Let’s go way back in history to a time when boundaries were clearly drawn and adhered to for fear of repercussion. It was a previous century in a time known as the 1990s. It was a time when film Actors refused commercial roles or only agreed to have them screened in far off lands, with contracts stipulating they never air in their homeland. It was a somewhat ridiculous time. This delineation of prestige, implying a lack of equivalency makes no sense these days. You can see the biggest stars in the world on global ad campaigns: Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen in a Budweiser commercial, Samuel L. Jackson advertising Capitol One, Mila Kunis selling the mystique of Jim Beam Whiskey, Matthew McConaughey in Lincoln commercials (less than a year after winning an Oscar for his performance in Dallas Buyers Club), and even George Clooney doing Nespresso ads. It’s purely a cash grab, right? Not so! During his appearance on Inside the Actor’s Studio, Clooney himself has stated that commercials not only allow him to base his choice of film roles on purely artistic aims, but also flex a muscle not always utilized in film. Actress Linda Jean Bruno has had roles in numerous award winning films such as The Last Supper of the Damned (Recipient of the Orson Welles Award at the California Film Awards), Australian television institution Neighbours (the program which spawned the careers of Russell Crowe, Margot Robbie, and others), and yet also feels an affinity for commercial work. Like many of her fellow Australian artists and her global contemporaries, Bruno has found that the career breadth and span of the modern Actor is enhanced by embracing this medium. The outcome brings great benefits for her as well as the products/companies she has presented in so many widely visible and enduring commercial campaigns.
Those unfamiliar with being on set might utter, “A commercial is so short and there’s almost no character development, how can this be interesting or challenging for an Actor?” Take the example of Linda’s work for internationally recognized and respected chocolate ‘superbrand’ Cadbury. Award-Winning director Carl J. Sorheim auditioned Linda for the “Twirl Girl” and Cadbury readily approved her. With only a curt six seconds of running time, both the spot and the production process was an exercise in brevity and efficiency, which is important for a commercial Actress to internalize. Bruno expounds, “It's about conveying a lot in a very short time. When I describe the experience of sitting on that horse with green screen behind me and a fan blowing in my face, people are in hysterics. Each time Carl would direct something a little different while the art department kept adjusting the scene. I was kind of uncomfortably propped on a box to one side using my thigh muscles to navigate the motion of being on a carousel, fan blowing in my face drying out my eyes, looking around in wonderment, and taking a bite at the precisely perfect angle, while holding onto the pole and looking graceful and at ease. You can appear in many films but a short commercial spot like this lasts for years and endures; it really sticks in peoples’ memories.”
When working on a commercial for Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ), Bruno discussed with director Max Reed her idea to inject some slightly manic humour into her role for comical effect. Linda Jean cultivated a shopaholic character which took the direction of the storyline into a more humorous direction and enhanced its particularity. While the role may be brief and generalized when she receives the casting brief, this Actress embraces the idea of “filling out” a character.
Bruno admits to staying in character during the entire shoot to the delight and entertainment of the crew, because those working behind the scene enjoy a few laughs during a long day’s shoot. Playing against this former character type, Linda played the supportive mother of two children who playfully apply makeup to the bearded patriarch of their family in another commercial, this time for iconic Australian cordial brand, Cottee’s. She was the “straight man” to the kids over the top comedy. Brian Patto served as director for the Cottee’s advertisement and DP for previously mentioned ANZ Banking Group ad and states, ““I loved working with Linda Jean on both the Cottee's and ANZ commercials. Her professionalism was impeccable, especially with such tight shoots where there’s no time to mess about. She consistently nails everything in two-three takes, which makes a huge difference! I’ve seen her in films before but many of these are dramas; she has incredible comedic timing and it was a delight to see this side of her.”
Exposure is often the goal for many Actors. You can be the most talented individual in the world but if not enough people see you, or if the “right” people don’t see you…it’s all for naught. What commercials achieve so well is longevity and ubiquity. As with a song that becomes an earworm, seeing a certain Actor in a commercial sparks an interest for the public and production professionals. Being cast in long running campaigns can create the fertile ground for the familiarity with an Actor which leads to more offers. Linda Jean’s appearance in campaigns like Liquorland (an Australian liquor chain that is part of the Coles Supermarket division and owned by Wesfarmers).
Country Racing Victoria’s campaign has run for three consecutive years (including TV and print with billboards across the state), making her a recognizable face throughout Australia. Her association with Coles was so successful that she was included in the Coles Christmas Campaign as well as for Coles Car and Home Insurance. The insurance ads saw Linda Jean alongside celebrity builders from “The Block” (Keith Schleiger and Dan Reilly) and included TV spots, magazines, bust stops, radio spots, and virtually every advertising medium. Bruno found herself blanketing Australia with her recognizability increasing dramatically amongst a new demographic.
Describing her own individual assessment of the balance for the modern day Actress working in film, television, and commercials; Bruno comments, “I feel that an artist enjoys the challenge of finding different ways of bringing a character to life, that includes different types of productions. They all complement each other and make you a better Actor…if you pay attention to what you can learn. I’ve done so many commercials now that I really have a lot of fun with them. Obviously, they have a fast turnaround time and you’re not able to have in-depth discussions with the creators. When working on a fast paced set, like that of the TV series Neighbours, the training and skills I honed on commercials benefitted me greatly in navigating this…as it did on some film sets. Some of the best creatives in Australia are working on commercials and I feel privileged to work amongst them.”