Q&A: Milana Vayntrub, aka AT&T’s Lily, Tells Us About Directing Her First Commercials

For Cracker Barrel's Macaroni & Cheese

Milana Vayntrub, the actress who plays AT&T's endearing spokeswoman Lily, just directed her first commercial work for Cracker Barrel Macaroni & Cheese. 

The comic new spots, which Vayntrub directed through Crispin Porter + Bogusky and production company Hungry Man, highlight the product's use of Cracker Barrel's cheddar cheese. You see, apparently Cracker Barrel's cheddar is so special that it's been an award-winning cheese for 60 years. And of course, if you're eating macaroni and cheese that uses award-winning cheddar, that renders all other awards and award ceremonies lackluster. At least, that's how the brand's new spokesman, Trophy Man, puts it. 

"Since the 'Award Worth Winning' campaign for Cracker Barrel Macaroni & Cheese was a character-driven campaign, we thought Milana was an interesting choice to bring him to life, since she herself stars in a character-driven campaign that's funny and successful," said Adam Chasnow, CP+B executive creative director.

Adweek caught up with Vayntrub to chat about her commercial directing debut, the status of her work with Syrian refugees (she released a video, "Can't Do Nothing," earlier this year, which documented her experience in Greece), and of course, macaroni and cheese.  

Adweek: Why did you want to direct these spots? 

Milana Vayntrub: Commercial directing felt like a very natural transition from my comedy, sketch, music video directing experience. Also, working with Hungry Man for over two years now [Hank Perlman of Hungry Man has directed most of AT&T's Lily spots], there's definitely a lot of collaboration in that commercial creating process. Those two worlds coming together felt like directing commercials now was the right next step. When the opportunity came from Hungry Man to direct for them, I was beyond honored and super eager to take on that task. 

What was your thinking going into the project? What did you want to convey? 

Cool question, cool question [laughs]. I think that my skill is in comedy creation, and I wanted to highlight that this is a premium macaroni and cheese product while also making something funny and lovable about a guy who loves macaroni and cheese more than anything, so much so that any other award is unworthy of attention. One of the things we talked about with the agency pretty early on is that there's something almost Seinfeld-ian about pointing out the ridiculousness of other awards, so that's kind of the way we approached this spot. My goal going in was always to highlight how premium this product was and make it as funny as possible. 

Are you interested in doing more commercial directing?

God, I hope so. I really hope so. It was so much fun. I genuinely felt so in my element, and I had a really great time. I loved the creative collaboration with the agency and the client and the actors, the producer, the DP, our whole crew was absolutely stellar. I had an absolute blast, and it fulfilled all my creative juices for creation and development and sales design. I hope to get the opportunity to do it many more times. 

You're traditionally on the other side of the camera. Is there a difference in the way you work with an agency when you're the star of an ad versus the director of an ad?  

It's very different. In the creative process, as an actor you have very limited communication with the agency until you shoot. You don't really see them until the day of production. As a director, you're involved creatively much earlier and developing the ad as a team. 

Do you prefer one or the other?