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It's not a stretch to say that Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” commercial, which dropped in 2010, completely changed the way people viewed the 83-year-old brand. The viral clip — starring Shadowrunners and It Chapter Two star Isaiah Mustafa — was irreverent, funny, and seemed to be fluent in a comedic language spoken by the millions of people populating social media networks. In just three weeks, the 30-second video garnered three million views on Youtube and became one of the most successful ad campaigns of all time.
The spot not only changed Old Spice's fortunes, it also helped lead actor Isaiah Mustafa. Although he was famously known as “the Old Spice man," the campaign helped Mustafa land much bigger roles. “Some people can't really point to one thing that changed their career, but I can honestly tell you that, had it not been for Old Spice, all of these other things wouldn't have happened,” he says.
A decade later, Old Spice is reviving its campaign to market a new line of grooming products called Old Spice Ultra Smooth. But this time the product isn’t the only thing that’s different. Mustafa’s character now has a son, played by Straight Outta Compton, What/If, and The New Edition Story star Keith Powers. Together they star in two new spots called “Time Out” and “Office Visit”. And these new versions are just as irreverent and funny as the originals.
Right after the release of the new commercials, Isaiah Mustafa and Keith Powers came through to Complex to discuss Old Spice’s new product, the pressure of following up a viral sensation, their playlist favorites, and more.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
What do you guys think separates the 2020 follow-up of “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” from the original?
Isaiah: The 2010 version was lightning in a bottle. Nobody was expecting that to happen. That was one of those things that was a happy accident. Someone said the other day, "Whenever you see something that's fantastic, the story about how it came to be is even more fantastic." And that's how it is for that original commercial. But this commercial here is so much better than a sequel because it's taking the original and building on it. It's taking it to a place where we didn't think it would go. I didn't know I would have a son. So it's taken it to a place that nobody thought it would go.
Keith: That's basically the big difference—is the son now. Like he said, we weren't expecting the first one. But it's crazy because no one was really expecting this, either. It's a whole different vibe.
How did you guys get involved with the commercial?
Isaiah: I'll be honest, Keith and I have the same agent. And he was like, "Yo, have you met him?" And I told him yeah because we worked on Freeform together. I told him I was familiar with him and he told me that Keith was going out for this Old Spice commercial. I was like, "Say no more," literally. I tried to put in some good words and do what I can do because I know he's good. We have the same agent, the same manager, and we were on the same network on two different TV shows, at the same time.
Keith: I still had to go through an audition process, though. I had to audition on Skype with our directors Matias and Mathias. I had to literally do an audition in the office with my reps behind me for the role. I'm going to be honest, I was so nervous that I was sweating. But I'm glad this all came about. Thanks to Old Spice and Isaiah. I'm glad to be a part, honestly.
The first commercial was shot in one take. What was your experience like shooting the 2020 ads?
Isaiah: It was similar but we didn't shoot it in the States this time. We shot it in Mexico City. So we were limited with some of the technical and mechanical aspects of it. We had to break it up a little bit, but we did our best to shoot it in one take. We also had a different director for the first one.
Which of these was your favorite to shoot?
Isaiah: My favorite was the basketball one. That one was hilarious. I was dying because I kept hitting the ball with the stick and his reflexes are amazing. I was literally hitting it at him every time. Every single time it came at his face. But he would duck and then start talking. I was skating on actual synthetic ice. I'm a hockey player so I've been dying for Old Spice to put hockey in a commercial and finally it happened. It took 10 years but we did it.
Keith: He was literally skating with a hockey stick and a big soccer ball. When he skates in and you see me running after I just scored, I have to run to that side as the camera is flipping. So as I'm running over there he was hitting the ball. I really liked shooting “Office Visit,” too, because of the live set. That was crazy. Everything was moving apart. Old Spice does a lot of live sets. So stuff is just moving in action and that was insane to me. It was fun
Any time something is this successful, there will always be criticism about the next attempt. How do you all deal with that?
Keith: I don't really care. If you would've asked me this five years ago, I would hurt. People are going to have opinions. That's just the world we live in, but most people love it, so I'm just focused on the love. That's my thing.
