You know that moment when a celebrity walks in the room? That surge of excitement that feels completely extraordinary. You know what I’m talking about. In that moment, when you are in a star’s presence, you are in real-time and you know you are going to remember it forever. Well, that’s basically what happens every time Ryan Beil goes out in public.
Not familiar with the name? No? Well, that’s because you don’t know him on a real name basis yet. For now, you know him as “Hey! It’s the A&W guy!” That bumbling guy in those seven (and growing) TV ads that play on every commercial break, all the time. You know him.
By far, Ryan is the most famous person I know. People lose their shit when they see him. When my three-year old friend Audrey was just one, she would laugh uncontrollably every single time one of his earlier commercials came on and he made a certain expression. Even my mother, who is not impressed by anything, much less a fast food commercial, likes him. “He’s very good, you know,” she told me. (This is her highest praise.)
The thing is, Ryan is very good at acting. Exceptionally good. And that’s because he’s classically trained and lives for what he does. You probably didn’t know this because you were too busy putting more ketchup on your Mama Burger, but that’s okay. The A&W stuff is only part of it. Ryan won a Jessie Richardson Award (BC’s theatre prize) for outstanding newcomer. He’s also a member of the Sunday Service, a highly entertaining improv troupe who perform every Sunday at the Hennessey. Ryan’s currently in a production of “American Buffalo,” which is on until the 23rd at Little Mountain Studios.
We recently went out for breakfast to have a chat.
Me: People in commercials often get a level of recognition but you, sir, are the winner. What do you think it is?
Ryan Beil: I really don’t know. I don’t get it. When people come up to me, it’s not just about the recognition. They love the commercial.
Me: Do you think it’s because you’re in their living room?
RB: Yeah. I’m in their living room all the time. And when a commercial isn’t annoying, people are appreciative of that. Especially people who watch a lot of TV. It means something to them.
Me: Did you think these commercials were going to be such a big role in your life?
RB: Never. Never ever. I had to work really hard to get the gig at first and when the first one was done, I thought “Great.” But they kept calling me back. I owe a lot to the people who write them and to the director. They were really pushing for me. I had no inkling it would ever keep going.
Me: How old are you supposed to be in the commercial?
RB: I dunno. Anywhere between 18 and 25.
Me: Do you think you’ll ever graduate to the manager position?
RB: For a few commercials I had a “trainee” nametag and I always wanted them to continue that, so I’d forever be a trainee. But now they’ve given me a name – my name. Ryan.
Me: Really? I didn’t know that. But I don’t have a TV.
RB: For one commercial I was named Jason. Then they gave me a nametag with my own name on it.
Me: Did anyone notice that?
RB: They’re not too worried about the story continuity.
Me: The Nescafe commercials had continuity and they did okay.
RB: That’s true.
Me: Some actors won’t do commercials because they don’t want to be associated with a brand. I guess that doesn’t concern you.
RB: I would be perfectly happy doing this for 20 years. The people I work with are great, it’s a great job and it affords me the opportunity to do theatre.
Me: So being in a commercial doesn’t affect your commitment to theatre?
RB: So far it hasn’t. If anything, it’s helped. Theatre is always looking for reasons to put bums in seats and if the A&W guy is going to get people to a play, it’s not such a bad thing. I wonder if the commercials weren’t successful or were annoying, then it might be different. But they’re not.
Me: Commercials can be lucrative. Theatre, not so much. What is it about theatre that you love so much?
RB: To me, in film and TV you don’t have to be a good actor to be successful, even though there are lots of talented people. If you’re not good, a director will go around you to get what he or she wants. In theatre, there is no going around you. You’re either good for two hours or you suck for two hours. And that’s exciting. And I like attention. I like making people laugh. I like hundreds of eyes watching me. It’s thrilling.
Me: Well, my friend, you’re certainly thrilling to watch.
You can watch Ryan do his thing in “American Buffalo” at Little Mountain Studios (Main and 26th) until Jan. 23rd. Call (604) 992-2313 for tickets. If you want to get in touch with Elianna, email her at [email protected] and visit her website www.eliannalev.com