Lights! Camera! Beardo!

by Nate "Chops" Johnson on February 21, 2014

in COLUMNS, ME AND..., SHALL WE?

Mikey Roe, Nina Senicar, Joel Alexander, Nate johnson; Photo Courtesy Joel Alexander)

Mikey Roe, Nina Senicar, Joel Alexander, Nate johnson; Photo Courtesy Joel Alexander

I was on set at Warner Bros. in Burbank working as a background actor on a show when my phone signaled that I had a message. The text was from my photographer friend, and author of The Beard Book, Mary Lou Sandler, and read “A casting director for a national Fiat commercial contacted us asking for facial haired men. I gave them your number. Hugs! Good luck!”

Needless to say, I called the number she gave me, but with absolutely no hopes of getting the part. Yes, I know I’ve got the “chops” they may be looking for, but I’m not a commercial actor, nor pretty enough for a national commercial. Still, I thought I’d give it a shot anyway. The casting director asked me to send over a few photos of myself, and immediately responded for a date and time to come in and audition.

I thought to myself “Self, well you got the audition, but you’re not going to get the part. Just go in for the experience and have fun anyway.” Little did I know, they had also contacted another photographer, fellow beardo, and good friend of mine, Jeffrey Moustache, about the commercial. According to him, they were going to use people without facial hair and have someone make fake beards, or “faux-cial hair” if you will, for the clean faced men they intended to hire. He suggested they use real bearded men for the part and that he knew several he could recommend.

I can tell you, as a professional beardo, few things bug a bearded man more than to see a film, tv show or commercial where they use fake facial hair. Well, that and the incessant comparisons to Duck Dynasty (insert eye roll with finger down throat), or to a much lesser degree, ZZ TOP (those guys are legends and respectable). The general audience may not be able to tell those beards are fake, but we always can. Al-ways. And it’s both distracting and annoying, not to mention, slightly insulting. (PS: to the make-up department on the set of Mysteries at the Museum, do you get your faux-cial hair at the dollar store? Seriously, it’s always bad and it’s embarrassing).

I went to the audition two days later with my chops prepared for a beard competition. I’m always a bit embarrassed with my chops flared outside of a competition environment, because it gets enough attention with them down, but the attention becomes exponential when the chops are flared up, but when I walked into the waiting area, I heard a collective “WOAH!” from the others in line to audition. I have to say, hearing that kind of response does feel good, and validates my “beardo professionalism”, and let’s me know that the beard was showing well, but I was still sure I wasn’t going to get the part. Why? Because the majority of the others in line to audition not only had seriously great, thick beards, but were professional models. You know, the “ridiculously pretty people” of the world. People so attractive, it’s unbelievable, like a myth you’ve heard of but have never seen in person. Like a unicorn, or a mermaid, and I’m clearly sasquatch in that scenario.

Nate Johnson, Joel Alexander, Matt Lee; Photo Courtesy Joel Alexander

Nate Johnson, Joel Alexander, Matt Lee; Photo Courtesy Joel Alexander

Those gentlemen were extremely nice and welcoming I have to say. One of them even asked to take pictures with me and the other pro beardos that were called in to the audition and posted them on Instagram. My one big personal rule when I’m asked to pose in public for pictures is that the person asking has to be in the picture too, so we took a couple photos together. Then we all cussed and discussed facial hair, as men with beards or aspiring beards do when together, while we all waited to be called in to see the casting crew and director of the commercial.

Though I will admit I wanted the part, I walked into the audition without the weight of hoping I’d get it, and that took a lot of the pressure off me. The audition itself consisted of me and two other hairy faced men in a line together pretending like we had just won a beard competition. I’m no stranger to that, so I showcased my usual routine of stepping forward, waving graciously to the crowd, taking my hat off and bowing.

The next part of the audition was to pretend we had just lost the competition to someone else. I’ve also been there a few times, but instead of the gracious clapping and handshake I’d normally give the winner, we had to act like we hated the winner and couldn’t believe he had won. Golf claps and eye rolls with attitude!

That was it. That was the audition. It was over in less than 3 minutes, and knowing I’d lose the part to one of the professional models in line outside, I could go home, tuck the experience under my belt and get to say I was called in to audition for a national commercial because of a big beard. That truly made me chuckle.