Isaiah: If someone has an opinion, they've already had an opinion going into it. So I'm not going to stop them or change their minds. Let them have their opinion. If you don't like it, you don't have to like it.
In public, how often do people acknowledge you as the man from the Old Spice commercial? How do you usually react to that?
Isaiah: The way people come at me is so funny because the character doesn't really have a name, so it's hard for them to ask if I'm that person. This one older black woman came up to me and was like, "Are you the man?" But she was so serious. I was like, "Hell to the yes. Thank you so much. I could tell you love it." She was so serious though.
Is there anything we can expect from the Super Bowl Old Spice commercial?
Isaiah: You can't expect anything. But if you see anything, it's just paying homage to the character. Just a little nod of the hat.
“The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” became a viral sensation. It’s been parodied on Sesame Street, iCarly, and Puss in Boots. How has your life changed since 2010?
Isaiah: For most young or struggling actors, you go until something hits or until something doesn't hit. But Old Spice was that thing that hit for me. So once that happened, that changed everything. Some people can't really point to one thing that changed their career, but I can honestly tell you that had it not been for Old Spice, all of these other things wouldn't have happened. I don't think I would've been in It Chapter Two. I don't know if I would've been in Shadowhunters. I don't know if I would've been in these things because that's what literally launched my career. It was a literal game-changer.
For the first version, you answered fan questions and read scripts in "Responses". Can you talk a little bit about that experience?
Isaiah: I get emotional when I think about that. For three days, the goal was 300 videos—100 videos a day. For three days, 12 hours a day, we sat there and every seven minutes we cranked out a new video. There was a team of writers at the table and I would read it out loud to make sure that's what they wanted, and then I would read it on camera. We'd be laughing through it because it was funny, but we had to stop ourselves to do the next one. The only thing that slowed us up was trying to choose whose response to get to or what prop we could crowbar in there. But that was honestly some of the funniest times we've had with Old Spice. And I think that's where the character was crafted, in those three days. Because we answered so many questions and reached out to so many people and said so many wacky things. You would've died laughing. Everybody was on the floor. It was feverish. It was like a two-minute drill; you had to get it in so you could get to the next one. And then we had to time our response to Alyssa Milano. We had five ready to go but we had to pick which one and time them right because we couldn't just blanket them out there. And there's no way you could ever recreate that. That was one of those things that could never happen like that again. That's why I get emotional when I think about it. My voice was gone at the end of the three days, I got sick, it was crazy. It was so dope, though.
Keith, do you think starring in the new version of this commercial will impact your career in any way?
Keith: Something of this magnitude always impacts it in different ways. You never know who's watching. A filmmaker can be watching a game and the commercial will come on and they then think about me a month later because of that commercial. You just never know so I definitely think it will impact it and I think it'll be great to talk about, look back on, and be a part of. I'm always excited doing something that I know my friends are going to be excited about. When my friends are super excited, it makes me feel so good. And I think my friends are very excited about it and it's making me happy. That's an impact right there.
You were 17-years-old turning 18 when the original commercial came out. What’s your recollection of it?
Keith: You know what was so crazy? I don't remember exactly what I said but I remember being in the cafeteria early in the morning and bringing up the commercial like, "Yo, those commercials are crazy!" It was just crazy to talk about. I always watch sports with my grandpa, and he would just sit in his lazy boy and die [of laughter]. I just remember seeing my grandpa get weak. When he would laugh I would just start crying laughing. But those moments are when everyone realized that these commercials are groundbreaking. Originality always wins, man. And I think Old Spice is on the Mount Rushmore of originality. They're one of those. I just have a lot of memories thinking about the commercial and remembering that they were crazy but funny. They would be so wacky without being corny and cheesy. And even if they are a little cheesy, it still works because it's still cool. I've never seen something that was cheesy-cool. It's wild. I think that's so dope.
Keith, for season 2 of What/If?, what can you share about it?
Keith: I don't even know if we're getting a season two. It was originally supposed to be an anthology series where it changes stories every year, every season. And I think now it's turning into a limited series. I really have no idea, but it was fun. It was great to work with Renee Zellweger and Jane Levy.
