Interview With Kenzo Lee – How to be One of the Most Recognisable Commercial Actors
Kenzo Lee has been dubbed one of the top 20 most commercial recognisable actors (in the USA) on IMDb. He’s appeared in adverts for T-Mobile, Southwest Airlines, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Samsung, U.S. Bank, Yahoo!, Comcast, Dodge Ram and has one coming up with Tide. Being a commercial actor is quickly becoming a in demand area of acting as it can often be lucrative and a lot of fun, so when we were offered the opportunity to pick Kenzo’s brain on all things commercial, we were very excited.
Cult Hub: What kind of Actor makes a sucessful commercial Actor?
Kenzo Lee: To be honest, ANY actor can be a successful commercial actor. In many ways, commercials are completely different from any other form of acting. As opposed to creating an in-depth character with honesty and specificity like you would in a feature film, television series, or onstage, commercials are more about getting an impression across in an extremely short period of time. We’re talking about telling a story and selling a product in less than 30 seconds. Its very different. I’d say that the main thing about commercial acting is instincts and being fearless.
CH: Tell me a little bit about your comedy show?
KL: About six years ago, I was itching to do theater. I had been doing indie films back to back for almost a year and had a desire to get onstage again. I saw a posting in Now Casting that was looking for Christopher Walken impersonators, and even though I had never done an impression of him before, I was interested. I ended up at a hole-in-the- wall theater on Hollywood Blvd, meeting with this tall blonde skinny version of Jim Carrey named Patrick O’Sullivan and showed him my Walken impersonation (it was atrocious) Fast forward six years later, and “All About Walken: the Impersonators of Christopher Walken” has toured to San Francisco, Sacramento, New York, and various theaters in Los Angeles. Our show not only pays homage to Mr. Walken but also places him in interesting new scenarios such as, “what if Christopher Walken had been a waiter, or what if Walken had become a pro-wrestler?” We’ve had everyone from Nathan Fillion to Efren Ramirez to Dante Basco to Alex Trebek attend the show. We are currently setting up a show for the summertime at The Dragonfly on Santa Monica Blvd.
CH: Do you think having comedy experience is a key tool in sucessfully booking commercials?
KL: I don’t think it is necessarily a must have, but its definitely good to have. Most of the times, commercials are about instincts, and Improv is a great form to learn how to tap into those instincts. See, I come from the school of thought that its better to be strong in your choices, no matter how bizarre or wrong they may be to casting, than to be weak or questionable. Make a decision and stick to it, and you’ll never go wrong. After all, a good director and casting director can see commitment to an intention and put you in the right direction.
CH: What’s your dream brand you’d love to represent?
KL: I’ve been fortunate to represent some of my favorite brands. I have been a T-Mobile customer for over 9 years. I have a Samsung phone. I fly Southwest Airlines. I’ve only ever rented a car from Enterprise. My email of choice for 9 years was Yahoo! My first commercial ever was for Wells Fargo, whom I’ve had a bank account with since I was a toddler. As far as dream brands go? I do love Sprinkles cupcakes…and 24 Hour Fitness to counteract that…and Nike to wear at the gym.
CH: Do people recognise you from your commercials?
KL: Even in this age of DVRs and fast forwarding through commercials, I always get at least one person to recognize me. Or at the very least, I feel like someone is watching me behind my back. You know the feeling you have when you’re being watched? Funny story, about a month after my T-Mobile commercial came out, I was at a Foot Locker in Orange County with my mom, and I was trying on some new shoes. A little boy (he couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6) timidly came up to me and quickly said , “In Your Face!” and ran off to cling to his mom’s leg. Embarrassed she mouthed the words, “I’m sorry.” That was the best feeling I have ever had regarding my commercials.
CH: Do you have any unusual skills and if so, what are they and what’s the most in demand?
KL: Since I was a kid, I’ve always sung, danced, and played instruments. I guess the most unusual skill that I’ve had to do in an audition recently was doing a soft-shoe vaudeville number for a Lottery commercial (I didn’t get it). I had to do a touchdown dance for Southwest Airlines where they gave me a briefcase that I spun like a football on the spot. I think that briefcase is what got me the role.
CH: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever had to do at an audition and on a job?
KL: In an audition, I once had to Hula. And hula hoop. I didn’t get that one. One that I did get was for Samsung for this last Super Bowl. The audition was to sing “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” by The Darkness. We get to set, and I find out, from the director Bobby Farrelly (of the Farrelly Brothers who did Something About Mary and Dumb And Dumber and the recent Three Stooges) that I was going to be singing the song in downtown Los Angeles acapella. And the lead singer of The Darkness would be watching. Can you say… nerve racking?
CH: What’s the biggest you’ve ever seen your face?
KL: I was eating with friends at BJs during the NBA Playoffs last year and saw my face on a 200ft projection screen. That was pretty cool. Everyone applauded when they realized I was watching with them.
CH: What other projects do you have going at the moment?
KL: I’m working on developing my own projects at the moment. I’ve been developing a webisode series about three best friends/actors/roommates and the horror stories that go on behind the scenes on set, in the casting room, and in Hollywood. I’ve been writing a supernatural comedy action movie about a normal guy who gets into some bizarre scenarios involving a vampire, a ghost, a werewolf, and a fairy. I’ve also got some big commercials coming up that I should’t talk about yet (not until they’re out!)
CH: What’s next in the pipeline?
KL: Just getting ready for the next big thing! When it rains, it pours!
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