The Old Spice Guy usually puts a smile on your face, but this weekend Isaiah Mustafa is more likely to terrify you.
The actor, best known for the Old Spice ads he’s starred in since 2010—most recently a May spot promoting both Old Spice and Hulu’s ad-free subscription service—stars in the horror sequel It: Chapter Two, opening Friday. He plays the adult version of Mike Hanlon, portrayed by Chosen Jacobs as a child in the hit 2017 film, alongside Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, James McAvoy and Bill Skarsgard.
His previous film credits also include Horrible Bosses and Madea’s Big Happy Family, as well as TV shows like Castle and Shadowhunters. And he was an NFL wide receiver before becoming one of TV’s most popular pitchmen.
Mustafa chatted with Adweek about his career rise, what he’s learned along the way, and why he still stays in contact with the people who made his first Old Spice ad.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Your movie is soon coming to theaters! Are you excited to see the final project?
Mustafa: It’s a little bittersweet. We developed such strong bonds and good friendships. Now that it’s over, it’s like the last time our group is all together. It’s great to see everything, but man, it was so much fun being able to work with everyone and play with everyone that there’s a little bit of that feeling like when you graduate high school and knowing it’s over.
Is the creative process of acting in a feature film different than acting for commercials?
No, it’s not. It’s the same thing, but with Old Spice, it’s been 10 years now. That’s almost like riding a bike. It’s so easy to drop into that now it’s just a matter of them writing the copy and handing it to me. It’s not so much of an arduous task to get into character. But with anything else, it takes a lot of research and figuring out where I want to go and where the director wants to go.
What’s it like to be the face of a brand in such a big way?
It’s great because it provides a steady job, and it’s always amazing to go to other countries and represent the brand and have people recognize you for being this spokesperson. It’s always kind of fun once we unveil a scent, but coming back home it just makes trying to get work a little more difficult. People tend to see you as one thing until you prove to them, until you can show them you can do something else in a bigger capacity.
Is there a particular mistake that you made in your career, and did you have a specific lesson learned from that experience?
There are several. Rookie mistakes when you’re green because no one explained to you how to navigate the media, basically through ignorance or thinking that a comment would go over as funny and not seeing two steps down the road that you may be offending a group of people. Once that happens, you’re stuck, and you’re labeled as insensitive or whatever people want to call you, then they call you out for that. Then you have to disappear or go on an apology tour and try to explain yourself. It’s just really difficult. My advice for when people are just starting out in entertainment: Take media training.
What other advice would you give to someone just starting in their career who might want to follow a similar path?
I don’t think I would ever imagine my career path taking the turns or going from this job. Honestly, when you audition for an ad, most agencies will tell you oftentimes, you’re just doing that one ad. Maybe you’re doing a string of ads. They like to keep it fresh and move things along. It’s not often that they write a 10-year arc for a spokesperson. There are a few people who have been fortunate enough and are really good at what they do. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to do it, too. Honestly, just go into each job thinking it’s going to be the last so put everything into it that you can.
There are days where I’m just amazed that that commercial took me this far. Every time I’ve gotten a job or a good opportunity, especially with this one, I stay in contact with the original Old Spice ad guys. I’m really good friends with them. I always text them and tell them, “Hey guys, I’m very appreciative and thank you for creating such a memorable character that kicked off my career.”