For his first on-camera commercial in over 40 years, Sam Elliott is starring alongside Lil Nas X in Doritos’ 60-second Super Bowl 54 spot.
Elliott’s career began in the late ’60s and has been largely—but not completely—defined by the cowboy persona. His smooth baritone drawl has been heard in a wide range of ads for things like beer, meat and trucks, but he’s also garnered widespread acclaim for his acting chops. His lengthy resume includes classics like Road House and The Big Lebowski, to name just two, and in 2017 he starred in a drama about an over-the-hill Western icon, The Hero. The next year, Elliot was nominated for an Oscar for his role as Bradley Cooper’s brother and manager in A Star Is Born.
But for the Doritos spot, Elliott’s role required a different skill: dancing. The lanky, mustachioed veteran actor was cast to engage in a dance battle with Lil Nas X for a bag of the Frito-Lay brand’s updated version of the popular Cool Ranch-flavored chips.
“I was a little concerned about having to dance at this point in my life,” Elliott admitted to Adweek. “I used loved to dance, I’ve always been athletic but, you know, at 75 [years old] things slow down.
“I wasn’t worried about opening my mouth and talking, but the dancing was a challenge,” he added with a chuckle.
But true to his reputation as a no-nonsense cowboy, he simply went to work. “Preparation is the key,” said Elliott, who trained with two choreographers on the project, going in for an extra day of rehearsal to make sure he’d perfected the steps. Elliott has often insisted that he does artistic work out of passion for the craft, and this Super Bowl spot, it seems, was no exception.
Elliott was taken aback, for example, when someone asked if he’d like a teleprompter for the teaser, in which he recited lines from Lil Nas X’s Old Town Road. “It was an opportunity to go somewhere with a piece of dialogue,” he said. “I loved reciting the lyrics to his song.”
Around a year ago, Elliott was introduced to the song when his daughter played it for him. “I love the sound,” he said, especially the recording featuring Billy Ray Cyrus. But his favorite version, he said, is the video that went viral of Lil Nas X singing to a gymnasium full of elementary-age kids.
Having seen a few of Lil Nas X’s interviews after the musician’s song gained worldwide popularity in a manner of weeks, Elliott said he was excited about the opportunity to work with him. “He’s a very impressive young man,” Elliott said.
“For somebody that recorded a song and let it out there into the public the way that he did, and have it blow up and become as big as it has, you kind of wonder whether this 19-year-old kid is ready for what happened to them.
“And I found him a pretty solid kid. He worked hard. He’d never been in front of a camera on film set before, and he was up to the challenge,” he added. “And he couldn’t have been nicer to be around.”
Doritos worked with Goodby Silverstein & Partners on the teasers and spot, which were filmed at White Horse Ranch in a little town outside of Palm Springs, Calif., and directed by Lance Acord.
The 60-second spot that’ll air on Super Bowl Sunday begins with a showdown between Elliott and Lil Nas X. But rather than the gunfight that one might expect given the Old West landscape, Lil Nas X responds to Elliott’s challenge (“Make your move, cowboy”) with an arm wave. Elliott’s mustache responds in kind, and the battle intensifies from there, with the younger cowboy ultimately taking the prize.
But when Lil Nas X asks who’s next in line, Billy Ray Cyrus makes a quick cameo to note that he “ain’t dancin’.”
The campaign also invites viewers to participate in the dance off on TikTok—the platform that launched Lil Nas X to stardom—or Sway, an app that scans your body and augments it over data of a professional dancer doing all the moves from the spot.
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