“It’s been an incredible ride,” actor Rick Fantello tells me through scotch and soda in the cavernous lobby of Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel or poolside at the Four Seasons. “As an actor, of course, I’d been hoping for something like this for a long time. I mean, I’ve been getting by, paying the bills and all,” he says. “But I kept hoping for something bigger.”
That something came late last autumn, when auditions were held for a fast-food ad campaign touting an enormously unhealthy sandwich.
“It was just dumb luck, really,” the diminutive actor continues, preparing to sip at a drink twice his size. Only a few inches tall, Fantello’s been perched on an ornately inlaid antique mahogany humidor beside his glass. To drink, he stands atop the box, grabs the stirrer-straw with both hands and takes a good long draw. Then he sits back down on the humidor, facing me, dangling his feet, which fall short of the tabletop by a good two inches.
Fantello sighs and cracks his neck. The alcohol seems to be getting to him. “You know John-Michael Bolton?” he says at last.
“Of course,” I reply. Veteran actor John-Michael Bolton (2001: A Space Odyssey, Silent Scream) has appeared in dozens of films, hundreds of billboards, thousands of posters and millions of placards and fliers and ads. Chances are, if you’ve seen a fetus, you’ve seen John-Michael Bolton.
“For years,” says Fantello, “Bolton was getting every role I went out for. He’s a great actor, and we have a similar look. But that week, he had a bad flu. It really knocked him on his ass, so he couldn’t make the audition.”
Fantello’s own audition was “unremarkable,” he says, and afterward he drove directly to LAX and flew to New York for a friend’s wedding. During the reception the following evening, his agent called with the good news: Fantello had landed the role of a belligerent 26-week-old frat-boy wigga fetus who spouts abusive verbiage at his mother to sell Carl’s Jr.’s new Spicy BBQ Six-Dollar Burger to 18-to-34-year-old males. He was to fly back to L.A. immediately.
Fantello re-creates the ecstasy.
“I was like, ‘Fuck! Are you serious?! No call-back or anything?!’ And Jamie — my agent — was all, ‘Seriously, dude! They want you! They start shooting tomorrow!’ And I was like, ‘No way! Fuck yeah!’ ” So Fantello returned to L.A. that night, and the next day things got even better.
“The part I auditioned for was originally to be a non-speaking role — they were going to have a voice-over. But while I was on the set, just fucking around between takes, I started doing this weird frat-boy voice, and they thought it was cool. So I read the lines with that voice, and they ended up using it.”
“It’s a pretty weird voice,” I admit. “For a fetus.”
“I know,” Fantello laughs. “I have no idea why they liked it, but I sure am glad they did.”
The commercial begins with Fantello floating naked in an inordinately roomy uterus with spooky blue lighting; graphics in the lower left and upper right approximate a sonogram. He’s fidgeting, obviously uncomfortable. Wipes his brow.
“Whew!” Fantello’s character exclaims to the audience. “It is reallyhot down here!” He looks up and whistles, as if calling a disobedient dog. “MOM!” he shouts and, with a mighty grunt, tugs hard on his umbilical cord.
His mother does not respond, however, so he shouts louder. “MOM! You’renotwolfin’downjalapeñosagain,areya?!”And he gives the amniotic sac a good swift kick.
Still no reply from Mom. Unfazed, Fantello continues, now getting his wigga on, talking to both his mother and the audience. “Yeah,” he says. “ ’Cuz lemme tell ya ’bout my friend Ned! His mama ate nothin’ but spicy foods. Homeboy came out red,Ma! Brightred!”At this, Fantello twists his protofingers to indicate his membership in the Westside gang, and his tone grows threatening. “So if you keep crammin’ those peppers down your neck, I might just bust out of here early! Grab somethin’ on the way out! Take it with me!” To back up his threat of miscarriage, he seizes a handful of amnion and curls it menacingly inward.
Then Fantello and the sonogram disappear and are replaced by an enormous hamburger falling and landing on a plain white background. Above the sandwich, the words “The Spicy BBQ Six-Dollar Burger™” appear, and a hung-over-sounding voice-over says, “The new Carl’s Jr. Spicy Six-Dollar Burger, with crispy jalapeños. It ain’t for babies.”
Each 418-gram ain’t-for-babies sandwich contains 1,030 calories — 550 of these from fat — and provides the user with 135 mg of cholesterol and over 2 grams of sodium. In a February 23 press release, Brad Haley, executive vice president of marketing at CKE Restaurants Inc., defends his company’s new offering. “Most fast-food chains wouldn’t dare to offer something with this much punch, preferring instead to water down taste in their quest to appeal to the masses,” he says. “But Carl’s Jr. customers have come to expect more from us and the Spicy BBQ Six-Dollar Burger won’t disappoint them.”
It certainly hasn’t disappointed one slightly buzzed fetus seated on a cigar humidor in the Loews lobby or poolside at the Four Seasons. The “fetusburger commercial,” as it’s come to be known, has been playing hard, ’round the clock, during sporting events and other television shows geared toward the 18-to-34 male demographic — you can watch it online courtesy of AdAge.com at http://adage.com/news.cms?newsId=44682— and has made young Rick Fantello the hottest fetus in America. This fall, he’ll start production on his first feature film, a remake of Polanski’s Rosemary’sBaby.Fantello has written the screenplay and will star and co-produce; he’s deciding between directors, and developing a role for colleague John-Michael Bolton.
“Purely out of guilt,” Fantello laughs. “If Bolton hadn’t been sick that week, none of this might’ve happened. The least I can do is write him into the movie.”
We order another round of drinks, and while we wait Fantello stretches out luxuriously atop the humidor, his tiny hands clasped behind his head. “Yeah,” he says. “As long as it’s cool with the lawyers, we’ll probably call Bolton’s character ‘Ned.’ ” At this, Fantello closes his eyes and chuckles, and by the time our drinks arrive, he’s passed out cold with a sloppy smile.
I can’t bring myself to wake him up, so I leave a 20 and a thank-you note and slip away to the Polo Lounge or the Château Marmont lobby for my next interview: a patient in a persistent vegetative state who was recently re-elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.