You were also in movies that told the stories of N.W.A. and New Edition. What was your relationship like with the music of these groups before you started filming?
Keith: I grew up listening to it. Straight Outta Compton was my dad—super west coast. He only let me listen to west coast music at one point. I couldn't listen to anything east coast. I couldn't listen to JAY-Z or any of that for a minute. It was always Tupac, he loved Easy E, of course, Ice Cube and Dre. And my family loves New Edition. "Can You Stand The Rain" was the soundtrack to my sad times growing up. Or Saturday morning clean up music. So it was crazy to play Ronnie DeVoe during that. And it was crazy to play Dr. Dre's little brother in Straight Outta Compton and be on set with Dre. That's crazy to me. Dre is super shy, so everything is always awkward around him because he's shy and he made me shy. I think he was shy with me because I played his brother who passed away. And he said I reminded him so much of his brother because we had the same scar on our forehead and my middle name is Tyree. So that really tripped him out. He could never really look at me in the face for too long. It was crazy, but he was still super cool. Towards the end he started getting comfortable with me. He really is outgoing, but when he's shy, he's very shy at first until he settles in.
What would you say is your favorite memory from shooting both of those films?
Keith: I think in Straight Outta Compton, it was shooting a telephone scene. I was supposed to be on the phone with Dr. Dre and I improvised a bunch of stuff that they kept in. I remember I was just living in it, and they were all dying laughing at Video Village and they loved it. That was just a great feeling to be on a set like that and people react to your work. I think that was an amazing feeling. And then for The New Edition Story, I think the biggest memory is having to get down seven dance routines in a week and a half, and I didn't do any dancing. I was stressed out. I had to learn these routines and I wasn't cast yet, so they had me learn them while I was still trying to get the role. I was the last one cast. We had to do a showcase for the network, and I remember just being stressed out. I had to literally learn the dances from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm. The kids would come in and do it from like 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. And then we would come in from 5:00 pm 10:00 pm. But with me, I had to be there all day. But I got through it. I don't know how.
This is Complex so we have to talk about music. Who are some artists that resonated with you both growing up?
Isaiah: Mac Dre. I remember I was a high school DJ and I was DJing a party. And Mac Dre's The Name came out. Some dude asked me if I had it and I didn't have it. I just felt so inadequate. I started singing it with him. We were singing it together but then I had to tell him I didn't have it. So that always rings in my head. But, yeah, I liked Too Short, N.W.A., The D.O.C. — that was crazy because he was going to be it. When he got his throat messed up, that was crazy. But mostly just west coast people. And then of course when Dre introduced Eminem. At first I was like, "Man, what's going on here? Who's this dude?". It took me a second to actually buy into him, but after a while I realized that dude was for real.
Keith: Mine is kind of the same as his with the west coast; Too Short, Mac Dre, Richie Rich, E-40, and Tupac. That molded me as a west coast guy. "In Da Club" came out when I was in the third grade and I remember rapping "In Da Club" outside of school in a circle. But when Dre brought out Eminem, I was in love with everything Eminem liked. When 8 Mile dropped, I told my mom I wanted to go to Target and get like five hoodies because he was hooded up in 8 Mile. And then everything Lil Wayne. I was a Lil Wayne fanatic. There was a lot of music that really shaped me.
Who are y'all rocking with right now?
Keith: Today it's Kendrick Lamar, Drake, and J. Cole. And I listen to a lot of The 1975 right now.
Isaiah: My daughter puts me up on stuff all of the time. She put me on on Juice WRLD and that messed me up. Man, that messed me up. But I also listen to Mike D's The Echo Chamber. I always hear new music on The Echo Chamber. Mike D steadily has his ear to the street with new music. He's always putting new music in my ear. I also listen to a lot of Fela Kuti. To me, that's some of the best. He has some of the best percussion I've ever heard in my life.
Keith: Outside of hip-hop, I have to say Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Prince, and Aretha Franklin. I got a lot, but I just had to get those out. I got different genres for different moods. I grew up on hip-hop but I like to listen to everything because I have to have stuff for different moods. Usually, I stay with earphones in because I need a soundtrack for my life as I'm walking around. And also, shoutout to Roddy Ricch.