What type of membership would you like to apply for?
Account access problem
You do not have permission to access this page with your current sign in details. If you require any further help, please get in touch at questions@spotlight.com.
The Essentials

How commercial work can be beneficial for your acting career, and why you should give it a go

I made my prime-time television debut last month, and my notifications feed has been non-stop ever since. It seems that every Facebook friend, distant relative, and old school pal is burning to ask me the same question: “Are you in a Doritos advert?!”

Most were delighted to spot me on their TV screens, but to my utmost surprise, a handful of my creative friends turned their noses up. One even declared that I had “sold my soul” – presumably to consumer capitalism.

Working my way through a share-size bag of Doritos in order to capture the perfect mind-blown-by-the-power-of-triangle-crisp moment wasn’t what I had in mind when I decided to pursue an acting career. Yet, several years and a few commercials later, it’s work that I actively seek out – and work that I’m proud of. I believe the corporate world of advertising has a lot to offer an actor, and in response to my less than impressed friends, I want to share my positive experience of acting for commercials.

Here are 6 reasons why I think you should try auditioning for commercial work:

1. Make extra money

Let’s address the elephant in the room: the financial incentive. For just one day of work, you can expect to be paid the equivalent of several months’ earnings in a theatre. The opportunity to take home this kind of money from acting work doesn’t come around often and is nothing to be ashamed of – especially during a cost-of-living crisis in the UK.

You might find that your commercial paycheck allows you to reduce your weekly working hours. By easing financial strain, commercial work gives you the gift of time for creative endeavours, doing the things you enjoy, and seeing the people you love – all of which are bound to have a positive impact on your wellbeing and career.

If you can afford to do so, invest your commercial earnings back into your acting business. ‘Woman with Indigestion’ may not be a three-dimensional character, but she can pay for your next set of headshots, six months of singing lessons, and your annual Spotlight subscription. It’s a brilliant way to give the job meaning and ultimately, it’s a stepping-stone towards the role of your dreams.

2. Get some on camera experience

Even armed with a screen actors’ glossary, a film set is an intimidating place to work, and no amount of practising in the living room can prepare us for it. A commercial job gives us the rare opportunity to step onto a seriously big budget shoot. With hardly any lines to learn and nothing emotionally taxing, it’s the perfect time to take it all in. Instead of thinking of commercials as a one-way transaction, think about how you can use them to get more comfortable in front of the camera.

3. Make new contacts

Commercial shoots involve a huge team of crew and creatives in a high-pressured, but surprisingly friendly environment. In moments of downtime, you could be chatting to some very experienced people who, just like you, work across the entertainment industry.

While it’s unlikely your commercial role will showcase your Oscar-worthy acting skills, you can still take direction and be a good company member. Who knows who might be watching, and what they might be working on next?

4. Get on the telly

Dreading Auntie Susan’s career advice over Sunday lunch? Shoot a commercial. The non-acting folk in your life will finally take you seriously, and I guarantee your relatives will be bursting with pride now they have a ‘successful’ actor in the family.

It may seem shallow, but this scrap of recognition, and even the strange joy of seeing your face blown up on a 40-inch screen, might be the confidence boost you need to get back on the horse and live to fight another day as a working actor.

5. Play

Whether it’s frustration at not getting ‘in the room’, audition nerves, or managing rejection, the day-to-day realities of #actorlife can get us down. There’s no better tonic than being asked to don an enormous chicken suit and improvise a dance to the Bee Gees, all for the sake of a chewing gum ad (yes, I actually did this in a casting). Commercials invite us to take ourselves less seriously, take the pressure off our performance, and help us go back to playing pretend – chicken suits and all.

6. Have a fun day out

What do a fire-breathing toilet, the Liverpool football manager and the best cherry Bakewell tart in the world have in common? I experienced them all while shooting a commercial.

A commercial is unlikely to be your dream job, but it might be a fun one. Imagine where in the world a commercial might take you, and what interesting new products you might get to sample before they appear on supermarket shelves. Never knowing what’s around the corner is exhausting at times, but what if it could be something joyous, too?

Just to be clear; I’m not advocating that actors abandon their principles for seven seconds of screen time and a bit of cash.  As with any work you do, stay true to yourself, and if advertising for a particular brand makes you feel uncomfortable, don’t take the job.

Commercials exist for everything from luxury holidays to toilet roll, so there will be no shortage of castings available to you – whatever your preferences are. If you have an agent, let them know of any products to avoid, and of any allergies that might prevent you from eating, for instance, a giant bag of Doritos!

By keeping ourselves open to new experiences and embracing what the industry has to offer – however bizarre, we maximise our chances of bumping into something wonderful.

Today, you can find me advertising Burger King Whopper-flavoured Doritos during ad breaks on ITV. Tomorrow – who knows? That’s the fun of it.

Find out more about auditioning for commercial work:

Ruby Ablett is a graduate of the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and has worked across the country as an actor, singer, and musician. Credits include the National Theatre’s ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ in the West End, ‘The Threepenny Opera’ and ‘A Christmas Carol’ at the Bolton Octagon, ‘The Wind in the Willows’ at Derby Theatre and ‘Why is the Sky Blue?’ at the Southwark Playhouse. This year, Ruby was nominated for Best Comic at the prestigious UK Pantomime Awards. She can currently be seen munching away on commercials for Dark Maltesers and Flame Grilled Whopper-flavoured Doritos.

Headshot credit: Samuel Black

Main image credit: Markus Winkler / Unsplash