Brief interviews with commercial actors: Jack Ferver on being Starburst’s Little Lad

We're attempting a new (and probably infrequent) feature where we interview actors from popular TV ads past and present. For the first installment, we tracked down Jack Ferver, who delivered a memorably unnerving performance as the berries-and-cream-loving Little Lad in last year's notorious bus-station Starburst spot from TBWA\Chiat\Day. When he's not shooting ads, Ferver works in experimental dance and theater in New York, and has created several evening-length pieces, including When We Were Young And Filled With Fear and MEAT. He also played Jimmy Tickles in Strangers With Candy. After the jump, he talks about the weirdness of bus stations, whether the Little Lad is evil, and why it's important to be shocked.

  How did you get the gig? It must have been a bizarre audition.

  I have the most amazing commercial agency, CESD. They got me the audition. At the callback I did it at least 10 totally different ways, including crying. But I cry any chance I get anyway.

  The Lad is pretty odd. How did he come about?

  Well, the writers obviously came up with the Little Lad. Randy Krallman, the director, is a genius and really set everything up in such a perfect way. We all talked about it, and played with different ideas. It was certainly collaborative.

  Some people find the ad creepy. Is the Lad evil or just eccentric?

  Who are these people? I love it. There was this really great cartoon someone did of the Little Lad where he looks like the spawn of the devil. I live in New York, in the hipster part of Brooklyn, so I see grown men in schoolboy outfits on the subway every day.

  What's he doing at the bus station?

  Bus stations are time warps. He is not from this time.

  What was most challenging thing about the role?

  Doing that for over 12 hours in 80-something-degree heat in a wool costume and a wig.

  The Lad has great hair and a nice outfit. Did you spend a lot of time getting the look right?

  I can't even tell you how long.

  Were you pleased with how the ad turned out?

  I think it is hilarious. Randy and I have a very similar sense of humor, and I think it turned out well.

  How do you balance your artistic work and your commercial work?

  I make dance theater work in New York. I just closed a show this summer that went really well, and I have a residency at Dance Theater Workshop in January that will have a full production through Dancespace Project at Saint Mark's Church in April. The fact that I am continually working artistically makes my life better, and in turn keeps my creativity flowing, which is necessary for the fast pace of commercial production. I love shooting commercials. I have been blessed to work with really kind, smart, and conscientious directors, writers, and producers, who have been incredibly good to me and who I regard as friends. It's different from making my own work—I'm fulfilling someone else's vision. It's satisfying in a different way. It also helps sustain me financially.

  One YouTube video of the Starburst ad has more than 6 million views. Did you expect it to be that popular?

  I had a feeling it might become this popular when I first read it. It has the kind of offbeat humor that makes something a cult hit. You laugh because you are caught off guard. This happens to us in life. You are driving and pass a van full of nuns and they flick you off. It's shocking but delightful, because it is so refreshing to be shocked in this day and age.