Sam Elliott on the making of Doritos’ Super Bowl commercial
On Wednesday, Frito-Lay Doritos released its 2020 Super Bowl commercial. The 60-second spot from Goodby Silverstein & Partners positions actor Sam Elliott in a Western-themed dance-off with music artist Lil Nas X as they battle for a bag of a revamped Doritos Cool Ranch.
The 75-year-old Elliott, known for his roles in Westerns like “Road House" and “Tombstone,” as well as the Coen brothers' “The Big Lebowski,” spoke to Ad Age about the making of Doritos’ spot, working with Lil Nas X and being glad to be the cowboy yet again.
This is your first time appearing in a Super Bowl commercial. What’s the difference between doing a Super Bowl spot versus a movie or TV show?
The big difference is there’s so many people to answer to in the advertising world. That said, all the advertising people, all the Frito-Lay people are off in a different part of the world … you don’t even know they’re there. Everything gets filtered to the set, then comes to me by the director. In this case it was from Lance Accord, who’s done a lot of Super Bowl commercials in the past. In terms of the shoot itself, it felt very much like being on a movie set. The look of the interior was really spectacular. So it’s very much like [a movie], except there’s a lot of people with a lot of input. There’s a lot on the line here.
How long did it take to shoot?
Two days. Initially, when this was proposed to me, they were saying they were going to do it in one day. When I got the script, and I looked at the script, I questioned that in my own mind. I didn’t question that to anyone else but my agent. But we did a lot of preparation before we got to the location. We had a number of rehearsals, particularly the dance rehearsals. I went out of my way to be there for that—I drove out to the desert—and I’m glad I did.
How did you feel about the dancing?
I tell ya, at my age, I was a little concerned about it. Thanks to the technical world we’re in, with CGI and all of that, initially it was proposed to me that I wouldn’t have to do anything but shake my hips a little bit. Once I was working with the choreographer and speaking to the director about it, I knew it was going to be more than that. That’s why I went out of my way to spend as much time in the rehearsals as possible, because I wanted to do as much as I could.
Do you watch the Super Bowl?
I do. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t watch the Super Bowl. Even if you’re not a football fan, there’s such a hype about it and a curiosity. Everybody goes out of their way to see it, even just for the commercials. I’m going to watch it with my wife and my daughter and maybe a couple of friends and that will be it. Being a native Californian, I’m leaning towards the 49ers.
Did you know “Old Town Road” before you got the gig?
I did know the music. I saw the interview in which Lil Nas came out. That really piqued my interest in him. He seemed like an honest individual and he’s obviously incredibly talented. He’s young, he’s got a long road ahead of him and he’s got a lot to learn at the same time. He is quite an individual. I have a daughter who is in her early 30s and I think she’s the one who introduced him to me initially.
How was working with Lil Nas X?
I found him incredible. I was curious going out there … here was this kid who was virtually unknown to anyone a year ago. With this thing to blow up as it has, I was curious to know how he was handling it all at 19 years old. I found him a pretty solid kid. I don’t think anything has gone to his head. He’s very mature. He has a lot to learn in the film business, but I thought he did a good job. He listened to the director. He was paying attention the whole time. You know, when you step into the hot seat and you’re in front of a camera for the first time on a film set, it’s a whole different deal than being up on stage singing a song you wrote. I thought he fared really well with it. He was a pleasure to be around. I was impressed with him enough to go to the Grammys the first time the other night. We were happy to see him running around in his hot pink outfit.
You were once worried about being typecast as a cowboy. What really appealed to you about this spot?
I felt on some level early on that I was certainly typecast as a Western-type character. I used to have an issue with that. But I got over that and the reason I got over it, was I realized how good it has been to me over the long haul. I’ve been doing this for 50 years. It keeps circling back. It’s not like it’s the only thing I do, but it keeps coming back. And it came back around in this spot. It’s the only reason I got this call about this spot. The irony is that the outfit I wore in the spot was the exact same outfit I [wore] 30 years ago with my wife. It all came full circle in some way. If I’m going to be known as the Western guy, then I’m happy to be known as the Western guy.