all knew it was a great run and that we collectively build a great piece of work. We didn't know for sure if that was it. If anybody would have the wherewithal to come back from Mars, it would be him. There were moments when Jonathan and I would look at each other --"Is this really it?"
Ad Age: So what do you think the Most Interesting Man is doing right now?
Mr. Miller: He and his lady friend just polished off their first solar-baked lasagna.