Well, the next evening I got an email saying they wanted to hire me and that the shoot would be two days later. WHAT?! I, Nate Johnson, got hired for a national commercial? Awesome! I was excited to say the least, but quite a bit nervous and shocked. I decided to treat this like a beard competition and remain calm on the outside, now matter how great the feeling of wanting to vomit was on the inside.

The fitting for the outfit I’d be wearing was the next day. That was an interesting experience. When I got there, one of the production assistants asked me “Hey, were you at a beard competition in Long Beach a few months ago?” I said “Yes. How did you know?” And then she proceeded to tell me her best friend took a picture with me and then pulled the photo up on her phone. I barely remember taking that shot, but it was a lesson for sure in how small the world really is, especially when you have a big beard.

I tried on a couple looks for the wardrobe department and they settled on a vintage dapper look. It was a very simple process.

The shoot itself was in Canyon Country just north of Los Angeles at the Disney Ranch studio, and I had a 1pm call time. There were giant trucks that converted into production offices and changing rooms (I swear it was like a Transformer), several trucks full of equipment, and about 50 crew members. I had no idea it takes so much, and so many crew to shoot a 30 second commercial. It was amazing to see. I’ve done movies and television shows at big studios, and location shoots with giant cranes, and understand what resources it takes to make those productions run, but had no idea that a commercial would require so much. It was impressive.

Mikey Roe, Nate Johnson,, Joel Alexander; Photo Courtesy Nate Johnson

Mikey Roe, Nate Johnson,, Joel Alexander; Photo Courtesy Nate Johnson

I finally got to see everybody who got cast in the scene. Funny enough, the guy that took pictures of me and the other beardos at the audition was cast as the contest winner, and a gentleman I met briefly at the audition, Mikey Roe, was cast as the 3rd place contestant. So it was great to see folks I remembered and had a small rapport with and hang out all day. It was kind of like a real beard competition…except no beer.

Zoe_Hay; Photo Courtesy Zoe Hay

Zoe_Hay; Photo Courtesy Zoe Hay

During the lunch break, the head of the make-up department, Zoe Hay, approached me and informed me we had met before at a competition in LA a couple of years ago. She competed in the Whiskerina category and had made her own beard. Apparently making fake facial hair, and the occasional merkin is her specialty. Again, it’s a small world when you have a big beard…or make merkins.

All the actors/models were called to the wardrobe department and asked to get into costume…and then we waited for our scene to be shot, which was the last scene of the day. So I watched the other scenes being filmed in the meantime, and the crew set up for the beard competition scene, which was a great set. I was impressed with how classy it looked.

 Photo Courtesy Nate Johnson

The Stage set. Photo Courtesy Nate Johnson

We finally shot our scene at about 5pm. Mikey, the 3rd place contestant and I, the 2nd place contestant, were to give attitude to Joel, the 1st place champion. The trophy prop they gave me to use was awesome! One that I would want to win in an actual competition by the way. As a competitive beardsman, I lusted for that thing the entire shoot, and even considered, how I was going to fit it in my pocket (kidding, but seriously the trophy was awesome).

2ndPlaceTrophy

2nd Place Trophy prop

Maybe I’m a little partial to this trophy because it features a set of friendly mutton chops as the logo. Finally chops getting some love!

From blocking to camera set up, to bringing the background actors in, and shooting the scene several times from different angles, it only took about 40 minutes to shoot. They were a very efficient, professional crew that knew exactly what they wanted and how to achieve it.

After the shoot, the crew immediately began to tear down the set. The director walked over to me and gave me the trophy prop I had been using as a souvenir and a “thank you” for participating in his commercial. I’m so very proud of it, even though it wasn’t for a real beard competition. I’ve grouped it with my real bearding competition trophy collection as a reminder that I, Nate Johnson, and his beard, once performed in a national commercial.

Nate Johnson (Sr. Contributing Editor, Los Angeles)

Nate “Chops" Johnson currently holds more than a dozen competitive bearding titles, including 6, 1st place victories, and 2 for Best In Show. He lives in Los Angeles, and enjoys Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

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